If you have a tight budget and/or don’t have a firm itinerary, there are several alternatives to the Japan Rail Pass. In fact, many passes are available in Japan and are valid on most trains including the shinkansen (bullet train), express and local trains.
JR Shikoku now has an English section on its website and they offer a fantastic bilingual (Japanese/English) pamphlet on using the trains. The pamphlet mentions discount tickets but there aren’t English links yet.
JR Central has some information about shinkansen tours and information on how to use the trains. The “Value Tickets” section of their site says “Coming Soon”.
Most local pass information state that a tourist visa and a “foreign passport” are required. However, some may follow the same procedure as the Japan Rail Pass if you have a Japanese passport and permanent residence in another country.
Another tip is to keep an eye open for posters in train stations advertising passes. This is how we found out about one between Ibaraki and Tokyo. We couldn’t try it though – they were sold out!
Do I have personal experience using passes other than the Japan Rail Pass? Sadly, no. I researched other passes before every trip to Japan and did the same for people visiting us when we lived in Japan. Passes didn’t fit our plans or we missed the expiry date for a campaign by a day. We will keep trying as I love the offers and want to take advantage. I’ve done the research over and over and this post keeps the links in one place for me. I hope it can help you, too!
Have you tried a local pass or do you want to? What were your experiences? Have you seen any deals that you want to try?