On a Budget

Plan Your Trip: Travel by Local Train

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Traveling by local train in Japan takes longer than the Shinkansen or limited express trains, but it not only saves on transportation costs, but also allows you to experience the lifestyle and culture of the locals. Learn about planning your trip by the JR local trains.

Choose Your Rail Ticket

Non-reserved seats (ordinary cars) on local and rapid trains can be used with just a rail ticket. If you want to enjoy a trip with a high degree of freedom, the following rail tickets are recommended.

Seishun 18 Kippu

The most popular seasonal JR rail pass with Japanese tourists, the Seishun 18 Kippu is five flexible days (times) of unlimited travel on local and rapid trains on the JR lines. There is no age limit, and one ticket can be used up to 5 times (or 5 people).

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JR Ordinary Ticket (over 101km)

Available anytime, regardless of the season. A one-way ordinary ticket for the JR lines over 101kmis great for budget travel throughout Japan. It is valid for 2-day (or more) and unlimited stopovers in one direction are available. The JR shinkansen (bullet trains) and the limited express trains are available for extra charge. It is truly a flexible ticket.

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Hokkaido and East Japan Pass

This seasonal rail pass is valid on 7 consecutive days of unlimited travel on local and rapid trains within the JR Hokkaido and the JR East Japan (plus the IGR Iwate Galaxy Railway, the Aoimori Railway and the Hokuetsu Express) for just ¥11,330. A supplement is payable on the Hokkaido Shinkansen (available for the lowest ticket).

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Best Train Finder

Avoid crowded trains during commuter hours

On weekdays, morning (around 7am to 9am) and evening (around 5:30pm to 7pm) trains tend to be crowded with commuters. It is best to avoid taking crowded trains with large luggage. Plan to take the train before or after rush hour. If you are going through an urban area during rush hour, it is best to take the train from the starting station to the ending station.

Take a long-distance train from the starting station

If you are going to take a long-distance train, it is better to get on from the starting station of the train you use and increase the probability of being able to get a seat. For lines with relatively large numbers of trains, such as the JR Tokaido Main Line, it is a good idea to plan to transfer at the starting station of the next train.

Example: If you take 1441M and 761M from Atami Station to Hamamatsu Station, you have a chance to get a seat if you transfer at Okitsu Station (☆) rather than Shizuoka Station.

Okitsu (☆)10591103

Save Time on the shinkansen or limited express trains

In the JR sections where there are extremely few local trains, or when connections are difficult, it is recommended to use the Shinkansen or limited express trains in the minimum section. In the case of the Seishun 18 Kippu, both an ordinary ticket and a limited express ticket are required separately, but in the case of a normal fare ticket, you only need to add a limited express ticket.

The following sections are recommended for taking the shinkansen or limited express trains.

 Oshamanbe – Toya (JR Muroran Line): Fare ¥970 + Non-reserved limited express ticket ¥630 = ¥1600

Morioka – Hachinohe (JR Tohoku Shinkansen): Fare ¥1690 + Special limited express ticket ¥1870 = ¥3560

Sakaide – Awa-Ikeda (JR Dosan Line): Fare ¥1110 + Non-reserved limited express ticket ¥1200 = ¥2310

Saiki – Nobeoka (JR Nippo Line): Fare ¥1130 + Non-reserved limited express ticket ¥1000 = ¥2130

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Change of Pace

Traveling by local train from morning to night seems efficient, but it is physically and mentally demanding. Get off the train at the right time, eat delicious local food, and take a short detour to refresh your mind.

Decide the arrival time of the destination in advance

When traveling long distances, decide in advance what time you want to arrive at your destination (before dinner? or even late at night on the same day?).

By following the timetable backwards to the departure station, you can get an idea of the appropriate times and stations for stopovers. If you plan to eat at the restaurant inside or near the station, allow about an hour.


“If you want to travel between Tokyo and Osaka by local train, choose the JR Tokaido Main Line”. That may be true, but it is also recommended to change the boarding route for the outbound and return trips, or use private railways for some sections. By changing your point of view from time to time, you may discover something new.