Translated by Masahisa Matsunuma
Japan Rail Pass Guide - How And Where To Buy, Merits, And Tips
The Japan Rail Pass is a train ticket that makes transportation easy and reasonable for travelers in Japan. Learn the advantages of the JR pass and if it fits your travel needs, prices, and how to use it for Shinkansen reservations for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and other destinations.
Written by OnoYasuhiro
Travel with the Japan Rail Pass
Planning a vacation to Japan? If you are concerned about the cost of transportation, the Japan Rail Pass is a ticket to consider. The JR pass helps international visitors save money and time while traveling around Japan.
Read to learn about how to purchase the pass and use it to get around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and wherever else your travels take you.
All About the Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass, or JR Pass, is a special railway ticket that allows holders to use railroads throughout Japan on the JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku, and JR Kyushu lines. With the pass, you can board trains and buses on these JR Group lines for free.
Who is the JR Pass for?
The Japan Rail Pass is ideal for travelers planning on visiting multiple cities or areas in Japan, like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, as well as smaller cities throughout the country. It is also for travelers who plan on using the bullet train, local trains, and public transportation to get around Japan. As public transportation in Japan is widespread and convenient, it is highly recommended to use trains and Shinkansen.
Eligibility for the JR Pass
The following conditions must be met in order to use the JR Pass:
1. You are an international traveler with a non-Japanese passport visiting Japan. Your status in Japan is "temporary visitor."
2. You are a Japanese national living outside Japan and have for 10 years or more.
Coverage Area of the Japan Rail Pass
The JR Pass offers unlimited travel on the railway network of the six JR Group companies. The JR is the largest railway network in Japan, which runs from Hokkaido in the north, down to Kyushu in the south. The railways connect all major cities, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and more.
Check the official JR website for other maps.
Japan Rail Pass Prices and Types
|Pass Length||7 days||14 days||21 days|
|Ordinary||29,110 yen (14,550 yen)||46,390 yen (23,190 yen)||59,350 yen (29,670 yen)|
|Green Car||38,880 yen (19,440 yen)||62,950 yen (31,470 yen)||81,870 yen (40,930 yen)|
Prices in the parentheses indicate prices for children age 6 to 11.
JR Passes come in different varieties (ordinary and green car) and three different lengths. The green car type refers to the green car on Shinkansen and local trains.
It is the equivalent of a first-class train seat, which is more spacious, with a footrest and power outlets for each seat. It is ideal for those looking to maximize comfort and convenience while traveling, or those looking to do work while on the train.
Merits of the Japan Rail Pass
For those wondering if they should purchase the JR Pass or not, as stated above, it is an ideal pass when seeing multiple areas in Japan. In general, it will save money for those traveling to two or more places in Japan, using the Shinkansen.
Below is an example of how much money you can save with the Japan Rail Pass.
For example, you travel from Tokyo to Kyoto and then to Hiroshima, then back to Tokyo by Kodama Shinkansen with an unreserved seat ticket in 7 days without the pass, your total will be:
Tokyo to Kyoto: 13,080 yen
Kyoto to Hiroshima: 10,570 yen
Hiroshima to Tokyo: 18,040 yen
Travel Total: 41,690 yen
Since the 7-day Japan Rail Pass costs 29,110 yen, you can save at least 12,580 yen on Shinkansen travel alone. The JR Pass covers the cost of your tickets on JR train and buses you can use once you get to your destination, too, allowing you to save even more.
How to Get the Japan Rail Pass in Japan
The Japan Rail Pass normally must be purchased in advance and outside of Japan at registered travel agencies.
However, the Japan Rail Pass can be bought in Japan until March 31, 2020 at selected locations. This includes Narita Airport's terminal 1, 2, and 3 stations, JR Tokyo, Shinjuku, and Osaka stations. View the official website for a complete list of locations selling the pass in Japan. Buying the Japan Rail Pass in Japan is slightly more expensive than purchasing it abroad (for example, 33,000 yen for a normal 7-day pass). See the official page for prices.
How to Get the Japan Rail Pass from Abroad
As mentioned above, travelers are usually required to buying JR pass in advance. Below is a step-by-step guide to purchasing the pass.
1. Obtain an "Exchange Order" Before Your Departure to Japan
Picture courtesy of redoxkun
A paper called an "exchange order" is needed to obtain a JR pass in Japan. This order can normally only be reserved and purchased when outside Japan. It is valid for up to three months after purchase.
You can get an exchange order through major travel Japanese agencies like JTB, Kintetsu Travel, Nippon Travel Agency, and Tobu Top Tours, and their associated international offices. If your flight to Japan uses JAL and ANA airlines, you can also reserve the pass through them.
Voyagin is another website which offers the Japan Rail Pass.
JR Pass – 7, 14, or 21 Days Unlimited Rail Travel in Japan
2. Trade Your Exchange Order for a Japan Rail Pass in Japan
Once you arrive in Japan, bring your exchange order to JR Travel Service Centers, which located at major airports and major JR stations. You will also be required to show your passport, so be sure to have it on hand. After the exchange, you will receive your actual pass.
This is the service center at JR Haneda Airport Station; here you can see the sign for the Japan Rail Pass.
For more information on JR Travel Service Center locations, visit the following website.
How to Use the Japan Rail Pass
Once you have the JR pass in hand, you can use it freely to ride JR trains, the Shinkansen, and other public transportation listed on the pass, such as the ferry to Miyajima in Hiroshima. However, there are certain restrictions and tricks to using the pass, as listed below.
To use the JR pass for the first time, enter the JR station through the entrance attended by a station staff. When you show them your pass and passport, they will write the date on the pass. Your pass is valid from the start of the first time of use. This area will be located on one side of the ticket barriers.
Even after the first time you use the pass, continue to enter and exit JR stations through the barrier attended by station staff. Show your JR pass to the attendant and have your passport ready to show as well. You cannot use the automated gates at train stations.
Restrictions on the JR Pass
Some restrictions apply to the JR pass, so be sure to check the pass itself before using it.
Please note that only JR transportation is covered in the pass. If you make a transfer to a different railway or transportation company a separate fee will be required. Also, Nozomi and Mizuho Super Express Shinkansen trains are not covered in the JR pass and you will need to pay a separate fee to ride. Long-distance JR highway buses are not covered either.
Making a Shinkansen Reservation with the JR Pass
Shinkansen and rapid JR trains offer both reserved and unreserved seating. Without a reserved seat, you may have to end up standing in the unreserved seat car. This can occur during rush hours on weekdays, weekends, and public holidays in Japan. An advance seat booking is highly recommended for comfortable travel.
Midori no Madoguchi
Seat reservations are free for Japan Rail pass holders. However, you must book your seat in advance at JR ticket offices. You can make a reservation just before your train departs, but if possible, visit ticket offices called Midori no Madoguchi at least one day prior to your departure for the smoothest travels. They are located at major JR stations and will usually have English and multi-language support.
Use the Budget-Friendly Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass provides significant savings on transportation. Especially if it is your first time seeing Japan, the Japan Rail Pass is a great value and fits well with a first-time travel itinerary.
With some preparation and familiarity with using the pass, your trip will be smooth and hassle-free!