A Week Riding the Rails in Japan

Riding the rails in Japan is one of the fastest, most scenic, and cost effective ways to explore the country.  Every tourist in Japan should take time for a high speed Shinkansen experience.  You must order the Japan Rail Pass from home in advance as you won't get this deal inside Japan.  For about 200 EUR, you can ride unlimited for a week on JR trains, buses, and ferries.  We used our 7-day Japan Rail Pass ticket to cover Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka with day trips to Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, and Nara.


Tokyo

The rail pass covers the JR train lines in the city itself.  The Yamanote Line does a convenient loop around the city with stops in all the major neighborhoods.  You can simply hop on and hop off with your rail pass by flashing it to the station attendant on your way in.  We 'spent' one day of our pass exploring the city.
Tokyo, Japan

Kyoto

For long distance trips on the Shinkansen, it's important to reserve seats before boarding the train.  We had planned our itinerary in advance and knew what trains we needed so we stopped at the JR office in Shibuya station to pick up our seat tickets (free but must be done in advance).  Tickets in hand, we boarded the high speed train to Kyoto.  Kyoto is a gorgeous spot that gives you the opportunity to get away from the manic urban centers to experience a bit of Zen in the region's countless temples.  As an added bonus, visit during Autumn foliage season like we did and experience some of the most vibrant colors you'll see in your life.  
Kyoto, Japan - Autumn Foliage

Osaka

We traveled from Kyoto to Osaka with our ticket.  We really enjoyed Osaka as it is a foodie and shopping mecca.  It's also cheaper to stay here than Kyoto and is an excellent home base for day trip exploration.
Osaka, Japan

Hiroshima

While we based ourselves in Osaka, we took the opportunity to use our 7-day Japan Rail Pass for a day trip to Hiroshima.  There is a heart-wrenching museum detailing the effects of the war and atomic bomb dropped on the area.  The peace park is also quite moving with thousands of folded paper cranes showcasing people's hope for lasting peace.  The skeleton of the building at 'ground zero' remains a ghostly reminder of what happened here in the name of ending World War II.
Hiroshima, Japan

Miyajima

Miyajima island is not far from Hiroshima and we used our JR Rail Pass for the train and ferry required to get there.  The island (aside from the throngs of tourists) is quite serene and it's possible to find a quiet spot to reflect on the iconic Torii gate as the waves lap gently onto the shore.  
Miyajima - Torii Gate

Nara

Nara is another easy day trip with Japan Rail.  This area is known for gorgeous wooded temples and armies of deer.  It's possible to buy 'deer cookies' to feed these fellows but beware, they can be quite aggressive as you can see from the warning sign below.
The Deer at Nara, Japan
If you are short on time, a Japan Rail Pass is an ideal way to maximize what you can see in a limited amount of time.  We really enjoyed our week being whisked away here and there on Shinkansen.


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Sidewalk Safari: A Week Riding the Rails in Japan
A Week Riding the Rails in Japan
Itinerary and photos from the perfect 1 week train trip in Japan. Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and more via Shinkansen high speed rail.
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Sidewalk Safari
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