How To Make The Most Of Your Japan Rail Pass

Hey! Are you wondering how to get the most value of your Japan Rail Pass? It sound’s intriguing – unlimited train travel all around the country for an entire week or two or three. Almost too good to be true. Well, my friends, it is true. And if you know how to get the most value from of your Japan Rail Pass it will save you money on your trip to Japan. So buckle up.  I’m going to tell you all about the Japan Rail Pass to help you decide if it is the right choice for you. I even have a real world itinerary. My friends used it, so you can get a picture of how to make the most of it. When you get to the end of the post, there is a form where you can download the cheatsheet and sample itinerary.

What exactly is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass is special multi-day, economical train ticket for tourists to Japan. With the Pass you are eligible to ride on the six JR Group trains, including the Shinkansen (but not the Nozomi or the Mizuho train) and some JR buses and ferries.

The Japan Rail Pass is only available to buy from outside Japan and only for tourists with “temporary visitor” status in their passport. Anyone with a longer stay visa (work, study, permanent resident, etc.) is not eligible, including me *sob.

As a temporary visitor, you can stay in Japan up to 15 days or 90 days, depending on which country you’re from. Immigration will stamp this into your passport when you arrive at the airport, which you will need to show to the ticketing office to exchange your Exchange Order into the real deal Japan Rail Pass.

*Keep in mind, you don’t actually buy the ticket overseas, you only buy an Exchange Order, which you then exchange for the real deal ticket once you are in Japan.

What is the cost of the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass is available for 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days, and you can buy an ordinary ticket or a green ticket, which lets you sit in the superior class cars on trains that have them. Prices for the Exchange Order are as follows and are subject to current exchange rates. Children must be ages 6-11 years old.

TypeOrdinary TicketOrdinary TicketGreen TicketGreen Ticket
DurationAdultChildAdultChild
7-Days29,11014,55038,88019,440
14-Days46,39023,19062,95031,470
21-Days59,35029,67081,87040,930

The Japan Rail Pass is eligible to for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days. You cannot split the days up, add, or subtract any days. When you buy your Exchange Order in your country, you must specify the date that you will start using the ticket. Be very sure of which day you want to start your pass because a starting date cannot be changed once it has been assigned.

The pass can be used on most JR lines, Shinkansen, buses, and ferries. See here for a detailed list on the scope and validity of which lines and segments are included.

The big question: Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?

Sorry, there’s no one answer here. It really depends on where you are arriving and departing in Japan and where you want to go when you are here. But if you plan you trip well, yes it will be worth it.

Let me give you a real world example of how you can definitely get the most value from your Japan Rail Pass.

A couple years ago, my friend and her husband visited me from Canada, where they both bought a 14-day pass before they left. I’ve outlined their itinerary below with the regular cost of train tickets per one person without the pass (by the way, I used Hyperdia to get the average cost of each train segment and selected unreserved seat on the Shinkansen):

  1. Narita Airport to Tokyo – 2,630     (3 days, Tokyo)
  2. Tokyo to Nagoya – 10,360     (1 day, Nagoya)
  3. Nagoya to Kyoto (return) – 10,140     (1 day, Kyoto)
  4. Nagoya to Nara (return) – 11,660     (1 day, Nara))
  5. Nagoya to Kyoto – 5,070     (1 day, Kyoto)
  6. Kyoto to Hiroshima – 10,570     (3 days, Hiroshima)
  7. Hiroshima to Miyajima (return) – 1,180     (1 day)
  8. Hiroshima to Kyoto – 10,570
  9. Kyoto to Tokyo – 13,080     (2 days, Hakone)
  10. Tokyo to Narita Airport – 2,630     (1 day, Tokyo)

Now, if you add up all these train ticket costs, it comes to 77,890 yen, which is a lot of yen. However, the 14-day regular pass costs 46,980, which means they ended up saving 30,910 each!

This means they each saved 40% of what they would have paid if they had bought each train ticket individually!

That sounds like it was worth it, don’tcha think?

And this doesn’t even include any other rides on JR trains that would have taken during the days before and after they visited me in Nagoya. This sounds like a good deal to me. Especially if it is your first time to Japan and you really want to make the absolute most out of japan and see all the cool things. My friends were able to see Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima with the pass. So it’s safe to say they saw a lot of the best things about Japan.

Sure, they would have had to pay individually for local subway rides within the city. But they would have had to do this anyway, so this point is moot.

If, on the other hand, you will only stay in Tokyo or only stay in Kyoto area, then no, it’s probably not worth it. If you want to see the highlights of Japan, or even go further north, south, or into the mountains, then yes, I think it is worth it.

Take-aways on the Japan Rail Pass

  • The Exchange Order must be purchased outside of Japan and then exchanged for a ticket once in Japan
  • Only tourists with “temporary visitor” may use the pass
  • There is a strict time frame of when you can use your Japan Rail Pass. For example, if you are staying in Japan for 8 days, you must decide which day at the beginning or end of your trip you are not going to use it.
  • The pass can be used on JR lines, buses, and ferries, but not on private lines or local subway systems.
  • Yes, the ticket is expensive. But in addition to semi-unlimited train travel, you are also paying for speed, comfort, and convenience. Especially if you take the Shinkansen, as you will get around the country quickly and comfortably. That’s something you just won’t be able to do on long, cramped bus rides.
  • Yes, there are regional discount tickets, but it can be hard to find information on these, especially outside Japan. The Japan Rail Pass means you don’t have to worry about tracking down all the different discount passes. Instead you can just focus on enjoying your trip.
  • You can potentially save a lot of money if you plan your trip well.

Here’s the link to the Japan Rail Pass website.

And there you have it. All the information on how to get the most value from your Japan Rail Pass. No, it’s not cheap. BUT you can potentially save yourself two or even three hundred dollars if you use it well. Download the cheatsheet and sample itinerary from the form below!

Cheatsheet and Sample Itinerary

14-day_jr_pass_sample_itinerary

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How to Make the Most of Your Japan Rail Pass

 

Author

Jennifer has lived in Japan for a total of seven years. She has travelled, taught English, studied Japanese, completed a Master’s Degree, and travelled some more. She currently calls Nagoya her home, where she lives with her Japanese husband.

18 Comments

  1. I traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto last time. A return shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Kyoto basically pays for itself for a 7 day Japan rail pass. If you add in Osaka and Nara and all other possible JR train rides in Tokyo, you would have saved plenty in train fares.

    • Yeah, it is a really good deal if you use it properly. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to use it, since most I’ve been to Japan I haven’t been eligible. I wish I could though. You could really see a lot of the country with it.

      • I’m waiting for the chance to take the shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakodate. That’ll really put the JR rail pass to good use 🤣

        • That would be pretty cool. I tried to get on the Twilight Express from Osaka to Hokkaido before it shut down a few years ago. I imagine the scenery would be so nice. But yeah, the JR Pass would definitely be the best way to do that trip.

  2. I have made two trips to Japan, one for three weeks and one for five. In both cases I was travelling too slowly for the full JR Pass to work for me. However, for the second trip, which started in Kyoto and headed south and west, I did buy a JR West pass. I bought it in-country (no voucher), with a discount for ordering on the internet, and it covered all types of trains.

    • Yeah, it wouldn’t work well for slow travel. You’re right, there are other regional passes that you can use instead of the JR Pass. I hope you had a great time in Japan both times 🙂

  3. Very informative post – thank you!
    Last time we were in Japan we only stayed in Tokyo but next time we’d like to see more of the country. Will think about getting this rail pass next time 🙂

    • You’re welcome, I’m glad it was informative. I hope you do get a chance to see outside of Tokyo next time. Maybe you can figure out a way to make the JR Pass work for you!

  4. We felt so broke after we bought our 14 days JR Pass but it was totally worth it and we tried to use it as much as we could! haha

    • It is a big chunk of money to drop at one time. I can understand how you would feel broke. But that’s great that you could make good use of it and get your money’s worth.

    • Yes, you do have to plan your route carefully to make sure you are within the days and that your train segments will actually save you money. But it can easily be done, and sometimes I wish it was available to people like me who are living in Japan.

  5. Absolutely agree. Just back home after my 9th trip to Japan, a JR Pass every time. I worked out I got about 70,000 yen worth from the 14 day pass.

    As well the flexibility is the best feature. I was staying a few days (too many!) in Akabane, bored to tears. Hopped a Shinkansen to Ueda and up to Bessho Onsen for a great – unplanned – day out.

    • That’s great! I’m glad you could get your money’s worth from the JR Pass. It can really let you move around a lot. It’s nice too that you can have spur of the moment trips like that. 9 times to Japan is a lot!

  6. Hi Jennifer. The times against the comments seem to be a bit out of kilter. Having said that, the site looks great.

    • I know! I’ve noticed that too, but I’m not sure how to fix it. My setting are set to my correct time zone, so I don’t know what’s wrong 🙁

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