All Explained Japan Rail Pass

Tokyo Travel Tips

Japan Rail Pass – What is it? Price, Routes, How to use it

What is Japan Rail Pass?

Japan rail pass, is a pass that you can get on the JR trains across Japan for the certain periods, with fixed price. JR is a train companies that used to be Japan National Railway, and now 6 JR companies have their network across Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu. There are some exception, but you can access to all JR lines with the Japan Rail Pass, including the bullet train called Shinkansen, and get reserved seats for no additional charge as many as you want withing the valid pariod. You can also use it for limited express trains, including airport access such as Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo, and Haruka from Kansai Airport to Osaka, Kyoto.

In case your itinerary includes long distance travels in Japan, you can save a lot comparing with purchasing tickets for each trip. The pass is sold for 7 days / 14 days / 21 days, and only available for short term visitors to Japan.

You can also watch this in video on my YouTube.


Is it really worth getting for me?

But the pass cost $300 – $800 US dollars or so, so you might wonder if it really pays off for your trip. For example, if you fly to Haneda airport and make just one round trip to Kyoto, it doesn’t worth getting the pass. So today, I’d like to go over the basics of Japan Rail Pass like what it covers and how to use it in Japan, for travelers getting it for the first time.

Price of Japan Rail Pass

First, let’s see the most important part, the price of the Japan Rail Passes and where you can purchase them. There are two ways to get the pass. One is to purchase it online at JR group’s official website (Link below). And another way is to purchase the pass from travel agencies.

The basic price of 7 days pass for regular car is sold at 33,610 yen at JR official website, and 29,650 yen at travel agencies. The 7 days pass for Green Car, which is the name of 1st class of JR trains are 44,810 yen at JR site, and agency price is 39,600 yen. So official site is 4000 – 5000 yen more expensive for 7 days pass.

JR official website

JR Group Official Website Regular Green (1st Class)
7 Days 33,610 44,810
14 Days 52,960 72,310
21 Days 66,200 91,670

Purchase JR group official website↗︎

Agencies

JR Group Official Website Regular Green (1st Class)
7 Days 29,650 39,600
14 Days 47,250 64,120
21 Days 60,450 83,390

* All prices in Japanese Yen

Purhcase from the popular JR PASS agency “japan rail.com”↗︎

The difference of official site and agencies

You can purchase Japan Rail Pass from JR Groups official website (https://www.japanrailpass-reservation.net) , or from your local travel agenecies. There are also some agencies websites that are specialized for the Japan Rail Pass that are availabe from around the world. 

Whichever you get the pass from, it is the same pass.  But there are some difference mainly in the “price” “refund policy” and “access to the reservation system“.

Price:  If you purchase the pass from JR’s official website, the price is higher than getting from travel agenicies. You can get better deal at the agencies.

Reservation: After you have received your physical Japan Rail Pass in JR’s counter in Japan, you can make reservation for your itinerary either at JR’s counter or some machines in major statinos also allows you to make reservation.

If you purchase the pass from the official site, it gives you an advantage that you can make reservation online before you leave to Japan, or even during your stay in Japan. Not only you don’t have to line up in the station counter, you can also hold your seats if you travel during busy season.

Refund policy: The refund policy is also different. On JR site, you can get refunded after 560 yen fee deducted, You can cancel online if before receiving the pass, if after you receive your pass, you can cancel at the counter as long as it’s before the start day of the pass. As for the agency, the refund policy is different depends on the agency. I saw some agency ask for 15%, some 20% of the pass price as procedure fee, and usually you need to mail your bouchur back to the agency’s office.

So you can consider these difference, and make decision depends on your budget and preference.

 

JR Group Official Site Agencies
How to receive the pass At JR counter with passport At JR counter (Bouchur from agency might needed)
Price ~ ~
How to make reservation Counter / Machine / Online Counter / Machine
Major Advantage Access to online seat reservation before your arrival to Japan Cheaper Price

Regular Car and Green Car

Regular car separated to two categories, reserved seats and non-reserved seats. With JR pass, you can jump on the non-reserved seats anytime without making a reservation and take the seat that are not occupied. In case you take the train from the starting station, you can wait in the line and get the seat. In case you take the train from the middle station like Kyoto, it depends on the day and time if you can get a seat.

To make sure you don’t stand for 2 hours to Tokyo, you can reserve your seat for no additiona cost if you have Japan rail pass. In case you miss the train you reserved, you might not be able to reserve another train right after because the train time overwrap with the train you missed, but you can get on the non-reserved car anytime.

Some Shinkansen going north from Tokyo, doesn’t have non-reserved seats. So it’s necessary to make a reservation.

Green car is the name of the first class used for JR’s trains. All seats are only for advanced reservation, and it usually has wider seats and comfortable environment. In case you travel long distances, Green Car would be nice.

Green Cars are not including any meal services on any trains. So when you travel long distance, you can purchase the lunch box at the station or bread or rice balls at the convenience stores. Some Shinkansen services has wagon service, that you can purchase the light meal and coffee from the attendant. You can pay with cash, IC cards. You can use credit cards on shinkansen by JR East and JR West. You cannot use between Tokyo and Osaka that is operated by JR Central.

On some Shinkansen routes by JR East such as to Kanazawa and to Hokkaido, the Green Car is not the hightest class of the train. “The Gran Class” is the most luxury train, and including meals and drinks by attendants.

What to do after your arrival in Japan

No matter where you purchase the pass from, you need to get the pass at the JR counter in Japan.

Receive the pass: When you purchase from your agency, you receive bouchur from your agency, so you can show that bouchure and your passport at the counter. For the official site, you don’t get bouchure so you just bring your passport and email that you received. Make sure, your passport gets temporary visitors stamps at immigration.

In case you need to receive your tickets at the airport, make sure the offices are open after your arrival.

Make reservation: To save your time, you can either book everything when you arrive Japan, or you can also use ticket machines in the station. Some major stations have machines that allows you to make reservation using your pass.

 

Lines Japan Rail Pass Covers

Let’s get quick snapshot of which lines you can use the rail pass, and which lines you cannot. If you are not familiar with Japan’s train network, it might sounds a little complicated as many train names in Japanese comes up, so I think you can find a little by little as you plan your trip.

You can use the Japan Rail Pass for the most of the JR trains including limited express trains and Shinkansens (bullet trains). The exception is the Nozomi ❌ and Mizuho ❌ service that runs the route between Tokyo to Kyushu. You can not get on them even on non-reserved seats. Instead, you can use other services such as Hikari ✅ and Sakura ✅, which are still fast enough and there are no difference in seat quality. The only difference is the number of stops and it runs less frequently.

In Japan, you see many private railways and they are also not included in Japan Rail Pass. Some examples of private railways are, Keisei that runs Skyliner from Narita airport, Odakyu line to Hakone from Shinjuku, Tobu line to Nikko from Asakusa. Some routes have substite by JR lines, some not.

JR’s limited express like “Fuji excursion” and “Odoriko”, go in to the private railways such as Fujikyu and Izukyu directly as it come close to the destination that you even don’t notice if you are on the train. In that case, the JR pass only work for the JR section, and you need additional charge for the part of the private railways.

The major services covered by Japan Rail Pass

  • JR lines Shinkansen *, JR Limited Express,  Regular JR trains,  Miyajima Ferry by JR West
  • * Excludes Nozomi, Mizuho service.

What it doesn’t cover

  • Nozomi and Mizuho (Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen’s fastest train)
  • Subways (eg. Tokyo Metro, Tokyo Toei, Osaka Metro)
  • Private Railways (eg. Odakyu, Tobu, Keisei, Keikyu, Tokyu, Hankyu, Kintetsu, Keihan)
  • Highway buses
  • Local Buses
  • Ferries (* you can use for Miyajima Ferry in Hiroshima)

Let’s Start Planning the Travel

Now let’s plan your itinerary in Japan. What I recommend you to get on your smart phone is the app called “Japan Travel” by Navitime. This is a navigation app that you can type your origin and destination station, and show you the train you can take. You can also input the passes you have, and it shows you the train you can take, and the price with the pass you have.  If you set Japan Rail Pass as a pass you have, it doesn’t show you the route by Nozimi that is not available for Japan Rail Pass, and it shows only the schedule of Hikari.

Sample Route

I though of 10 days plan using 7 days Japan Rail Pass. In this itinerary, the traveler is receiving the pass on the day 1, but set the start date on the 4th day.

Day Transportation Hotel Location
1 Narita Airport – Tokyo (Narita Express) Tokyo
2 See Tokyo Tokyo
3 Day trip to Kawaguchiko (Fuji Excursion) /  Hakone Tokyo
4 Tokyo – Hiroshima   Start date of Japan Rail Pass Hiroshima
5 See Hiroshima Hiroshima
6 Hiroshima – Himeji castle – Osaka Osaka
7 Osaka – Nara – Kyoto Kyoto
8 See Kyoto Kyoto
9 Kyoto – Tokyo Tokyo
10 Tokyo – Narita Airport (Narita Express)  
  • Since the Hikari service from Tokyo only goes to Okayam directly, you need to change once to go to Hiroshima.

This is just an example, so I’m sure you come up with much better itinerary and destinations.

Who shouldn’t get the Japan Rail Pass

Even though Japan Rail Pass is a great deal, for example, if you fly to Tokyo Haneda airport and make one round trip to Kyoto, and your stay is mainly stay in Tokyo and Kyoto, you might not need to get the pass.

You might be able to save more by using online booking system of JR Tokai between Tokyo and Kyoto, and JR Tokyo Wide pass, that gives you more access than Japan Rail Pass around Tokyo areas, you might also make some… unnecessary movement of trying to use the Japan Rail Pass, like giving up the destination that JR line doesn’t run. .. Sounds like what I do if I could get the pass.

I hope I could give you a snapshot of the Japan Rail Pass, which pass to get and how to use it .

Thank you for reading. Have a great trip to Japan!  🙂

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