If you want to cover a few different prefectures or regions in Japan, JR Rail Pass is the most efficient way to do just that. When we travelled with the JR Rail Pass for the first time, we were amazed at how efficient, cheap and easy the pass made our trip for us. The biggest discovery for us at that time was the fact that Shinkansens looked and ran differently in different regions! There we go: Ultimate Guide to JR Rail Pass: Best Way to Travel in Japan.
So what’s JR Rail Pass, you might ask. The JR Pass allows you an unlimited use of the majority of trains including some types of Shinkansen and Narita Express, as well as busses and ferries that are operated by Japan Railways. This means that you could be riding Shinkansen all day everyday during your trip. As you know Shinkansen is rather expensive, but a seven-day pass starts from ¥29,110 (not even a return ticket to Kyoto from Japan).
Make sure you read the often complex regulations and learn about eligibility thoroughly before you purchase the pass. Let’s cover some basics.
Who can purchase the Pass?
Not everyone can get this magic rail pass. Two types of travellers to Japan are eligible. You can buy the pass if you are a foreign tourist visiting Japan from abroad for sight-seeing under the entry status of “temporary visitor”. You are also eligible if you are a Japanese citizen living overseas and hold permanent residence in that country. If you are either of these types of travellers, read on.
Types of the JR Rail Pass
There are two types to choose from – JR Pass Ordinary and JR Pass Green 1st Class. No idea which one to go for? Well, JR Pass Ordinary is already good enough and is the choice of many travellers. If money is not an object, the JR Pass Green 1st Class is the way to go; it allows you to travel in the ‘Green Car’, the equivalent of the 1st class, on all Shinkansens and certain fast lines. If you are travelling in Japan during busy seasons or over long weekends here, you’ll be grateful that you have the JR Pass Green 1st Class.
See below for more details regarding different passes and what types of JR-run transport you can take. JR Rail Passes (Source: www.japanrailpass.net):
“NOZOMI” and “MIZUHO” trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen*1
“HIKARI,” “SAKURA,” “KODAMA” and “TSUBAME” trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen and any trains on the Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, Joetsu and Nagano Shinkansen.
Ordinary private Compartment
Limited express and ordinary express
Green private Compartment
Ordinary private Compartment
Local and rapid trains
- The cars with the blue dot can be used with the JR Rail Pass
- The cars with the red star sign requires additional charges
- *1 – The JR Rail Pass is not valid for any seats, reserved or non-reserved on Nozomi and Mizuho.
- *2 – No Green cars on most Hikari and Kodama on the Sanyo Shinkansen line or on some Sakura and Tsubame series on the Kyushu Shinkansen line
- *3 – If you use a ‘DX Green’, operated by JR Kyushu, you need to pay the limited express charge in addition to the DX Green charge
- *4 – If you use the GranClass car, only the basic fare is covered with the Green 1st Class and Ordinary Pass. You need to pay the limited express charge and the GranClass car surcharge.
There are many more regulations depending on which line or bus you wish to take. Once you figure out where you want to go, it’s always best to consult with staff at Japan Experience or the JR staff at stations.
Check out different services here, too: JR Rail Pass Transportation Services.
The actual coast in local currency is calculated based on the Banker’s Selling Rate at that time the Exchange Order is issued. Visit Japan Rail Pass website to check the cost in USD.
How to purchase the JR Rail Pass
You CAN’T purchase the pass in Japan. The first step is to order what they call an “Exchange Order” or “Voucher” before landing in Japan. You can buy your Exchange Order for the JR Rail Pass at any of the following agencies in your country:
- JTB Corp. (Free illustrated guide book if you purchase from JTB USA)
- Nippon Travel Agency (See the list of authorised NTA agents in the world)
- Kintetsu International
- Toptour Corporation
- Japan Airlines (only if you have booked a JAL Group flight)
- All Nippon Airways (only if you have booked an ANA Group flight)
- JALPAK, and their associated agencies
For further information, email agents at Japan Experience or contact them in the following areas by phone.
+1 800 835 6135
+44 (0)20 3514 6932
+49 (0)69 967 59219
+33 (0)1 42 61 60 83
How to exchange the voucher for the JR Rail Pass in Japan
Okay, you have finally arrived in Japan with your voucher in your bag. You now have to get your JR Rail Pass by handing in your voucher at any of the JR Exchange Points, including major airports across the country.
The voucher can be exchanged for a three-month period following the date of issue. They will check your voucher and passport before activating your pass. Once your pass is issued and activated, the valid date of the pass can’t be changed.
Furthermore, in order to activate your pass in Japan, you have to have a temporary visitor stamp or sticker from immigration at airports or ports. If you go through an automated gate, no stamp will be issued to your passport. Make sure to use a manned automated gate or ask for a stamp to be issued on your passport.
How to use the JR Rail Pass in Japan
To catch trains or busses, just show your pass to the JR staff located at the gate. Most people go through automated gates, but the JR Pass is not machine-readable, so you need to go through the side gate. It’s important to carry your passport and the pass as the JR staff might require to check from time to time.
If you want to reserve a seat, go to see agents at the ticket office at stations. No additional cost for reservations.
Enjoy your trip with the JR Rail Pass!