If you are visiting Japan, one of the most useful purchases you can make is buying the JR Rail Pass, especially if you are planning to visit multiple cities. The JR Rail pass gives you unlimited access to all JR-operated trains, JR buses, JR ferries, and airport transfers. You can save a lot of money if you buy the Japan Rail Pass instead of buying tickets individually. Buy the JR Pass here.

A question that many people commonly ask me when they plan to visit Japan is – is it worth buying the Japan Rail Pass? . My answer is a resounding YES! I have personally saved around $1000 with the JR Pass on my trip. Check out how I saved $1000 on my trip with the Japan Rail Pass .

If you want to skip the info and buy the JR pass you can buy it here.

What is a Japan Rail Pass?

Japan Rail Pass or the JR Pass is a pass that gives you unlimited access to all JR-operated trains and buses, some ferries, and airport transfers. It’s particularly useful when you intend to take multiple long-distance journeys between different cities in Japan using the Shinkansen. Also, the pass is convenient and cost-effective when used properly.

Where to buy Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass?

Steps to buy Japan Rail Pass
5 Steps to buy and use the JR Pass

The 5 steps of buying and using the Japan Rail Pass is as illustrated in this picture. It’s important to note that only tourists to Japan, who are visiting Japan on a tourist visa for a maximum duration of 90 days, are eligible to buy the JR Pass.

How to buy and use the Japan Rail Pass

  1. Buy the JR Pass here. You can have the order delivered to your home address or to your temporary residence in Japan.
  2. What you receive in the mail is not the pass but an Exchange order or Exchange Voucher. This Exchange order cannot be used directly, you have to exchange it for the JR pass once you arrive in Japan.
  3. On arrival, after you get the tourist visa stamp in your passport, exchange the voucher for the Japan Rail Pass at any JR East Travel Service Center. You can find one at the Narita International Airport and at Haneda airport in Tokyo. If you are not in a hurry, you can also exchange it later at other JR East Travel Service centers in the city. Remember, you need your passport and the original exchange order for the exchange.
  4. Activate the pass when you exchange it. You can choose the date when you want to start using it. However, the start date can’t be more than 30 days away. If you know your plans in advance, you can also reserve your seats at this time. Reserving your seats is recommended as the trains get booked quickly especially in peak tourist season.
  5. Once the pass is activated, you can use the pass on all JR trains and buses in Japan.

Can you buy JR Pass in Japan?

JR Pass is available in Japan, temporarily on a trial basis till March 2020, for a much higher price in major airports and train stations. It’s always better to Buy the JR Pass here buy it in advance , as you can skip the lines at the airport and use it immediately on landing for airport transfers or train rides from the airport into the city.

In Japan, the Japan Rail Pass is available at the following train stations: Sapporo, Sendai, Niigata, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, Hakata.

It’s also available in these airports: Narita Airport(Terminals 1,2, and 3), Haneda Airport – International Airport, and Kansai Airport.

Types of JR Pass

Depending on your travel plans, you can buy either a 7-day, 14-day or 21-day Japan Rail Pass. An ordinary 7-day JR Pass costs 271 USD, the 14-day pass costs 433 USD and the 21-day pass costs 554 USD.

If you want to travel first-class, then you can buy the Green Class Pass. The Green Class Pass costs 363 USD for a 7-day pass, 587 USD for a 14-day pass and 764 USD for a 21-day pass.

With the Green Pass, you have access to separate First-class carriages, extra-wide seats, more luggage space, and more privacy. Depending on the train, you’ll also get free amenities like drinks, Oshibori hand-towels, and candy. The Green Pass is helpful during the peak tourist season, especially during the Golden Week in Japan, when the trains are very busy.

Where can you use the JR Pass?

JR Pass can be used on almost all bullet trains. The exceptions are Nozomi and Mizuho on the Tokaido and Sanyo lines.

Is the JR Pass Worth it?

As I said at the beginning of the article, I would definitely recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass. You can assess the worth of buying a Japan Rail Pass depending on your individual travel plans. To make this decision easy to visualize, I will present two case studies, one where a JR Pass saves you money and the other where the JR Pass is not necessary.

Case Study 1:

Let’s say a traveler purchases a 7-day Japan Rail Pass. He activates the JR Pass at Narita International Airport and travels by Narita Express to Tokyo. The traveler spends 4 days in Tokyo, visiting the local attractions using the JR Yamanote Line and other JR trains. Then, he travels to Kyoto, via the bullet train, and spends 3 days there. He then travels back to Tokyo to take the Narita Express to Narita International airport for his return flight.

Trip Details Cost JR Pass
Narita Express to Tokyo(round-trip) 6140 JPY covered
Tokyo to Kyoto (Hikari bullet train) 28,340 JPY covered
Total 34,480 JPY (approx. 315 USD) 29,650 JPY (approx. 271 USD)

In this case, as shown by the table of expenses, the traveler saves approx. $44 USD when he uses the Japan Rail Pass . From this case, it’s clear that if you plan to take at least one round-trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, the 7-day Japan Rail Pass almost pays for itself. You can save more by using the local JR trains and buses.

Case Study 2 (Negative Case):

This second case shows a scenario when a JR Pass isn’t necessary. Same as the case above, a traveler purchases a 7-day Japan Rail Pass. He arrives in Tokyo, spends 4 days there, then travels to Kyoto to spend the remaining 3 days. However, his return flight leaves from Kansai International airport instead of Tokyo. So a round-trip from Tokyo to Kyoto isn’t required.

Trip Details Cost JR Pass
One-way Narita Express ticket to Tokyo 3000 JPY covered
One-way trip to Kyoto (Hikari bullet train) 14170 JPY covered
Kyoto to Kansai Internarional Airport 4960 JPY covered
Total 23,640 JPY (approx. 216 USD) 29,650 JPY (approx. 271 USD

Here, the traveler actually loses $54.93 USD if he buys the JR Pass. If your itinerary resembles this one, I would suggest you are better off purchasing your tickets separately rather than the JR Pass.

How I saved 1000 USD with the Japan Rail Pass

If you are a regular reader of my blog or follow me on Instagram, you already know that I like slow travel. That means, I usually spend a month or more in a single place exploring it in-depth rather than rushing around.

Following my slow travel philosophy, I was based out of Tokyo for the 34 days of my Japan trip. Unlike me, many people would probably have explored the length and breadth of Japan in 34 days. I, however, stuck mainly to Tokyo and took day trips to Kyoto, Nara, Kumano Kodo, and Mount Fuji.

For the trip, I purchased a 14-day Japan Rail Pass which cost me 433 USD. Since I wasn’t planning to take any long-distance journeys in the first week of my trip, I didn’t activate the pass right away when I landed. So, I had to purchase tickets to Narita Express separately.

I activated the pass a week later when I made my first Shinkansen journey to Arashiyama near Kyoto. As expected, I was able to see only Arashiyama and the surrounding region on that day. I had to return to Kyoto several times, a total of 4 times, to see Kyoto and Nara.

One might imagine, going to and fro from Tokyo to Kyoto 4 times is bound to be stressful. Surprisingly, it was not. Travel via the Shinkansen was very relaxing. The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto is only 2 hrs and 40 mins on the Hikari and the seats were so comfortable that I slept through most of it. Also, I didn’t take these day trips back-to-back. I spread them over a period of 14 days so that I wasn’t stressed out.

So, without further ado, here are my trip details.

My Trip Costs

Trip Details Cost JR Pass
Tokyo to Kyoto (4 round trips) 112960 JPY covered
round trip Kyoto to Nara (Hikari bullet train) 1440 JPY covered
one-way journey from Tokyo to Mount Fuji 1140JPY partly covered
Tokyo- Nagoya-Nachi (round-trip) 38,320 JPY partly covered
Local transit in Tokyo(14 days) (280 *14)=3920 JPY covered
Total 157,800 JPY (approx. 1,442 USD) 47,250 JPY (approx. 433 USD

As you can see from my trip report, I saved more than a 1000 USD. I realize that most people wouldn’t follow this type of itinerary. Regardless, what’s clear from the report is that if you plan on taking more multiple long-distance journeys, the Japan rail pass is really useful and can save you a lot of money.

If, like me, you want to enjoy the benefits of the JR Pass, Buy your Pass here.

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