Shinkansen/JR help

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It is hard to overstate my excitement for a trip to Japan in just over a month.
It will be my first proper time in the country (Narita Airport when I was 11 years old doesn't count), and in addition to skiing, I'm hoping to ride a lot of trains.

Does anyone here have expertise with Japan rail/metros? I find it in general to be a little overwhelming. Beyond getting a Japan Rail Pass, I'm not sure where to begin.

I have a few goals/major legs of the trip:
Airport to Tokyo
Sunrise Express from Tokyo to Okayama
-Okayama to Osaka probably by rail
Tokaido Shinkansen from Osaka back to Tokyo
Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo to Liyama
-round trip to and from Nozawa Onsen
Nagano Shinkansen from Liyama to Tokyo.
Tokyo to Airport

Would a japan rail pass make sense for this number of trips (4 night/5 day)? I've read the Sunrise Express fills quickly, and probably should purchase tickets ASAP - assuming rooms are even available still.

Thanks in advance for the help.
 
It is hard to overstate my excitement for a trip to Japan in just over a month.
It will be my first proper time in the country (Narita Airport when I was 11 years old doesn't count), and in addition to skiing, I'm hoping to ride a lot of trains.

Does anyone here have expertise with Japan rail/metros? I find it in general to be a little overwhelming. Beyond getting a Japan Rail Pass, I'm not sure where to begin.

I have a few goals/major legs of the trip:
Airport to Tokyo
Sunrise Express from Tokyo to Okayama
-Okayama to Osaka probably by rail
Tokaido Shinkansen from Osaka back to Tokyo
Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo to Liyama
-round trip to and from Nozawa Onsen
Nagano Shinkansen from Liyama to Tokyo.
Tokyo to Airport

Would a japan rail pass make sense for this number of trips (4 night/5 day)? I've read the Sunrise Express fills quickly, and probably should purchase tickets ASAP - assuming rooms are even available still.

Thanks in advance for the help.
One of our Members, VentureForth, lived in Japan and is very familiar with the Rail systems.

I suggest that you PM him, he's very willing to assist others with info.
 
Hey there. Got your IM. Thanks for reaching out. I just got this but I'll be traveling tomorrow so may have more time to work this out.

Whereas JR is the largest rail company, it still doesn't make up the majority of rail service in Japan. The JR Rail Pass ONLY works on JR, not the ancillary lines. Note that on 10/1 the pass prices skyrocketed by 60%! What used to pay for itself with one round trip from Tokyo to Osaka and back now requires at least one more major segment to break even. The biggest benefit from the new price structure is that you can ride the super express Nozomi, albiet paying even more of a premium (totally not allowed on old pricing). I'm actually going in three weeks, but bought my pass before the 9/30 deadline. Then, I realized like 75% off the trains are Nozomi. By the looks of your itinerary, it may actually still benefit you. Just be aware of surcharges. I can verify those later.

When are you going? As JIS mentioned, you'll want a Suica or Pasmo card. These cards are cash cards that work across practically all rail companies. Even in a lot of vending machines. I want to say Pasmo may have a slightly greater reach? Idk. But because of the chip shortage, they can be hard to come by. If you get one, get it set the airport. May be the only place you can. I just found my suica card from 5 years ago. Score! I also believe you can use an iPhone tapbut NOT android. Requires an app.

Due to familial obligations I won't get to roam outside the cities as much as I'd like. Sounds like you are going to have awesome trip! I'll get back to you with more.
 
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OK. The surcharge to ride Nozomi with the new JR Rail Pass prices is an additional ¥4,950 ($33 if this awesome exchange rate holds) between Tokyo and Osaka per person, per direction. The Sunrise Express will add between ¥9,500 - ¥17,000 ($60-$115) per person. See if you can find out the price without the JR Pass and see if you think it's warranted.

Attached is a typical mid-morning Shinkansen schedule out of Tokyo:

1700660566166.png

The yellow trains are all Nozomi. They run about every three minutes. The darker red trains are Hikari. These run about every 30 minutes. Blue is the local Kodama. Pink is Sakura which only travels West from Osaka.

The point here is that if you buy your Shinkansen ticket ala carte, it's the SAME PRICE whether you buy Kodama, Hikari or Nozomi. So, you MAY be better off buying the tickets separately just being able to open up way more options for travel.

Note that ticket prices are generally based on four factors: Base ticket price based on distance. Express or Shinkansen surcharge. Reserved Seat. Green Car (first class). They are NOT demand based, so the same trip on the same train will be the same price no matter which train you take in the day or week.

Back to Pasmo/Suica: Here is a GREAT website that explains the WHOLE process much better than I can here, including Apple compatibility the minor differences between the two companies, etc: Suica Cards: Quick Guide to Tokyo's Smart Travel Cards | Tokyo Cheapo

Enjoy your trip! Let me know if you have any other questions!
 
Japanese trains are usually very precisely on time. In our one trip to Japan, in 2005, we had at one point an 8 minute connection between a conventional train and a Shinkansen train, cross platform. All people treated it as normal, got up, got out walked across the platform, got in and we moved out. One exception, a wires down due to ice. Best I recall, all recorded announcements were bilingual, Japanese and English, but the one non recorded announcement was not, in our case for the train affected by the wires down. We heard this lengthy announcement and saw about 1/3 of the people waiting for the train walk away.
 
When are you going? As JIS mentioned, you'll want a Suica or Pasmo card. These cards are cash cards that work across practically all rail companies. Even in a lot of vending machines. I want to say Pasmo may have a slightly greater reach? Idk. But because of the chip shortage, they can be hard to come by. If you get one, get it set the airport. May be the only place you can. I just found my suica card from 5 years ago. Score! I also believe you can use an iPhone tapbut NOT android. Requires an app.
Having the Suica on iPhone was awesome when I went in 2018, it meant I could put money on the (virtual) card using the built-in Wallet app using regular US payment cards, instead of having to find a machine at the stations.

When I went, since I mostly stayed in and around Tokyo, I didn't bother with the rail pass, just Suica in Tokyo and a la carte Shinkansen tickets for the trip back to Akihabara from the (excellent) Railway Museum in Saitama, and the round trip to and from Odawara for my day in Hakone (I would like to spend multiple days there next time).

I found that the two times I had trouble figuring out how to get where I needed to in Tōkyō station specifically, there were helpful employees that got me where I needed to, and only one time did I have to pay ¥100 (about $1 USD) because I took the wrong route through a station.
 
Does anyone here have expertise with Japan rail/metros? I find it in general to be a little overwhelming. Beyond getting a Japan Rail Pass, I'm not sure where to begin.
The options may seem overwhelming but the process of using them is actually pretty simple.

You can use the same Google Maps to plan your trips and guide you along the way. As mentioned Suica/Passmo cards are the fastest and easiest way to pay for public transit (and related/nearby services) but new card availability has been suspended indefinitely. That's annoying but JR does still offer short term "Welcome Suica" cards at major international airports.

Unlike standard Suica cards that are refundable and hold a balance for up to 10 years the Welcome Suica version is non-refundable and expires after 28 days. For this reason you might want to start with a smaller balance and top-up as you familiarize yourself with travel costs and card acceptance. Each time you swipe you can see your balance so it's easy to get a feel for when you need to top up again.

Starting with iPhone 8 you can create a virtual Suica card on a non-JP iPhone. The digital version allows you to fund your Suica account without having to visit a recharge machine by using MC/AMEX cards in your Apple Wallet. A virtual Suica can hold a balance and be reactivated or transferred to a new phone but cannot be refunded to a non-JP bank account.

See attachment for details on the Welcome Suica program.

Would a japan rail pass make sense for this number of trips (4 night/5 day)?
I would say yes but be aware that JR Passes recently went through a major price jump and they have some restrictions that may not be spelled out in a way that makes sense to the uninitiated. That being said JP Passes do offer a benefit that can be very useful to newbies. If you get lost or lose track of time and fail to board a reserved train a JR Pass will generally let you re-book on the next available train without penalty while a conventional ticket would usually forfeit the value of any no-shows for reserved trains.
 

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OK. The surcharge to ride Nozomi with the new JR Rail Pass prices is an additional ¥4,950 ($33 if this awesome exchange rate holds) between Tokyo and Osaka per person, per direction. The Sunrise Express will add between ¥9,500 - ¥17,000 ($60-$115) per person. See if you can find out the price without the JR Pass and see if you think it's warranted.

Attached is a typical mid-morning Shinkansen schedule out of Tokyo:

View attachment 34718

The yellow trains are all Nozomi. They run about every three minutes. The darker red trains are Hikari. These run about every 30 minutes. Blue is the local Kodama. Pink is Sakura which only travels West from Osaka.

The point here is that if you buy your Shinkansen ticket ala carte, it's the SAME PRICE whether you buy Kodama, Hikari or Nozomi. So, you MAY be better off buying the tickets separately just being able to open up way more options for travel.

Note that ticket prices are generally based on four factors: Base ticket price based on distance. Express or Shinkansen surcharge. Reserved Seat. Green Car (first class). They are NOT demand based, so the same trip on the same train will be the same price no matter which train you take in the day or week.

Back to Pasmo/Suica: Here is a GREAT website that explains the WHOLE process much better than I can here, including Apple compatibility the minor differences between the two companies, etc: Suica Cards: Quick Guide to Tokyo's Smart Travel Cards | Tokyo Cheapo

Enjoy your trip! Let me know if you have any other questions!
Thank you to everyone who responded - this is hugely helpful information.

After doing a little math, it seems a rail pass is worth it for the two of us. We are taking just enough trips that it makes a difference. And given we are hoping to catch a fast train from Osake to Tokyo, It seems we will only ride one Nozomi (Osaka to Tokyo) as the sleeper will be the way down.

Has anyone ridden the Sunrise Express here?
 
It is hard to overstate my excitement for a trip to Japan in just over a month.
It will be my first proper time in the country (Narita Airport when I was 11 years old doesn't count), and in addition to skiing, I'm hoping to ride a lot of trains.

Does anyone here have expertise with Japan rail/metros? I find it in general to be a little overwhelming. Beyond getting a Japan Rail Pass, I'm not sure where to begin.

I have a few goals/major legs of the trip:
Airport to Tokyo
Sunrise Express from Tokyo to Okayama
-Okayama to Osaka probably by rail
Tokaido Shinkansen from Osaka back to Tokyo
Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo to Liyama
-round trip to and from Nozawa Onsen
Nagano Shinkansen from Liyama to Tokyo.
Tokyo to Airport

Would a japan rail pass make sense for this number of trips (4 night/5 day)? I've read the Sunrise Express fills quickly, and probably should purchase tickets ASAP - assuming rooms are even available still.

Thanks in advance for the help.

If you can find time in your schedule, a half day in Hiroshima may leave a mark on you.
 
It’s something I would have interest in experiencing, but my wife gave an unequivocal no - though for reasonable concerns.

Much of the story is based on the life of a child living in Hiroshima at the time of the A bomb exploding, it doesn't try to force opinions.

It is a very personal decision whether to visit and so should it be. Enjoy your trip, Japan is like nowhere else.
 
If you can find time in your schedule, a half day in Hiroshima may leave a mark on you.
Indeed, a visit to the Peace Park is quite a sobering experience and can be quite emotional too.

Visiting it was the reason for my travel on a jam packed SRO Hikari mentioned elsewhere, Did a day trip from Yokohama where I was attending a technical conference.
 
Much of the story is based on the life of a child living in Hiroshima at the time of the A bomb exploding, it doesn't try to force opinions.

It is a very personal decision whether to visit and so should it be. Enjoy your trip, Japan is like nowhere else.
Perhaps on a different trip.
I don’t know enough about radiation science to really have any sort of opinion, but my wife would rather visit it during a slightly older period in her life if you know what I’m getting at - in this case, easy just to save it for later!

Nothing to do with opinions about the war or anything. I appreciate the endorsements from both you and @jis though, and I look forward to visiting. We always find those sorts of experiences important and meaningful.
 
Even though a lot of my family have visited Japan from the late 40s until the current time Ive wanted to, never have. My only connection to the tragedy at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just visiting this B29 at the air museum in Dayton Ohio. It gave me the shudders to think, one plane, one bomb.
 

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Couple of changes/updates:
We've decided to spend a night in Kyoto due to their reputation of being more than vegetarian friendly (for me).

After some reorganizing, it seems the JR rail pass is no longer our desired option financially (by just a small amount however). So we will purchase individually.

There seems to be a large number of sites for reserving Shinkansen/train tickets. What would be everyone's recommendations for a site to purchase tickets for the following legs? We would prefer to reserve tickets rather than go unreserved.

Tokyo-Okayama (night train)
Okayama-Kyoto
Kyoto-Tokyo
Tokyo-Liyama-Tokyo
 
It is hard to overstate my excitement for a trip to Japan in just over a month.
It will be my first proper time in the country (Narita Airport when I was 11 years old doesn't count), and in addition to skiing, I'm hoping to ride a lot of trains.

Does anyone here have expertise with Japan rail/metros? I find it in general to be a little overwhelming. Beyond getting a Japan Rail Pass, I'm not sure where to begin.

I have a few goals/major legs of the trip:
Airport to Tokyo
Sunrise Express from Tokyo to Okayama
-Okayama to Osaka probably by rail
Tokaido Shinkansen from Osaka back to Tokyo
Nagano Shinkansen from Tokyo to Liyama
-round trip to and from Nozawa Onsen
Nagano Shinkansen from Liyama to Tokyo.
Tokyo to Airport

Would a japan rail pass make sense for this number of trips (4 night/5 day)? I've read the Sunrise Express fills quickly, and probably should purchase tickets ASAP - assuming rooms are even available still.

Thanks in advance for the help.
I lived in Japan for 10 years and know a lot about the trains as well. Feel free to ask me any remaining questions you may have
 
Couple of changes/updates:
We've decided to spend a night in Kyoto due to their reputation of being more than vegetarian friendly (for me).

After some reorganizing, it seems the JR rail pass is no longer our desired option financially (by just a small amount however). So we will purchase individually.
Unless you are certain of your plans, you might want to re-think this if you are close in cost to the pass. With the pass, changes in plans or additions would be essentially cost free.
 
Unless you are certain of your plans, you might want to re-think this if you are close in cost to the pass. With the pass, changes in plans or additions would be essentially cost free.
I lived in Japan for 10 years and know a lot about the trains as well. Feel free to ask me any remaining questions you may have
I appreciate the help.

My wife and I had a very successful and enjoyable trip last week - I plan to post a trip report soon.
 
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