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Japan family holiday Oct fly/rail pass - help

(43 Posts)
Sandgroper Wed 29-Jan-20 08:32:51


I am planning a family holiday (2 adults, 2 DS - 12 &14) this October school holiday for 14 days. We hope to get around using the Japan Rail pass. Not interested in an organised tour as they all seem £££. So trying to individual comments myself. DH been before about 25years ago and he backpacked for 2 weeks after a conference in Tokyo, but not very helpful to a family....

Flights - more expensive than I thought (it’s going to be that kind of holiday) Direct flights as opposed to stopover - any thoughts?

Rail pass have looked into. Any tips would be helpful. Planning on travelling light, taking backpacks with wheels. Anyone used the luggage forwarding service? Heard there isn’t much room on the trains for luggage.

Accommodation is the bit that has me stumped. Was thinking of using hotels, aparthotels, maybe b&bs. Also want to stay in a ryokan for a night. Am used to booking hotels, self catering and B&B but not sure where to start. Any thoughts or recommendations would be great.

Any other things that might be useful would be appreciated.

Many thanks

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Sandgroper Wed 29-Jan-20 08:34:22

Forgot to add budget £6000 - is that realistic?

OP’s posts: |
Lampan Wed 29-Jan-20 08:45:15

Disclaimer: it’s 6 years since I went but I don’t recall there being a problem with taking luggage on trains.
Some trains (the super fast ones) weren’t included on the rail pass but it wasn’t an issue for us.
Try and go to Hiroshima if you can as it’s well worth a visit, and will be a great history lesson for your kids.
Flights on Lufthansa changing in Munich were the cheapest at the time and perfectly fine.
For accommodation definitely stay in a ryokan but bear in mind that generally the bathroom situation is single sex shared bathing ie getting naked in front of other people, you won’t have your own bathrooms. It’s fine and you do get used to it but make sure all your family are OK with that.
Decent accommodation can be found in business hotels such as the Toyoko Inn chain - basic but good value and usually includes breakfast. I think self-catering would be hard in Japan but it’s very easy to buy food at convenience stores (MUCH better than they are here!) so that’s always a cheap eating option - we had a few noodles and salad meals this way!
Have a great time it’s a fabulous place and the people are lovely.

Lampan Wed 29-Jan-20 08:48:45

If your budget is to include flights and rail passes it might be tight... although I did find Japan’s reputation for being super expensive isn’t true at all. Eating out and shopping are cheap.
And check out Daiso for an awesome Japanese shopping experience 😄

Naicehamhun Wed 29-Jan-20 09:03:43

I did this trip a year ago with a 6 year old. So much fun.
Direct flights would be nice but we had a stop over for an hour in Helsinki and it was no bother at all. All baggage was transfered automatically and passport control took literally 5 minutes as the airport was so efficient and prepared for transfers. It was nice to be able to have a break and stretch our legs.

JR passes are great if you are planning on traveling a lot but are expensive. Instead of the JR pass we bought Sucia cards. Worked exactly like an oyster card but could also be used in shops and vending machines. We topped it up with about £10 each a day and saved us so much money in comparison if we had bought a JR pass.

One massive tip I have. Make sure you can access your phone's data, I'm with Vodafone and I think it was £6 a day for unlimited data. I then could use Google maps for everything. All the train times are listed in Google maps, with the platform numbers too so I didn't even have to worry about trying to read signs in Japanese. All I would do is use my current location and then enter the location we wanted to visit. We navigated buses, trains, metro Everywhere! It made it so easy.

Naicehamhun Wed 29-Jan-20 09:05:09

Bombard me with questions if you like. I can help out with information where I can.

Sandgroper Wed 29-Jan-20 09:07:51

Thanks Lampan for your speedy informative reply.

Thanks for the tip about the ryokans bathrooms, I didn’t know that. I don’t mind but think my DS might mind.... they want to go to a hot springs as well then I told them about the nudity part and there were some raised eyebrows😁

I am sure we will find ways of eating out cheaply and your tips are very useful. Luckily we are not fussy eaters and love Japanese food.

Was thinking of Tokyo, Horishima, Kyoto and maybe some side trips from these places..

The trip is for my 50th instead of a party.... trip of a lifetime - I hope...

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Feelingfestivenow Wed 29-Jan-20 09:11:29

Long time visitor to Japan here, also lived/worked there for a while.

Flights your leaving it a little late to get some good prices, sales have already come and gone for some airlines, but I have noticed the flights were already higher due to Rugby and the Olympics, indirect flights are going to be less than direct, have a look at Skyscanner for prices, they are not a booking agent but will give you an idea of a mix of flight prices with various airlines, then always book direct with the airline itself.

The JR pass is excellent value esp if your planning on travelling distances, there is limited space for luggage (more in the green Car, which is like our 1st class) but sure you already know you can only buy the pass outside Japan, and only for non Japanese. Use Hyperdia to look at costing of trains and timings so you can work out if the pass is worth it for you, some get very full and you will need to reserve seats. The Nozomi and Mizuho trains cannot be used with the pass, but there are plenty others you can use.

There are lots of company's offering the pass, some £ a little more than others, dont be put off from buying them from a company in say France if cheaper.

Cannot comment on the luggage couriers as we have never used them.

Have a look at JapaniCan and Japan experience for accommodation, some good prices, they also give lots of info on what to see and do for visits.

Get the basics sorted, flights where you want to visit, accommodation, then look at all the other great things Japan has to offer.

Any other info happy to help

Lampan Wed 29-Jan-20 09:18:11

You’re welcome! A couple of other points, the poster mentioning having data access is right, though you could also look into hiring a portable wireless router, it’s a small device that you carry and you can connect to WiFi the way. That means you can all use it and it may well be cheaper than data on your phones. Usually you can pick up and return them at the airport.
I though Kyoto was OK but very touristy compared to everywhere else. Really liked Yokohama and Kobe. Nara and Nikko are worth visiting too. Nikko can be a day trip from Tokyo.

BubblesBuddy Wed 29-Jan-20 09:18:18

I think you will really struggle on this budget. Stopping over adds a big chunk of travelling into your holiday. It takes a while to settle into Japan anyway so I’d go direct. If you think about your carbon footprint, obviously flying for longer with more take offs is not great. Do DC have views on this? Many young people do. We should all be travelling direct these days.

Your hotels will necessarily be very budget on this money. So back packing won’t be far from it. We spent way more than this for just two of us. Japan rail isn’t cheap either.

However it’s a fantastic country and well worth a visit. It’s one of the best holidays we have done and I want to go back.

There is a forward luggage system with the Japan postal system. Hotels organised this for us. Bags were collected at 5 pm the day before travel and we kept overnight/Day bags for travel. The high speed trains don’t have much luggage space. We then arrived at our next hotel and luggage was waiting for us. Again, it costs though! However the stations are huge and travelling light might help you navigate them.

The general booking sites like have all sorts of accommodation on offer. Not sure I’ve seen b and bs. However Ryocans are not cheap. So you might only afford one for a couple of nights. We found travellers views on hotels were accurate so search fir best rated at lowest price and see what comes up!

Sandgroper Wed 29-Jan-20 09:23:51

Thanks Naicehamhun for your tips, all very useful and ones I hadn’t thought about.

Yes the stopover flights seem to be a bit cheaper and an easy process if you can get a quick turnaround time.....

I will pass on your tips about the phone to DH as he deals with all that stuff. Very helpful.

I will look into the Sucia card, not heard of it but it sounds great. Yes the JR cards work out to be about £1300 for our trip and I am not convinced we would get full value out of them. DH wants to be on the move a lot and I thought we could chose a few place and spend a few nights at each and do day trips - still debating that one. The DS would just spend 2 weeks in Tokyo if we let them!

I will do some research on the tips you have given me but might be back with more questions. Thanks

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exexpat Wed 29-Jan-20 10:21:31

The Suica cards (that's the JR East version - it's a shared system with Pasmo, Ikoka and a few other brands from other train/metro operators) are mainly used for short city/suburban (commuter) train trips and metro systems; you can't use them on long distance trains and some more rural ones. They are still very useful to have and there are now no-deposit versions for foreign visitors:

I've lived in Japan and also returned many times to visit. Sometimes the JR Pass is worth having and sometimes not; to make the most of it you really have to plan your travel to fit all your long trips into a one-week period - it is not worth having if you are going to be mainly in Tokyo. So for example you could fly in to Tokyo, spend a few days there, then get a one-week pass and go to Hiroshima and a few side trips, then end up with a few days in the Kyoto/Osaka area before flying out of Kansai airport. There are also a few regional multi-day passes which can be good value.

Luggage delivery services can be useful if you are just staying in one or two places, but because they usually take 24 hours between cities, they are not great if you are hopping around every couple of days.

I would advise packing as light as possible and just taking a small wheeled suitcase, which is much easier for getting on and off trains and not taking up space in very compact Japanese hotel rooms. I did a three-week trip around Japan last summer with just a small (55cm/inflight size) suitcase, which was plenty as long as I made sure to stay somewhere with self-service laundry facilities at least once a week. I also took a very compact folding backpack which I used for a couple of nights on a small island where I was getting around on a rental bike (that was the one time I sent my suitcase ahead to the next place, skipping the island).

Traditional ryokan are expensive but worth doing for one night just for the experience. The high price is partly because an eleborate dinner and huge breakfast are often a compulsory part of the booking, though more ryokan are now making the dinner optional to cater for foreign tourists.

It is easy to find budget accommodation on or airbnb, or try booking direct with one of the budget Japanese hotel chains (eg Toyoko Inn - they do not list on Another site to try is

DemiGorgon Wed 29-Jan-20 10:26:55

we went to Japan this year- but bought our flights ages in advance.
We bought JR passes as we were travelling around a lot AND we found we used them in Tokyo on the suburban lines (these are clearly marked). We only paid for one metro trip to visit a temple.

Hiroshima is a long trip- maybe 5/6 hours from Tokyo? We dropped it from our itinerary as it was too long a trip.
We stayed in Kyoto and made side trips to Kobe and Nara with Kyoto as a base.
Then to Kanazawa to visit Shinagawa-go . Then stayed in Harajuka in Tokyo- the happening place.
Shinkasens are fast and efficient. Not much space for bags but we took smallish (bigger than cabin but not huge) wheelie bags, which were easy to take around.
You can reserve seats minutes before you travel.
We managed with train and hotel wifi.
For accom we used type websites. Be warned rooms are far smaller than we are used to but efficient and well organised. It was a shock initially.

You can wirk out if JR passes are worthwhile- you can google cost of train tix and then work out if individual tix are better.

exexpat Wed 29-Jan-20 10:27:54

Just to add - a portable wifi router would almost certainly be the best option for you as a family rather than getting data packages on all your individual phones. There are lots of rental places at the airports, or you can order in advance to collect at your first hotel. This gives an idea, but the deals are constantly changing, so look for the latest offers just before you go:

Public free wifi access has also improved immensely over the past couple of years due to the tourist boom and upcoming olympics, so you can get wifi access at nearly every station, museum, big tourist attraction, Starbucks etc as well as hotels. The last couple of trips I have managed with just public wifi, no data or portable wifi but as first-timers you would probably find anytime internet access useful.

ShanghaiDiva Wed 29-Jan-20 10:35:15

I agree with checking the rail pass situation as not all trains are covered and it may not be worth it depending on your trips.
I was in Osaka last summer and trains were operated by different companies and it was not the integrated system I had expected.
We used airport buses to get from airport to the city, have also done this in Tokyo and Kyoto, pretty good value and lots of info available on airport websites.
In Kyoto we rented a small house and used flip key which is part of the trip advisor website. The hotel we used in Osaka was great as they had washers and dryers and it was possible to reduce our luggage. If you are going to Osaka we stayed in hotel the flag in shinsaibashi and location was excellent.
There are lots of things you can do which are free or not expensive- supermarkets and markets are fun, shrines, people watching...

MumOfOneAndAHalf Wed 29-Jan-20 10:35:17

We found the JR passes amazing value. We stayed in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone and back to Tokyo as our bases but used the passes daily and went to Nara and a few other places. We even went to Osaka from Kyoto for dinner one night!
Some Shinkansen are included and we went to Hiroshima for the day.
Plenty of cheap eating options like ramen and okonomiyake.
Best holiday of my whole life.

ShanghaiDiva Wed 29-Jan-20 10:36:54

We also managed with just using public and hotel WiFi.

Aragog Wed 29-Jan-20 10:53:25

We went in the summer - me, Dh and dd.
We flew indirect with Emirates, Embury without stopover days in Dubai. Was fine.

We didn't get the rail pass as it didn't work out financially better for us. Plan your journeys first and then decide if you need them. Out only proper train longer journeys were Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Nara and Kyoto to Osaka. Rest of the time we used the metro systems.

Hotels weren't cheap but if you look around online you can get them better prices. Some rooms are small though so be careful when looking.

I have my cost etc at home but it did cost more than £6knim afraid.

BubblesBuddy Wed 29-Jan-20 16:14:21

I don’t see the advantage of moving around all the time as day trips are very possible using the rail pass. I don’t think the equivalent of interailing makes for the best holiday in Japan as so much of the experience is buildings, temples, castles and gardens not to mention street life. Moving on means you won’t get to know anywhere at all and you will miss some amazing sites whilst sitting on the trains.

If you like trains, there are private lines, such as the Enoden line which takes you from Tokyo to Hase and Kamakura. There is also a great planning book based on JR and all railways: Japan By Rail. That and Lonely Planet are invaluable resources.

Stuffofawesome Wed 29-Jan-20 16:24:19

We've just been JR pass worked for us trains were spacious and comfortable. We stayed in Airbnb's which are well regulated out there this in Hiroshima was great and 2 mins from peace park.

This place was above a sento (public bath house which we got to use privately in the late evenings and early morning so we could experience the hot spring water without having to get naked with the teenagers. Takayama was lovely and the train journey there beautiful

The others we had were probably too big for you as we had 6 people.

If you go to Nara contact the Nara student guide people. We went on day trip from Kyoto and had fab very knowledgeable guide show us around all for free.

Make sure you take some cash. Found a lot of places we went didn't take cards and lots of atms didn't take foreign cards so ended up paying lots of transaction fees to use the atms in 7eleven.

Stuffofawesome Wed 29-Jan-20 16:25:48

This was good. Super Cheap Japan: Budget Travel in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Surrounding Areas

Caroian Wed 29-Jan-20 16:29:51

I don’t have much time to reply right now, but need to disagree with the lack of space for luggage comments. Our medium hard sided Tripp cases easily went in the overhead rack in all Shinkansen services, and easily fitted in the lockers at all stations when we wanted to leave them for a bit in on days we changed cities. I think people din’t Notice how huge the overhead racks are - they really are big! On another journey we were allocated the front row of seats in a carriage and they stood on the floor in front of us with no compromise on leg room.

Also, the vast majority of Shinkansen services are covered by the JR Pass. It is only really the super fast Nozomi services that are excluded. This might be an issue if you want to cover really big distances (e.g Sapporo/Hokkaido from central Japan) but if you plan to stay in a couple of places and arrange trips accordingly there is probably no need to use these services.

There is a website where you can input your journals and it will tell you if a JR Pass is worthwhile. Bear in mind it covers local JR services as well as the billet trains. It diesn’t Cover services of other operators e.g Tokyo Metro. Some areas of each city are better served by services other than JR, so it pays to look at maps and plan where to stay accordingly. You’ll almost certainly need to make some non-JR journeys, and you’ll want a Suica card to pay for these (as well as vending machines etc too).

It’s a fabulous country, but well worth the time to plan your trip so you can get the maximum out of it!

Sandgroper Wed 29-Jan-20 16:46:40


Thank you so much for everyone who replied and so quickly too! I really appreciate your insights, own experiences and recommendations.

Now off to do some planning and more investigating. Will report back on my findings.

Gotta love the mumsnet community of like minded travellers!

OP’s posts: |
LizziesTwin Wed 29-Jan-20 16:52:19

We left our suitcases in the left luggage at stations a couple of times.

BubblesBuddy Wed 29-Jan-20 23:48:39

We did that too. It’s worth it if you stop en route to look at something.

All our luggage was delivered the following day and was always waiting for us (even to the Ryocan at Tsumago). Every time. It would not fit easily on the overhead racks. Cabin luggage would. Our day bags fitted just fine. If lots of people have luggage it’s a pain and the stations are huge when you are lugging it around. We just paid and had hassle free travel. Each to their own.

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