Traveling in Japan is not cheap, but the J.R. Pass definitely helps.
With an area smaller than the state of California, Japan is easy to traverse geographically, if not financially. Take the Shinkansen, or bullet train, for example. This famous feat of engineering runs 186 miles per hour, taking travelers from Tokyo to Kyoto in just over two hours. That’s about the distance between New York City and Portland, Maine. The price is equally impressive: $162 each way with the current (unfortunate) conversion rates.
Luckily, travelers from the U.S. and other foreign countries can get a Japan Rail Pass, a discounted ticket for unlimited train travel around the country. Score this pass before leaving the United States -- they’re not sold in Japan and locals aren’t allowed to use them. While a one-week pass may not sound cheap -- about $345 -- it represents a huge savings for tourists who wish to hop from region to region.
The pass allows travel on nearly any rail line, from local commuter trains to the speeding bullet variety. Two- and three-week passes are also available.