About domestic flying in Japan
Domestic flights get you around major cities in Japan pretty sufficiently, and with a competitive environment, prices are often fair. Some budget options include Peach Aviation, Jetstar, Skymark, Solaseed Air, Fuji Dream Airlines, and Oriental Air Bridge. If you want better service and an overall more comfortable experience, I recommend paying the extra to fly with ANA or JAL.
When should you choose a domestic flight in Japan?
As a rule of thumb, I would avoid flying whenever possible, as you will experience more of Japan being on the ground. On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense to travel by air in Japan when the distance is far and time is limited. For example, if you want to enjoy the southern islands of Okinawa, Miyakojima, or Ishigaki from Tokyo or Osaka, there are few ways to get there efficiently. Naturally, flying is the best choice to get there.
Similarly, when you want to travel far in Japan without making stops, flying may be the better solution than Shinkansen. Destination you should consider flying from Tokyo could be: Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, and the northern direction of Hokkaido. Besides saving time and money when traveling far, there are also other pros/cons to consider flying domestically in Japan.
Recommendations from previous experience flying domestically in Japan
First, ask yourself a couple of questions when deciding if you want to prioritize flying over Shinkansen and the JR train network. Indeed, it does not have to be either or, but combine the travel methods if you have many places you want to visit on one trip.
Second, remember that flights require travel to/from airports and the time and stress involved. Often, it ends up being the same when traveling domestically, when there is an efficient train network available — as in the case of Japan.
As a general advice, I always recommend the National Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) when you come to Japan as a tourist because that gives the most flexibility and affordability when traveling with limited time, and you want to see as much as possible. However, if you, for example, are planning to be in Hokkaido for a week or more, then you might as well fly there instead. And then activate your Japan Rail Pass moving down the landscape after. Why? Because when you plan to stay in an area without extensive or far travels, it is probably better to pay single fares with local transportation when needed.
Is it cheaper to fly domestic in Japan than taking the Shinkansen?
In short, it really depends. If you compare the price of a one-way ticket fare from Tokyo to Sapporo, then you may find considerable more budget friendly tickets of flying over the Shinkansen route — that also requires you to change to a non-Shinkansen train between Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station and Sapporo Station. Is the distance shorter, you may be able to get cheaper fares or about the same with the Shinkansen reaching your destination in about the same time when everything is calculated (Tokyo-Kyoto).
The moment when domestic flights exceeds the costs of the Japan Rail Pass is when you plan to make continuous multiple stops and cover a lot Japan. One night here and two nights there kind of traveling is, really, the ideal scenario to benefit from the National Japan Rail Pass unlimited traveling method in Japan.
Make a decision and enjoy the uniqueness of Japan
No matter what you decide, you will have a good time and form memories in Japan because everything is as unique as in can be — just like art made by people and their creative minds.
H.C. Andersen beautifully said: “To travel is to live”. So, get going and enjoy the journey ahead. Let that be more of a motivational quote than my inside knowledge of traveling Japan.
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