What Is The Japan Rail Pass?


When planning your trip in Japan, sooner or later the question of getting a Japan Rail Pass or not will come up. Depending on your travel itinerary, how many days do you have in Japan and where do you plan on going, you may want to get this wonderful option before coming to Japan. The Japan Rail Pass is very convenient, moreover, it can save you a lot of money!

The Japan Rail Pass, or commonly referred to as JR Pass, is the most economical means of travelling throughout Japan, especially for long distance train travel. The pass can be used by anyone visiting Japan on a short-term tourist visa only and offers unlimited use of transportation offered by the JR Group – with a few exceptions, mentioned below.

Photo by JobanLineE531 

There are different options of the rail passes, valid for a chosen period of time in different regions of nationwide. You can read all the different options at this website Rail Passes in Japan. The most convenient and popular one is the nationwide JR pass. Let’s have a look at the different things you need to bear in mind when purchasing the JR pass.

Different options of the JR Rail Pass

There are two types of the JR Pass: Ordinary and Green. The Green JR Pass is valid on first class cars that offer more spacious seats than Ordinary cars, they also offer enhanced board service and are generally less crowded. With a Green JR Pass you can use either class, while with an Ordinary JR Pass you can use only Ordinary Cars. Each of these types is available as a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day pass.

Note: Most JR trains only offer Ordinary Cars while many long-distance trains also offer Green Cars. 

Who can use the JR Pass?

All tourist that enter Japan on a short term tourist visa can make use of the Japan Rail Pass. You will need to show the actual Temporary Visitor stamp/sticker you received upon entering Japan.

Purchasing and exchanging

Purchasing the JR Rail Pass is a two step process. First of all you will need to buy an ‘Exchange Order’ for the JR Pass. This can be done online or through a travel agent, the price for the JR Pass is everywhere the same, but some parties include a delivery fee. We recommend you get your JR Pass here. At this page you can easily select your preferred ticket and way of delivery. You will then receive a voucher that has to be exchanged to the actual pass inside Japan and within three months of purchase.

Exchanging the voucher for the JR Pass

After purchasing the Exchange Order, you will need to turn in the Exchange Voucher to receive the actual JR Pass. This can be done at the major train stations at airports inside Japan, see the list of JR Pass exchange and sales offices at the official website. Please be aware that:

  1. The name on the Exchange Order must be the same as the name appearing in your passport.
  2. Without your passport, you will not receive the JR Pass (photocopy is also not accepted).

Setting a starting date

When you exchange your voucher to the actual pass, you do not need to start using the pass from the same date. You can select any date within a one month period as your starting date. However, once the actual pass is issued, the starting date cannot be changed.

In addition, the starting date of the pass does not have to be the same date you enter Japan. For example when you arrive in Japan on July 5 and stay for 10 days, you can also decide to get a 7 day JR pass and “activate” it one July 8. The validity period of the Japan Rail Pass is based on calendar days (midnight to midnight) rather than 24 hour periods.   

Costs of the JR Rail Pass

The prices of the actual Japan Rail Pass are everywhere the same, with 2 exceptions. We highly recommend to purchase an Exchange Order at a JR-designated sales office or agent overseas as this is much cheaper, see overview below. In addition, some agencies might charge you a handling or delivery fee. Below the costs for the different options of the pass.  

Duration Ordinary Green Car
7 consecutive days ¥ 29.650  ¥ 39.600 Get your 7-day-ticket
14 consecutive days ¥ 47.250 ¥ 64.120 Get your 14-day-ticket
21 consecutive days ¥ 60.450 ¥ 83.390 Get your 21-day-ticket
Prices for the JR-pass when purchased overseas
Duration Ordinary Green Car
7 consecutive days ¥ 33.610 ¥ 44.810
14 consecutive days ¥ 52.960 ¥ 72.310
21 consecutive days ¥ 66.200 ¥ 91.670
Prices for the JR-pass when purchased in Japan

* children under the age of six travel for free.
* children at the age from 6 – 11 years old travel against a reduced rate of 50%.

Validity of the JR Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is valid on:

  • JR trains; The pass is valid on almost all trains operated on the nationwide network of JR (Japan Railways), including Shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid and local trains.
  • Tokyo Monorail to/from Haneda Airport;
  • JR Ferry to Miyajima (Hiroshima);
  • Some non-JR trains to access isolated JR lines; A small number of non-JR trains to access remote, isolated JR lines that would otherwise be inaccessible. However, pass holders may only get on and off at stations that provide a transfer to JR lines.
  • Local JR buses; The pass is valid on local buses operated by JR (but not on highway buses).

Note: The JR Pass cannot be used on the Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains, the fastest ones. The other bullet trains are perfectly good, but expect slightly longer travel times. For example the Hikari Shinkansen, that is free of charge with the JR Pass, will get you in 3 hrs from Tokyo to Kyoto or vice versa. The Nozomi Shinkansen – that cannot be used with the JR pass – takes 2,5 hrs.

How to use the JR Rail Pass

On the day of your set starting date you can start using the JR Pass right away. Good to know: the JR Pass is calendar days based and not 24-hrs, so you might as well start using the card at midnight. Generally, the Japan Rail Pass is your ticket. No other ticket is needed except when using a reserved seat (free of charge for JR Pass holders). In that case you will get a seat reservation ticket.

Seat reservations

Seat reservations are free for JR Rail Pass holders and especially during the high season, or when you need be somewhere at a certain time, it is recommended to do so to guarantee your place. Or just to ease your mind. Also, on some of the trains it is mandatory as there are only reserved seats available. For the local JR lines it is not required, often it is not even possible to reserve.

Trains that require reservations:

  • Narita Express (Tokyo – Narita Airport)
  • Hayabusa and Hayate trains along the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen
  • Komachi trains along the Akita Shinkansen
  • Kagayaki trains along the Hokuriku Shinkansen
  • Sunrise Seto/Izumo night trains

To make a reservation, you can go to any Travel Service Center or a Midori-no-madoguchi (ticket office) at the JR stations, or to the sales office of a JR-associated travel agency. Alternatively you can also make online reservation on die website below. It is not possible to use the machines or to make a reservation on board!

Japan Rail Pass online reservation system

At this time it is not possible to use the automated ticket gates, you will have to pass through the manned gate and present rail pass to the staff. Sometimes you are required to show your pasport as well. The card is strictly personal and cannot be shared!

Options for upgrading

It is not possible to upgrade the JR Pass to ride the Nozomi or Mizuho Shinkansen. You will still have to pay the entire ticket price. Therefore be careful not to board a Nozomi or Mizuho train by mistake!

Upgrading to a green car with the Ordinary pass is possible, however the Ordinary pass will cover only the base fare. The Green car fee and eventual other supplement fees will have to be paid separately, which usually adds up to a rather large amount. If you plan on riding the Green cars on the long distances, your best option is getting a Green JR Pass.

JR Pass – value for money?

Depending on how much of the JR trains you will use, getting a JR Rail Pass can definitely save you some money. For example if you are visiting Tokyo and Kyoto, the Shinkansen ticket one way ticket will already costs you about about ¥ 13.000. When you are only visiting one of the big cities, it will probably not save you much money (though when you use the JR trains a lot, it could still be a good option).

The general rule is: if you’re traveling to one or more of the major cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, etc.) within seven days (or three/four cities within 14 days), the mother of all transportation passes is a great option and will pay off!

Shinkansen in front of Mount Fuji

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