Beyond the brochure: A trip for every season with the JR TOKYO Wide Pass
As the capital of Japan and one of the largest, most bustling cities in the world, it is no small wonder that many holidays to Japan usually begin and end with Tokyo City (東京都 Tōkyō-to). However, despite the never-ending amount of sights and sounds that Tokyo has to offer, you might get tired of the concrete jungle after spending extended amounts of time travelling through its streets. As such, many soon-to-be holidayers may find it prudent to plan a short one (or two) day trip out of the city for a well-needed change of scenery.
(Image credit: Japan Railway East Company)
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass (formerly known as the JR Kanto Area Pass) is the perfect cost-saving solution for a quick getaway from Tokyo into the neighbouring areas. For a friendly price of ¥10,180, this pass gives you three days of unlimited travel on various train lines that run through the Kanto Region (関東地方 Kantō-chihō). While this might not sound like a very long time, it is plenty for a short break in the middle of a long Tokyo-centric stay. In addition, under the right conditions, the JR TOKYO Wide Pass can even be used on many non-JR train lines in the region, such as the Fujikyu Railway Line (富士急行線 Fuji-Kyūkō-sen) and Tobu Railway Lines, that even the Nationwide JR Pass cannot be used on!
With such a wide variety of trains and locales to choose from, here in this article are four recommendations for places you can visit with this pass, depending on which season you are travelling in.
Daytrip One: Izu Peninsula
Recommended period: Spring (February–May)
Ito Onsen is a popular historic hot spring town with several great views. (Image credit: yoshi0511 / Shutterstock)
A great spring getaway I would like to recommend for a daytrip out of Tokyo would be the Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島 Izu Hantō). A resort area south of Tokyo packed with hot spring towns and beaches, this zone is a popular retreat for Tokyoites who want to spend some time away from the bustle of the city, and soak their stresses away in countryside onsen. Some of the popular hot spring and coastline towns that are easily accessible using the TOKYO Wide Pass include Ito (伊東 Itō), Shimoda (下田市 Shimoda-shi) and Atami (熱海市 Atami-shi).
Cherry blossoms in February? It’s more likely than you think. (Image credit: JNTO / Raita Futo)
If you’re around in February, you might catch one of the earliest blooms of sakura in all of Japan! The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (河津桜祭り Kawazuzakura Matsuri), held at Kawazu (河津) in early February for a month every year, features an early-blooming type of Cherry Blossom Tree, the Kawazu Cherry (河津桜 Kawazakura). Mostly planted along a 4km stretch of the Kawazu River, all the usual fixtures of a spring festival can be experienced here, from rows upon rows of food stalls, demarcated picnic spots, and nighttime illuminations.
At the very end of the Izukyu Line is Shimoda, a city with not only hot springs, but beaches and history as well. History buffs are sure to get a kick out of this location, as past events at this city marked the end of the Edo Period and ushered in the Meiji Period when US ships arrived under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854. Monuments to this event can be found across the city, such as in Shimoda Park and Perry Road.
Total cost: ¥15,950
Daytrip Two: Mount Fuji/Karuizawa
Recommended period: Summer (June–August)
There is no shortage of great viewpoints in the Kawaguchiko area. (Image credit: ©Fujiyoshida City / ©JNTO)
Mount Fuji (富士山 Fujisan) is a Japanese landmark that needs no introduction. It can be, however, surprisingly tricky to access via train, as part of the tracks in the area are operated by Fujikyu Railway. As a result, you can expect to have to switch trains and buy tickets multiple times while trying to get there from Tokyo unless you take one of the Fujikyu JR direct trains. Fortunately for you, the JR TOKYO Wide Pass does cover the cost of using any of these direct trains, something that even the Nationwide JR Pass cannot do! Summer is the ideal period to visit the Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji areas, being the only time of the year when travellers are actually permitted to hike up the mountain.
Whether it’s for shopping or hiking, Karuizawa is the place to be. (Image credit: ©Nagano Prefecture / ©JNTO)
Another great summer spot you should visit for the second day and third day of your pass is Karuizawa (軽井沢), a resort town located in Nagano Prefecture. Shopping opportunities abound here at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, as well as the more quaint and pleasant shopping streets in Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza (旧軽井沢銀座). The fresh mountain air and an abundance of nature spots such as Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝 Shiraito-no-taki) also makes Karuizawa the perfect town to go hiking and biking. Karuizawa can be easily accessed from Tokyo Station via the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line.
Total cost: ¥20,300
Daytrip Three: Nikko
Recommended period: Autumn (September–November)
The intricate architecture of Nikko perfectly complements its natural surroundings. (Image credit: Patryk Kosmider / Shutterstock)
Autumn is a time when nature is a resplendent canvas of colour, and during this time, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful landscape than the mountain forests of Nikko (日光 Nikkō). The area around Nikko has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to how the many incredibly beautiful and historic sacred sites in the area exist harmoniously with the natural surroundings. Emerging top amongst these temples is the Toshogu Shrine (東照宮 Tōshōgū), also known as the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), the Shogun who unified Japan and started the Edo Period. You can easily spend an entire day lost in the beauty of this area, admiring the lavish architecture of the shrines and temples, or taking photographs at every turn of the colourful autumn foliage that runs through the cobblestone paths.
Tired after a long day of walking? A few stations away from the Nikko Heritage zone is Kinugawa Onsen (鬼怒川温泉), a very popular and accessible hot spring town nestled in the canyon. This area enjoys the same beautiful natural surroundings as Nikko does, and has several ryokans nestled along the picturesque Kinugawa River (鬼怒川), making it perfect for an overnight stay or two. Several other great attractions are also within walking distance, such as Tobu World Square and Nikko Edo Wonderland.
The Tobu Limited Express trains from Shinjuku end at both Tobu-Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen Stations. (Image credit: photoAC)
Total cost: ¥13,790
Daytrip Four: GALA YUZAWA
Recommended period: Winter (December–February
Skiing is snow much fun. (Image credit: photoAC)
Perhaps one of the best uses of the JR TOKYO Wide Pass is the easy access to the GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT in Niigata Prefecture (新潟県 Niigata-ken)! As the only ski resort in Japan with its own dedicated shinkansen station, GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT is easily the most accessible spot from Tokyo to get your ski and snow fix, being only 75 minutes north of the city by the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. You don’t even need to bring your own ski gear or even be an expert in skiing to visit—the resort has plenty of equipment available for rental, as well as a variety of ski and snowboard lessons available in English, Mandarin, and Thai for beginners to learn the ropes!
GALA YUZAWA has all sorts of snow activities available for all ages to enjoy. (Image credit: YP_Studio / Shutterstock)
On top of covering the cost of your train ticket getting there and back, the JR TOKYO Wide Pass also includes special discounts for guests at the resort. You can save ¥1,000 off a gondola ticket package (regular price ¥4,500) and ¥1,400 off a one-day ski lift ticket (regular price ¥5,200) by showing your pass at the counter at the time of purchase, making the JR TOKYO Wide Pass a sure-way to save money! More detailed information about the experience of staying at the GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT can be found at our other article here.
With a day to spare, there’s no harm stopping by Karuizawa for your shopping spree in time for the new year! With a brief transfer at Takasaki, you can easily get to Karuizawa from GALA Yuzawa Station in a little over an hour. Karuizawa also has its own ski slopes and skating rinks, so feel free to mix it up and make the most out of your winter break!
Total cost: ¥21,000
Of course, all of the above recommendations are a non-exhaustive list of places you can visit using the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, and making use of the full three day timeframe you can even mix it up and go to multiple places in one trip! Here’s not forgetting that the pass is also valid for use on Tokyo’s JR train network, as well as the Narita Express (NEX) and Tokyo Monorail, thus making it a good value purchase to save money, as well as time, on your trip.
Header image credit: ©Yasufumi Nishi / ©JNTO