Transportation is the most expensive expenditure when travelling in Japan. It is important to do your research so that you can save on transportation.
I am going to go city by city: Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, not only because this is the route I took so I have first-hand experience, but also because this is one of the most popular tourist routes for all those who are planning their first trip to Japan.
Save on Transportation: Tokyo
Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is probably the first city for any first-timer to Japan. It is the most populous metropolitan city in the world with more than 37 million people calling Tokyo, and its notoriously complex subway and railway system, home.
I would highly recommend getting one of the IC Cards for travelling in Tokyo (it can also be used in Kyoto, Osaka and Nara) so you don’t have to fumble for loose change.
IC Cards are pre-paid cards that can be used to conveniently pay fare on public transportation and an increasing number of vending machines, shops and restaurants (but it cannot be used for the shinkansen).
Out of the 10 IC Cards available, the most popular are Suica, Pasmo and Icoca. Suica can only be refunded at JR East stations in Tokyo and Pasmo cards can only be refunded at non-JR stations in Tokyo area. Please read the official Pasmo and Suica websites for more information.
If you are staying/working in Tokyo and you travel by the same routes everyday, the discount passes available with different combinations which can help you to save quite a bit of money. IC Cards such as Pasmo or Suica is more than enough for tourists like you and me.
On my first trip to Tokyo, I bought the Tokyo Subway 24/48/72-hour Ticket from Changi Recommends during a travel fair because it sounded like such a great deal: unlimited rides on all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines for 24/24/72 hours from time and date of first travel, but I realized that it’s not worth it because I have to top-up for the stops I took on JR line. Just in case you are wondering, the prices for the Tokyo Subway 24/48/72-hour Ticket is as follows:
Save on Transportation: Kyoto
There are very few JR stations in Kyoto so your JR Pass will not be of much use here. Pasmo and Suica IC Cards can be used here.
If you want to explore Kyoto by yourself, the Kyoto City Bus & Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass (Adult: 500Yen, Child: 250Yen) may be a good option, available at Kyoto City Bus & Subway Information Center, Commuter Pass Sales Counter, Kyoto City Bus Management Center, Subway Station Ticket Window or onboard any Kyoto City Bus.
The route map is available in Japanese (Front & Back), English (Front & Back), Simplified Chinese (Front & Back) and Korean (Front & Back). It can get pretty crowded especially on weekends and the bus stops are not very near to the attraction sites.
You can also get the Kyoto World Heritage Loop Bus (“K’Loop” for short) but it is only available on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays. I have personally used this.
You can either reserve the pass here (only 1 day pass can be reserved, two-day pass are only sold in bus) and buy the tickets from one of the tie-up shops (I got mine from Futaba Book Center), buy the pass from TripAdvisor here or when you board the bus at any stop (cash and credit cards are accepted.
Save on Transportation: Osaka
Osaka Amazing Pass is THE pass to get if you are looking to visit all the tourist attractions in Osaka. The Osaka Amazing Pass not only gives you unlimited uses of buses and trains, it also gives you free access to 35 sightseeing spots and discount for 25 facilities and 67 shops. You can find out more information on the Osaka Amazing Pass website.
Save on Transportation: Inter-City Travel
Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are three of Japan’s most popular cities, and they are on most travelers’ itinerary. Let me show you the different options of travelling between these cities.
Japan Rail Pass: Commonly referred to as JR Pass, this is a special pass that is only available to tourists. This pass offers unlimited use of JR trains for one, two or three weeks. There are two types of JR Pass, Ordinary and Green Car (first class).
Highway Bus: Although highway buses tend to be slower than express trains, they are considerably cheaper. Many highway buses travel overnight for long distances so you can save on travelling time and accommodation. You can book/buy highway bus ticket at websites sucg as Highway-buses, HighwayBus and Japan Bus Lines.
Domestic Flights: Japan’s long archipelago has made domestic flights a popular way of getting around the country. Almost each prefecture has its own airport. Flight tickets are more affordable than ever due to increasing competition and the rise of low-cost airlines. Peach Aviation, Jetstar Japan, Vanilla Air and Starflyer offers domestic flights from Tokyo’s Haneda or Narita Airport to Osaka’s Kansai Airport.