If you’re planning a trip to Japan, the Japan Rail Pass is your best bet for affordable, convenient transport.
Designed especially for foreign travelers, one pass gives you access to all trains operated by Japan Railways (with just a few exceptions) for a period of up to 3 weeks.
This is huge, because 70 percent of all rail networks in Japan, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet train), are operated by Japan Railways.
1. What is the Japan Rail Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass (also known as the JR Pass) is a flat-fee pass that allows you to ride any train in the JR network at any time without having to pay for tickets. It’s ideal for long-distance travel and is a great value.
Get this: Even Japanese citizens don’t get the same discounts on train travel that foreigners do on the Japan Rail Pass!
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2. Conditions/Eligibility for using the JR Pass
Who can use the JR Pass?
The JR Pass is available only for tourists visiting Japan on visits shorter than 90 days, and for Japanese citizens who are living abroad permanently.
Who can’t purchase a JR Pass?
If you are a foreigner but live and work in Japan, we’re sorry to say you are not eligible for a JR Pass.
Similarly, if you are a foreigner visiting Japan for non-tourist purposes, such as for research, for the military, for a work trip, etc., then you’re not eligible for a JR Pass.
3. Japan Rail Pass types and prices
Adult JR Passes
There are three different durations of the Japan Rail Pass. They are available for travel on consecutive days, for one, two or three weeks.
Here are how the prices break down for one adult (12 years of age or older) pass:
1 week (7 consecutive days) JR Pass: US$277
2 week (14 consecutive days) JR Pass: US$442
3 week (21 consecutive days) JR Pass: US$566
Child JR Passes
Japan Railways offers discounted passes for children from 6 to 11 years old.
The validity duration is the same as the adult pass, and prices break down as follows:
1 week (7 consecutive days) Child JR Pass: US$138
2 week (14 consecutive days) Child JR Pass: US$220
3 week (21 consecutive days) Child JR Pass: US$282
Japan Rail Green Passes
Japan Railways also offers a first-class Japan Rail Pass option for both children and adults, which is called the JR Green Pass.
The Green Pass allows you to sit in the first-class “Green Car” on all Shinkansen (bullet trains) and other applicable fast lines. The Green Car offers more legroom, comfortable seats, a hot towel, and on some lines, free beverages.
If you are traveling during the peak tourist months of May, August and September, we recommend getting a Green Pass, as the Green Cars are much less crowded.
Prices for adult and child JR Green Passes break down as below.
1 week (7 consecutive days) JR Green Pass: US$369
2 week (14 consecutive days) JR Green Pass: US$599
3 week (21 consecutive days) JR Green Pass: US$779
1 week (7 consecutive days) Child JR Green Pass: US$185
2 week (14 consecutive days) Child JR Green Pass: US$300
3 week (21 consecutive days) Child JR Green Pass: US$390
Where to Purchase the Japan Rail Pass?
There’s a catch to purchasing the JR Pass: you MUST buy it outside of Japan (except at a few locations that are offering them on a trial basis in 2016; more info on this below).
The most convenient place to purchase a Japan Rail Pass is in your own home, online, at the click of a button.
Backyard Travel Opportunity
If you decide to travel with us by inquiring about tours in Japan, we can include the Japan Rail pass and book it for you, making it easier for you to travel around Japan.
Please be aware that we book JR Passes only for clients who book a tour with us.
Starting in 2016, Japan Railways is making the purchase of JR Passes available at these three airports in Japan on a trial basis: Narita Airport, Haneda Airport and Kansai Airport.
But the most convenient way to buy a Japan Rail Pass is to do it from abroad, before arrival on Japan territory.
Outside of Japan
If you don’t want to purchase your JR Pass online, you can also purchase it at some agency offices in your home country, please check the links below:
4. Validity of the Japan Rail Pass
The validity of the Japan Rail Pass is counted by calendar days, rather than by the hour.
So, if you start a 7-day pass at 5 p.m., it will expire at midnight of the seventh day, rather than at 5 p.m. on the eighth day.
For which transport can you use your Japan Rail Pass?
The JR Pass is good for travel on the following trains and transport:
- All JR trains nationwide, including the Shinkansen, express, limited express, local and rapid trains.
- All local JR buses, but not highway buses
- A select number of non-JR train lines in remote areas that connect to isolated JR stations. These include certain sections of the Aomori Railway, the Ishikawa Railway and the Ainokaze Toyama Railway.
- The JR Railway Ferry to Miyajima (return trip valid)
- The Monorail from Haneda Airport to Tokyo (return trip valid)
Valid Routes Map
Almost all of the Japan Rail routes are valid with the JR pass.
Please find below two useful links:
The JR Pass is not good for travel on the following trains and transports:
- JR trains that use tracks owned by other private companies. There are only about a dozen of these.
- The Nozomi Shinkansen along the Tokaido/Sanyo line and the Mizuho Shinkansen along the Sanyo/Kyushu line. These are the fastest Shinkansen trains on these lines, but other valid Shinkansens run these routes and are only slightly slower.
- Suburban “liner trains,” which require “liner” tickets. But foreign tourists are unlikely to use these, as they exclusively service suburban areas.
- Berths on night trains and other special compartments. See this helpful page for a list of berths included.
- JR Highway buses.
5. How To Use the JR Pass?
When you purchase your pass, you will be given a voucher that must be exchanged at major JR train stations in Japan for an actual pass.
For example, you can exchange your voucher for the pass at the JR stations at Narita or Kansai International Airport. The voucher must be exchanged for a pass within three months of the purchase date.
To exchange your voucher, you’ll have to show your passport, fill out a form, and choose your pass start date. Remember, your pass is only good for consecutive days from the start date.
You can reserve seats with your Japan Rail Pass for free at any JR ticketing office in Japan. Seat reservations are purely optional, but they can be nice to have if you’re planning on traveling during a busy season.
When it’s time for your train journey, be mindful that you cannot use the automated ticket gates. To reach your platform, you will have to present your Japan Rail Pass to the ticketing officer manning the non-automatic gate.
Here is an amateur video showing how to use your JR Pass.
6. What Are the Benefits of the Japan Rail Pass?
Aside from its cost-effectiveness, convenience and wide access to Japan’s best cities and attractions, the Japan Rail Pass offers a few more benefits:
- You can make seat reservations for free
- It’s good for most Shinkansen (bullet train) rides, saving you valuable travel time
- Train travel is an excellent way to see vast areas of the country
- You can ride in luxury if you opt for the JR Green Pass.
Read also: When is the Best Time to Visit Japan
7. Best Places to Go with the JR Pass
With a network that involves more than 20,000 kilometers of track, Japan’s rail system is among the best in the world. The majority of Japan’s most iconic destinations and must-do experiences are accessible with the JR Pass.
Or, how about exploring a different side of Japan, in the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku?
A JR Pass comes with this insider Backyard Travel tour that introduces you to the delicious food of Osaka, the history of Fukuoka, and the famous onsen of Matsuyama.
If you’re planning a big itinerary and long-haul travel on the JR Pass, we’ve got a few helpful tips so you can travel in comfort and ease:
Send large luggage with a forwarding service to your next destination. Most hotels will have a forwarding service available at reception. This means you can travel light on your train journey and not have to worry about the weight and inconvenience of your luggage.
The train system has limited connection times. With extensive signage, navigating your way to the correct platform is usually easy. But connection times can be as little as ten minutes, so don’t dilly dally on the platforms and pay attention to the signs.
Check out the stunning view of Mt. Fuji en-route from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka. For the best view, reserve seats on the right side of the train.
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You can sit anywhere on non-reserved cars: Feel free to choose your seat! But if you’re in a reserved car with an assigned seat, please only sit in that seat.
Wireless internet exists on the new trains between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka: If you’d like to use the wifi, purchase a subscription or 1-day pass before boarding the train.
There is a code of etiquette on the train. The Japanese value decorum, so please behave respectfully on the train.
Please use quiet voices and set your mobile phone to silent, only talk on the phone in the standing area between cars.
Lastly, don’t put your luggage on the seat next to you or in the aisle but, rather, place it in the baggage storage at the end of the car or at your feet.
8. Regional Train Passes in Japan
If your travels are limited to a specific region of Japan, JR also offers region-specific passes: JR East Pass, JR Hokkaido Rail Pass, JR Kansai Area Pass, JR Kyushu Rail Pass and JR Sanyo Area Pass.
This is our two cents on Japan Rail Passes, but we know there are savvy travelers out there who might have something to add.
Have you traveled through Japan on a JR Pass? How was your experience?
Share your tips and insights in the comments with the rest of our readers and we will add them to this article.
Our locally based Travel Specialists will be happy to give you more information on a tour around Japan. If you’re ready to start planning your holiday in Japan, contact us and we’ll help you build the perfect itinerary.