Budget-friendly alternatives for your next trip to Japan!
In case you missed it, JR Pass prices have increased by more than 30% since 1 Oct 2023. For example, the 7-day Whole Japan JR Pass which used to cost ¥29,650, now cost ¥50,000 (~S$450)! Quite a hefty increase!
And to be honest, maximising the Whole Japan JR pass in the past always made the itineraries feel a little rushed. So we took this opportunity to find ways to explore more in different regions of Japan.
Here we’ve put together five popular Japan itineraries that make use of JR Pass alternatives, plus tips on how to use the JR Pass at the end!
1) 7D Kansai Itinerary
Cities covered: Osaka, Nara, Okayama, Kurashiki, Kobe, Kyoto
Highlights: Universal Studios Japan, Okayama Castle, Arashiyama Bambo Grove, Nara Park
Recommended Transport Passes: Nankai Line Airport Express Train Tickets (~S$12.20), 2-day Osaka Amazing Pass (~S$30.80), 5-day JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass (~S$108)
Our Kansai itinerary kicks off in Japan’s second-largest city by population — Osaka.
Spend the first two days exploring Osaka city — remember to activate your 2-day Osaka Amazing Pass! Hit up shops along Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street, pose with the famous Glico man at Dotonbori Street, visit Osaka Castle as well as teamLab Botanical Garden Osaka.
Here’s where you should activate your 5-day JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass — for day trips out of Osaka! Spend a full day at Universal Studios Japan, home to the world’s first Super Nintendo World. That’s not all, visit popular themed areas within the park like Minion Park and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
*Pro-tip: Maximise your time at Universal Studios Japan by getting express passes (from ~S$106.50) and skipping the queues!
Spend a day exploring Kurashiki (known as the “Venice of Japan” cause of its beautiful canal stretch filled with gondolas), Okayama (for its gorgeous all-black castle) and Kobe (for beef) — all easily accessible via Japan rail!
After that, head to Kyoto for two days. Dress up in kimonos and go on a rickshaw tour of the Higashiyama district, visit the world’s first Starbucks with tatami flooring and hike up the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.
*Pro-tip: Purchase the Nankai Line Airport Express Train Tickets (~S$12.20) for airport transfer to Namba Station (Osaka).
Check out our full Kansai itinerary.
2) 6D Kyushu Itinerary
Kyushu is Japan’s third largest and southernmost island. There are direct flights from Singapore to Fukuoka (Kyushu’s capital!) in just under 6 hours.
The JR Kyushu Rail Pass includes unlimited rides on reserved and non-reserved seats on all local trains, limited express trains, and shinkansen (Mizuho, Sakura, and Tsubame) within the designated area. It must be used on consecutive days.
Photo credit: Fukuoka Now
The next day, head to Kitakyushu and Shimonoseki! Try the city’s infamous poisonous pufferfish delicacy (fugu) at Karato Market and then visit Kokura Castle — the only castle left standing in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Before leaving Kitakyushu, make sure to stop by Tanga Ichiba Market where you can find local specialities such as karashi mentaiko (辛子明太子, spicy salted roe) and nukadaki (ぬか炊き, fish simmered in miso).
You can’t visit Kyushu without a trip to Beppu — the “home of hot springs”. Beppu’s most famous attraction, the “Hells of Beppu”, features interesting natural hot springs like Chinoike Jigoku (blood red pond) and even Oniyama Jigoku (where crocodiles are kept)!
Another unique experience here is being buried in sand; the naturally heated volcanic sand is known to have benefits like improving blood circulation.
Check out our full Kyushu itinerary.
3) 6D Hokkaido Itinerary
The JR Hokkaido Rail Pass comes in 5, 7 or 10 consecutive days and covers all JR Hokkaido Lines (except the Hokkaido Shinkansen). This includes local train networks as well as select JR Hokkaido buses.
This Hokkaido rail itinerary starts off in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s vibrant capital known for good food and beautiful cityscapes!
Visit Sapporo’s main attractions on your first two days — the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade (a 1km-long shopping street), Sapporo TV Tower and the iconic Shiroi Koibito Park (a chocolate theme park dedicated to these treats).
Food-wise, Sapporo is packed with fantastic dining options. Some of our favourite meals include Gotsubo Oyster Bar (~S$1.40 for a thicc oyster? Say no more), Soup Curry Garaku (this dish originated in Sapporo!) and Katsuissen (for an authentic sushi belt experience).
After exploring Sapporo, it’s time for a day trip to Otaru. Otaru is a charming coastal town that’s a 35-minute train ride from Sapporo. This is one train journey you don’t want to nap on — the route is extremely scenic!
We first headed to the coast to see Hiyoriyama Lighthouse before going back to the city centre. In the city centre, visit the Otaru Canal, Former Temiya Railway and Sakaimachi Dori Shopping Street. For meals, we had fresh kaisendons at Sankaku Market and delicious soba at this quaint little restaurant.
Check out our full Hokkaido Japan Itinerary.
4) 7D Tokyo and Fuji Itinerary
Because just viewing Mount Fuji isn’t enough, why not dedicate two days to climbing it? It’s a tough journey, but trust us — the views and sunrise from the peak make the entire journey worth it.
Since you’re already in Fuji, you can’t leave without visiting Fuji Q Highland. This theme park has gorgeous views of Mount Fuji in the background and is known for crazy rides. Like Takabisha, boasting one of the steepest drops (121°!!) and Eejanaika, a 4D rollercoaster with 14 inversions.
After four days exploring Fuji, it’s time to return to Tokyo. One of the best things to do in Tokyo is explore Ueno — the cultural heart of the city. Visit the Tokyo National Museum and Hanazono Inari Shrine in Ueno Park, grab street food at Ameyoko Shopping Street and try tinned snacks (including bear meat) at mr. kanso bar.
The last day of this Japan itinerary is dedicated to Shinjuku and Shibuya — places you can’t miss when you visit Tokyo! Visit the Imperial Palace, sightsee at Harajuku and enjoy the lively atmosphere at Shibuya crossing.
Check out our full Tokyo and Mount Fuji itinerary.
5) 6D Kyoto and Nara Itinerary
Cities covered: Kyoto, Nara
Highlights: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Nara Park, Kaiun Bungy
Recommended JR Pass: 3-day Kansai Thru Pass (~S$48.80) — Use this for transport within Kyoto, then purchase single tickets for transport to Nara at Kyoto station
*Pro-tip: The Kansai Thru Pass also includes discounts at 260 major tourist attractions along JR lines! It can be used on non-consecutive days (find out exactly how this works here), so you can save the pass for days you’re using the train more.
Psst. It’s ~S$3 cheaper when purchased online via Klook compared to buying it in Japan.
Photo credit: @aaapplecider via Instagram
Day two covers my favourite neighbourhoods in Kyoto — Higashiyama and Gion. They form the heart of Kyoto and are the city’s best-preserved historic districts! There’s plenty to do in Higashiyama, like admire some of the city’s most famous buildings — Kiyomizudera Temple and Yasaka Pagoda.
Fun fact: Kyoto is considered the birthplace of geisha culture and Gion is the city’s most famous geisha district! Spot geishas heading to work along the 1km-long Hanamikoji Street, lined with machiya (traditional townhouses).
Photo credit: @leonthekay via Unsplash
Day three of this Japan itinerary is all about Arashiyama and its surrounding attractions! Visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, watch wild Japanese Macaques at Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama and stop by Kinkaku-ji Temple.
Most tourists know about the famous Nara deer. But Nara offers a rich history that goes beyond cute animals — it was Japan’s first capital from 710 to 784! That’s why this Japan itinerary includes two days in Nara.
Hang out with the resident deers and check off photo spots like Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha Shrine at Nara Park, indulge in famous mochi at Nakatanidou and go on a buggy tour around Ikaruga neighbourhood.
Check out our full Kyoto and Nara itinerary.
Tips for Using the Regional JR Pass
1) Purchasing and Activating Your Regional JR Pass
A cheaper (and more convenient) way to get your JR Pass is via Klook. For example, a 7-day Hokkaido Rail Pass costs ￥27,000 (~S$243) in Japan, but only ~S$235 on Klook. And you don’t have to physically queue when you buy it online!
Once the booking is confirmed, you’ll get an exchange voucher on the app. Just present the digital QR code at any JR service counter when you arrive in Japan to exchange it for a physical JR Pass. Passes only activate on your first ride out, so plan it carefully!
*Pro-tip: Individual shinkansen tickets can also be purchased via Klook if you only need one-way tickets, or if your itinerary includes other cities that your JR Pass doesn’t cover. These can be easily picked up from train stations and there’s an option to switch train timings at the station if needed. Pick-up instructions will be sent via email!
Unsure about which JR Pass you’ll need? Simply select the region you’re visiting to view the list of JR Passes available!
PSA: Klook is having an epic year end promo! Besides discounts on attractions, hotels and more, get 12% off shinkansen tickets with a minimum spend of S$200 (capped at S$30). It’s the best time to book rail tickets for your upcoming trip to Japan. 🥳
2) Download the Japan Travel App to Plan Your Routes
The Japan travel app (available on iPhone/Android) is the only app you’ll need for route planning in Japan. It shows various ways to get around (whether it’s covered by your JR Pass), train and bus timings, as well as which platform to go to.
3) Making Seat Reservations
Trains can get quite packed during peak hours or at popular stations like Tokyo and Kyoto so we recommend reserving a seat at least a day in advance. Most JR Passes include free seat reservations on the reserved carriage as well, so make use of this perk! Seat reservations can be made at automated machines or JR service counters!
4) Check out our other JR Pass guides
We get it, there are dozens of JR Passes available and it can be tough to decide which pass works best for your Japan itinerary. Check out our other JR Pass guides and Japan itineraries — it might just clear things up!
– Ultimate JR Pass Singapore Guide — Step-by-Step Guide and New Updates in 2023
– JR Pass Budget Alternatives — How to Explore Japan Without Paying ¥50,000 for a 7-day Pass
– Osaka Transport Guide — Maximising Your Transport Passes for Travelling In And Around Osaka
Which of these Japan itineraries are you most keen on? Share with us in the comments!
This post was brought to you by Klook.