Although Japan has efficient public transportation system, foreign travelers still can be confused when facing a new system.
JR (The Japan Rail Pass) Pass
The JR tickets are only eligible to foreign travelers. The JR pass gives you unlimited access to all JR national trains and local JR bus services. The JR pass is valid for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Is it worth to buy? It depends. If you only stay in one city or surrounding city, it may not worth. The best to check is to go online and compare the cost of train tickets vs. JR pass.
We ordered 7-day JR passes online inside USA. Remember to purchase JR tickets at least one week before you start your trip, since the travel agent will mail the JR pass exchange voucher to you. Once you receive it, you will be able to exchange it in Japan within 3 months. After we arrived in Japan, we went to the JR office in Tokyo station and activated the voucher with our passport for proof. Once the JR pass is active, it is valid for 7, 14 or 21 full days according to the pass.
We felt super convenient to use JR pass to go to Kyoto. We went to JR office in the Tokyo station and reserved the seats to Kyoto for Shinkansen (the famous Bullet train). These trains are characterized by their punctuality and cleanliness.
Overall, it is very convenient to travel by JR pass without purchasing ticket. You only need to make seat reservation for the long distance train. For the local trains, all you need to do is to show your pass when going through the gate.
Public Transportation in Tokyo
Tokyo is covered by many lines of train, subway and bus operated by a dozen different companies. When we traveled in Tokyo, I felt that my brain had the best training by this complexed system. We didn’t buy the day pass. We looked at the big subway map on the wall in the train station, trying to figure out which line to take and how much to pay. The staff members in the train station are very helpful. Don’t be shy to ask help. Especially in the big station like Tokyo station or Shinjuku station, it is super easy to be lost and confused.
There are several kinds of subway day passes to choose from depending on how much you will use the subway.
Public Transportation in Kyoto
Unlike Tokyo, there are only two lines of subway systems in Kyoto, the best choice for travelers is the bus system. Outside JR Kyoto station, there are several bus lines. Each bus line goes to different main tourist attractions. The board in the bus station outside JR Kyoto station is very clear. It is no problem for travelers to figure out which bus should take. We bought the Kyoto bus only pass, ¥600 each person per day.