Monday, November 8, 2010

Cut travel costs in Kansai region Japan with the Kansai Thru Pass

Carole Goldsmith – Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
Many tourists to Japan, (whom I meet on my travels), arrive at Kansai International Airport (KIA) and start their Japan Rail (JR) Pass straight away. The JR Pass is an excellent resource for travelling long distances across Japan on the speedy Shinkansen and on other JR transport. For budget travel in the Kansai region however, the most economical ticket is the Kansai Thru Pass (KTP).

About the Kansai Thru Pass   (see weblink
With access to KIA, subways, private railways and buses in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Koyasan and Himeji, the KTP is certainly a bargain. On top of all this travel, you receive a booklet with discount coupons for around 350 Kansai region attractions and a very handy guide book. You cannot however, use the KTP on JR trains or buses.

A three day KTP costs just Y5000 (adult) Y2, 500 (child – 7-12 years) and a two day pass, only Y3,800 (adult) and Y1,900(child). These prices have been the same for the last five years that I have been buying the Pass. Available for foreign tourists on a short stay entry and Japanese nationals living abroad, the KTP can also be purchased by someone accompanying these persons as their guide, as advised on the discount travel ticket’s website.

I usually buy two X three day KTPs at the Travel Counter, located on the first floor of KIA, to the left of the Customs exit area. You are required to show your passport to purchase the Pass. Make sure that you check the expiry date on the back of the Pass, to ensure validity for your entire trip. To do this you need to know about the Japanese year system. This is based on the number of years that the current Emperor has reigned, so 2010 is the year 22 in the Japanese calendar, 2011 will be 23 and so on. It will start from zero again when there is a new Emperor in Japan.

So look at the back of the KTP, when purchasing - if it expires on 22-5-31, that’s May 31, 2010. This is important to note, especially if you are purchasing one Pass for the early part of your trip and one Pass for the latter part. The Pass is also sold at various venues across the Kansai region, so check the web-site for details.

If you are arriving at KIA in the evening, it is not necessary to start the Pass until the following day. A ticket on the Nankai Airport line to Namba in downtown Osaka is only Y890. The KTP is more economical for longer trips of an entire day across the Kansai region. Also, another great feature of the Pass, is that you don’t need to use it on consecutive days, like other rail passes. You can validate the KTP for the day you wish to travel, by inserting it though the ticket checker, with the picture of the lady with the little green witches hat and Kansai Thru Pass in English. It is very convenient to travel on different train lines, buses and on subways – all with this one card.
Traveling with the Kansai Thru Pass and exploring the region

The guide map that comes with the Pass suggests some model day trips, such as the Kobe, Akashi, Himeji, Yokubari course that takes you from the downtown Osaka to Himeji Castle, coastal areas, to Arima Hot Springs, and then back to Osaka. There is also the World Heritage course to Kyoto and Nara and another to the historic City of Koyasan. According to the Koyasan Tourism’s site ‘Kôyasan is home to an active monastic center founded twelve centuries ago by the priest Kûkai (posthumously known as Kôbô Daishi) for the study and practice of Esoteric Buddhism’. Try the temple stays in Koyasan also.

For my most recent KTP travel, I used the Pass to discover Osaka, Kyoto and Himeji. The second largest city in Japan, Osaka is the food capital of Japan and has so much more than the well known Osaka Castle to offer visitors. My first port of call was Dotombori, close to Namba Station, the central hub of Osaka, Dotombori has a great selection of restaurants, shops, neon signs galore and the big crab, a favourite meeting place for locals. While I was there, people lined up in their droves at two small take away street stalls to try Osaka’s famous Okonomi-yaki (Japanese pancake) and the Tako Yaki, small octopus dumplings.

Tennoji area, (near Tennoji station), is also a bustling area, with many Pachinko parlours, small markets and shops. Spa World close by, (near Shin-imamiya Station) is a large leisure complex with spa baths from several countries plus an indoor swimming pool. The Shitenno-ji Temple is the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. Nipponbashi, nearby is electrical shopping town. Check out also the Osaka Castle in spring to see the large surrounding park with cherry blossom in full bloom. The Kaiyukan Aquarium, and the bay area are also well worth a visit. For further details see

As well as traveling to Kyoto on the KTP, you can also use the Pass to move around this former capital of Japan and visit all its temples, shrines and other tourist attractions. Drop into the bus terminal office, out the front of the Kyoto main station, show your KTP and ask for a bus map of Kyoto. You can then hop on and hop off, all the buses using the KTP and allow at least two days to explore Kyoto.

For the second day of visiting Kyoto, instead of using the KTP, there is an economical Kansai City Bus All-day Pass (Adult:¥500/Child:¥250), you can buy at the Kyoto Bus terminal. My favourites Kyoto attractions are the Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), Kyoto Botanical gardens, and the walk in Spring under the cherry blossoms, beside the gardens.
For great souvenir shopping, head to the Kyoto Handicraft Centre and have a go at making Japanese handicrafts at the centre’s short courses. I made a cloisonné broach and a clay doll bell - you can also make your own spinning top, woodblock print, incense bag, gold powder drawing, folding fan painting, and much more. See . Japan National Tourism Organisation suggests some great walks in Kyoto

Then I travelled west to Himeji using the third day of my KTP. Around ten minutes walk from Himeji station, Himeji Castle gardens provided for me, one of the best cherry blossom viewing areas in Japan. There are approximately 1,000 cherry trees around Himeji Castle in bloom from the end of March to the beginning of April. This is according to the Himeji Tourist Guide and Map (published by Himeji City, Himeji Convention and Visitors Bureau). With the cherry blossoms framing the castle and grounds, Himeji Castle sparkles at springtime. The drum performance of the Sakura festival, (usually early April each year) and the spectacular castle and cherry blossoms attracted 1000s of visitors while I was there.
Once inside the castle, we were asked to remove our shoes and everyone walked in their socks to preserve the inside of the World Heritage building. Plastic bags were provided for our wet shoes and umbrellas in true Japanese style. On each floor, we viewed relics from the castle’s history and progressively climbed six flights of very steep stairs to the top of the castle. The view from the castle’s top floor of Himeji City and parts of the castle were indeed breathtaking. Then it was time to climb down the steep stairs and once outside take more photos of the cherry blossoms framing Himeji castle. Entry Fee: 600 yen full fee or 480 yen with the KTP voucher.

So have fun exploring the Kansai region with the Kansai Through Pass - you will save a heap of Yen.