Japan has a well connected , efficient transport network and visitor information centres to help you easily navigate from one place to another. I would try to share the information that I have in the hope that it would make commuting easier for you.
Intercity transportation: For long distances, you can travel by air, by buses or by trains.
1) By air: Sometimes this option is cheaper as opposed to traveling by train. I traveled to Sapporo from Tokyo by flight as the air ticket was cheaper.
2) By train: This can be a more expensive option but also more convenient. Based on your itinerary, you can choose buying a Japan Rail or JR pass.
JR pass: I traveled for 15 days without a pass and on doing the math, I realized that JR pass would have actually helped me save money and would have made commuting easier. You can follow this official link to find out if a JR pass would be helpful:
You can also follow the link here to see the video which explains how to use a JR pass:
If you are planning on staying in a single city for a long time, it may not be very wise to buy a JR pass but, if you are traveling to multiple cities and plan on taking multiple day trips, I highly recommend buying a JR pass. It can be purchased for lesser from outside Japan. If you purchase it once you are already there, it would be more expensive. JR pass can also be used for commuting in Tokyo as there are JR lines running in the city.
The reason I did not purchase a JR pass was because I could not use my EU rail pass very well when I purchased it and ended up spending quite a lot on intercity transportation in Europe even though I had the pass. To read about the EU rail pass, follow the link below:
coming up shortly
JR pass major points:
1) Exchange the voucher that you purchase with the pass once you are in Japan. You can choose the date you want to start using the pass within the next month. Once stamped, the date cannot be changed.
2) The pass must be stamped within 3 months of purchase.
3) Seat reservation is free and is not mandatory for most trains. On some lines, you may have to make a reservation beforehand, which is free, unlike EU rail pass.
4) The pass is non-transferable.
5)It can only be used on JR trains running on JR lines and not on trains of other companies.
Should you buy a JR pass?
I will try to explain by giving an example of my trip:
I reached Kansai International Airport, Osaka and went to Kyoto. I purchased a one day JR pass for 2300 yen. I used the local public transport in Kyoto for 3 days so I did not need the JR pass. I booked the Platt Kodama Shinkansen, the cheapest from Kyoto to Tokyo, for 11800 yen. I paid around an average of 2400 yen for day trips to Nikko and Kawaguchiko from Tokyo. I could not use the JR lines in Tokyo and had to use alternative, longer routes. I booked a flight to Sapporo and from Sapporo to Osaka. With a JR rail pass, I could have just used the train. Train to Daisetsuzan National park and back from Sapporo cost me around 5000 yen. I used the JR trains many times apart from the above mentioned incidents. On adding it all up, I ended up spending a lot more than a 14 consecutive day pass. A 7 consecutive days pass would have sufficed just as well.
Now if you are travelling to just one or two cities and making some day trips, it might not be a good idea to purchase the pass. You can calculate the cost in the cost calculator provided in the link provided above.
Intracity travel: I only traveled to Kyoto, Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka and Nara.
There are cards that you can buy for certain regions. I did not use any of them. To know more about them, follow the link below:
To read about Kyoto and transportation in Kyoto, follow the link below:
Tokyo: Multiple companies operate subway lines in Tokyo and I found navigating in Tokyo a little confusing. I walked wherever I could because I like walking, but mainly to avoid the complicated subway system.I will try to explain whatever I managed to decipher in the two days that I spent in the city. The subway has many lines operated by different companies. To get around all major locations, Toie and Tokyo lines should suffice. You can follow the link below to get an idea of the Tokyo train and subway system:
I purchased a 600 yen Tokyo subway pass but this will not allow you on Toie line which connects some major metro stations. I recommend purchasing a combined 900 yen one day pass instead so that you can smoothly travel by both Tokyo and Toie lines. You can purchase a JR ticket only if you need to travel on that line. The one day passes are not available on all metro stations so you can also purchase multiple one-day passes, if you are staying for more days. Some travelers bought the IC card which works in most major cities.
Sapporo: I mostly walked around the city and was not there for a long time and bought individual tickets. However I could have purchased a one day pass instead because I took a tram going the wrong way and so ended up paying twice.
Osaka: I purchased individual tickets to destinations but I am sure you can purchase a one day pass or top up your IC card if you have one. I used the subway system to go to Nara as well.