Updated Aug 2017
A. What is Japan Rail Pass ?
Here I am referring to the All Japan Railpass, currently priced at 29,110 Yen for 7 days, 46,390 Yen for 14 days and 59,350 for 21 Days for an Ordinary Pass. (Green Pass is more expensive but provide a more comfortable, luxurious ride).
The JR Pass can also be purchased within Japan these days, however, the price is more expensive, e.g. 33,000 Yen for 7 days compared to 29,110 Yen if you buy in your home country.
You will require a 15 or 90 days temporary stamp on your passport in order to use the pass. So, foreigners living or working in Japan would be allowed to use it.
The JR Pass allows the pass holder to take JR Shinkansen, Limited Express Trains, Rapid Trains and Local Trains across Japan, including Hokkaido, Tohuku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Shikuko and Kyushu regions. It does not entitle holders to travel on non-JR trains such as Tokyo Metro or buses. The All-Japan railpass also does not allow travel on the Mizuho and Nozumi Shinkansen and some overnight trains.
B. Should you get a JR Pass ? It’s really a Dollars & Cents (or Yen) Decision !
You compare the total $ of individual train tickets against the price of the JR pass. If the total $ of individual train tickets is more than the price of JR pass, then you should get the JR pass as it saves you $.
1) But first you do need a travel itinerary ! No point asking if you should buy a Rail pass or not, when you haven’t decided where (which prefecture, which city or places) you are going !
2) User Hyperdia to find out the cost of the train tickets. http://www.hyperdia.com/
3) Here are 3 illustrations whether you need to get/not get a JR Pass.
Illustration A : No need to buy JR Pass.
Alicia is spending 8 days in Japan, covering Tokyo & surrounding areas. She is staying in Shinjuku, will explore the attractions around Central Tokyo and will go on short excursions to see Mount Fuji, Kamakura/Yokohama, and Nikko.
Sum of Individual Tickets = Day 1 to Day 7 (JR 22720 Yen). Compare to a 7 Days JR Pass at 29110 Yen, it’s better for Alicia to buy individual tickets. Day 8 is not included in the calculation because the JR Pass is for 7/14/21 days duration.
Illustration B where it’s better to get JR Pass.
Michael wants to spend 12 days in Japan, arriving in Narita Airport, travelling to Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Kyoto and depart via Kansai Airport.
Sum of Individual Tickets = Day 4 to Day 10 (JR 50310 Yen). Compare to a 7 Days JR Pass at 29110 Yen, it’s better for Michael to get the JR Pass. Total saving 21200 Yen. Michael to start using the Pass from Day 4 where the major & more expensive travelling starts (leaving Tokyo). Day 11 and 12 would not be covered by the JR pass as the 7 days would have lapsed.
Illustration C Common itinerary for tourists covering Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka including Disneyland & Universal Studio.
Sum of Individual Tickets = Day 4 to Day 10 (JR 18700 Yen). Compare to a 7 Days JR Pass at 29110 Yen, it’s better not to get the JR Pass. Buying individual tickets would be a better option.
C. JR Pass Calculator
It’s tedious to do all these calculation using spreadsheet. Now, many websites have come out with JR Pass Calculator to see if it’s worthwhile to get the pass.
Japan Guide JR Pass Calculator : http://www.japan-guide.com/railpass/
Japan Station JR Pass Calculator : https://www.japanstation.com/japan-rail-pass-value-calculator/
D. Alternative to JR Pass
If the conclusion is JR Pass is not suitable for your trip, or you are not convinced JR pass gives you the best value for $, there are other options available :
1. Cheapest Option. Take overnight highway bus for your long distance travel. Bus fare is cheaper and you get to save a hotel night. Willer Express & Busonlines have English website that you can use to book such buses.
Willer Express : http://willerexpress.com/en/
Japan Bus on line : https://japanbusonline.com/
2. Just buy individual train tickets, example Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin Osaka, at the station
3. Get a Regional pass. This is especially useful if your travel covers specific Region.
JR East Pass http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/pass/index.html
JR West Kansai Pass http://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/ticket/pass/
JR Kyushu Pass http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/railpass/railpass.html
JR Shikoku Pass https://shikoku-railwaytrip.com/railpass.html
JR Hokkaido Pass
There are other non-JR rail passes, you can read here.
E. Rule of thumb, You SHOULD NOT BUY a All Japan Rail Pass when :
- You are mainly staying in the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto (where daily transport cost seldom exceed 1,000 Yen)
- You are taking mostly non-JR transport
- You are not taking long distance trips on Shinkansen
- You intend to save $. There are alternate cheaper mode of transport like Willer Overnight bus that costs about 4,000 Yen from Tokyo to Kyoto and you also save on one night of hotel accommodation.
F. If you have ALREADY Bought a Japan Railpass, how best to utlise it ?
We do not encourage you, our members, to take unnecessarily long distance trips, just because you have purchased a Japan Rail Pass. You should be enjoying your trip, and not rushing from one place to another. However, as you already have the rail pass, do consider :
- Always travel on Shinkansen, if you have a choice between taking the more comfortable, faster Shinkansen vs Ltd Express or Rapid Train
- Reserve seats early on Shinkansen and Limited Express trains, at no additional charge, so that you will always be sitting with your companion
- Always choose JR, if you have a choice between JR and non-JR trains, so that you don’t have to pay extra $
- Plan the start of the Japan Railpass properly. Preferably start using your Railpass on the day you travel long distance. (Example, you are on a 14 days Japan tour, first 7 days staying in Tokyo and the next 7 days going to Matsumoto, Kanazawa, Osaka, Hiroshima, then you should just buy a 7 days railpass and start using on Day 8 when you leave Tokyo for Matsumoto)
Making reservation before you arrived in Japan
That is now possible ! However, it’s restricted to JR East & Hokkaido trains only. Not available for JR Central, West, Kyushu and Shikoku trains. Hence you cannot make online reservation for Tokaido Shinkansen. Website for reservation. https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx
Flying Into and Departing from Different Airports
We always recommend our members to fly in/depart via different airports. Such as arriving at Osaka, move eastwards to Kyoto and departing via Tokyo Narita Airport. Save time, save $. No U-turns. This impacts your iternery and your decision whether to get a JR Pass.
G. How to Use Hyperdia if you have a JR Pass
1. Uncheck Airplane, Airport Shuttle Bus
2. Uncheck NOZOMI/Mizuho/Hayabusa. However, JR Pass only restrict Nozomi and Mizuho, but Hayabusa is OK. Hayabusa runs to the North East (Tohuku region) of Tokyo, so if you are taking the Tohuku Shinkansen, then do not uncheck this.
3. Uncheck Private Railway. Note : Some stations are not accessible by JR, so if you do not get results in your search, please re-check the box.
4. If you are not sure of the time you plan to take the train, it’s best to do the search by picking a time in the morning. Gives better results.
Japan Rail Pass Website http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/about_jrp.h…