Confused about Japan – You are not alone

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Among all the trips that I’ve planned for, this 7-day trip to Japan is by far the hardest and most time consuming one for me. Even though the trip is more than 30 days away, the amount of planning has been insane and I’m very tempted to travel in the “unplanned” style. Sadly, Japan simply does not allow a trying-to-be-as-budget-as-possible person to scoot away on such a style. They have far too many prices and choices with confusing opportunity costs for you to analyse and fret about =(

The Greatest Problem of All – Too Many Choices

Usually, people enjoy having many choices as they like to have the power and autonomy to decide what is best for them but in the case of traveling in Japan, I really dread the fact that there are so many options available. In Seoul/Singapore, the only options available from airport to city is just 3 options – train, bus or taxi. However, in Japan, it will be a choice between 2 or more train types on different companies with complicated passes which only serves to test your patience and math. raaaaaah.

EXAMPLE 1 – BOOKING AIR TICKETS

In this trip, I will be visiting both Osaka/Kyoto and Tokyo.
Should I be flying a return trip to either Osaka/Tokyo or fly to Tokyo, depart from Osaka or vice versa?

Solution 1A – Fly return to Tokyo
Land at more convenient Haneda Airport (closer to city centre) or inconvenient Narita Airport?
Haneda Airpot – SIA (2 to go Promo) $678 each, JAL ($700+), ANA $900, China Eastern (1 stopover), Air Asia (1 stopover);
Narita Airport – Scoot (able to get $300-400 during off peak dates + morning glory/flash sales), Delta Airlines ($670), Malaysian Airlines (1 stopover) $600+

Solution 1B – Fly to Osaka
Direct – SIA (2 to go Promo) $688 each
1 stopover – China Eastern ($700), Cathay ($700+), ANA, JAL

Solution 1C – Fly to Tokyo, return via Osaka
Sounds good but not a possible solution as one way tickets (maybe with the exception of budget airlines) are a lot pricier than round trip tickets. It will cost more than $1,000 for a multi-city return trip.

Final Choice – With a combined consideration of ticket prices, total flight duration, inability to qualify for 2 to go promotion and the “pressure” of increasing prices (before the oil price fell), I settled for a 9 – 10 hours fight duration on China Eastern (Stopover at Shanghai), round trip from Singapore to Osaka. For comparison sake, a direct flight is only 6 – 7 hours.

(Continued unimportant rambling, please skip) Initially, the plan was to fly to Tokyo first as I had to be there on Saturday. However, the thought of lugging my luggage to and fro from the airport/train station was a nightmare. Cheap accommodations are not near the metro stations and the challenge to stay in a capsule hotel was quite difficult for females. (Capsule hotels mainly cater to males and the existing female capsule hotels don’t have very positive reviews/cheap).

Moreover, my friends were flying straight to Osaka and using it as their base. Thus, it kind of made more sense for me to fly to Osaka, leave my luggage at their accommodation, and go for a 24 hour escapade to Tokyo on Saturday.

By the way, traveling during the March school holidays was not a good decision as (1) Boss is unhappy (2) It’s harder/almost impossible to see cherry blossoms (which usually starts blooming end March) yet you (3) pay high prices because of the school holidays. #superwrongdecisionbutihadnochoice

If I could turn the clock back, I would have just YOLO-ed and booked the SQ promo tickets back in Nov last year (5 months before the actual trip) and get direct flight tickets at $688 in its make-all-singles-sad (two-to-go) promotion.

And I just made the mistake which I always tell myself not to make – check the updated pricing of things that you have already bought: JUST FOUND OUT THAT THE PRICE FOR THE SAME TICKET WHICH I BOUGHT ONE MONTH AGO DROPPED BY $60 T_T

EXAMPLE 2 – OSAKA TO TOKYO: TRAIN, BUS OR PLANE

Being based in Osaka, I have to make a round trip to Tokyo.

There are only 3 ways to get to Tokyo from Osaka (556.4km):
(A) Take the Bullet Train (Shinkansan) (3 to 4 hours)
(B) Take the Bus (6 to 8 hours)
(C) Take the Plane (1 hour 25 mins – even longer than SG to KL) however if you add in traveling time to and from the airport, it easily reaches 3 to 4 hours.

Okay, so we can conclude that the bullet train definitely seems like the option which makes the most sense. However, choosing to take the bullet train isn’t the end of your decision. You have to decide on whether the JR Pass (unlimited train rides on JR trains for 7 to 21 days) is worth it or not.

EXAMPLE 2A – IS JR PASS WORTH IT?

Unlimited train rides definitely sounds tempting. but not when strings are attached for this “unlimited” trips on the JR Pass (29,110 for 7 days). It excludes the fastest train with the highest frequency – the Nozomi/Mizuho Train. A trip from Tokyo to Osaka (556.4km – almost twice the distance between SG to KL) takes 155 minutes, 14.500Y. You will have to take the Hikari (180 minutes, 14,200Y) or Kodama (240 minutes) trains which were slower and have more stops. The price difference somehow doesn’t make sense to me.. paying 300Y to save 25 minutes..why not?

Anyway, after reading countless entries/blogs/travel tips/guide books, the conclusion was that if you make a round trip to or from Tokyo, you should buy a JR Pass.

If you are going to have a travel which goes like from Tokyo – Hakone – Kyoto – Osaka – Tokyo, you do not have to buy the JR Pass.

For myself, it would be a Osaka – Tokyo – Kyoto – Nara – Osaka; Osaka – Himeji (pending) – Kobe – Osaka.

To be honest, my travel itinerary is truly flawed but I had some arrangements on specific days in specific cities. Awkward timings/arrangements = bad itinerary = expensive travel. rawr.

JR Pass was an undisputed decision as my Osaka – Tokyo – Kyoto trip would have already cost 14,200 + 13,500 = 27,800 Y. Kyoto – Nara – Osaka = 710 + 800 = 1,510. Osaka – Himeji – Kobe – Osaka = 1490+ 970 + 410 = 2,830 Y.

Total travel = 32,140 Y (without JR Pass) > 29,110 (JR Pass)

So now you’ve made your decision to buy the JR Pass, and you do know that there are JR trains in Tokyo but.. the next problem comes about.

Where should I buy my JR Pass from? Why are there different prices (converted to local currency SGD) from different travel agencies?

List of where to buy JRP in Singapore: http://www.jnto.org.sg/japan_rail_pass_singapore.html

  • (Japan-rail-pass; online; shipped from France) http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/jr-pass $326 but free shipping only for orders above $750 (that’s like buying 4 passes), otherwise pay extra $22 for DHL delivery. Total Price: $348
  • (JTB) https://www.jtb.com.sg/japan-nationwide/ $339; free delivery within singapore. Otherwise, self collect at ion’s store B4.
  • (NTA) http://www.nta.sg/ntasin/ $342
  • (HIS) http://his.com.sg/ $332, not sure if they provide delivery, but office is at 100AM @ Tras Street
  • (Apple Vacations) http://www.applevacations.com.sg/home/freeneasy/ $364
  • (Pricebreakers) Messaged them via facebook and they replied me – $335 and yes I eventually bought from them! No queue (compared to JTB), various outlets available for collection and it comes with a simple guide!

EXAMPLE 2A.1 – HOW USEFUL IS JR PASS IN TOKYO?

Tokyo subway/railway map can be the most confusing thing ever:

If you are hoping that your jr pass is like awesome, you will be very upset to know that their coverage within Tokyo is actually very minimal: http://www.jrpass.com/map/139.739185/35.645426/11/5ojp4gfq1JzX3oiwiM3uAGD9lcjP3oiw0PfV3sIz

The Yamanote is possibly the most useful line as it brings you to stations like Shibuya and Harajuku. However, after analyzing the map, you will realise that the eligible JR passes ain’t useful at all, Unless, you plan your journey in a time-ineffective way. Then, you will start noticing that Tokyo Metro and Toei subways are so much more convenient than the JR lines.

Example: Shinagawa Station to Tsukiji Fish Market

Shortest timing – From Shingawa Station, take the Keikyu Main Line特急towards Aoto and stop at Higashiginza Station. Cost = 360 Y (Time: 10 minutes)

Cost effective with JR Pass – Take JR train from Shinagawa to Shimbashi, and then to Hisgashiginza. Cost = JR Pass + 180 Y (Time: 15 minutes)

EXAMPLE 3 – UNLIMITED TRAIN RIDES IN TOKYO

Anyway, after fussing so much about the possible cost savings, I stumbled upon a new card which only serve to confuse me further. Remember the two useful raiways of Tokyo?

One-day pass for both Toei and Tokyo Metro
FARE: ¥1,000 (Child: ¥500)

Note: One-day is counted on a end-at-12-midnight criteria, not 24 hours.

Right. So after I discovered this 1,000Y unlimited Toei/Tokyo Metro pass, I’ve decided to just buy it and stop fussing about finding the most cost effective way around Tokyo.

EXAMPLE 4 – COMMUTING FROM POINT A TO B HAS 3 OR MORE OPTIONS

(It has been more than 3 weeks since I started writing this entry and now I’m 12 days away from my trip and this “planning” has yet to be completed.. )

So after you have finalized your plans on the big picture, you need to zoom down into the details which involves planning the transportation form Point A to Point B within the same city. I’m pretty sure you would have known the popular Hyperdia by now. It tells you the various options available when commuting between two subway/metro station and the cost involves. The only lacking thing which I would fall back onto google maps is that it doesn’t tell you which choice walks the least =p

Anyway, this is Japan, you can’t afford to be clueless. Rule of thumb, when in doubt, just choose the first option. It’s right on top for the reason =p

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I’ll continue with my next post with my actual planning!

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