If you are traveling to Tokyo, you probably plan on seeing more than the city. The best way to travel across Japan is by train. Japan is known for its excellent bullet trains. The good news is that you don’t need to buy train tickets for every single ride. Instead, a Japan Rail Pass gives you unlimited access to the country’s bullet trains for a flat rate!
Key info about the Japan Rail Pass
The JR Pass is a rail pass that allows cheap long distance travel across Japan. Once bought, you are entitled to unlimited train rides on most train lines. Compared to buying individual tickets, a Japan Rail Pass is almost guaranteed to save you a lot of money. Whether a JR Pass is worth it for you depends on how much you are planning to travel within the country.
The Japan Rail Pass is intended for travelers and therefore only available to non-Japanese travelers whose purpose is tourism for no longer than 90 days.
Validity and Types of JR Passes
If you decide to buy a Japan Rail Pass, you’ll have to choose from three options: 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days. During your selected validity you can ride the trains as often as you wish.
There are two different types of the Japan Rail Pass: the Ordinary JR Pass and the Green JR Pass. The Ordinary JR Pass is the regular JR Pass. The Green Japan Rail Pass on the other side equals a 1st class ticket that gives you access to specific cars with more space. With an ordinary pass, you can upgrade but it will result in high costs.
Here’s how the JR Pass works
Step 1: Activate your JR Pass
Once you have booked your JR Pass online, you’ll receive a voucher. Upon arrival in Japan, you can redeem your voucher and activate your pass at any JR Exchange Office. You will find them at any major station or at the airports. Be sure to double check the opening hours as they may differ. In order to activate your pass, your passport will be required. You don’t have to start the validity period right away. You can activate your pass and select a future date for when the pass is supposed to be valid. Note the difference between the exchange date and the starting date of your Japan Rail Pass. The activation date cannot be changed, so carefully select the date to avoid any mistakes. At this time there is no mobile JR Pass.
Step 2: Reserve seats with the JR Pass
This step is optional, but recommended! With the JR Pass, you can reserve seats on your chosen trains at no additional fee. You can do so online or at any ticket office. Before boarding, see an agent at a ticket office at any station. It only takes a few seconds and guarantees you’ll be with your party. I have never experienced a crowded train during my trips, however, I do prefer to reserve in advance. It’s just a personal preference, to be frank. You never know!
All Shinkansen trains have dedicated cars for reserved seats. Should you not reserve a seat in advance, just look for the non-reserved cars and grab any seat you like. Some lines do require reservations in advance, for example, the Narita Express.
Step 3: Use your JR Pass
As your JR Pass will be linked to your passport, always make sure to carry it with you if don’t do so anyway! You cannot enter through automatic ticket gates, but instead, have an agent check your pass at the ticket window (see top right corner of the photo above). Typically, the staff will only briefly look at and don’t verify all details. Depending on the agent, however, you may be asked to present your passport. You can then head to your respective track and wait for the train to arrive. Be sure to follow the marking on the ground to stand in the right line to board the train.
Early is on time and on time is late!
Japanese trains are punctual to the second, so don’t be late or the train leaves without you!
On the train: Follow the train-etiquette! Keep the noise to a minimum, because bothering others is considered extremely rude in Japan. Also, know that food is available for purchase on long distance trains. They come in the form of a prepared meal box. These meal boxes are called “bento” in Japanese.
All JR Pass prices
JR Pass Prices heavily depend on three factors: 1) Age and 2) Validity 3) Pass Type.
Ordinary JR Pass
Green JR Pass
* all prices include shipping
* kids aged 6-11 are entitled to child prices, which are 50% off.
The cheapest Japan Rail Pass, not taking into account child prices, is the 7-Day Ordinary JR Pass for $291. The most expensive Japan Rail Pass on the other side is the 21-Day Green JR Pass for $805. As you can see, the price range is very wide, depending on the time you have and your personal preferences.
Save money and go ordinary!
I do not think that you necessarily need a Green JR Pass. You’ll be completely fine in the regular cars!
Where to buy the JR Pass
It’s best to buy your JR Pass online. The voucher will be delivered to you via mail, or you can also choose to pick it up at a selected pick-up location near you. Japan Rail Passes never used to be available in Japan. Since recently, you can purchase it at Haneda, Narita and Kansai Airport for an additional fee. We only recommend buying it there in an emergency as the purchase in Japan will result in unnecessary costs.
Should you have the need to cancel your JR Pass, you can do so within one year of from the purchase date as long as the voucher has not yet been exchanged, meaning the pass has not been activated. A cancellation fee of 10% applies and you will need to mail the voucher to one of the offices, located in Long Beach (California), Paris and London. Once your JR Pass was received, you will be reimbursed. Note that it may take a few days until you see the refund on your credit card statement
The JR Pass network
The JR Network covers the entire country. All of Japan’s eight regions from Kyushu to Hokkaido are well connected, including major destinations like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima, and Sapporo.
As a JR Pass holder, you can ride:
- JR lines
valid for Shinkansen bullet trains (except for Nozomi and Mizuho), limited express trains, express trains, and local trains
- Tokyo Monorail
valid for connection to Haneda Airport
- Aiomori Railway
valid between Hachinohe and Aiomori, Aiomori and Noheji, Hachinohe and Noheji
- IR Ishikawa Railway
valid between Kanazawa and Tsubata
- Ayoka Toyama Railway
valid between Toyama and Takaoka
- Local JR Buses
except for expressway buses
- JR Ferry to Miyajima
IMPORTANT: The Nozomi Shinkansen and Mizuho Shinkansen are not included in the JR Pass. Further not included are private rail lines and subways or other local means of transport within cities.
To plan your train rides, we recommend using the timetable and route search Hyperdia. It’s the easiest way to find routes and schedules. So far, we’ve used them for all of our trips. You can deselect Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen and private trains for your search, which is super convenient!
Is the JR Pass worth it? Our review
If traveling outside of Tokyo is part of your travel plans, then most likely, a Japan Rail Pass will be worth it for you! There is however no general answer as it depends on your travel plans. How long are you going to stay in Japan? Which places do you intend to see during your trip?
One thing’s for sure: the JR Pass offers you ultimate flexibility. Within your validity period, you can take as many rides as you like and whenever you like, allowing spontaneous rides.
Can the JR Pass be shared?
No. The JR Pass can only be used by the person with the name that is on the pass. You may need to present your passport to verify your identity.
How much is the JR Pass?
The cheapest JR Pass can be bought for as little as $291. The most expensive JR Pass would be the 14-Day Pass for $805. How much your JR Pass will cost exactly, depends on the validity, pass type, and your age.
What if I lost my JR Pass?
If your JR Pass has already been activated, unfortunately, your pass cannot be reissued. If you haven’t exchanged your voucher yet, a refund is possible after verifying that the pass has not been used.
Where do I activate my JR Pass?
To activate your Japan Rail Pass head to any JR Exchange Office located in major train stations and the airports. Simply present your voucher and passport. The agent will provide you with a ticket that gets put onto your pass. It will contain your name, nationality, passport number, and starting date.
What’s the cancellation policy for the JR Pass?
Typically, you can cancel your JR Pass if it hasn’t been activated. There is, however, a fee to cancel but at least you won’t lose all your money!