Japan Trip
Japan Rail Pass

Japan Rail Pass – The Basics

If you plan to explore Japan, the Japan Rail Pass offered by JR (Japan Rail) to foreign tourists visiting Japan (and Japanese Nationals permanently living outside Japan) is great value and definitely worth considering based on your itinerary.

If you plan to explore Japan, the Japan Rail Pass offered by JR (Japan Rail) to foreign tourists visiting Japan (and Japanese Nationals permanently living outside Japan, or married to a foreign national) is great value and definitely worth considering based on your itinerary.

Background on the train network in Japan

The train network in Japan is famous worldwide; mainly due to the high speed Shinkansen (bullet train) which links Japan’s key cities. Speeds of up to 300km/h (186mph) make it easy to cover large distances quickly – giving you more time for sight seeing!

Also impressive is the punctuality of trains in Japan. For example in 2012, the Shinkansen’s average delay was 36 seconds (this includes delays out of Japan Rail’s control such as extreme weather). One year the average delay was 18 seconds – which makes the punctuality of the UK rail network seem even worse than normal!

Japan Rail (JR) is the main network covering most intercity and commuter rail services (and for most visitors this is sufficient for the places they wish to visit) so we will focus a lot on the Japan Rail Pass. There are several private railways in Japan but you can’t use a Japan Rail Pass on these networks. We’ll cover private railways in Japan in a future article.

What type of trains can you use?

The Japan Rail Pass can be used on the JR network across Japan, this includes the Shinkansen bullet trains (EXCEPT Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains – these are super express trains usually targeted at business commuters). You can also use your pass on express trains (including limited express), rapid trains, and local trains. You can even use it on the Tokyo Monorail.

And although its a rail pass, you can even use it on certain bus and ferry services operated by JR but we advise you look into this more closely as there will be several more exclusions here.

Check the official JR Pass website for latest information on this.

Be aware that if you decide on a Green class rail pass (equivalent to first class), you won’t find a green class carriage on every train service – you’ll find them on most Shinkansen services and other medium and long distance routes but only rarely on local services.

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Japan Rail Pass Prices

There are several options available when choosing a particular type of Japan Rail Pass:

  • Class type (Green class, Ordinary class)
  • Duration of pass (7 day, 14 day, 21 day)
  • Adult/Child
Type:
Green
Ordinary
Duration
Adult
Child
Adult
Child
7-day
37,800 YEN
18,900 YEN
28,300 YEN
14,150 YEN
14-day
61,200 YEN
30,600 YEN
45,100 YEN
22,550 YEN
21-day
79,600 YEN
39,800 YEN
57,700YEN
28,850 YEN

These are the prices in Japanese Yen. When you buy from your home country the cost is dependent on the exchange rate at the time of purchase. When we started looking at the price of passes for our Japan trip (about 6 months before departure), a 14 day adult ordinary pass worked out to be £320 but we ended up buying it for £290 due to the exchange rate at that time.

The agents selling the Japan Rail Pass will update their prices online regularly (some more regularly than others) but generally they are within £5 of each other so there isn’t much to choose between them. Remember you can always call them to get the latest price. While moving exchange rates can save you money, rates can also go up so don’t depend on this too much.

Its important to note you have to purchase the pass outside Japan, so ensure you do this before you leave for Japan as you have no chance of doing this in Japan and will have to pay a lot more for single tickets. You actually get a ‘Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order’ when you purchase your pass. Its not until you get to Japan where you swap this for a Japan Rail Pass. The exchange order is only valid for 3 months from when you buy it. As long as you swap your exchange order for your Japan Rail Pass within 3 months of purchasing it, you’ll be fine.

See also  Hyperdia - Planning Your Japan Rail Pass Itinerary

For more detail on pricing of the Japan Rail Pass including getting you thinking on your choice on duration of the pass, check our supporting article – How Much Does A Japan Rail Pass Cost?

Is buying the Japan Rail Pass right for you?

Depending on your itinerary, buying a Japan Rail Pass is not always the best option. Sometimes its better to just buy the individual legs of your journey if you aren’t travelling too far from the main place you are visiting. For example if you are just visiting Tokyo only, buying a Japan Rail Pass is not recommended. But if you are visiting Tokyo AND Kyoto for example, its likely a Japan Rail Pass would be a better option (if it was a 7 day pass). We show you how to work this out in our planning page.

Planning your itinerary

If you are considering to get around Japan using the Japan Rail Pass,You might be wondering:

  • How long does it take to get between X and Y on the bullet train?
  • How do I make sure I get the right train? Making connections?
  • How do I do all this if I don’t know Japanese?!

There is a very useful website called Hyperdia which is a powerful online timetable for train schedules in Japan. It is an essential tool, especially for those with a Japan Rail Pass as it gives you options to exclude certain services not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. You can get information on journey duration, connections (even platform numbers), train numbers and whether there are reserved carriages on the route (useful to know as you can use your Japan Rail Pass to reserve seats free of charge – normal train users have to pay extra for this). Unfortunately, you can’t use Hyperdia to book tickets but planning your routes before you get to Japan really helps with your itinerary and will speed up the process when you turn up at a JR office in Japan wanting reserve seats on routes. Plan Japan Rail Pass Itinerary Using Hyperdia

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