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Travel Thoughts on the JR Rail Pass?

nice gaijin

Resident Realist
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Next week, I'm heading back to Japan for just under a month. This is shortest trip I've taken there so far (hey, if you're going to fly 10+ hours, might as well make it count!). Since my trips in the past have been largely unplanned and quite long, I never bothered with the rail passes... but now I'm thinking it might be worth it.

For the first week or so I'll be in Tokyo, but afterwards I'll be hitting up Tohoku, possibly Hokkaido, Nagoya, Okayama, Hiroshima and Shikoku. It's still largely unplanned but I'm pretty sure I'm going to most or at least some of these places, and possibly even go check out Kyushu since I still haven't been to Nagasaki.

I'd hate to feel rushed, like I "need" to use the pass to get the most out of it, but I'm on a limited schedule anyways, and at $440 US, if I ride the shinkansen more than four or five times over the course of three weeks it's pretty much paid for itself. I also see that it even covers the ferry to Miyajima, which a nice bonus.

My questions are:
1) is there any reason not to get one for the trip I've described?

2) do I need to specify the use period when I purchase the pass, or just the duration and from the time it's first stamped? It looks like they're just asking for duration

3) Does the pass cover a jiyuuseki/free-seating ticket for the shinkansen? Do I just show my pass at the gate or do I need to go to the counter and acquire tickets. And if I wanted, would I be able to upgrade to a reserved seat for an additional fee?

4) is there a particular site or service that you'd recommend, I see a few out there.

5) I'm also considering renting a wifi hotspot this time, and some of the sites that offer the rail pass also have hotspots for airport pickup (about $120 for the 24 days I'll be there). I'll probably be using this extensively for my phone and laptop, which is why I'm considering this instead of a SIM card with a data cap... any thoughts on that or does that sound like a solid plan?

6) lastly, are there any spots I definitely should visit that aren't on my list, or places/venues in those locations I should check out? I'm cool with "off the beaten path."

7) Anyone along the way and wants to meet up for a meal or a beer? I'd be game.
 
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Hey,

These are very good questions and I can't say i know the answers for most of them so I will just give my general impression.

1.) As you probably know, for most cases getting a tourist JP rail pass is a bit expensive unless you are traveling a lot. Since you are going to so many places in a short period of time, I think you are getting the most out of your pass. The only slight issue about going to so many places, is that if you have never been there before you might miss certain sight seeing places before you move on to your next destination. (Unless you are there for work, in which case it should be perfectly fine).

2, 3, 4) Can't answer. Sorry.

5.) I have seen a few use a wifi hot spot. It is fine if you have a lot of people using Skype or LINE. I have heard about one person getting a portable wifi hot spot and only paying about $60 a month, and pay about $50 to cancel contract. If you are staying in hotels, your hotels should have wifi so you might not even need wifi if you plan everything ahead accordingly.

6.) Since you are kind of going all over the place, one place not too far away from nagoya is gujo hachiman. Right now, in August they are helding the odori dance festival. The town dances traditional japanese dance all night long. I heard it is a popular summer festival, especially for Japanese tourists that haven't visited town yet.
2016 Gujo Odori Schedule
That town also has a lot of nice water channels for swimming if you have the chance. I am actually planning on going there myself next year.

7.) Sure. If you happen to be back in Tokyo in early September. I am new to Tokyo so you can probably show me around to nice places to eat and get a good beer.

Hope this was helpful.
 

nice gaijin

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Thanks I'll check out the Gujo Odori if I can!

I'll show you where to get some good noodles! haha. Weren't you going to Waseda? I'll probably be swinging by the campus at some point
 

nice gaijin

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OK, and I'm back from my trip. Once I got the rail pass it was quite the whirlwind. To help track the value of the purchase, I recorded the times I used the pass, and how much it would've cost if I paid full value for the tickets:

渋谷 - 新宿 160
代々木 - 品川 - 名古屋 10,880
名古屋 - 新居浜 14,000
新居浜 - 岡山 4,670
岡山 - 長崎 16,380
長崎 - 宮島口 13,000
宮島口 - 宮島口 (フェリー 往復) 310
宮島口 - 鵜沼 14,480
名古屋 - 仙台 20,000
仙台 - 東京 16,690
渋谷 - 恵比寿 140
恵比寿 - 高田馬場 170
高田馬場 - 渋谷 140
渋谷 - 羽田空港 690

Total value used: 111,710
Cost of ticket: 46,930
Amount "saved" : 65,320
Overall value: 240%

Taken at face value, the ticket was a good purchase. However, I must admit that if I didn't have the pass, I wouldn't have traveled in this way. Having the pass there is some constant stress to make the most of it, which led me to stay in places for one or two nights at most, when I would rather stay at least one or two weeks. It made me more of a tourist than I'd ever been before, and so I had to stick to mostly common attractions. It was rather exhausting, and I'm not entirely sure I'd put myself through it again. Granted, it allowed me to visit friends in many different places, and go to some new places I hadn't yet been. I can't really complain!

As a side note, I didn't start traveling until after Gujo Odori ended, but I believe we did pass Gujo Hachiman on the way up to Shirakawa-go with a friend. I did stumble upon a few festivals along the way, and I narrowly missed seeing the emperor in Yamagata by mere hours (I was wondering why I was seeing so many police cars and motorcycles on the road to Dewasanzan). All in all it was a very pleasant and productive trip, and I'm only sad that it ended so soon.
 
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