The Ultimate Guide to the Japan Rail Pass

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The Ultimate Guide to the Japan Rail Pass - Is the JR Pass Worth It?

So the one thing I was really anxious about when planning my trip to Japan was the public transportation in Osaka. I had heard about the Japan Rail Pass and how much you could save with it but was unsure whether it was worth it, and whether the pass covered all lines in Japan.

Prior to our departure, I did as much research as I could about getting around Osaka city and the Kansai area, but couldn’t find the answers to all my questions. But I knew it would be worth it for our week in Japan, so we got a 7-day JR pass (¥29,110≈ $280) that would allow us to travel around the Kansai area as much as we wanted. I had so many questions, would it allow us to travel within Osaka? I’m surprised no one had blogged about this or mentioned this but alas! The first thing I did, was to stop by the information counter at the station to put my worries to rest (and you as well!).

Psst, FYI – this post may contain affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission (at absolutely no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. Thanks for supporting the free content on this site (and for sponsoring more doggy treats for little Albus!)

What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass is a cost-saving travel pass designed specifically for tourists that allow unlimited use of all JR trains for a specified amount of time ranging from one to three weeks.

Shinkansen "Bullet Train" - Is the JR Pass Worth it?

Who qualifies for a Japan Rail Pass?

Tourists! Or basically, anyone who visits Japan with the “Temporary Visitor” sticker or stamp on their passport. You have to show this stamp to collect your JR Pass, so make sure you get this stamp at customs. You won’t get this stamp if you go through automated gates or enter Japan via any other official status, such as “Trainee”, “Entertainer” or “Reentry Permit”. Unfortunately, residents of Japan are unable to enjoy this special pass as it’s so cost-saving! However, if you hold a Japanese passport but have lived abroad for the past 10 years or more, you are also entitled to this pass!

How much does a Japan Rail Pass cost?

There are two types of passes: Green (superior class) and Ordinary, and you can pick between 7-days, 14-days or 21-days, depending on your trip duration, and are valid for the respective number of consecutive days beginning on the first day of use.

Green Ordinary
Duration Adult Child Adult Child
7-day 38,880 ¥ 19,440 ¥ 29,110 ¥ 14,550 ¥
14-day 62,950 ¥ 31,470 ¥ 46,390 ¥ 23,190 ¥
21-day 81,870 ¥ 40,930 ¥ 59,350 ¥ 29,670 ¥

Prices are correct as of February 2018.

Which lines do the Japan Rail Pass cover?

The JR pass covers rail, bus and train.

Rail

As long as you enter a JR Station, you can take any train with the JR Pass. Every other station is considered the Subway. Simple as that. There are JR lines scattered around the city, but definitely not as many as the Subway stations, so if you plan to only use the JR Pass, prepare to put on your walking shoes. The nearest JR station from our apartment in Osaka was about 1.5km, whereas the nearest Subway was 500m. Most of the time we ended up taking the Subway to the JR station and each Subway ride costs less than 300¥, unless you’re travelling really far away. We only travelled 5-6 stations max.

The best thing about the JR Pass is that they can be used on the speedy and efficient JR Shinkansen (bullet trains) as well, excluding the Nozomi and Mizuho trains.

Bus

You can basically take any JR Bus, except express bus routes.

Ferry

If you’ve read my 7-day Kansai Region Itinerary, you would know that we made a day trip to Hiroshima, and the JR Pass covers the JR-West Miyajima ferry where you get to see the famous floating shrine!

Torii Gates - Is the JR Pass Worth it?

Where can I get the Japan Rail Pass?

Now, this is really important. You must purchase your JR Pass before coming to Japan.

You’ll need to buy your JR Pass from an authorized agent before coming to Japan, where you’ll be given an Exchange Order, which is a voucher that you’ll need to present to the JR station office in order to receive your Japan Rail Pass. This means you’ll need to have the pysical Exchange Order before you leave for Japan. You can either find a list of agents in your city here, or purchase them online and have the Exchange Order mailed to you for FREE. We opted to have them mailed to us from JRailPass.com, as it is the most convenient way of going about it, and they are the official vendor so you know you won’t go wrong. We got our Exchange Orders within 48 hours of placing our order (yay for Fedex!).

⇒ So if you are short on time, or are leaving for Japan in just a couple of days, this may be the best option to get your JR Pass Exchange Orders Fedex-ed to you within 24/48 hours!

300X250-JAPANGUIDE-mountain

Exchange orders need to be turned in for your Japan Rail Pass within three months of the date the order was issued, and they can only be exchanged at major JR stations.

Note: The Japan Rail Pass is currently being sold at select JR stations from March 8 2017 to March 31, 2018. However, this option is more expensive, so opt to purchase your passes before you leave for Japan if you can.

Should I get the Japan Rail Pass?

You should definitely consider purchasing the JR Pass if you will be travelling to a few cities during your trip. Even one long-distance train ride may make up for the cost of the JR Pass.

For instance, a return journey between Osaka and Tokyo would set you back about ¥28,500. Add in a return trip to Kyoto from Osaka and you’ve covered the cost of the 7-day JR Pass.

We actually did not make full use of our 7-day JR Pass even with day trips from Osaka to Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima (plus the ferry!) in our 1-week in the Kansai region. We would probably have saved a bit of money buying individual tickets, but the convenience of not having to purchase tickets for every single trip was well worth it. Plus, we took trips around Osaka on the JR Loop that we did not factor in.

To calculate a rough estimate of whether your itinerary will be worth the Japan Rail Pass, try out this nifty Japan Rail Pass Calculator. For more accurate costs and travel times, Hyperdia is the best website for planning your trip.

How do I use the Japan Rail Pass?

You’ll need to show your pass to an attendant at a manned ticket gate. You won’t be able to pass through the automated gates.

Do I need to reserve seats?

You most likely won’t need to make seat reservations on most trains, but to be sure, you can look it up on Hyperdia which will indicate if your selected train requires advanced seat reservations.

To make seat reservations, all you have to do is show up at the ticket office, present your pass and ding! Seats reserved! Easy peasy lemon squeezey. 🙂

JR Seat Reservations - Is the JR Pass Worth It?
This is how a reserved seat ticket looks like

Soooo.. is the JR Pass worth it?

The age-old question. It really depends on your travel needs, and how often you will be travelling and to how many cities. As for me, the cost didn’t quite pay off in terms of the number of journeys we were taking, but it definitely paid off in terms of convenience, especially when you’re in a foreign land and have limited Japanese language skills!

After all, Japan is a beautiful country with so much in store. And you definitely won’t regret taking a few long-distance train rides to see what the country has to offer!

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