Sunday, May 21, 2017

8 Tips for Planning Japan Kyushu Railway Trip with Children

Last year, we brought our children to Okinawa (read our travelogue here), the southern most prefecture of Japan. It was the children's first time visiting Japan, and it was my first self-driving overseas trip! Now, I am researching on another part of Japan - Kyushu! Yes, we are venturing to Japan again this June! We do have concerns after the Fukushima nuclear accident. Therefore, we decided to bring them to parts of Japan that are further away from Fukushima.

Where is Kyushu? It is located at southwest of the main Japan island.

background image source: Google map

"Are we driving?" the children asked when they heard that we would be visiting Japan again. No, we are not driving in Kyushu. When one of the main attractions in Kyushu is the interesting sight-seeing trains, and when most of the places that we plan to visit can be reached by Japan Rail, I would rather relax in the train and admire the beautiful scenery, as compared to driving long distance! I think my children would be thrilled to take a train like Limited Express Aso Boy! Well, I admit that I am more excited than my children! Keeping my fingers crossed that I can manage to reserve the seats!

image source: JR Kyushu Railway

As usual, we get our children involved in the planning. We showed them the travel books and web pages to let them choose where they wanted to visit.

Here are our 8 tips for planning railway trip in Kyushu, and some of these tips are also applicable when you travel to other parts of Japan.

Tips #1: Booking air tickets to Kyushu
The only direct flight to Kyushu (Fukuoka Airport) from Singapore is Singapore Airlines. All other airlines require transit. Flying with Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways would require transit in Tokyo, which means that you need to fly further to the North, and then head back to the South. Alternatively, you can fly by Cathay Pacific with transit at Hong Kong, or by Thai Airways with transit at Bangkok. After experiencing transit for our Taiwan and Okinawa trips, I can tell you that it is not a very good idea to transit with children in tow.

In February 2017, we booked Singapore Airlines at SGD680+ per adult. Well, this is not the lowest possible fare, a few weeks later, the price dropped to SGD610+ per adult, but within a few days, the fare increased to SGD1300+ per adult! However, there is one slight problem with flying with Singapore Airlines - there is one flight every day, which departs at 1+ a.m.! I hope we can survive the red-eye flight!

Tips #2: Booking accommodations in Kyushu
As I mentioned in my post on "10 Tips for Planning Okinawa (Japan) Self-drive Trip with Children", many hotels and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) charge per head, including children. Looking for an accommodation for a family of 4 or even bigger can be quite challenging.

We booked one of the accommodations through a Japanese booking platform called One thing that I like about this platform is, there is no need to input credit card number! We can pay at the accommodation when we check-in. But of course, if you have to cancel the booking, it is a basic courtesy to cancel the booking in advance.

Another accommodation that we booked is Toyoko Inn, which is a chain of business and budget hotel. It is one of the few hotels that allow two children below 12 years old to sleep-share with two adults in a twin room without extra charge. What's more, there is simple buffet breakfast that is free!

There are 5 Tokoyo Inn hotels in Fukuoka, the one that is the nearest to Hakata Station is Toyoko Inn Hakata Eki-mae. Initially it was fully booked when we booked online, so we booked another one further away from Hakata Station, and painstakingly monitored the availability of  Toyoko Inn Hakata Eki-mae everyday, and eventually, we managed to stay there for 5 nights! And this time, I applied the membership, so that I can make booking 6 months in advance, instead of 3 months!

We enjoyed our stay at Toyoko Inn Okinawa Naha Shintoshin Omoromachi during our Okinawa trip, you may read our review here.

Tips #3: Get the Japan Rail Pass
As I mentioned just now, one of the main attractions in Kyushu is the interesting sight-seeing trains. To save money, it is a must to get Japan Rail (JR) Pass! There are different types of Japan Rail Passes, each covers different area in Japan. Since we will be travelling to northern part of Kyushu, we will be getting JR Northern Kyushu Pass. Adult pass is 10000 yen (about SGD124), while child pass is 5000 yen  (about SGD62).

We are planning to visit a few places - Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Mojiko and Oita. If we do not have JR Pass, the total train fare per adult would be about 25000 yen! Getting JR Pass would save about 15000 yen (SGD186) per adult, that is a substantial amount of saving!

You can purchase JR Kyushu Pass directly from selected JR stations in Kyushu, Hakata Port Beetle Counter, or TISCO Travel Information Counter at Fukuoka International Airport. Alternatively, you can purchase an exchange voucher in Singapore first, then exchange the actual JR Pass at selected JR stations in Kyushu. You can read more about JR Kyushu Pass on JR Kyushu Rail official website.

Where can we get Japan Rail Pass exchange voucher in Singapore? You can check out the information from Japan National Tourism Organisation. We purchased ours from Klook at a discount during a promotion, but it took slightly longer than expected to receive our vouchers.

Tips #4: Get the prepaid SIM card / Wifi router
We used Wifi router from the car rental company during our Okinawa trip. While the Wifi router allows a few devices to be connected and it is cheaper than SIM cards, it is not very convenient when we are separated. This time, we purchased Yokoso SIM card from an online seller. We have used prepaid SIM cards in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and find that it would be more convenient in the event when we are separated. But of course, whether to use prepaid SIM card or Wifi router would depend on your preference.

Tips #5: Tax-free shopping
Currently, the consumption tax in Japan is 8%, and the tax-free purchase amount at the same store in a single day is more than 5000 yen. Check Japan Tax-free Shop for the details of tax-free shopping! If possible, consolidate your purchases from a particular store to enjoy the savings.

Take note that in order to enjoy tax-free for purchases that include consumable items, you cannot consume them before you leave Japan. The purchased items are packed in a transparent sealed bag like this:

Tips #6: Using the coin lockers at train stations
For railway travel, having a big luggage in tow can be very troublesome. Fear not, there are coin lockers at train stations to deposit your luggage. The fee ranges from 300 yen to 600 yen depending on size.

This website is very useful to locate the coin lockers:

Tips #7: Useful websites on Kyushu
Here are some informative websites on Kyushu travel.

In addition, I find these websites useful for travelling in Japan:

Tips #8: Useful smartphone applications for Japan travel 
Here are some smartphone applications that I find useful for travelling in Japan, and they are free!

Google Translate (iOS / Android)
You can snap a photo or speak, and the app will translate for you!

Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi (iOS / Android)
Sign up an account or log in on the day before you travel to Japan, then you can connect to free Wi-Fi in Japan for the next 90 days.

Travel Japan Wi-Fi (iOS / Android)
Another free Wi-Fi connection app in Japan. Check out the places to get the premium code in order to enjoy more free Wi-Fi spots!

Gurunavi (iOS / Android)
Search for good food when you are planning your trip, or when you want to locate nearby eateries when you are in Japan. (iOS / Android)
This weather forecast app is in Japanese. You can set the areas that you are visiting, and check the weather on the go!

Google Map (iOS / Android)
Build your Google Map before your trip, so that you can use your customised map to locate the places that you want to visit.

Jorudan (iOS / Android)
Transit planner which searches for the route, fare and schedule of trains and airplanes in Japan.

ロケスマ (iOS / Android)
This app is in Japanese. It can locate eateries, shops (e.g. convenient stores, supermarkets and 100 yen shops) and service facilities (e.g. petrol stations).

Our Japan (June 2017) Travelogue

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  1. Hello, asking for advice. When I tried to apply for Toyoko Inn membership it keeps asking "Please enter name with half-width alphabet"
    How to get around this problem ?

    1. Hi, you have to switch your keyboard to Japanese, then choose "Half-width alphanumeric" to key in.

  2. Hi...does the JR northern Kyushu pass cover smaller train route? Tia

    1. You may refer to the area covered here:


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