Hey there! It's been a good bit, so I thought I'd go ahead and drop some knowledge on my *continued* incomplete guide to Japan! :D
Today, we'll be talking about my experiences with Transit!
Transit topics to chat about!
- JR Passes
- Suica Passes
- Driving/Parking at the airport vs. Renting Cars (What's more cost effective?)
- Google Maps, Battery Packs, Pocket Wee-fee!
- Walking (So. Much. Walking.)
- Big travel days
These are basically your golden ticket to ride trains in-and-out of the city and occasionally (depending on where you are) from district to district (you've just got to do some looking around to make sure the train you're getting on is JR).
Here's where I bought mine: https://www.jrpass.com/
The process is pretty straightforward.
1) Go to that site and buy your pass for 'x' number of days (it only comes in 7, 14, or 21). You don't need the green pass. Trust me. Put that money towards toys or food or something.
2) Try to plan how many days you'll need in advance, too. We had to buy extra JR tickets back to the airport because we stayed for ~10 days, but only opted for a 7 day pass.
3) They'll mail it and won't leave it at your door! So, be prepared to receive it or pick it up at your local FedEx dispatch (or wherever it's being delivered from).
3.5) THIS IS NOT YOUR PASS. It's only a voucher that you trade in when you get to Japan!
4) Once you get to Japan, there will be a kiosk for traveling just after you go through bag search/security/customs. Tell them where you're going, they'll hook you up with your JR passes and give you the tickets you need to get to your destination.
NOTE: You don't necessarily need tickets to ride the JR (as far as I know). Some of the train cars have 'assigned seating' and some don't. But, those trips are typically pretty long, so it's useful. Just stop by a JR kiosk at any station and ask, they'll hook you up!
5) As you're making your way through the station and you get to the gates where you have to pass security or the little checkpoints, look for a window where the guards are, walk up, say 'sumimasen' (translated: excuse me) are and flash them your badge. They'll typically just let you through very quickly. Some might stop you to make sure your pass is current, though, so don't just walk through it all willy-nilly. :)
OKAY. So. I spent a lot of time on JR stuff. I can go into more detail if you have questions, so just let me know.
In the easiest explanation possible: this card is basically your local train card. Anytime you're taking a train from one part of the city to another, you're likely going to use this. They have dispensers in the station (and I think at most stations, to be honest). And further, they have refill stations so you can put more money on it. I recommend putting ~30yen on it. Trust me, you'll use it.
PRO TIP: A toooon of vending machines accept these.
ANOTHER PRO TIP: This one's pretty easy to notice but, as you walk through the gates to get into the station or to your train, it'll show your balance on the screen. Keep an eye on this!
Commuting to your Airport
I know this one seems kind of silly, but we spent a lot of time looking into this because our situation was kind of weird. It's likely going to be cheaper to park your car there than to take a rideshare/taxi/rental to and from the airport. Likely. Depending on where you live this could be a different situation. We actually drove from Austin > Houston and back, and so we had to consider alternative plans. Just be sure to look up your airport parking prices. ;)
QUICK SIDE NOTE: If you're not a Google Fi user, make sure you're getting a pocket wifi either from your hotel/air BnB or that you're renting one from the airport. This will be your connection to the internet/real world. You can disable your social media if you're just trying to escape for a bit, but you should definitely have one of these to make your way around town a bit easier.
Google Maps IS YOUR FRIEND
Google maps was basically our tour guide (well, that and our good friends Mikey D. in Osaka and Hero Liao(!!) in Kyoto). My favorite feature: all of the subway transit info! There was information on walking distance to the stations, travel times, distance from station-to-station, how frequently the train would come/go, etc. There are third party apps you can check out, but see if Google Maps does the trick for you, first.
ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: GET A BATTERY PACK! This thing saved our bacon. A whoooole lot. They're fairly cheap and will keep you charged for a good bit of time. Here's what I bought: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0194WDVHI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
It should go without saying, but, have a backpack or similar on hand (or back) at all times, too. Because..
"...I would walk 500 miles... "
BOOM A PROPER SEGUE
You're going to walk a lot. So, be prepared for that. If you've got tender footsies, maybe look at grabbing a quick foot massage at the end of each day or even after a certain number of days. On average, we walked roughly 10-12 miles a day. We were also trying to see everything we could, though. So, if you're planning on relaxing, then maybe this won't be such an issue for you. :) Consider looking at getting solid walking shoes before you go, too! This helped immensely for Jamm and I.
Last but not least.
BIG. TRAVEL. DAYS.
This one's actually not so bad. Just make sure you wake up early on these days. The Shinkansen are quick, but you're going to want to get the ball rolling early. Also, we noticed a trend that most people weren't actually up and around until 10am or just a bit later. So, the early trains were typically pretty easy to snag. I definitely recommend planning your major travel days in advance, though. Especially if it's only a day trip. We took a short trek out to Kyoto for the day and the train ride was roughly 35 minutes or so to-and-from, and with only being there 10 days, an hour spent traveling is quite a bit.
That being said, if you like to just see the sights through the window of a train, maybe this won't be so bad of a deal for you. Just make sure to check the map to see what side *might* have more interesting stuff to look at.
Okay! I think that about covers it for this round. I wrote this one a bit on the sleepy side. We've been terribly busy and I've been trying to drown myself in games, TV, and books for the past few weeks to help relax my brain. This one was not the most eventful/adventurous, but I hope it proves at least useful to some of you! :)
My next entry will be a bit about the places we checked out and the places I *sadly* missed out on!
See ya next time, Superfriends.