Quick Tips on Navigating Japan and Money Matters

The best public transportation system in the world is Japan, and their trains have set global standards. That being said, it does NOT come cheap. However, there are quite a lot savings available if you take the time to do your research. There’s no one size fits all, but here’s the general rule as far as my experience goes, and if you end up stumbling into this blog post, go ahead and tell me where you want to go and I can help you look up your options. 

Last update: June 23, 2020

Navigating Japan

  • Trains. Oh, Japanese trains are quite a complex beast. But they are well organized. I would recommend using Google Maps particularly when you don’t know the station names you want to go to. 
    • Once you do know the train station names and it costs more than JPY1,000, I would recommend you check hyperdia if there are cheaper options. Why? Because Japan has express/limited express trains, which are significantly faster and more expensive. So if you are willing to add an hour to save yourself a thousand yen, then just go with local trains. Just click “more options”, then untick “express”, “limited express” and “bullet trains” options.
  • Buses. Once the trips get a bit longer, buses become a cheaper option to go from point A to B. However, they are also a bit trickier to find. 
    • A general rule is that transportation to/from airports are cheaper with buses. 
    • If your travel time is longer than an hour and it is a touristy spot, try googling for buses.
    • Most buses take IC cards, but some don’t. In these cases, they have money changers in the bus so you can pay the exact amount, but they only accept JPY1,000 bills.
  • Area Pass. Japan loves their area passes. Basically as part of a tourism push, they map specific public transportation vehicles/routes and create a package that you can buy at a discount. Sometimes you only save about JPY200, sometimes you save a couple thousand yen. For example, they have the Atami Pass, Hakone Pass, Nikko Pass, Tokyo Metro Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Tateyama Alpine Pass, Kyushu Pass… the list goes on. Generally, any touristy stop will have a pass/discounted roundtrip tickets. So make sure to google the location in advance. Or leave a comment here, and I’ll check it for you.
    • JR Pass. Exclusive to tourists. You have probably heard of it – it’s a consecutive days’ pass costing upwards of USD300. Is it a good deal? If you plan to go all over in a short period of time, yes. 
    • Seishun 18. Open to all – locals and foreigners. A very special ticket generally designed for students with plenty of free time and no money. For JPY12,050, you get 5 days, nonconsecutive unlimited LOCAL JR lines. JR covers almost the entirety of Japan! Here’s the catch – they are only available on local trains (not bullet trains or express ones), and they are only offered on break periods (around March, August and December). How bad are local trains? From Tokyo to Nagoya, it’ll be two hours by bullet train, 6 hours by local ones. 
  • Japan wide passes. As of now I only know of two – the JR pass and the bus passes.
    1. JR Pass (tourists only). It covers all bullet trains and JR company forms of transportation, which is the most extensive in the Japan. The only catch is that it has to be consecutive, and it can be a bit expensive. For example, the 7 day pass costs JPY30,000, so it’ll be worth it if you’re covering a good portion of Japan. If you’re just staying in Tokyo, then don’t get it. 
    2. Bus Pass: (non Japanese only). There’s a Japan bus pass that is currently a favorite of mine. There’s the basic Japan Bus Pass at JPY15,300 for 5 days that only allows for Willer buses, or the more extensive JBL Bus Pass at JPY20,000 for 5 days. 
      • These can be used for any day, nonconsecutive, for a month (JBL Bus Pass) to three months (Japan Bus pass), and covers practically the entirety of Japan. 
      • These are booked online, and can be cancelled anytime, making it unbelievably flexible. 
      • To book, log in to your account, and go to “My Page”. Under “Reservation Management”, click “BusPass management”, and you’ll see your bus pass with the number of slots you have. Just click “search for routes” and that’s how you reserve.
      • If you already bought a bus pass, take note that when reserving a bus, you should never put your credit card information – you should be selecting your bus pass number to reserve. If you are asked for your credit card info, you are booking from the wrong screen. 
      • Once booked, they will send you an email about your seat, and a map link for the pick up/drop off point. 
      • Upon boarding, just scroll to the bottom of your email, and the details of your reservation in Japanese are provided. Show this to the driver, and that’s it. 
      • I use them for overnight bus rides, and the biggest savings I’ve had is the JPY30,000 bus from Tokyo to Hiroshima, that I paid JPY4,000 for (JPY20,000 divided by 5days) 

Money matters

  • Cash is KING. Theft and other crimes are pretty rare too (at least at the moment), so most people carry a lot of cash. Heck, a lot of grandmas and grandpas do not put their money in the bank, and just put them in their houses, and we’re talking millions of yen (hundreds of thousands of dollars).
  • NO TIPPING. Anywhere, anytime. Service is expected to be good, and no amount of tipping will change that.
  • IC Card. There’s a push to be “cashless”, and there’s at least a dozen options at the moment. Most of which are local (Paypay, Linepay, Rakutenpay). So if you are a tourist, just buy an IC card (JPY500 deposit, will be returned to you once you return your IC card) and load it JPY10,000, and use it for all your purchases. 
    • There are a couple of main IC cards – Pasmo (Tokyo Metro), Suica (JR) and ICOCA (Osaka). They all work the same, so whichever is closest to where you are, just buy it.