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Train Passes & Intinerary - Cheaper options w/o losing too much time

Hey guys!

My wife, my daughter and I, are traveling to multiple cities throughout Japan for about 6-7 days. We’re hitting the ground running from the moment we touch down and we have a limited window of time to do everything. We’ll be using the Suica Cards to get around where we can, but I’m worried about the costs for bullet train tickets between cities. I’ve looked into prices and think I may be overpaying, but I’m not sure. Time is somewhat of a factor, but if I can save on costs, I’m willing to lose a little bit of time here or there.

Here is our itinerary:

Tokyo - 3 days

  • Take Train to Kyoto (one-way)
    Kyoto - 2.5 days
  • Take train to Nara and return to Kyoto
  • Take Train from Kyoto to Osaka
    Osaka - 1.5 days
  • Depart to Airport

Questions:

  • Is buying a single ticket on the bullet train through Tokaido-Shinkansen our cheapest and fastest option to get to Kyoto from Tokyo, or is there a cheaper bundle pass that we can purchase that also includes rides to Osaka and Nara as well? (Price is coming up to $411.50 USD for 2 adults and 1 child for reserve seating). Are there any discounts we can get or are there any other options for bullet trains that we can take outside of “Shinkansen” to get to Kyoto from Tokyo that may be less expensive, but just as fast?

  • Does the Suica Card work when traveling in Kyoto (going to Nara), or should we purchase round trip tickets at the station? If the Suica Card does not work, what would be the a cost effective way to get around Kyoto?

  • Is there a fast, less expensive option to get to Osaka from Kyoto, while hauling luggage? (tickets on Shinkansen for 2 adults and one child are almost $100 USD for reserved seating). Are there other bullet trains that we can take outside of “Shinkansen,” that are a little cheaper, that can get us to our destination around the same amount of time?

Hi there,
I don’t think there are really any passes or discounts to make your trip cheaper - the discount tickets work well if you do a lot of long distance travel. You’ve only got one leg of long distance travel so just buying tickets is your best bet.
Answering your specific questions:

  1. Yes, It’s the cheapest, although the price you’re quoting is a little on the high side. The fare from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station by Shinkansen is only 13,080 yen. Kids 12 and under travel for half price. So your total for 2 adults and 1 child should be about JPY32,700 - which is $US 303.55 at current rates. You did mention a bundle, so I guess you were including the Nara and Osaka tickets. There are tickets for travelling around Kansai, but you have to choose your lines and they also work best with lots of travel. There is no bundle with Shinkansen tickets and travel around Kansai. You could also consider travelling by air. Flights from Haneda to Itami only take an hour and they’re often cheaper than Shinkansen. The trade off is you spend more time travelling at the start and end of your flight - the Shinkansen is probably faster.
  2. Suica, Pasmo, Icoca, PiTaPa, Nimoca etc. are all interchangeable. You can use and charge your Suica anywhere in the Kansai area.
  3. No. Bullet Train is a name coined by foreign journalists for the Shinkansen. There’s only one Shinkansen. There are plenty of alternatives to the Shinkansen - local JR lines, local private lines (Hankyu and Kintetsu are big in Kansai) and buses but all are slower than the Shinkansen. One caveat is that Shin-Osaka and to a lesser extent Kyoto Station, are relatively inconveniently located. If you are staying in Kyoto and you want to go to Umeda, catching the regular JR Kyoto Line takes 22 minutes vs. 14 minutes to Shin-Osaka on the Shinkansen - except you won’t need to change trains like you would on the Shinkansen. Osaka is a big place so it really depends where you’re going.

Good luck!