A Guide To The Japan Rail Pass

A Guide To The Japan Rail Pass
Trip101 Editorial
Trip101 Editorial 
Updated

The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is an essential item for those who intend to travel between cities or fullfill their things to do in Japan. It is only available for foreign tourists and will give you an unlimited use of JR trains for 7, 14, or 21 days. Once you have your pass, not only will you get to use JR trains around the country, but you also get to use JR-operated transport as well (more on that below) to reach tourist attractions. Keep reading this Japan Rail Pass guide for information on the different prices, where to buy it, and how to use it, as well as other useful tips.

Types of JR Passes

Shinkansen map 201208 en
Source: Photo by user Hisagi used under CC BY-SA 3.0

There are different passes available, depending on your travel needs and itinerary. Don’t be shocked by the initial price of the Japan Rail Pass as it can be cheaper.

Duration: Japan Rail Passes are available for either 7, 14, or 21 days. You can select the start date of your pass once you exchange your voucher for the pass.

Coach Type: This is divided into two types. The green-type is for first-class cars, which means you will have more spacious seats (seat width and leg space) and board service. The other is the ordinary-type, which is just the regular coaches (this is the standard pass).

Region: If you are travelling within a region, you might want to look into the regional passes (will differ in prices). The passes are: JR Kyushu Pass, JR Shikoku Pass, JR West Pass, JR Kansai Pass, JR East Pass, and JR Hokkaido Pass. Generally speaking, the smaller the region, the cheaper the cost. This is a great option for those travelling within a short amount of time or those seeking to do quick day trips. Find the cheapest for your travel itinerary!

JR Pass Price

JR pass prices
Source: Trip101

As mentioned earlier, the price for a JR Pass can vary depending on the duration of your trip and the type of coach you select. For adults, an ordinary pass will cost you 29,110 JPY (approximately 158 USD) for a 7-day pas;, 46, 390 JPY (409 USD) for a 14-day pass; and 59,350 JPY (524 USD) for a 21-day pass. The green pass, which means you will be travelling in first-class coaches (bigger seats and on-train services), will cost you 38,880 JPY (343 USD) for a 7-day pass; 62,950 JPY (556 USD) for a 14-day pass; and 81,870 JPY (723 USD) for a 21-day pass.

Unless you really prefer the luxury of wider seats with more leg space and on-train services, an ordinary pass is more than perfect for an average traveller. JR trains are in pristine conditions so you needn’t worry, as regular coaches are extremely comfortable.

Is a Japan Rail Pass worth it?

Yes. People first look at the pass prices and are put off by the expensive prices. What they don’t realise is that JR trains are not cheap.

Let’s say you land in Tokyo and want to take a round trip to Kyoto. A one-way train to Kyoto will set you back approximately 13,910 JPY (123 USD), with a return ticket being around 29,110 JPY (258 USD). Airports in major cities require tourists to take public transport into the city (as taxis are extremely expensive). So let’s say you start using your pass at Narita Airport, take the N'EX (Narita Express) train — which costs from 3,020 JPY (26 USD) — and then visit Kyoto and come back to Tokyo, you would’ve already saved money.

Japan Rail Pass Calculator

If you want to know for certain that purchasing a JR Pass will save you money, this website has a fare calculator tool for you to find the exact ticket prices for each train journey you’ll be taking. You have the option of searching for single trips or inputting your entire trip itinerary.

JR Pass Calculator

Website:

Restrictions of the JR Pass

  1. You cannot travel on any Nozomi and Mizuho trains - these are the fastest bullet trains.
  2. You will have to pay an additional price for overnight trains.
  3. Local transport such as the metro or tram are often not included.

For a more detailed review of the pro and cons of the JR pass, read our expert’s review.

Where to buy a Japan Rail Pass

Japan Rail Pass
Source: Trip101

Only foreign tourists who are short-term visitors are allowed to purchase a Japan Rail Pass. An exception to this rule is Japanese nationals who have been living abroad for at least 10 years. They can also purchase the pass (given that they can prove their residency abroad).

There are multiple ways to buy a Japan Rail Pass. The easiest way is on the Internet. You can also purchase it through a travel agent or JTB office. Once you have made your purchase, you should receive a voucher — please note that this is not your pass. You will need to exchange your voucher for the pass once you’re in Japan. You must exchange your voucher for the pass within three months from the date the voucher it was issued (i.e. if your voucher was issued on May 15th, you must exchange the pass no later than August 15th). You will then be given a month long window to set a date of activating the pass (the pass does not need to start on exchange date).

Until March 2019, JR Passes can be purchased at selected major stations and airports around Japan (please check their website for an updated list).

Purchasing your JR Pass online

You can also purchase your JR Pass on any of the following website easily:

Official Vendor: JR Pass

Among the list of official partners, we found that Klook offers the cheapest JR passes. Be sure to book your pass from Klook in advance, as the pass is physically delivered to you by post. Other partners also have a Japan Rail Pass discount available for you to check it out. Check out the list below for more deals from official partners:

Official Partners

Buying a JR Pass in your country

Canada

Where to purchase: online or certain authorised travel agencies.

Online Purchase: JR Pass Canada

US

Where to purchase: You can purchase your JR Pass online via this website, and the voucher will be delivered to you via FedEx. For those in New York, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, you have the option to pick up your vouchers from the branches.

Website: North American-authorised travel agencies can be found here

UK

Where to purchase: You can purchase the JR Pass online which includes free, first-class delivery. Check on the

for more information.

Europe

Where to purchase: You can purchase the JR Pass at any authorised travel agencies and sales offices. Check the website below for a list of authorised agencies and offices.

Website: JR Pass Europe to find out more.

Australia

Where to purchase: Australians or those living in Australia can purchase their JR Pass online. If you’re in Melbourne or Sydney, you also have the option to pick up your coupon when it’s ready for collection.

Online Purchase: JR Pass Australia, JR Pass Oceania

Central/South America

Where to purchase: You can purchase the JR Pass through travel agencies and sales offices. Check the website below for a list of authorised travel agencies and offices.

Website: JR Central/South America

Exchanging the voucher for the JR Pass

Please do note that the voucher (often referred to as an exchange order, exchange coupon or voucher, depending on where you’ve purchased it) you receive when you make the payment is not the JR Pass. The voucher cannot be used in lieu of the pass and will not be accepted at JR stations or at ticketing booths for a journey. Once you arrive in Japan, you should exchange the voucher for the pass at any of the selected stations, and we recommend doing it at the airport once you have arrived. You will need to bring your voucher and passport to exchange the voucher. You can decide the activation date of the pass when you’re exchanging the voucher (the validity of the pass does not need to start the same day you exchange your pass).

How to use the JR Pass

JR Central Shinkansen 700
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Sui-setz used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

JR has various train types, so please do note that the Japan Rail Pass will not allow you to travel on the Nozomi and Mizuho trains. Train schedules at stations will indicate what type of train each journey is. Also, ticket officers will also be able to inform you which trains you can use for any given journey.

When you’re at a station, do not use the automatic ticket gates. Always go to the manned gate (usually next to the automatic ticket gates) and show your pass to an officer, who will then let you through.

How to make a seat reservation

Reserving a seat for a journey is not mandatory but we do advice you to do so. Some trains are quite busy so a seat reservation means that you will have a guaranteed spot on the train (travellers may stand but if journeys are long, this can be quite tiresome). To easily reserve seats at the ticket office, simply present your JR Pass and inform the ticket officer which journey you’d like to book the seat for. Please also do note that there are smoking and non-smoking seats.

JR Passes cannot be reissued or refunded. If you do lose your JR Pass, please report it to your closest JR station.

Using your JR Pass within a city

JR passes are not limited to inter-city travel. You can use your JR pass on any of the JR lines as well, just show your JR pass at the office by the ticket gates and you’ll be allowed in. For example, you can use your JR pass within Tokyo, as JR lines cover the majority of the city.

If you’re budget conscious after purchasing on the JR pass, read our article on the different types of Tokyo free passes, which will get you around the city and save you money.

Can the JR Pass be used for other modes of transportation?

Ship "Misenmaru" of JR Miyajima Ferry 3
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user そらみみ used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Yes, the JR Pass is not limited to railway journeys. You can also use it for local JR-operated buses, JR highway buses and JR Miyajima ferry.

Practical tips

  • Travellers without data will be pleased to know that JR Hokkaido, JR East and JR Central all provide free WiFi.

  • If your travel time includes a meal (i.e. departure at 11am and arrival at 2.30 pm), you can purchase ekiben lunch boxes at the station. This is very typically Japanese and there will be a large selection for you to choose from.

  • Coin lockers are available at most stations for you to store your luggage. They come in various sizes so you will be able to find a size perfect for your luggage.

  • Do avoid rush hours when planning your itinerary as trains and train stations are hectic. Rush hours are typically between 7:30 - 9:30 in the mornings and 17:30 - 20:00 in the evenings.

  • Hotel discounts: The JR pass also gives you discounts to any accommodation under JR Hotel Group. These hotels are situated in convenient locations in cities around the country. Hotels are also strategically located near city attractions for ease of sightseeing, or are located near a main station so that you can quickly check-in/check-out and continue with your travels on the JR trains. Simply present your JR pass when checking-in for discounts and special services (depending on the hotel). Hotels also vary in price and type, so you’ll find one best suited for your travels.

IMPORTANT: Changes in baggage allowance (from May 2020)

For Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen and Kyushu Shinkansen, passengers will need to make a reservation in advance when they travel with large suitcases from May 2020. Suitcases are considered large if their length, width and depth adds up to between 160 - 250 cm (63 and 98.4 in). To reserve a spot for your large suitcase, you will need to have a reserved-seat ticket which costs more than the non-reserved seat tickets. Advanced reservations can be made either at JR station ticket offices or online.

The purpose of this change is to increase security measures ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. Please be warned that you will be fined 1,000 JPY (~9.45 USD) if you show up without a reservation for your bag. You will also be asked to pay for an upgrade to change your ticket to a reserved-seat ticket for 540 JPY (~5.10 USD).

If you’re unsure about the size of your suitcase, JR will place measurement devices near ticket gates for you to check whether or not you need to make a reservation.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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