Beyond the brochure: Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass
When planning a trip around the Kansai Region of Japan, most visitors would pick the popular Kansai WIDE Area Pass for its convenience and value. At ¥9,200 for five days of travel, it is certainly a very effective way to explore the ever-popular Osaka (大阪府 Ōsaka-fu), Kyoto (京都府 Kyōto-fu) and Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県 Hyōgo-ken). But what if five days of travel is too tight a window to squeeze your itinerary into? What if you also wanted to see the famed Gold City of Kanazawa (金沢市 Kanazawa-shi) or the gorges of Toyama Prefecture (富山県 Toyama-ken), both of which lie just out of reach? If that is you, then we invite you to take a look at this often overlooked pass: the Kansai-Hokuriku Area Rail Pass!
(Image credit: West Japan Railway Company)
This pass gives train coverage of two main areas, namely the entirety of the Kansai Region (関西地方 Kansai-chihō), and a select number of lines that run through Ishikawa (石川県 Ishikawa-ken) and Toyama prefectures. Think of it as a beefier version of the Kansai WIDE Area Pass, with seven days of consecutive travel instead of five. In our itinerary below, we will show you one of the many ways you’ll be able to effectively utilise this pass to travel to a huge variety of locales, from iconic tourist sites to hidden gems!
Day 1: Osaka/Kyoto
Start off your trip with the most iconic sights of Osaka and Kyoto. (Image credit: photoAC)
First, collect your Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass from a JR West Ticket Office at either Kansai International Airport (KIX; 関西国際空港 Kansai Kokusai Kūkō) or any major JR train stations. For further ease of travel for the duration of this trip, I would recommend finding a hotel near Shin-Osaka Station (新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka-eki), as we will be making use of that station as our main travel hub for the Kansai Region. There are an endless number of attractions which can be accessed within a half-hour transit time from here, some of which include Universal Studios Japan (ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン), Dotonbori (道頓堀) or the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi Inari-taisha) in Kyoto, so make use of your newly-acquired freedom to travel and visit any of these places with ease!
Day 2: Himeji/Okayama
Experience the feudal era of Japan to the west of Kansai. (Image credit: photoAC)
For our second day, we’ll be making use of the Sanyo Shinkansen to see the sights of the western part of Kansai. For the first half of the day, we’ll be visiting Himeji City (姫路市 Himeji-shi), which is roughly a short half-hour ride away from Shin-Osaka Station. From the moment your train passes into the city boundaries you would be able to see its main attraction shining in the distance—Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō). This imposing yet beautiful white castle is the largest in all of Japan, and certainly one of its most iconic. The castle can be reached from the station in a 20-minute walk, and can be explored in its entirety with a guided tour or a handy English audio guide.
After spending the first half of the day in Himeji, we can return to the station to continue our journey west to Okayama Station (岡山駅 Okayama-eki), from which we can transfer to a local train bound for Kurashiki (倉敷市 Kurashiki-shi). “Kurashiki” literally translates to “Warehouse Village”, which is what the town was developed for in the 17th century as a town to store rice, sake, and other goods. The Edo-era charm of these warehouses has been preserved beautifully, alongside a willow tree-lined canal which adds to the historical vibe of the area. Take your time and enjoy the traditional atmosphere of Kurashiki along with its many museums, cafes, and shophouses for the rest of the day.
Day 3: Nara/Kobe
The place to be for shrine and animal lovers alike. (Image credit: Sergio TB)
We’ll be taking a side trip to the former capital of Nara (奈良県 Nara-ken) today, so head over to Osaka Station (大阪駅 Ōsaka-eki) and take a direct one-hour train on the Yamatoji Line (大和路線 Yamatoji-sen). Nara is known for two things: its temples and its deer, and you will certainly be seeing plenty of both as you traverse the city. Deer are permitted to roam freely around the city, though the majority of them mainly congregate in the central Nara Park (奈良公園 Nara Kōen), the site of several important temples including the massive Todaiji Temple (東大寺 Tōdaiji). Nutritious rice crackers can be readily purchased around the park grounds as deer feed, so just make sure you clean up after yourself and don’t leave the wrappers lying around!
Indulge in some of the best beef in the country after a long day of walking. (Image credit: photoAC)
If you’ve been following this itinerary closely, congratulations! By this point, you would’ve already taken enough train rides to break even on the cost of your Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass, which is quite impressive considering that we’re not even halfway done. After a long day of exploring, why not treat yourself using all that money you’ve saved to a meal of Kobe Beef? Despite the almost legendary status of this delicious beef, several restaurants serving it can easily be reached in the Sannomiya (三宮) district, the central retail area of Kobe City (神戸市 Kōbe-shi). The official Kobe Beef guide with everything you need to know about this delightful upscale beef can be found here.
Day 4: Fukui
The sights of Fukui go far beyond that of even ancient Japan. (Image credit: photoAC & JR Times / Afiq)
From Kyoto Station (京都駅 Kyōto-eki), take the limited express Thunderbird train bound for Kanazawa City. Before we head there, however, we’ll be making a stop at Fukui Station (福井駅 Fukui-eki), where we’ll be spending the second day of our pass. Fukui Prefecture (福井県 Fukui-ken) is certainly one of the more unique ones out of Japan’s many, from its fixation on dinosaurs to its various historical relics from the feudal era.
Taking advantage of our Kansai-Hokuriku Pass, we have two recommendations as to where to visit: the Tojinbo Cliffs(東尋坊 Tōjinbō), a beautiful formation of cliffside rocks formed by centuries of volcanic activity, and The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (福井県立恐竜博物館 Fukui Kenritsu Kyōryū Hakubutsukan), the largest collection of fossils in Japan and one of the world’s premier dinosaur museums. Both of these locations are accessible via train but are on the opposite ends of the region, so you should pick one depending on your interests: Geography or Paleontology?
Day 5: Kanazawa/Wakura Onsen
Home to be what may possibly be the most perfect landscape garden, proven by feng shui. (Image credit: Andreas H)
Kanazawa is a culturally-rich city that rivals Kyoto in traditional arts and historical townscapes. Known as the Golden City because of its large scale production of gold leaf crafts, sights in this city that are definitely not to be missed include the Kenrokuen Garden (兼六園) and the Omicho Fish Market (近江町市場 Ōmichō Ichiba). Another area which would bring images of Kyoto to mind would be the Higashi Chaya (東茶屋街 Higashi Chayagai) District, one of the city’s three teahouse districts where you can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony performance in a beautiful Edo-style street.
Rejuvenate by the seaside after a long trip of train rides (Image credit: Ludi1572)
At the end of the day, why not kick back and relax with a stay at a seaside ryokan? Take a one-hour train from Kanazawa north to Wakuraonsen Station (和倉温泉駅 Wakuraonsen-eki). An isolated onsen town situated in the Noto Peninsula (能登半島 Noto-hantō), Wakura Onsen (和倉温泉) is famous for its salt-rich yet gentle spring water. Experience the full extent of Japanese hospitality with at one of the many top-class ryokan in this wonderful and peaceful hot spring resort, and if you have time perhaps you can view some of the other sights of the Noto Peninsula such as the Senmaida Rice Terraces (白米千枚田 Shiroyone-senmaida).
The beauty of Hokuriku arts collected within a single train. (Image credit: Wirestock Images)
Besides the usual limited express trains, the route between Wakura Onsen and Kanazawa is also served by its very own specialty train, the Hanayome Noren (花嫁のれん)! Decked from front to end in beautiful designs inspired by Wajima lacquerware, gold leaf and other traditional crafts, this magnificent crimson and gold train truly embodies the spirit of Kanazawa City. The interior of the first cabin consists of eight unique semi-private compartments which will make you feel like you’re in a ryokan rather than on a train.
The Hanayome Noren is covered by the Kansai-Hokuriku Rail pass, but onboard refreshments and merchandise will have to be booked in advance and purchased separately. It also only runs two round trips a day and does not run daily, so I highly recommend planning carefully in advance before committing it as part of your trip. Combining this train along with an additional day at Kanazawa could very well replace Day 6 of this itinerary. You can find all the details of this train at its JR West website page here!
Day 6: Toyama
No better place than Toyama for scenic train rides through the mountains and valleys. (Image credit: photoAC)
Toyama is known as the starting point of the famous Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route, but for our trip, we will be going to a different mountain pass. The Kurobe Gorge (黒部峡谷 Kurobe Kyōkoku) is an entirely separate mountain sightseeing experience that can be found a little further north of Toyama City (富山市 Toyama-shi). Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Kanazawa Station (金沢駅 Kanazawa-eki) to Kurobe-Unazuki Onsen Station (黒部宇奈月温泉駅 Kurobe-Unazuki-onsen-eki), and from the adjacent station of Shin-Kurobe Station (新黒部駅 Shin-Kurobe-eki), take the Toyama Chiho Railway (富山地方鉄道 Toyama Chihō Tetsudō) to Unazuki Station (宇奈月駅 Unazuki-eki).
The Kurobe Gorge Railway (黒部峡谷鉄道 Kurobe Kyōkoku Tetsudō) is an exciting and scenic 80-minute train ride through the valleys of Toyama. The journey is dotted with several picturesque bridges, hot springs, and various sights such as a power plant built like a European castle. The railway is open from 20th April–30th November annually and is an especially excellent way of viewing the autumn colours of Japan in the later months. The round trip costs ¥3,960 and is not covered by the Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass.
Day 7: Back to Osaka
On the last day of your rail pass validity, you can use it to take the Limited Express Thunderbird back to Osaka. If this also happens to be the last day of your trip you can wrap things up nicely by ending at Kansai International Airport (KIX).
How much do you save?
Information based on Hyperdia
Total cost: ¥49,780
- Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass (7 Days) price: ¥15,270
= Savings: ¥34,520!
The Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass is nearly half the price of a Nationwide Japan Rail Pass, yet in essence, provides all the same benefits aside from being limited to a small, yet incredibly lucrative region. There is so much potential in savings that even if you choose to visit just half the places mentioned in this itinerary, you’ll still get more value in return for the money spent!
The Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass is available for purchase online and at selected overseas travel counters, including the JTB Rail Pass Counter available at JAPAN RAIL CAFE.
Address: 5 Wallich St, #01-20, Singapore 078883
Opening hours: 11am–8pm (daily)
(JTB Rail Pass Counter and Travel Communicators Desk are temporarily closed due to Phase 2 measures)
Header image credit: JR Times