Travelling Japan with family

Hey all!

Was just wondering if someone could give me some advice. I have family visiting for Spring holidays and at some point during their stay we are doing a 7 day tour from Takasaki to Kyoto to Mt Fuji and the lakes to Tokyo. Now, for my family their best deal is to get that Japan Rail pass for 7 days but that`s not available to me as a resident of Japan, so any tips about tickets etc that I can get to make these journeys as cheap as possible? Thanks in advance.


The only things I can think

The only things I can think of are tickets like the rinkai free kippu, which gets you to Tokyo, any JR line in the city and a few others, and back for one price for two days or so. I think Osaka has something similar, a card that you buy for a set price that gets you discount/unlimited rides on the trains in the area, but I can't remember exactly. Otherwise, if you don't mind traveling separate from your family, taking the overnight bus instead of the Shinkansen for example is going to save you some money.

johnyuehan's picture

1 week car rental

Do you have a car? That would be your cheapest option. Renting a car will cost you from Y6,000 to Y9,000 a day for a non-luxury 4 or 5 person car. A 7 day rental, gas & tolls could be cheaper than rail passes & train tickets for all of you. Most car rentals come with ETC card readers; you still have plenty of time btwn now & May to get an ETC card. Mine is thru Citibank Japan, application is in English. The ETC card isn't necessary, but it would give you big discounts on tolls. With an ETC card, on weekends you can travel several hundred km for just Y1,000 in tolls; going thru metro areas will add a few 1,000. Driving from Kyoto to Gunma cost me about Y2,000 in tolls, I think. Without ETC, the tolls from Gunma to Kyoto are around Y11,150; allow about 6 hrs for the 540km est. drive.

Navitime is a good though slightly confusing web site for figuring out routes. Their English site is fairly good, but slow. Google Japan is helpful in figuring out routes, but doesn't show toll costs.

From my experience, having 4 people in 1 car, even just 3 ppl, is cheaper than taking shinkansen. With 2 people in a car that you own & ETC, the cost is comparable to taking shinkansen. Lots of variables, train discounts, fuel costs & tricky math involved when trying to figure out which is cheapest. But in general, a few people in a car is cheaper than the same people taking trains together.

I've rented from Toyota Rentacar several times, always had a good experience. No sneaky charges or sleazy sales tactics. Their cars are great, staff are helpful & friendly.

Driving thru Kyoto can be maddeningly frustrating, and expressways can be crowded. In Kyoto, park @ the hostel / hotel & take public transit to the attractions. Expressway traffic between Tokyo & Osaka can be crowded; to see the Fuji area, you may have to spend some time on those expressways, though. A car would free you from having to rely on public transportation. The least crowded expressway route between Gunma & Kyoto takes you thru Nagano pref. and the outskirts of Nagoya.

Send me a msg & I can help you out more. Take care! John in Numata

ETC card

Hi John! I would love to get an ETC card through Citibank Japan! I didnt know it was an option for gaijin! I have been on the website, but cannot find the application :-(

Do you know where it is on the site?


johnyuehan's picture

getting an ETC card

General ETC info:

Citibank Japan's website in English is confusing, and I couldn't find the card application link. For my ETC application, I had to call Citibank customer service (in English, and friendly service) to request an application in English. I filled out the application and marked that I would like an ETC card. After receiving my credit card, I think I had to fill out another application for an ETC card. The whole application process took about 2 months. Citi Japan charges an annual fee for their credit card; about Y9,000 a year, I think. Yes, it is a hassle, and the annual fee isn't cheap. I do enough long distance road travel that it has more than paid for itself, though.

- Citi Card Customer Service -
For general inquiries, replacement of your card, or reporting lost or stolen card in Japan -
Toll Free 0120-003-081 (or 045-330-6900) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Japan Post Office also offers an ETC card, with no annual fee I believe. Info is only in Japanese, from what I could find.

Google 'japan post etc card' & that should get you more information. A search for 'etc card english' brings up few results in English. You may need to get some help in order to get a card. I'd ask staff at work if they have an ETC card, see if anybody knows anything about them. Nobody in my schools knew much about getting a card; the toll discount system for having a card is confusing for most Japanese people, too.

An ETC card can be used in any vehicle equipped with an ETC device. Your card could be used in a rental car or friend's car. At the time of this writing there is a weekend toll special that lets you do a oneway trip on the expresways for just Y1,000. But if you use the expressways again on the same day you'll be charged more than Y1,000. Some couples get around this by using the wife's card going to the destination, then the husband's card to come home.

An alternative to getting your own card may be to borrow a friend's ETC card. Promise to pay all charges you racked up. Better: leave a deposit of Y10-20,000 with your friend, which should be more than enough to cover all charges. After the card owner gets a statement showing charges from the time of your road trip (and the statement should list which toll gates you entered and exited from) then you can settle the charges. When you pass thru a toll gate, a screen will flash a price; this is rarely the full toll cost, from my experience. More like 1/2 to 2/3 of actual toll charges if you passed thru a major city. Full ETC charges may not show up on your friend's statement for 2 months. Suggestion: both the card owner & borrower should sign receipts for each other. The card owner must pay all charges, & the card owner would probably appreciate an omiage or free dinner. Don't want to lose a friend over a money dispute.

If you own / are renting a car for many months or use a car from your city, consider getting an ETC device installed in the car. Cost: about 10,000 to 20,000 yen. The cheapest device should be sufficient. Installation at major auto stores can be about Y5,000. If you know how to install a car stereo or can find someone that does, the installation will be much cheaper. Most devices make annoying beeps or have voices that make noise every time you start the car. My mechanic installed a power switch between my ETC device and the power source, then a backup connection in case the power switch fails. Now my ETC device turns on & makes noise only when I turn the power switch on. Once the ETC device is installed in your car, your device has to be registered, usually by fax; there may be a registration fee. An ETC device is registered to 1 car; it cannot be quickly moved to a 2nd car and used in that 2nd vehicle.

Wow! Thank you so much for

Wow! Thank you so much for all the great information!