30 useful tips for travel in Japan

Guide to Buying Train Passes for Overseas Visitors to Japan
The most economical and convenient way for visitors to travel around Japan by train is to use the unlimited travel passes. The most comprehensive of these is the Japan Rail Pass which allows unlimited travel wherever Japan Rail operates throughout Japan... However, there are many other rail passes and excursion fares that cover specific regions or special tourist routes that are also well worth utilizing depending on your planned itinerary.
Getting your Pass
These passes are only available to overseas visitors on temporary entry visas of less than 90 days. The Japan Rail Pass must be purchased from travel agents outside Japan, however, until March 2018 you will be tentatively able to buy it at some locations in Japan. All the other passes can be bought either before or while already in Japan. When you purchase a pass you will receive a voucher which must then be redeemed at a rail office at major train stations and airports. You must show your passport and visa in order to redeem your vouchers.

Most of the passes are for a limited number of days, but you can usually decide the date you want to start. Once you have your pass, they are very easy to use. You can get on and off any train on the route covered by your rail pass, with some exceptions which you need to be careful to note.
Things to be Aware of
Most long-distance trains have reserved and non-reserved seats and you can use either with the passes although you must book at a station to reserve a seat. Because the passes are not electronic you have to enter and leave the train stations at the rail staff office and show it to the rail staff.

Although the rail passes are economical, you do need to decide how far and how often you are going to travel during the validity period of the pass. For instance, if you planned to be in the Tokyo area for a few days you wouldn’t buy a Japan Rail Pass (Yen 29,110 for 7 days) but instead purchase the JR East- Tokyo Wide Pass (Yen 10,000 for 3 days). However, if you were to go Tokyo – Kyoto return then getting the 7 days JR Rail pass would be beneficial as it would also cover your travel by JR local trains within the Tokyo and Kyoto areas.

It is also worth finding out if the specific route you want to take has discounted excursion tickets; for instance JR Central offers a five day pass that covers the Nagoya-Takayama- Matsumoto route.

While the JR network is comprehensive there are many places worth visiting that are better accessed using other railway companies which offer excursion fares. For example, the Tobu Railway company has excursion fares to Nikko and the Odakyu Railway company offers excursion fares to Hakone. It will pay you to do some research on-line or to ask at a travel/rail office to find the most appropriate excursion fares or rail pass for the route you are planning.