questions & answers: using the japan rail pass

buying green or ordinary rail pass

buying green or ordinary rail pass

I am considering purchase of green rail pass. I was informed that I will have to reserve each trip if I purchase first class. This could be done only when I arrive to Japan. I wonder what happens if I miss a connection? If there is no first class seats, can I use the pass for an ordinary seat?
How long in advance can the tickets be booked? Does it books all the transfers as well (I use HyperDia to research the rout)?

Please let me know,

Thanks,
Ephrat David

edavid212
edavid212

Hi David,
This is because the seats are reservation- only in First Class (Green Car, it's called.) It's very easy. You can do your research on Hyperdia or any other source, write a list of all the trips you want, and go and get the tickets from the JR ticket office - they are in every station. You show your JR pass at the window to get on the train and you show the ticket for your reserved seat to the conductor, as you would with any ticket.
If you miss a connection, no trouble - you just go the the JR ticket office and get a new one for the train that you want.
You can use the pass for ordinary seats if there are not Green Car seats available, but the opposite is usually the case - the ordinary seats go first, then the First Class seats are still not full. The very few times I could not get a green car seat, I could also not get an ordinary seat.
You can book all the trains you need within the life of the pass, including transfers, etc., but in practice it works fine to book them same day or one day ahead on most lines. The exception I have found is that on Hokkaido, the First Class seats from Hakodate to Sapporo seems to fill up in advance.
Between Osaka and Tokyo there are so many trains you can usually just walk up to the station and ask for a ticket for the next train and have a high chance of getting it, except for rush hours.
Be aware - you cannot use the pass for the Nozomi and a couple of the other super-super-express trains. But there are plenty of other Hikaris. The Hikari trains are usually exactly the same as the Nozomis, but just make a couple more stops. The nice thing is that, in First Class, all the businesspeople usually take the Nozomi, leaving more space in the Hikari first class cabin.
Lastly - beware of Japanese holidays. Those trains get booked up way in advance, especially in Golden Week (first week of May)
The pass is a great bargain, and the first class is especially so.

frequentJPvisitor
frequentJPvisitor

Thank you very much for your detailed reply. It is very helpful.

We are coming to Japan for 16 days to Japan. We will probably purchase the green JRP. Our itinerary is: Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto, Osaka, Mt. Koya, Karatsu (see the Hikiyama festival), Kagoshima (see the Ohara fesitval), Himeji, Toyama (do the Alpine Route), Omachi, Tokyo.

I am concerned about the travel from Mt Koya to Karatsu on Sat Nov 1st, 2014, since it is a holiday weekend and also many peoples may be traveling to see that Festiva.

We plan to travel from Karatsu to Kagoshima on Nov. 2 in the afternoon. I hope the trains will not be crowded since that city also has a big festival.

Do you know whether the trains might be crowded? Is there first class trains between Mt. Koya and Karatsu? and Karatsu and Kagoshima?

Thank you for your help,
Ephrat

edavid212
edavid212

Hi Ephrat,
Holidays on 1st and 2nd November - good question, to which I do not know the answer. But tonight (I am in Austria right now) I will see a group of Japanese engineers and ask them if anyone knows!
There is a train from Fukuoka (Hakata is the station name) to Nagasaki which stops in Kubota, and it has a nice first class cabin. From Kubota to Karatsu is a local train, no first class. The Shinkansen running between Kagoshima and Hakata stops in Saga, not too far from Kubota, and of course it has its Green Car.
I'm afraid that I don't know which Mount Koya you mean -- the one I know is about 30km from Wakayama - south of Osaka, nowhere near Kyushu - but if it is, there is only local (no first class) service between Wakayama and Hashimoto. If that does turn out to be correct, I recommend the Riverside Hotel in Gojo, with a famous onsen, a bit farther up the valley.
By the by, there's a great hotel right across from Kagoshima JR Station (value for price- wise, as well as in an absolute sense): it's the Solaria Nishitetsu. Another overall star of a hotel chain is the Dormy Inn.
You are aware that you cannot climb Fuji at the time without a permit? Of course, it's great to look at.
Back to you later with the response from my Japanese guests.

frequentJPvisitor
frequentJPvisitor

Thank you for your detailed advice and willingness to ask your Japanese guests.

We are staying at Koyasan near Osaka on Oct 31th. On Nov 1 we will travel from Kayosan to Karatsu. I believe we have to travel via train from Koyasan to Shin-Osaka to Hakata to MEINOHAMA to Karatsu.
On Nov. 2 we travel from Karatsu to Kagoshima: I believe we have to travel from Karatsu to MEINOHAMA to HAKATA to KAGOSHIMA-CHUO.

When I use HyperDia, how do I know whether the train has 1st class cars/cabins?

Can you ask your friends whether these lines are likely to be busy on these dates?

Thanks,
Ephrat

edavid212
edavid212

Hi Ephrat,
Regarding 1st / 2nd November holidays, there should not be an issue with major bookings in trains or hotels. Maybe some hotels particular to a local event are full, but trains no problem, according to my friends. E.g., book hotels first, then the trains!
If you want to maximize the first class tickets, choose limited express trains if they are available. On HyperDia, you can tell if it has first class by clicking on the pull- down tab under "Seat Fee." If that particular train has first class, it will appear on the menu of choices as "Green seat." Otherwise, it will be limited to reserved and unreserved, and since you will pay nothing extra for a reserved seat using a JR pass, you should get a reserved seat when picking up the tickets from JR.
On the particulars of your planned journeys, yes, you will have to take some non- JR lines and just pay the man. (The JR pass is still a great deal, if you do the math - there is no pass covering all Japanese rail companies. If you ever find one, take a look around for the angels, because you have reached heaven.) Very limited choice for green seats to Koyosan, at most a limited express for part way and then change trains. Not worth the bother in this case.
Your route from Koyosan to Karatsu is pretty much as you describe. SHinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hakata, green car all the way. You could take other routes and depending on several factors, shave off a few minutes or a few yen, but -- not worth the effort. From Hakata to Karatsu has some very nice scenic moments (and some boring ones as well.) Getting from Karatsu to Kagoshima - well, I played with that a bit. My first instinct was to go from Karatsu to Kubota, then Saga, and pick up the Shinkansen there, but with the JR green pass, going straight back to Hakata may be the ticket. You can play with all the times and connections and make your own choice (it's a fair bit of work at times, which I don't have the time for right now, sorry.) My quick look said that there was no good choice at all - but least of evils was but to retrace your route to Hakata and take the Sakura Shinkansen to Kagoshima.
Now that I know your route, I have one more recommendation: Make a stopover in Shimonoseki and go to the fish market. The fishmongers there are ever so more approachable than those at Tsukiji (who have tried at various time to ban all tourists.) The Deal of the Century at this market is Fugu. Yes, blowfish / puffer fish / in all its names. Do not be put off by the many reports of deaths by pufferfish. This is all media hype around a small number of cases every year where the fish were prepared by unlicensed chefs. If these same reporters wrote about your hometown, you would never go outside your door, day or night. Anyway, you can can a complete fugu "setto" (set meal) at lunchtime for 1,200 yen. Yes, $12.00, ridiculously cheap compared to Tokyo prices. You'll be there at the right time of year, too.
Kokura is also an interesting spot with great nightlife. A fun variant would be Shimonoseki > boat to Mojiko, some nice
restaurants including an excellent brewpub > local train to Kokura . Shinkansen on in to Hakata. (You can also walk UNDER the straits at Shimonoseki, 40m under the water via a pedestrian tunnel. Now we are getting way beyond what you asked for.)
Don't you wish you had three months for this one?
Have a great trip and if possible reply- to when it's all over and let us all know how it went :-)

frequentJPvisitor
frequentJPvisitor

Hi Ephrat,
One correction, and no wonder the way from Karatsu to Kagoshima via Kubota was not coming up - Saga is not on the Shinkansen line. Gotta do a memory test soon...
So retracing back to Hakata is the best way, hands down.
Note: it's well worth a stop along the way in Kumamoto. The castle and grounds together are magnificent, put up by a certain warlord, Kato. At the bottom of the hill leading up to the castle there's a very nice local crafts store, including earrings etc. of gold hammered in patterns into darkened metal. Great. If you go on a weekend, there are all kinds of animae fans who dress up in fantasy costumes and take pictures of each other. They don't want the tourists to be that close but if you shoot from a distance they don't mind.
Kumamoto also has a cutesy local mascot who actually has some character, unlike the many you wish would just go away. This one is a bear named Kumamon (the name is a cross between bear and monster) who has the funniest expressions and is available locally on not just trinkets of all descriptions, but also sake, toilet paper, you name it. It is the most clever marketing campaign I have ever seen for such a thing.

frequentJPvisitor
frequentJPvisitor

Thank you for the all you advice. I am so excited to visit that area now. I will try to let you know how it worked.

Much gratitude,

Ephrat

edavid212
edavid212

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