I have just spent an inordinate amount of time researching on this topic for my upcoming trip so I have decided that I must share all this info! We must all help one another to save some headache and money to make the most exploring wonderful Japan which I love 🙂
1. For the best ways to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo, here is a good compilation list by Tokyo Cheapo. The site has other wonderful tips as well! I have always taken the Narita Express (3,500 yen for 1-way or 5,500 yen for return including a prepaid SUICA card for travel on normal trains with 1,500 yen credit), but this time round I will try the cheaper airport bus at 900 yen which also takes around an hour to reach Tokyo Station.
2. For the best ways to go long distance, for example Tokyo to Kyoto, I have been introduced to the wonderful overnight bus option! It is waaaaaaay cheaper compared to the usual faster train option (5,900 yen), plus you save on 1 night of accommodation cost and you can make the most of your time by arriving bright and early. I was almost tempted to buy a JR pass (only for foreign passport holders and it is still good if you plan to take the Shinkansen and lots of trains) but this is way better in my view for my kind of travel. I am going to start using Willer Express from now on! Best of all, the seats really look good and comfortable and the website is in English. For the upcoming trip, I will test it out for myself. They also have a 10,000 yen bus pass option. There is also the JR highway bus option which has many routes from major stations such as Tokyo and Kyoto. The website is in Japanese so if you use Chrome as your browser, it can help translate everything to English:)
3. To find out travel timings, distances and costs via the train network, Hyperdia is your best friend. It is also an English website.
4. There is a new handy app called Navitime, which you can download into your phone that has great info on train timings and even advice on free Wifi hotspots!
5. Where to ski and snowboard in Japan from Tokyo as a starting point? This was the question on our mind and Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort is the most convenient for a short day or two trip and Hakuba is great for longer stays. For Gala Yuzawa, there are deals with the JR East Pass and Narita Express, and for Hakuba, there are easy shuttle services direct to/from Narita Airport at 8,200 yen or central Tokyo at 4,700 yen!
6. Always check train, bus and ferry timings in advance if you are adventurous and going to far flung places as you need to get the connection timing right. This trip I am really excited to be visiting Naoshima and Teshima, which is the mecca of contemporary art museums in Japan. The transport there is really complicated so to help you along, please check these ferry timings as they determine quite a bit of your itinerary when you want to island-hop.
I would be headed for Tokyo – Hakuba – Kyoto – Naoshima/Teshima – Kyoto – Gifu (Tajimi) for an epic adventure of hiking, snowboarding, culture, pottery class in that order. I am mega excited and do stay tuned for more tips and stories! 🙂
If you have tips to share, please do share in the comments too. Greatly appreciate it!