11/07/2010 (Sat) Tokyo station -> Hakata, Kyushu -> Arao, Kumamoto (my hometown!)
This day was a big traveling day! We were going by bullet train to Kyushu where my home town is. We wanted to travel light, so the night before I packed our stuff into a smaller suitcase so we could leave the bigger suitcases at my brother’s place while we were in Kyushu.
We left home really early to get our JR rail passes. But when we got to Tokyo station, we found out that the place where we could have our pass issued wouldn’t open for another hour…
The last time I used my JR Pass in Japan was about 5 years ago, and I completely forgot that we could’ve set the date to start using the JR pass in advance. So if you know when you’re going to start using your JR Pass, I recommend you have it issued in advance! You can have the pass issued in many major train statiosn but the earliest you can do this after arriving in Japan is at Narita Airport or Haneda airport. (You can use the pass on the Narita Express too.)
Okay, this will be a loooong writeup just about the JR Pass from here on, but transportation in Japan can be very expensive so I wanted everyone who’s traveling to Japan to take advantage of the JR Pass!
The JR Pass is a magical pass for foreign visitors in Japan. (I’m a permanent resident in the U.S., so I can purchase a JR Pass) It allows you to use not only bullet trains but any JR trains (except Nozomi) for a limited time. But remember, you have to get the pass at a Japanese travel agency or a Japanese airline company before you leave for Japan. A one week JR Pass is 28,300 yen, two-week pass is 45,100 yen, and three-week pass is 57,700 yen for an adult. (kids pay half)
Pro: It may look expensive but depending on how long and how far you’re traveling on JR (including bullet trains) in Japan, it’s SO WORTH IT.
To give you some idea, the cost for a reserved seat on a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto is about 13,000 yen, Kyoto to Hakata is about 15,000 yen, and Hakata to Tokyo is about 22,000 yen. So a round-trip to Hakata from Tokyo on a bullet train is already more than what you’ll pay for a one-week JR Pass.
Still think the price is steep? Let me give you more specific example.
The list below is our travel schedule from the day we started using JR Pass until the day it expired. (the travel includes bullet trains and regular express, rapid and local JR trains)
Day 1: Tokyo -> Hakata (transferred in Okayama) 21,720 yen, Hakata -> Oomuta 2,470 yen
Day 2: Oomuta -> Kagoshima 7,650 yen
Day 3 & 4: We didn’t use the pass.
Day 5: Kagoshima -> Oomuta 7,650 yen
Day 6: Oomuta -> Kyoto (transferred in Hakata and Shin-Osaka) 16,590 yen
Day 7: Kyoto -> Fushimi Inari 140 yen, Fushimi Inari -> Kyoto 140 yen, Kyoto -> Shizuoka 9,950 yen, Shizuoka -> Higasi Shizuoka 140 yen, Higashi Shizuoka -> Shizuoka 140 yen, Shizuoka -> Tokyo 6,180 yen
The total cost of the transportation would’ve been 72,770 yen without the pass. (If we used the pass on Day 3 and 4, it would’ve been more!) The JR Pass was 28,300 yen so we used it for more than twice its worth!
For the local JR trains, you don’t even have to purchase a ticket. You just walk through by the station staff window, showing your pass. We felt like a couple of FBI agents walking by flashing our JR Pass to them. (Some station staff might ask you for your passport, so have your passport always handy.)
Con: You can’t ride “Nozomi” bullet trains, which can be annoying for anyone who’s traveling west in Japan. Nozomi is faster and can get you to your destination in Kyushu with few or no transfers. Also, many trains are owned by private companies in Tokyo, so make sure you check which trains are owned by JR.
Helpful links about JR Rail Pass:
The official JR Pass site – You can find the price for different kinds of JR Passes, and where you can get JR Passes in your country.
Shinkansen Timetable – This is not an official JR site, but you can search train schedules and costs for a bullet train from one destination to another in English.
TIPS & NOTES:
Here’s something very useful to know about bullet trains… Surprisingly, there’s no special space to store big suitcases on the bullet train. The overhead compartment on the train is pretty spacious but if you have a very big suitcase, you can store it behind the end seats of a car. This is fairly common knowledge among experienced travelers, but it would probably never occur to you if you’ve never used a bullet train. I learned my lesson the hard way the first time I used it. So if you have a big suitcase, get the space behind the end seats of your car as soon as you get on. Also it’s not a bad idea to tell the train staff about your luggage being stored there. It’s not mandatory but it’s probably better for them to know it isn’t anything suspicious.
It’s not likely that anyone will try to steal your big suitcase on a bullet train in Japan, but if you’re worried about leaving your suitcase far away from you, you can book the end seats when you get tickets. The aisle is pretty big but a food/drink vendor needs to push their cart through the aisle, so don’t put anything in the aisle.
Oh and another thing! You can see Mt. Fuji on your right hand side when you’re traveling to south-west (Osaka, Kyoto, Kyushu) from Tokyo. It’s about 40~45 minutes after you leave Tokyo so get your camera ready!
We left Tokyo station a little later than we wanted, but once we got on the train, Derek was too excited to care because the train was going soooo fast.
We had to get off at Okayama station and transferred to another bullet train on the same platform. We had about 20 minutes to kill, so we got an “eki-ben” (Station Bento), and I got some sweets for my friend we were meeting in Hakata.
We finally got to Hakata around 2:30. We met my friend (whom I went to an art academy with when I was in Japan) and had ramen in the building on top of the station.
I ate: Lunch special/ small ramen with rice and cod roe 880 yen
Derek ate: Everything ramen 1100 yen
The broth was nice and rich (but not too thick) and the noodles were super thin, just like the way I love my tonktsu ramen! I forgot to take a photo but they even had raw garlic cloves on the table with a garlic crusher!
We only had a couple of hours to catch up and I haven’t seen her for 15 years but it was just like when we used to hang out. Before we knew it, it was already the time to say good bye to her.
We got on an express train and headed to my hometown!
We arrived at the station by my home around 6:00, and my dad was there to pick us up.
Not sure if I’ve mentioned in my blog, but my parents are both hair stylists. They have their own hair salons in different locations, and they probably look… a bit different from average parents at their age. My dad has a reddish short wide mohawk and skull rings on his fingers, and my mom’s hair has been dyed in so many different colors and now settled on dark red. I once had a pink mohawk, and when my parents saw me, they loved it so much that my dad decided to get a mohawk and my mom dyed her hair pink. The funny thing though is that my dad is very very shy.
At home, my mom and my aunt were busy & noisy preparing a feast for us. Tons of fresh seafood, veggies and shochu!
We told them about our engagement, and they were super excited and happy for us. And they (like any family in countryside) kept trying to make Derek eat and drink.
After we fixed my parent’s PC (well, we just plugged the headphone/microphone into the right place) we took a nice hot bath and pretty much passed out on the futon.
We have over 4000 photos from this trip and there’s no way I can post them all on my blog. So I’m uploading photos from our trip to flickr as I write a post for each day. If you’d like to check out random photos from Japan or us goofing around in Japan, check out my flickr collection by clicking the link below!
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