With the stadiums spread the length of Japan from the westernmost island of Kyushu to Hokkaido in the far north, you’re likely to be covering a fair bit of distance unless you manage to get all your tickets in one city or region. This is especially true if you’re following one particular team around, as all the teams are moving about from game to game during the pool stages – things are much simpler for the knockout rounds though, with most knockout games taking place in the Greater Tokyo region (bar the two QFs in far-flung Oita for the quarterfinalists from pools C and D).
The best way of covering these distances really depends on the specific locations, and also the time frame within which you’re moving between them. If your itinerary includes multiple long distances within 7 days you should probably get the JR Pass, a hop-on hop-off pass for unlimited use of Japan’s impressive train network including the shinkansen bullet trains – even just from Tokyo to Osaka and back it breaks even, and to Kamaishi or Kyushu and back it saves you significant money compared to individual tickets. See here for full details on the JR Pass or click the banner to browse & order:
Of course flying’s also an option, and for longer distances e.g. Tokyo-Sapporo or Tokyo-Kumamoto it often works out both faster and cheaper than the shinkansen. Peach is the main low cost carrier in Japan with hubs at Tokyo (Narita), Osaka (Kansai International), and Okinawa (Naha); its routes connecting Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo will be of particular use to rugby fans.
If you’re on a tight budget you can also use the highway buses – these are significantly cheaper, but journey times are long e.g. Tokyo-Osaka is 8 to 10 hours by bus (vs 3 hours by bullet train). The bullet train can work out cheaper than bus tickets if you make good use of the JR Pass; there’s also a similar unlimited bus pass available from Willer Express, see here.
So, how to get around then? If you’re not set on flying for time reasons or taking the bus for budget reasons, the thing to do is look at where you intend to go and calculate the total price for individual train tickets (which you can do on Hyperdia; see here for an explanation on how to use it). If that’s more than the JR Pass price for the time period in which you’re doing it, get the pass; if it’s less, buy individual tickets (and of course you can also check the flights).
The JR Pass will be of particular use if you’re planning to do some travel for sightseeing alongside your rugby-related travel. For example, you could use it to go from Tokyo to Kobe or Osaka to watch a match there, then work your way back to Tokyo via Kyoto and Kanazawa or Matsumoto. For more detail on the JR Pass click here.
Transportation Within Cities
You’ll mostly travel by train within cities, though some of the stadiums are a bus ride from the nearest station. This generally means using a combination of JR lines, private railways (i.e. railways operated by private corporations separately from the national JR network), and city subways.
The ticketing’s all separate for each of these, so when you transfer from one to the other there’s a separate ticket fee. This can seem a bit confusing at first and it’s annoying having to buy a new paper ticket each time, but the simple solution is to use a stored value IC card.
These enable you to tap in and out of each train you ride without having to worry about lining up at ticket machines; they don’t save you much on fares (just a few percent), but they do save you a fair bit of hassle. They can also be used pay in all convenience stores, many fast food chains, and some supermarkets.
You can get them from any train ticket machine in the coverage areas, which includes all the host cities other than Kamaishi. They’re free but there’s a 500 yen deposit, plus you need to load a minimum of 1000 yen as the initial charge. The specific card you get depends on the region and train company, but they can all be charged and used interchangeably within all the coverage areas. The only thing you can’t do interchangeably is return the card for the deposit refund after you’re done using it – this can only be done at the ticket offices of the company that issues the card you have e.g. if you get a Suica card in Tokyo and then fly out of Osaka, you can’t refund it in Osaka. In such a case, either refund it before leaving Tokyo, or simply make sure to use up the balance on food etc, forget the deposit, and keep the card as a memento or perhaps for your next visit to Japan.
(Note: there’s one IC card you can’t really get as a foreigner, which is the Pitapa card issued by non-JR train companies in Kansai (reason being that it’s not prepaid so requires you to have a Japanese credit history). If you’re getting one in Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe), simply get the Icoca card from any JR station)
These IC cards work in all host cities other than Kamaishi, and also many other cities you might choose to visit such as Kyoto and Hiroshima. In Kamaishi or any other towns or rural areas you visit outside the coverage areas, you just have to use cash (or credit card if accepted, but make sure to always have some cash on you)