The four-day Hokuriku Ouen ticket is rooting for the earthquake-stricken area of Japan.

Once upon a time (less than a year ago), the Japan Rail Pass was one of Japan’s greatest travel bargains, allowing holders to zip all across the country at a fraction of the price of buying individual train tickets, especially if they were riding the Shinkansen bullet train network. Unfortunately, due to a huge price increase, it’s no longer worth it for many travelers to purchase the once-beloved pass.

But you know what they say, Train God never closes a door without opening a window. While the Japan Rail Pass is now a much less viable option, Japan Railways Group offers several different regional passes that can save you a lot of money if you’re focusing on one particular part of Japan instead of trying to cram the whole country into one trip. The newest pass, which just went on sale from East Japan Railway Company (a.k.a. JR East) even has the added appeal of contributing to the recovery of the Hokuriku region, which was damaged by a powerful earthquake that took place on New Year’s Day.

The Hokuriku Ouen Free Ticket (ouen meaning “rooting for” or “supporting”) went on sale February 15, and is tailored for travelers starting from the Tokyo area looking to explore the Hokuriku region, which sits on the northern coastline of Japan’s main island of Honshu and is made up of Ishikawa, Fukui, Niigata, and Toyama prefectures.

▼ Kenrokuen, in the city of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (also seen at the top of this article), has long been considered one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens.

The four-day pass includes a round-trip ride to/from Tokyo and the Hokuriku Ouen Free Ticket’s applicable area on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, making the initial departure station candidates Tokyo and Ueno Stations, and those in Hokuriku Kanazawa, Shin Takaoka, Toyama, and Kurobe Unazukionsen Stations. For the outbound ride, you can select from reserved seats on Kagayaki or Hakutaka-class Shinkansen trains, while the return to Tokyo is via Hakutaka unreserved seat.

Ordinarily, a one-way Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa Station, by itself, costs 13,850 yen (US$94), or 27,700 yen (US$188) for the round trip. The Hokuriku Ouen Free Ticket, though, is priced at just 20,000 yen (US$136), so it’s already a huge savings, and that’s before you factor in the four days of unlimited free rides on trains within the designated area, which even includes a section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

The complete list of the Hokuriku Ouen Free Ticket’s free-to ride lines consists of:
● Hokuriku Shinkansen (between Kanazawa and Kurobe Unazukionsen Stations)
● Obama Line (between Obama and Tsuruga)
● Hokuriku Main Line (between Tsuruga and Kanazawa)
● Nanao Line (between Tsubta and Wakuraonsen [entire line])
● Etsumi Hoku Line (between Echizen Hanando and Kuzuryuko [entire line])
● Johana Line (between Takaoka and Johana [entire line])
● Himi Line (between Takaoka and Himi [entire line])
● Takayama Main Line (between Inotani and Toyama)
● IR Ishikawa Railway Line and Ai no Kaze to Yama Railway Line (between Kanazawa and Kurobe)

▼ Beautiful seaside scenery on the Himi Line

Though it doesn’t reach to each and every corner of the Hokuriku region, the pass will get you to Kanazawa to dine on its delicious (even by Japanese standards) sushi at the city’s foodie-famous fish market, the hot springs, mountain gorges, provide access to Kurobe’s breathtaking mountain gorges, open-air baths, and sightseeing attraction-class dam, and Toyama City’s castle. And even if your travel plans take you a little beyond the bounds of the pass and you need to purchase an additional ticket for the extension, you’re still coming out ahead since the cost of the pass is still less than the fare to and from Hokuriku itself.

▼ Compared to the southern coasts of Honshu, the Hokuriku area is much more ruggedly mountainous, as can be seen in this photo of the Takayama Main Line.

While the northern part of Ishikawa Prefecture is still dealing with the effects of the earthquake, the majority of Hokuriku remains safe to travel to, and with tourism being increasingly important for many of Japan’s rural communities, JR East has created the Hokuriku Ouen Free Ticket in hopes of encouraging people to visit the area and help contribute to its economic recovery.

The Hokuriku Ouen Free Ticket can be purchased at major JR stations in the Tokyo area through the ticket vending machines, though it’s a safe bet that station staff will be happy to assist those who need help navigating the menu (the Japanese name/pronunciation for the pass is “Hokuriku Ouen Furii Kippu”). The pass will be on sale until March 11 and must be purchased at least one day prior to activation, with the ticket usable between now and March 15.

Source: JR East via IT Media
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