The Japan Rail Pass (or JR Pass) is a 7, 14, or 21 days ticket that allows you to travel aboard all JR trains of the railway system (local, express and Shinkansen high-speed trains), JR buses and boats from Japan and also aboard the Tokyo Monorail to/from Haneda Airport. This is a guide about what areas the JR Pass includes in its price and how to get it. You will find information about how much it costs and how it works.
- Japan Rail Pass: Visit Japan far and wide and save money
- 1. What does the JR Pass include?
- Japan Rail Pass in Tokyo
- The Narita Express is included in the Japan Rail Pass
- 2. Cost of the JR Pass and where to buy it
- Always take into account the kind of service you are offered!
- Avoid any problems and collect your JR Pass voucher directly in Japan
- Types of JR Pass and costs (2020)
- 3. How to book your JR Pass online
- 4. Can I buy the JR Pass directly in Japan?
- The convenience of a last minute purchase... at your arrival in Japan
- 5. Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?
- Using the JR pass in Tokyo
- Considering the JR Pass to travel outside Tokyo
- A few numbers to understand why the JR Pass is convenient
- 6. How does the JR Pass work?
- How to book a seat on the train
Japan Rail Pass: Visit Japan far and wide and save money
The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-effective way to get around in Japan and save on public transport. It is useful if you are planning to visit Tokyo and other must-see tourist destinations outside the capital of Japan. The JR Pass is like a wild card for a budget-friendly travel to the Land of the Rising Sun. This is a good option if you want to explore the Japanese capital far and wide, and add trips out of town in great cities such as Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. So, if you are currently planning your itinerary in Japan with several stops, no doubt about it: buying the JR Pass is recommended as it will allow you to save A LOT of money.
In this article we will answer the most popular questions about the JR pass in 5 points. At the end of this guide about the Japan Rail Pass you will know everything you need to know about train tickets and how to plan your trip to Japan by train.
1. What does the JR Pass include?
The Japan Rail Pass provides unlimited travel on all means of transport provided by Japan Railway. The most important Japanese transport company can be easily recognized by the JR logo printed on trains. Different colors corresponds to the area reached by the train: green if you use the Japan Rail Pass within the Tokyo area, orange in the central area between Kyoto and Osaka, blue in the south-west area of Hiroshima. In the Japan Rail pass, they are therefore included:
- Super express trains, i.e. the Japanese high-speed trains of the Shinkansen lines that connect the country's major cities, including the island regions of Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu. Excluded are the super-express trains of the Mizuho and Nozomi lines, which connect Tokyo to Shin-Osaka without change.
- Limited express trains (also called special express trains or tokkyu), that run both medium-long distance and suburban routes;
- Local trains that run on urban railway lines, the Yamanote Line in Tokyo;
- JR Ferries on the Hiroshima-Miyajima route;
- Extra-urban bus branded by JR, in particular JR Bus Kanto, West Japan JR Bus, JR Kyushu Bus, JR Hokkaido Bus, JR Bus Tohoku, JR Shikoku Bus, JR Tokai Bus.
Private railways, subways and city buses are NOT included in the Japan Rail Pass.
Japan Rail Pass in Tokyo
Talking about Tokyo, we can say that the JR Pass is valid on the main means of transport in the metropolitan area, except the metro, managed by two private companies. Specifically, the Japan Rail Pass is valid on:
- The trains of the Yamanote Line, the famous circular line of Tokyo, very important as it connects in a few minutes the main stations of the city (Central, Ueno, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro...);
- All other 30 suburban surface railway lines
- The monorail, a train useful for connections to and from Harida airport.
The Narita Express is included in the Japan Rail Pass
If you arrive to Narita Tokyo airport by plane remember that the JR Pass is also valid on the Narita Express, i.e. the train that links Tokyo and some secondary stations to Narita Airport. It is a great deal considering that a one way ticket on the Narita Express costs about 3,000 yen.
N.B. Please note that - unlike all other JR trains - you can only access the Narita Express with a reservation (free of charge). In order to get a reservation follow the directions to one of the JR ticket offices in the stations and request a FREE seat reservation for the Narita Express.
2. Cost of the JR Pass and where to buy it
The price of the JR Pass varies depending on the duration, which can be 7, 14 or 21 days; and on the retailer (authorized agency and reference operator).
Always take into account the kind of service you are offered!
If you are going to buy your pass online at a low cost the tip is to always take into account the quality of service you are offered, especially when it comes to the shipment or collection of the JR Pass.
The following information is going to explain in detail how the Japan Rail Pass works. You can probably buy the JR Pass from high street travel agents in your own city. However, the most popular (and most convenient) way is to get the JR Pass online from one of the authorized agencies, most of them based in Europe or Japan.
That means that most of the resellers will post the the Japan Rail Pass paper voucher to you by mail from somewhere abroad. To be honest, this may be a risky choice too, due to shipping time. Many couriers do not always ensure delivery in a short time.
I suppose you too have had issues with couriers at least once in your life!
In addition, if you receive the voucher in your country, you are more likely to lose it between the various paperworks, tickets, passport or even forget it at home! Bear in mind, if you lose it or forget you will no longer be able to replace it! The agency cannot issue a second voucher and copies are not accepted. How to avoid such risk? Read further.
Avoid any problems and collect your JR Pass voucher directly in Japan
To avoid any risk, it's strongly recommended to buy the JR Pass online from an authorized dealer based in Japan. You can choose to have it delivered in Japan, so you can collect your voucher at your first accommodation upon your arrival. Domestic shipping usual takes no loger than 24 hours, so you safely buy your JR Pass online a couple of days before your arrival. The Japan Rail Pass isn't cheap, we all know it, so I would recommend you to opt for the SAFEST way!
Don't panic if your flight is leaving in a few days or if you still need some time to plan your itinerary: you can receive your pass directly at the accommodation you booked! I would like to remind you that you can book your JR Pass online even after your arrival in Japan. It will be active only after you have collected it and chosen a date of activation. The date of the voucher exchange does not necessarily have to coincide with the date of activation of the JR Pass.
Types of JR Pass and costs (2020)
You can opt for the Japan Rail Pass first class (green) or second class (standard). In the first class, train seats are more spacious and the coaches are wider and less crowded, with extra space for luggages.
- The one-week Japan Rail Pass is usually the most purchased. The standard fare is around €270 while the green fare costs €370. The pass is free for children under 6 years and discounted by about 50% for those aged 6 to 11 years. Here are the prices in detail:
Standard JR Pass (7 days):
Adult: about 270 euro
Child (6-11): about 130 euro
Green JR Pass (7 days):
Adult: about 370 euros
Child (6-11): about 180 euros
Standard JR Pass (14 days):
Adult: about 440 euro
Child (6-11): about 220 euro
Green JR Pass (14 days):
Adult: about 600 euro
Child (6-11): about 300 euro
Standard JR Pass (21 days):
Adult: about 560 euro
Child (6-11): about 280 euro
Green JR Pass (21 days):
Adult: about 740 euro
Child (6-11): about 390 euro
3. How to book your JR Pass online
Buying your JR pass online is simple and intuitive. Just enter your personal details, e-mail address, country, phone number and choose the preferred option between standard and green class; proceed by providing an address in Japan (i.e.the address of your hotel) where to get the official voucher.
Then, once you arrive in Japan, simply pick up the voucher and you're ready to exchange the voucher for the actual JR Pass at any high-speed train station or one of the many Exchange Office in Tokyo or other cities.
- Have you opted for shipping of the Japan Rail Pass to your country and you want to change the voucher immediately as you arrive in Japan? You can do that at the exchange office of each Japanese airport.. At Narita airport there are even four agencies for this. So, you can collect your pass as soon as you land.
4. Can I buy the JR Pass directly in Japan?
From 2017 you can buy the Japan Rail Pass in Japan. Though I suggest you think about it. Not only the prices are increased, but you will also have to queue at the ticket office (there is also the risk to meet an employee who can't speak English very well). Moreover, it is not very clear at which stations and/or airports the physical offices for the purchase of the JR Pass are located: they are not so numerous and little known. In short, it may happen that you can't even find the information on where to go to get it.
- Why then run the risk of buying it from a physical office in Japan when it's so expensive and considering the possibility not to find it? The most practical option is to buy it online and take advantage of the voucher shipping to your hotel. .
The convenience of a last minute purchase... at your arrival in Japan
You are in Japan and you have now realised that you need a JR Pass. The convenience is that through platforms like GetYourGuide you can buy your JR Pass online even when you arrive in Japan and have already settled into your hotel. An opportunity not to be underestimated!
5. Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?
The answer to this question depends on your travel itinerary in Japan, things to see and to do. Let's see when buying the JR pass is worth.
Using the JR pass in Tokyo
If you want to limit your trip to the city of Tokyo, then the JR Pass is NOT the solution for you. Or rather, the savings are guaranteed but are little.
As we have seen, the pass is valid on the trains of the entire national JR network, though perhaps the subway is the best option to visit Tokyo and its neighbourhood. In this case, I would recommend to get a daily/weekly travelcard or the Suica and Pasmo prepaid cards.
Considering the JR Pass to travel outside Tokyo
The purchase of the JR Pass is definetely worth if you plan to visit more cities in Japan. For example, it you want to follow the famous Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima travel itinerary. In this case, you should add the price of the boat to the island of Miyajima.
A few numbers to understand why the JR Pass is convenient
A single ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto (and vice versa) on the Shinkansen line costs a little less than a standard Japan Rail Pass valid for 7 days. Add to the Tokyo-Kyoto ticket the possibility to get to Hiroshima, continue by train, then get the ferry to the beautiful island of Miyajima and return to Tokyo. Not counting all the small trips within the individual cities.
[One way train]
Tokyo > Kyoto: 13.320 Yen (no seat reservation)
Kyoto > Hiroshima: 10.570 Yen (no seat reservation)
Hiroshima > Miyajima Island (train + ferry): 600 Yen
The convenience of the JR Pass for this classic route is quite obvious! For an itinerary which takes from Tokyo you all the way to Hiroshima and back, the saving is as much as 155 USD (120 GBP, 140 EUR) per person.
The more you travel, the more you save! It goes without saying that it is not mandatory to activate your Japan Rail Pass on the same day of your arrival in Japan. You can activate it when you want to travel by train. For instance, if you are planning a 10-11 day stay, you could spend the first 3 days in Tokyo without the JR pass. Then, you could activate the JR Pass to travel to Kyoto and other destinations in Japan during the last 7 days of your trip.
6. How does the JR Pass work?
Now that you know how much the Japan Rail Pass costs, how to buy it and how to use the JR Pass, here are some useful instructions.
- The Japan Rail Pass (or JR Pass) is a special ticket to travel by train, exclusively available to tourists. Only visitors staying in Japan for less than 90 days can purchase it. It is important that you show the stamp in your passport that says "temporary visitors" stamped by the airport authorities upon your arrival. Remember, if you're a Japanese citizen you will NOT be able to use the JR Pass in Japan.
How to book a seat on the train
The last chapter of our guide to the Japan Rail Pass is dedicated to the train seat reservation.
Apart from Narita Express train, it is NOT mandatory to reserve a seat in all the other railway lines. If you haven't booked a seat on the train, you can simply use to coaches for those without reservation. The "unreserved" coaches are indicated on the board in the train stations. Anyway, you can book your seat on the train at the ticket office. The seat reservation is free of charge. If you do not book a seat, it is recommended to get to the platform 10 to 15 minutes before the scheduled departure and join the queue to enter the unreserved coaches.
The JR Pass does not guarantee you seat, so it is always a good idea to book in advance. Booking a seat is not compulsory, though it's recommended on the Shinkansen long-distance lines, as well as the express and local trains, especially at peak times.
Booking a seat is free. You have to go to the ticket office half an hour beforehand and explain for which train you wish a reserved seat. It's not guaranteed that the person behind the counter speaks good English, so do your best to make yourself clear and always double check the reservation.
- For this purpose it can be useful to use pen and paper and write the route name and time. Such method may not be in line with Japanese advanced technology, but it is always effective!
A curiosity: Japanese people without a reservation arrive 10 minutes earlier on the dock. Passengers wait in line in a very orderly manner following the indications drawn on the floor. The golden rule: wait your turn to enter, never jump the queue!
Showing your ticket: If you travel with a JR pass, simply show it to the inspector.
Please note: electrical sockets on trains are placed on Shinkansen fast lines ONLY. On these trains it is also possible to eat and drink on board and, of course, WiFi network is available.
Now that you know everything about the Japan Rail Pass, all you have to do is leave. Yoi tabi!