Japan 2010: 0.2 - Taking to the Air

One of my TODO's for this trip to Japan, based on my conclusion to 2008's jaunt, was to design it a bit better; chiefly, make it more.. relaxed. Not attempting to travel hundreds of miles by train each day like in the first few days of the last trip.

This has a downside. My intended route is much more frugal in terms of scope this time; I have tried to reduce the journey time by train in any one day to 4 hours or less, meaning the distance travelled is much less. Only Okinawa and Kyushu, two relatively small portions of Japan actually are going to receive much attention. Perhaps two thirds of the total number of places I went to before are going to be visited this time.

In order to minimise the impact of this, I have booked myself some internal flights. This allows me to fly down from Tokyo direct to Okinawa, which cuts out several days travel if I was to get to Kyushu by train, and then a whole extra day or so by the limited ferries that serve the various islands. On the return leg, I will fly out to Kagoshima on the southern coast of Kyushu, and then slowly work my way back to Tokyo from there (some would ask why I didn't get an international flight direct to a more southern city, but I would respond in a quiet and dignified voice by saying that I never thought to do so).

Buying domestic Japanese flights as a foreigner has a similar set of offers attached to it. The almost obligatory Japan Rail Pass, allowing unlimited JR Line journeys for 1-3 weeks, has airline equivalents. Typically a traveller can book flights for a flat rate of between 10,000 and 13,000 yen per flight (£75-£100), depending on a couple of factors which vary slightly between carriers:
  • You need to book the tickets in advance before leaving your native country.
  • You usually need to book at least 2 flights and usually not more than 5. (A connecting flight will count as 2, and will be charged as such)
  • You need to provide proof of residency (scans of passports, utility bills, e-ticket)
  • You can't reschedule your first flight, and the others will be difficult to change, so ensure your dates are right.
  • There are a couple of other charges, such as a small consumption tax, and probably ticket charges (adds about £20ish to the total)
Several carriers, including JAL and ANA (the two main ones) offer this service, and the rates above result in a roughly 60% saving over the normal cost, so it's certainly worth jumping through a few hoops to get it sorted this way.

I got my tickets with ANA, because they had flights going to the places I wanted; if you can, some of the smaller companies (a good guide is here) will offer tickets at the lower end of the scale, but might not go where you need to be, so shop around.

Lastly, if you choose your international flights wisely, (I didn't), you might be able to get extra discounts. For instance, the JAL fares would drop to 10,000 yen if I had gone with any of the carriers in the oneworld group of airlines.

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