Japan is well-known for its fast trains and one could say that a ride on the Shinkansen bullet train is an attraction in itself. While incredibly efficient, the Shinkansen is not ideal for budget travelers without a JR Rail Pass. A single one-way ticket from Tokyo to the Kansai region (Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe) can set you back around ¥13,000. If you have a JR rail pass, on the other hand, then you’ll be free to ride the Shinkansen as much as you want.
About the JR Rail Pass: Many visitors decide to get a JR Rail Pass before arrival. This could potentially save you money if you’re going to be riding the Shinkansen often. There are also many JR trains that run within the cities that you can ride for free with your pass. Just be aware that many different train companies exist in Japan, so in some situations you won’t be able to use your pass. As the fast bullet trains are all run exclusively by JR, a rail pass is definitely worth it if you’ll be doing lots of long-distance travel.
Each itinerary in The Murakami Pilgrimage provides the names of the stations and train lines so you’ll know in advance whether or not you’ll be able to use your pass.
REGIONAL EXPRESS TRAINS
Getting from city to city within the Kansai region can be done easily and affordably by using a number of private train companies in addition to the JR. You can also get from Nagoya to the Kansai region by Kintetsu train at a cheaper price than the Shinkansen.
Without a car, the Hokkaido destinations of The Murakami Pilgrimage can all be accessed by train but expect to pay at least around ¥5,000 to ride at least a couple of hours. Most Hokkaido trains are managed by JR so this is another situation where your JR rail pass would come in handy.
Shikoku trains are also expensive compared to Japan’s larger cities, but the main destinations you’ll want to see in Kagawa Prefecture are at least a lot closer together than those in Hokkaido.
Plane rides can often be cheaper than the Shinkansen, especially if you’re traveling from Tokyo to either Sapporo or Takamatsu. If you’ve read A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance and plan to visit Hokkaido, then a plane ride is really the only practical way. If you’re going to be skipping Nagoya, you could also fly directly from Tokyo to Takamatsu and then explore the Kansai region after that.
There are a number of budget airlines in Japan nowadays such as Peach, Vanilla Air and Air Asia. Just keep in mind that if you’re in Tokyo, you will only be able to access these via Narita airport and not Haneda. Transport to Narita alone can cost around ¥3,000 from central Tokyo and it takes at least 90 minutes to get there. Therefore, transport by plane to get somewhere a little closer, like Nagoya or Kobe, is not as ideal as riding the Shinkansen.
Transport from one region of Japan to another is most affordable by bus. There are lots of different bus companies out there but Willer Express is one of the most popular companies these days. They are also one of the few bus companies to have an English web site and to provide customer support in English.
Getting from Tokyo to Nagoya, for example, can be done for as cheaply as ¥3 – 4,000 for a 6 hour trip via Willer Express. Tokyo to the Kansai region will cost a little extra with the trip lasting a few hours longer.
Keep in mind that the cheaper bus tickets are not ideal for sleeping. If you’re going to be taking a budget night bus, the lack of sleep and sore neck the next day may not be worth the money you save. Long daytime bus rides are probably a better option if you can find one.
There are a number of different ferries connecting various cities of Japan but in general they are not practical unless you’re getting around the southern tropical islands. One exception is the Jumbo Ferry from Kobe to Takamatsu. If you’ve read Murakami’s first couple of novels in addition to Kafka on the Shore, then both these locations are worth checking out and the trip between the two is very cheap and easy.
Some people decide to rent a car during their travels in Japan. It should be noted that every location mentioned in The Murakami Pilgrimage is accessible via public transportation. However, certain locations require a significant amount of walking to access. And, as mentioned, train rides around Hokkaido and Shikoku can be costly.
Renting a car would be helpful for getting around the more rural parts of Japan. I would recommend against having a car in Tokyo, though. Not only is a car in Tokyo completely unnecessary, but you will have a difficult time finding parking. And when you do, it won’t come cheap!
The Murakami Pilgrimage does not contain any driving directions to the destinations mentioned in the book. Luckily, most Japanese rental cars have built-in GPS systems so all you’ll need to do is input the addresses provided for each location and you should find your way around fairly easily.
RECOMMENDED ROUTE AROUND JAPAN
Apart from Tokyo, The Murakami Pilgrimage features itineraries for Hokkaido, Nagoya, Hyogo and Kagawa. The route of your trip will largely be determined by which novels you have or haven’t read. Assuming you’ve read them all, here’s my recommended route to visit all the locations featured in the guide book:
- Start your trip in Tokyo and then fly round-trip to Hokkaido.
- Back in Tokyo, take either a bus or train to Nagoya and then head to Kobe or stay in a nearby city such as Osaka or Kyoto.
- From Kobe you can take a cheap ferry to Takamatsu, the capital of Kagawa.
- Finally, head back to Tokyo or to Osaka’s KIX airport for the return flight back home.