Are you planning on traveling around Japan for a week or two? Then the Japan Rail Pass, also known as JR Pass might be a great option for you. By the way, the J stands for Japan and R for Rail, therefore the commonly used term JR Rail Pass is actually wrong. Careful here 😉
I used the Japanese Railway Pass when my parents came to visit me for three weeks while I was studying in Japan in 2012. Actually, my parents used it; I couldn’t because at the time I wasn’t a tourist in Japan and therefore couldn’t use the Japan Rail Pass for tourists.
If you are looking for more information on Japan travel, check out my Japan Travel blog category where I share many local travel tips, itineraries (for example one for 2 weeks in Japan, in which a Japanese rail pass will be great to have) and experiences.
In this post, I would like to share with you what the JR Pass is, in which case it is worth to buy a Japan Rail Pass, where to buy a RJ Pass and how to use it.
The Japan Rail Pass is a tourist ticket for JR (Japan Rail) usage in a specific timeframe. It is only possible to use the Japan Rail Pass as a tourist for a visit to Japan of less than 90 days on a tourist visa. People entering the country on a student or business visa cannot use the Japan Rail Pass.
You can either buy a 7 day Japan Rail Pass, 14 days Japan Rail Pass or Japan Rail Pass 21 days. In the validity period of your rail pass you will be able to use as many JR trains in Japan as you wish, with the exception of the fastest Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) called Nozomi (don’t worry the slower Shinkansen trains are still ridiculously fast, they just stop at a couple more stations).
There is also a first-class JRail Pass called a Green Pass. This one is more expensive than the standard pass but will enable you to get nicer seats in a special Green Car in all Shinkansen and some other long distance trains. Green Cars generally have reserved seating and wider and more comfortable seats than normal. If you asked my personal opinion as someone who has used a Green Car before, I do not think it is worth spending the extra money.
The Japan Rail Pass covers JR trains all over Japan. This includes trains from all six JR group members (JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku and JR Kyushu). There are also train passes for the six different regions. You can find more information about JR East Pass and JR West Pass below. But I think in many cases it is worth buying a Japan Rail Pass even if you are only planning on traveling in one or two of these regions (provided you plan on traveling between multiple cities).
If you are only planning on traveling in the east part of Honshu (the main island of Japan), you might also want to have a look at the JR East Pass. There are two different kinds, for two different areas. Tohoku area and Nagano/Niigata areas. When you buy this 20.000 yen (200 US dollars), or 18.000 yen (180 US dollars) depending on the area, pass you can use it on 5 days within a 14 day period on all JR trains in the region.
There is a 1000 yen discount when you buy your JR East Pass outside of Japan. For more information visit the official JR East website.
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JR West the area where Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima are located have a JR West Pass. But here it gets a little bit more complicated because the region is further broken down into parts and each pass has different conditions, and prices.
If you are only planning on spending time west of Tokyo check out the official JR West homepage and find a pass that is perfect for you.
|7 days||14 days||21 days|
|Standard - Adult||29,110 JPY|
|Standard - Child (6-11 years)||14,550 JPY|
|Green - Adult||38,880 JPY|
|Green - Child (6-11 years)||19,440 JPY|
The Japan Rail Pass price is different depending on the validity, the class of the ticket and depending on if you are an adult or child.
The official price is in Japanese yen; the JR Pass 7 Days costs 29,110 yen, JR Pass 14 Days 46,390 yen and the JR Pass 21 Days 59,350 yen.
The first-class Green car Rail Pass costs the following: 7 days cost 38,880 yen, 14 days cost 62,950 yen, 21 days cost 81,870 yen.
Children between 6 and 11 at the time of purchase ride for half the price of an adult.
The prices in USD in the table above are just for your information, they usually differ slightly between booking websites, because of different rates used to calculate the amounts.
Sometimes it is hard to decide whether it is worth paying so much money for transportation. Let me give you a bit of background information so you can make a more informed decision.
A Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs 13,710 yen. So, in general, if you are just planning on staying in one city, or plan to use the Bullet Train only to get from Kanto (Tokyo) to Kansai (Kyoto and/or Osaka), and you asked me ‘Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?’ I would say ‘Probably not!’
But even a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto costs almost as much as the 7 day Rail Pass (27,420 yen vs 29,110 yen), and now I would say it is almost worth buying the pass since you can use the pass also for local JR trains in either city.
Let’s talk about viable alternatives to the expensive Shinkansen trains. A Willer Express bus ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs between 3000 yen (if you are very very lucky) and 13,000 yen (if you are unlucky). On average it is about 5,000 yen. The bus will take about 10 hours. If you are on a tight budget, it might be cheaper to buy bus tickets rather than a rail pass. But if you don’t want to lose a whole day (or night) every time you move across the country it isn’t a very good alternative to Shinkansen trains.
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When my parents used it to travel with me in Japan, we took the Shinkansen 5 times. From Kyoto to Hiroshima, Hiroshima to Kurashiki, Kurashiki to Nagoya, Nagoya to Hakone, and Hakone to Tokyo. We also used some other long-distance trains, for example, the one from Nagoya to Takayama or the train from Tokyo to Kamakura.
Without using the Japan Rail Pass the total for these train rides would have been more than 44,000 yen already, and so the two-week pass which costs 46,390 yen was worth it when we calculate in the money we saved on some other JR trains and buses in the cities and even one ferry.
Another point you should consider is just because you are in Japan for 3 weeks doesn’t mean you need to buy a 21-day pass. A two-week pass could be enough if you are planning on spending a week in one place like Tokyo where you won’t really need the pass the get around.
Now to the most important question ‘Where to Buy a Japan Rail Pass.’ Previously, it was only possible to buy a Japan Rail Pass outside of Japan. Nowadays it is possible to buy the Japan Rail Pass when you are already in Japan.
The easiest way to buy the Japan Rail Pass is online. Simply visit JRailPass.com and choose your preferred length and class (standard or green car). Once your order is done, you will get the exchange order delivered to you in 24 to 48 hours.
There are other websites offering the exact same Japan Rail Pass, but I have found them to be slightly more expensive than JRailPass.com.
It is super easy to buy Japan Rail Pass in Japan. It works exactly the same way as outside of Japan. You buy it online and have it delivered to your hotel within a couple of days. It’s as easy as that.
After purchasing your Japan Rail Pass through the JRailPass website, you will receive an exchange order to your home address or a hotel in Japan.
Once you arrive in Japan with your exchange order, you can activate your Japan Rail Pass by visiting one of the JR Exchange Offices. You can find a list of JR Exchange Offices here. They are basically at every bigger JR station in any city of Japan. You can choose from which date you want your pass to be activated.
During the validity period, it is straightforward to use the JR pass. For regular trains, instead of passing through the ticket gates you need to show your pass to the station officer usually located on one side of the ticket gates. After examining your pass, he will let you in and out of the station.
For use on Shinkansen or other trains where a reservation is necessary you merely show your pass at the time of the booking and the helpful staff will know what to do.
I think the Japan Rail Pass is the best way to explore Japan, even though it really isn’t cheap. You can buy a pass for 7, 14 or 21 days online and have it within 48 hours. So, what are you waiting for?
If you think this post isn’t in depth enough you can find all the little details, for example, about which trains, buses and ferries you can use on the offical Japan Rail Pass website.
For more travel products or services like the Japan Rail Pass you can visit the Travel Products & Services category of my blog.
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None of the experiences in this post are in any way sponsored and have all been paid for by myself. The opinions stated are all my own and have not been influenced in any way.
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Lena is the creator of the Social Travel Experiment. Planning her trip around the world took a lot of effort. To make it easier for future world travelers she has made it her mission to teach others how to have an unforgettable trip around the world, through short stays with locals, without wasting valuable time or money.