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.
|Type||Ordinary Ticket||Ordinary Ticket||Green Ticket||Green Ticket|
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):
- Narita Airport to Tokyo – 2,630 (3 days, Tokyo)
- Tokyo to Nagoya – 10,360 (1 day, Nagoya)
- Nagoya to Kyoto (return) – 10,140 (1 day, Kyoto)
- Nagoya to Nara (return) – 11,660 (1 day, Nara))
- Nagoya to Kyoto – 5,070 (1 day, Kyoto)
- Kyoto to Hiroshima – 10,570 (3 days, Hiroshima)
- Hiroshima to Miyajima (return) – 1,180 (1 day)
- Hiroshima to Kyoto – 10,570
- Kyoto to Tokyo – 13,080 (2 days, Hakone)
- 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!