On my last visit to Japan I travelled around the country using a Japan Rail Pass. It is the most economical (and easiest) way to travel. It is also a real immersion in the Japanese way of life.
The Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass allows unlimited travel on all mainline railways and some of the Shinkansen (bullet train) services. I could pre-book seats on most journeys. So, once I had decided on my itinerary, I went to the nearest train station and booked seats on the trains for each outing. There is also a luggage service so I could send my large suitcase to the next hotel and travel with a day pack.
My Rail Pass was supplemented by a re-chargeable IC card which covers local public transport such as the subway. Money is taken from this card each time you enter or leave a station. At the end of my holiday, I spent the remaining balance in a 7 Eleven or a Family Mart. These convenience stores are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They offer a wide variety of food at very reasonable prices as well as clean toilets! I would look out for them everywhere I went. On arrival in Kyoto I bought some food in the first 7 Eleven I found and then had a picnic by the Kamogawa River.
Japanese Railway Stations
Stations in Japanese cities are innovative complexes and often the best places to shop and dine in the city. Kyoto has one of the most impressive railway stations in the country. And I deliberately spent a whole evening exploring its ten levels. Escalators and stairs connect them. The two sides of the Matrix, the main concourse, are connected by a walkway at the top. During my visit, a dance competition was taking place in the Matrix. There was an area roped off for spectators, but it was so full the only way to get a good view was to keep going up and down the escalators.
When I had finished exploring, I made my way to the underground shopping centre. One of the malls there is lined on both sides by restaurants. Plastic models of the food available are on display in the windows, so it is easy to find the type of meal you want and to place your order.
A Visit to Matsumoto by Rail
The pretty town of Matsumoto is a fusion of ancient and modern. A popular feature of this town is the giant Karakuri Clock. A modern interpretation of traditional custom. Its huge globe opens up on the hour to display figures playing with a Karakuri (a type of ball). This town is also home to the Black Crow, a magnificent wooden castle.
While I was in Matsumoto, I used my rail pass to take a trip out into the country to visit the Daio Wasabi Farm. Beautiful parkland surrounds this working farm – a perfect contrast to the busy cities. I did enjoy the freedom my rail pass gave me to see a different aspect of Japan.
Article by Valery Collins, the Experienced Traveller