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JR Pass vs. Shinkansen Tickets: The Most Cost-Effective Ticket Options

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After the October 2023 price hike, the JR Pass for Whole Japan may not be your best option. Discover the convenience and discounts of booking individual bullet train (Shinkansen) tickets online in English via Klook.

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Is the JR Pass still convenient after the October price hike?

JR Pass vs. Shinkansen Tickets: The Most Cost-Effective Ticket Options

Starting from October 2023, the prices of JR passes have significantly increased. The JR Pass for Whole Japan (7, 14, or 21 days) has seen an increase of over 60%. This price hike has raised concerns among many travelers planning trips to Japan, as they consider the impact on transportation costs and whether purchasing a JR Pass is still worthwhile.

The most crucial factor to consider when deciding on purchasing a JR Pass is the "round-trip transportation cost to your destination."

With the recent price hikes, JR passes are no longer as budget-friendly as before, as the cost of a one-way long-distance Shinkansen journey is now almost equivalent to the price of the pass.

As a result, it is important for all travelers heading to Japan to carefully plan their destinations, research transportation options, and consider fare costs to make an informed decision about purchasing a JR Pass.

Purchasing a JR Pass may not always be cost-effective!

JR pass

Let's take the JR-EAST Tohoku Area Pass as an example, which is popular among travelers. Previously priced at 20,000 Japanese Yen, a reserved seat one-way journey from Tokyo to Sendai used to cost 11,410 yen, while to Aomori it cost 17,670 yen. This meant that a round-trip to Sendai covered the cost of the pass, and a one-way trip to Aomori almost paid for it.

However, following the recent price increase to 30,000 yen, a round-trip to Sendai no longer covers the pass cost, and a round-trip to Aomori only slightly breaks even. This implies that additional trips are needed in your itinerary to make the JR Pass more cost-effective.

In other words, if your plan is limited to Sendai, using the JR East Pass may not be necessary. To fully benefit from that particular JR Pass, it would be beneficial to plan a comprehensive five-day itinerary in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Buy Shinkansen Tickets Online in Advance on Klook


To purchase individual train tickets in Japan, you have several options.

One option is buying tickets upon your arrival in Japan at the JR ticket counters (Midori-no-Madoguchi or Green Counters) or ticket machines found at train stations.

Another option is purchasing tickets online through platforms such as Klook.

Depending on the train route and service utilized, there may be choices to receive your tickets as mobile QR codes or have physical tickets delivered to your address, ensuring a convenient process.

Klook Booking System vs. JR Official Website Booking System

JR Pass vs. Shinkansen Tickets: The Most Cost-Effective Ticket Options

The bullet train/express train ticket booking system offered by Klook allows you to pre-book tickets online completely in English or any language of your choice from the six options available.

Which website offers a more user-friendly experience: Klook's or JR's official website? We compare in the chart below.

Klook JR official website
6 language options,
with station names in the respective language
9 language options; station names are displayed in English and Japanese
Payment methods: credit card, online payment Payment method: credit card only
Available booking days: Within 90 days Available booking days: Within 30 days
No need to log in as a member to check ticket prices You need to log in as a member to perform the search

Being able to pre-book and acquire tickets beforehand with QR codes for specific routes and seat reservations online saves a significant amount of time and hassle, compared to obtaining tickets and making reservations on the spot every time you want to use the bullet train as a JR Pass user.

Buying Shinkansen tickets online is especially beneficial for travelers who do not need a long-distance rail pass and only require point-to-point tickets for their journeys.

Famous Attractions You Can Visit at a Discount without Buying JR Passes

With the recent price increases, destinations that were previously economical for a round trip may no longer offer the same cost-effectiveness. We suggest exploring individual Shinkansen segments that can be enjoyed without the need for a rail pass.

1. Tokyo to Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi


Lake Kawaguchi is a popular destination among visitors to Tokyo. Previously, utilizing the JR Tokyo Wide Pass, a one-way trip almost covered the cost. However, with the roundtrip trip priced at 8,620 yen, the total cost falls considerably short of the current JR Tokyo Wide Pass price of 15,000 yen.

In addition, Lake Kawaguchi provides various transportation options, including frequent departures of high-speed bus routes, giving travelers a diverse range of choices to reach their destination.

2. Tokyo to Karuizawa or Nikko


Previously, many travelers would choose the JR Tokyo Wide Pass mainly for trips to Karuizawa or Nikko. However, it is now advisable to consider alternative options such as taking a high-speed bus or purchasing one-way tickets for a round trip.

A one-way ticket to Nikko costs 5,150 yen, while a trip to Karuizawa is priced at 6,020 yen. Both of these options are more affordable compared to the JR Tokyo Wide Pass, which is priced at 15,000 Japanese Yen. These alternatives present a cost-effective choice for travelers heading to Karuizawa or Nikko.

3. Tokyo to Sendai or Morioka


In the past, the JR East Tohoku Area Pass offered good value for a round trip between Tokyo and Sendai. However, with the recent price increase from 20,000 to 30,000 yen, it is now more practical to consider purchasing one-way tickets for a round trip, particularly for destinations like Sendai or Morioka (a one-way trip to Sendai costs 11,090 yen while for Morioka it costs 15,010 yen).

The JR East Tohoku Area Pass is still recommended for travelers who plan to spend an extended period in the Tohoku region or for those heading further north of Morioka, such as Hachinohe or Shin-Aomori.

4. Shin-Osaka to Okayama or Hiroshima


Previously, a one-way journey from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima or Okayama was nearly enough to make it cost-effective (Shin-Osaka to Okayama one-way cost 6,340 yen, Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima one-way cost 10,620 yen).

However, now it is necessary to make a round trip to justify the cost. If you're only going on a one-way journey, it remains more cost-effective to purchase a one-way ticket.

4. Fukuoka to Kumamoto


When visiting both Kumamoto and Fukuoka (Hakata), it is now more cost-effective to purchase a one-way ticket for 5,430 yen rather than a round trip for 10,860 yen.

This option proves to be even cheaper than the 3-day Kyushu Rail Pass, which is priced at 12,000 yen.

Conclusion: Consider Booking Individual Shinkansen Tickets Depending on Your Destination

Due to the recent price increases of JR passes, it is now more important than ever to engage in detailed pre-trip transportation planning to decide whether purchasing a JR Pass or buying individual tickets is the better option.

If you are planning an extended journey encompassing a large area in Japan, the JR Passes can still be an excellent choice. However, for round trips that are not overly extensive, we recommend utilizing the Klook system to pre-book your tickets, which will make your travel more convenient.

Main image by Pixta

Written by

Born in Taipei, Taiwan. I worked in the inbound tourism industry in Kyoto, writing a blog about travel in Japan. I joined MATCHA in October 2019. Hobbies: travel, watching trains, visiting stylish cafes, sweets, collecting seal stamps, watching musicals, taking photos, and others - so many, in fact, that I find it weird myself.
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