Me and my friends are going to Japan 2 weeks from now. We'll stay for 4 days in Tokyo, overnight in Hakone, 3 days in Kyoto (with a side visit to Nara) and 2 days in Osaka (Summer Sonic!!). So my question is, what is the most cost effective way to get around in these places?

So I found about the JR Pass which I find a bit pricey but it seems like I would be able to use all train services, including the Shinkansen. And that certainly would be convenient to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. But I don't think it will also allow me to access buses, can it? Are there any other alternatives besides JR Pass? Or is it cheaper to just get around by bus and just buy single journey tickets when travelling between cities?


4 Answers 4


This page lists what lines the JR pass is valid for - it includes buses operated by JR, but that's not all of them, especially not in cities. More importantly, the JR pass is not valid for subway lines in any of the cities you mentioned. In Tokyo at least it can be used for some metropolitan JR lines, most importantly the Yamanote circle line.

The rule of thumb is: look up what your long-distance train fares would be if bought directly, and buy a JR pass only if it's cheaper than those. Local usage is only a small bonus.

I'm not aware of a way for tourists to save much money on local transportation. Renting a bicycle may be an option. You may also want to get a Suica Card, just for convenience.

  • thanks. quick question: a JR Pass is not a Suica Card?
    – Mel
    Jul 17, 2013 at 10:54
  • @Mel: no, you have to get it separately. Jul 17, 2013 at 10:59
  • @MichaelBorgwardt can you link me to where it says that the JR pass can be used on the Yamanote circle line? Thanks for the info!
    – sguha
    Sep 10, 2013 at 21:26
  • 1
    @sguha: the page I linked to says it's valid for "all JR Group Railways [...] local trains". The Yamanote is a local JR line. I've also used it myself on the Yamanote line (though admittedly that was in 2004). Sep 10, 2013 at 21:59
  • @MichaelBorgwardt I just used it in Oct 2013 on the Yamanote. Worked like a charm!
    – sguha
    Nov 15, 2013 at 21:07

In addition to the nationwide JR Pass, there are several area-only passes which offer unlimited train travel within a specific region, for example Kanto (Tokyo) or Kansai (Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto). There is a nice list with restrictions and prices on Japan Guide.

As Michael said, you still need to do the math to see if buying the pass is going to be worth it but there are many options available which might save you some money depending on your travel plans.

If moving long distances inside Japan as cheaply as possible is your prime concern, then highway buses might be a good option. Check out the highway bus page on Japan Guide for routes and operators.


The Japan Rail Pass is 28,300 for 7 days. If you are going round trip to Tokyo-Kansai within a week it is more than worth it. If you are going one way (or will travel more than 7 days apart) it probably isn't.

JR will take you from Tokyo to Hakone, Hakone/Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Nara, Nara to Osaka, Kyoto to Osaka, and Osaka to Tokyo. Within Kyoto, within Osaka, and within Tokyo you will likely have to pay for local subway or buses (and will incur those costs anyway).


Current price in JPY is ¥29110 for a standard 7-day pass. Anyway it is cheaper than 2 individual long-distance shinkansen trips.

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