It’s a question that comes up for most people the first time they visit Japan, to buy or not buy a Japan rail pass? I bought one when I visited Japan for two weeks back in 2014, and it ended up saving me heaps of cash. However, it’s not always the case that it’s cheaper to buy the JR rail pass. It really depends entirely on your travel plans. If you are confused about whether or not to buy one, or what it includes, check out this simple guide!
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What is the JR pass?
The Japan rail pass is a train ticket designed for tourists visiting Japan. It can be used on the lines of the six companies that make the Japan Railways Group. Aside from a few restrictions, you can basically use it on any JR company train in Japan, no matter what time of day or year it is.
What are the six JR companies?
The JR group members include JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR West, JR Central, JR Shikoku and JR Kyushu. These companies cover the whole area of Japan’s four main islands.
What does a Japan rail pass cover?
It covers all the JR Group railways trains including most of the Shinkansen (bullet train) trains. The exceptions are the Shinkansen Nozomi and Mizuho trains. You can also use it on most JR bus lines and the JR West Ferry between Miyajima and Miyajimaguchi. For full terms and conditions, check out the website.
Who can buy the JR rail pass?
Any foreign tourist entering Japan on a temporary visitor entry status is eligible to buy the pass. You will need to show your temporary visa stamp on your passport when you collect the pass, so there is no point trying to buy one if you’re a student or foreign worker living in Japan.
Do I really need to buy the Japan rail pass? It looks kind of expensive
I see people asking this question time and time again, is the Japan rail pass worth the investment for my trip to Japan? That answer really depends on a number of questions. I have made the below flowchart for you to check for a quick answer!
Where can I buy the JR pass from?
I recommend buying the pass online from jrailpass.com.
Can you buy the JR pass in Japan?
From 2017, you can also buy the pass in Japan on a trial basis until March 2018, but it will be more expensive than buying outside Japan. As of May 2017, the 7 day pass will currently set you back ¥29,110. If you buy it inside Japan, it will cost ¥33,000.
Where do I collect my Japan rail pass from?
When you purchase your Japan rail pass outside of Japan, you are sent an exchange order. You must take this along with your stamped passport along to a designated exchange office in Japan. Make sure the names on the exchange order matches the name on your passport, or they won’t give you the pass! You can find a list of the exchange offices in Japan here.
How do I check train times and reserve seats using the JR rail pass?
To check train times, I highly recommend checking the English language Hyperdia website. I literally use this site every time I take a train somewhere in Japan!
To make seat reservations on the bullet train, go to the ticket office with your rail pass. Show the staff your rail pass and let them know which train you want to take. They will print off your seat reservations for you. If you are travelling during a quieter time of day, you can just show your pass at the gate and take a seat in the unreserved seating section.
Alternatives to the Japan rail pass
If you are travelling around a lot during your Japan trip I would say the rail pass is definitely worth the cost. Without the pass, the bullet train is really expensive for individual trips. For example if you check the Hyperdia website you can see a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto will cost over 10,000 yen per person one way. So if you are visiting two or three cities around the country by bullet train, the rail pass will certainly save you money.
However if you are just staying within one area of Japan, it may be worth buying a regional pass instead. There are many regional passes you can buy. For example if you are staying mainly in the Kansai area, a 3 day Kansai area pass will only set you back 5,300 yen and can be used around the cities of Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Himeji and Kobe.
You can find a list of all the area passes and where they cover here.
I hope you found this article useful. If you still have questions about the JR rail pass, let me know in the comments!
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