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Japan – ‘Do I need a Japanese Rail Pass?’ & Other Things You Should Know

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Japan is a wonderful country, but there are a few things you need to be prepared about.

I think one of the biggest worries of ours before going was the issue surrounding travel, do we buy a two-week rail pass for the two weeks, or do we risk paying for expensive travel before we get there?

Let me explain

Trains in Japan are as you would expect; spotless, pleasant and aggressively accurate with its timings, but with that it is not cheap. You have the option to buy a Japanese Rail Pass (JRP) for 7, 14, or 21 days which gives you free travel on all ‘JR’ lines. These come in at an eye watering £195, £311 & £396 respectively. This is a bargain if you using the JR train line over your time in Japan. The problem, however is that not all train lines are JR lines.

LET ME FURTHER EXPLAIN

In Tokyo you have a very complex but efficient metro system with a variety of different metro lines, some of which are JR lines, but many aren’t. So with the Japanese Rail Pass, you are covered to navigate Tokyo, but not as freely as if you have a Pasmo IC card (outlined in my Tokyo post here). As I have started writing this I’ve realised how complicated it is to explain. Those of you who live in London, imagine using the tube, but only allowed to use the central, northern and jubilee line; getting around is possible but it can be a nightmare if you want to get to a particular stop that isn’t on those. Sure it is possible to have a Pasmo and a Japanese Rail Pass, but then you are paying twice.

If your Japanese itinerary involves a lot of train journeys around the country then the Japanese Rail Pass definitely works out a lot cheaper, however if like us, you aren’t taking many long train journeys, it may work out cheaper to go on a pay-as-you-go travel card system, like the Pasmo, where you pay for the distance you travel.

We took a Bullet Train from Kyoto to Tokyo, which worked out about £90pp, however this was by far our largest expense. In total we maybe paid an extra £40 to top up our Pasmo cards, so this was by far the best option for us, but if you intend to travel a lot around Japan then a JRP.

So, if you are stressing about it, know it is normal, we had a great deal of stress thinking about which was better. Plan, sort out your itinerary and if it’s looking worth it, fork out the money for the JRP, you can buy them in advance (small mercy).

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Other Interesting Japanese Tips:


No eating in the street – I had seen this somewhere when doing some last-minute research before our trip, and when we arrived I was conscious to look out for it when we were there, and it appears to be true. I never really gave much thought as to how often I would find myself snacking/eating while on the go, but when you try to stop yourself you become acutely aware of it. Anyways yeah, try to avoid snacking in public. Apparently the done thing is to buy a snack and eat it outside of the convenience store where you bought it.

Do not cross the road unless the green man is showing – Again, something I had seen and wasn’t sure about, but yes it’s true; the Japanese will stand and wait for the ‘green man’ at a crossing, even if there are no cars are coming. Like eating in public, I hadn’t realised how often we do it, but there we were marching across the road while everyone else waited.

Cash only – This really surprised me. Tokyo isn’t particularly a credit card city. We think of the Japanese as being technological leaders, which they are, but by all accounts credit/debit card payments are not that common. Apparently they still send faxes, which is nutso. Don’t get me wrong, you *can* pay in some places, but generally it is advisable to get some cash exchanged before arriving.

Do not litter – for the love of God, don’t litter. Put your rubbish in your pocket and wait for a bin, which there aren’t many, but for fucks sake don’t ever litter.

Take your shoes off indoors – When in doubt, just take them off. Look out for other shoes, or normally a change of level (a small step up) would imply to take your shoes off.

Don’t talk on the metro – Embrace the silence.

You shouldn’t tip – you legit shouldn’t tip servers. It’s offensive. How wonderful for us.

Tattoos in Onsens – We found this out while we were there, if you want to go to an Onsen (traditional Japanese geothermal spa), you will be denied entry if you have tattoos. Tattoos are widely seen as implying a life of crime, so they are generally frowned upon. Even my tarty little stars. I’m sure the times are changing as I saw a fair few Japanese with tattoos, but the Onsens are more traditional and abide by these rules. I’m sure a tiny little tramp stamp could be permitted, but if it’s pretty big, it’s probably not worth trying. I believe you have to go in the nude too, but wouldn’t know personally as I have big chavvy tattoos.

It’s pretty safe – I mean, don’t go quoting me on this, but I am fairly sure if I could be arsed to look into it, the stats would back me up. Japan felt *very* safe. The only time when I was slightly intimidated is when we were walking around Shinjuku at midnight on a Saturday night and all the pissheads were messing around outside. I did side-eye a lot of Yakuza-looking dudes.

The metro is not 24 hours – Pretty self-explanatory that one. I believe it finishes between midnight and 1am. God only knows about taxis.

Getting denied entry into a bar is okay – Some bars don’t allow foreigners or gaijins. If that’s the case, just try another one.

English translations are not common – we would often just sort of wing it when it came to ordering food, you can pretty much work things out when there isn’t an English menu.

Not everyone speaks English – I feel I shouldn’t have to say this, but there is that ignorance of a British person to expect at least a little English wherever you go. Well that’s not the case in Japan, I mean many do, and I’m sure they are actually do too shy to try. They bloody love Americans though.

People legit fall asleep everywhere – I am sure about at any given time 50% of people on the Tokyo metro are fast asleep. We saw people just snoozing away all over the show, not homeless people, just your average Joe.

Public displays of affection aren’t the ‘done thing’ – I looked into what it was like as a gay tourist in Japan, and it turns out that most people dont show affection to one and other in public, gay or straight. So bear that in mind.

Sniffing is okay in public, blowing your nose is NOT – The culture of Japan is a wonderful thing, the people you see with hygiene masks are either avoiding getting sick, or are sick themselves and don’t want to spread their germs (I wish Londonders were this considerate), but with this people don’t blow their noses on the metro so there’s a lot of sniffing.

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I think that’s it for now. I realise this makes Japan look super uptight, and in a way it is, but only in a respectful polite way.

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