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Getting around Japan - trains vs car for family of 4??

Getting around Japan - trains vs car for family of 4??

Nov 25th, 2001, 10:25 AM
  #1  
Leslie
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Getting around Japan - trains vs car for family of 4??

Well, now that I've figured out how to get my family to Japan on FF miles and concluded that hotels are not so unaffordable if one makes a few compromises...and plotted out a tentative itinerary for April '02..My BIG shock is the price of train travel and rail passes. $315 for a one week JR pass! We have children ages 13 and 11 so the younger one will go half price. But, it seems that renting a car for some parts of the trip might make more economical sense for our group.

Can experts out there advise on whether we should use some combination of rail plus car or just rail? We have driven on the left in England and Ireland so are not afraid but time is limited so willing to pay some premium if bullet trains are much faster. Plus, we know of some of the headache of schlepping bags for our whole family to the train station. I know we don't want a car for the big cities. Here is my tentative itinerary. I would welcome any comments on this as well as transport between these places. For example, if we go from Tokyo to Takayama, then on to Kyoto, does it make sense to take the train Tokyo to Takayama? Or to drive or take the bus?:

Arrive Tokyo/Narita
3 nights Tokyo
1 night either Hakone, Nikko or Takayama (Takayama preferred but I know it's far)
3 nights Kyoto
1 night Kurashiki
2 nights Nara
Home from Osaka Kansai

Any advice is much appreciated.
 
Nov 25th, 2001, 12:04 PM
  #2  
lcuy
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We have traveled in Japan several times by train. After one very brief nightmare with a car, we
would never consider anything but rail. Some of the reasons....
Parking and gas are probably more
shocking than the cost of rail passes, Road signs are often in Japanese characters, traffic can be
horrendous, roads narrow and confusing, the cars are small, wild drivers are the norm, and gas and bathrooms may be hard to find. Sound like fun?
The trains are very fast, run frequently and on time, go everywhere, the stations are often right by
your hotels, and once you are on them, food and bathrooms are easily found! In Tokyo, driving would be unthinkable. You can use the JR trains instead of the subway, and you'll save a lot. They often share the same stations. With the rail pass, you will also be able to know your costs up front, although from your itinerary, it looks like you'll need more than a one week pass.

Tokyo to Nikko is a very short trip, but it takes you in wrong direction from your ultimate goal of Osaka. From Tokyo, many pople do a one day bus tour to Nikko.

We’ve gone from Tokyo to Takayama by rail. We stopped in Kyoto for a few days in the middle, so I can’t remember exactly how long the trip was. Both days were like a morning ride and were very pleasant and scenic trips.

In Takayama, we took a taxi from the station to our inn, because it was about ½ mile uphill. After we settled though, we walked everywhere. We rented bikes one day and that was fun too.

In Kyoto, there are several subway and private rail lines, so we took the local right to our hotel from the main station. You can get a one day bus pass for 500 yen (vs 200 yen per ride) and go
everywhere! The trains also get you to Osaka airport easily.
What I would recommend for a train trip is to use those wheeled backpacks. (Geek bags are what our daughters call them at home). Wheeled luggage didn’t work well because you are going up and down stairs in rail stations, temples, etc, and true back packs got tiring. We found some nice larger ones with loops to tie jackets or extra bags on the outside. Travel really light..you are moving a lot, so no one will know you're repeating your outfits!
April can be a busy travel season, so you might make reservations for your travel when you first arrive in Tokyo. You can always switch them, but it is nice to have reserved seats waiting for you.
Wish I was going with you!
 
Nov 25th, 2001, 01:31 PM
  #3  
Florence
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Bonjour Leslie,

ditto Fodoraddict re. the horrors of driving in Japan: narrow roads, wild drivers, signs in Japanese everywhere except in big cities, gas price horrendous, stations far apart except into the cities, expensive toll "freeways", traffic jams the norm except far into the countryside, parking a real nightmare. Been there, done that, swore I'd never, ever do it again if I could avoid it.

Believe me, train is the way to go. Both your kids will pay half-price. Ask for group or family discount, I know they exist.

With your itinerary, you might be better off paying the regular fare from Tokyo to Kyoto, then get a JR West rail pass only, like the "Kansai Pass" (Yen 6000) for 4 days, that covers the area between Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kobe and Himeji (Kurashiki too maybe), rather than a "full" rail pass. Have a look at http://www.jnto.go.jp/db/traffic/ under "discount".

The best transportation in Kyoto is the bus and subway, both aren't covered by JR railpasses. Buy day or two-days tickets, go on foot (you can't get lost in Kyoto, it's a grid plan), or rent bikes (it's mostly flat).

I more word of advice: make Nikko, Hakone or Kurashiki daytrips from Tokyo and Kyoto or Nara respectively. You'll avoid wasting time checking in and out of hotels and carrying those luggage.


 
Jan 9th, 2002, 10:24 PM
  #4  
lcuy
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to the top for the family traveller!
 
Jan 12th, 2002, 09:00 AM
  #5  
Al
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I am surprised nobody mentioned the fact that one drives on the left-hand side of the road in Japan, as in Britain. Combine that fact with all the horrendous, costly, and downright dangerous aspects of using a car, and I would opt for public transportation every time.
 
Jan 12th, 2002, 12:18 PM
  #6  
Florence
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Al, you are right. Shame on me. My only excuse is that driving on the left is a very minor aspect compared to all the rest.
 
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