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The Japan Rail Pass | Everything you need to know

Using your Japan Rail Pass on the Shinkansen
What is the Japan Rail pass? Is it good value? Which one do I buy for my trip? So many questions on the JR Pass & we answer them all here

The most frequent questions we get asked here at 2 Aussie Travellers are about the Japan Rail Pass.  We’re asked whether you need it, is it good value, which one to get, how to use it and even where to go now that you’ve ordered it.  In this section we’ll do our best to answer all the questions we get regularly.  If you want to know something that isn’t answered here please ask in the comments section below.  We’ll do our best to answer all queries personally and also update the post where relevant to keep it as a current as possible for anyone planning a trip to Japan.

As we refer to the Japan Rail pass often in our posts I want to put our experience and information about it in one place.  It’s a fundamental part of our Japan travel planning and one of my top tips for anyone planning a visit to look into it early in their trip planning process.  That said I’m not trying to convince anyone to buy it, just to be aware it’s available and I’ll be pointing out a number of situations where it won’t be your best option too.

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 What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The passes are a deal offered by Japan Rail on their network exclusively for foreign visitors to Japan who are visiting on a tourist visa (under 90 days).  This is why it’s important to know about them early in your travel planning as it’s too late once you arrive and someone in your hotel or at the izakaya (pub) mentions it.  As things currently stand you have to purchase your pass before you arrive in Japan.  This changes in April 2017 when there will be a few sales offices in Japan selling them but it appears you will pay a 13% premium for purchasing them in country so if stretching your travel dollar is a priority then early planning is still worthwhile.

When you purchase, either through a local travel agent or an online distributor you will be sent a voucher.  Once in Japan you exchange that voucher  at a railway station office for the actual JR Pass.  We’ll cover more on the conditions of purchase and the mechanics of activating your pass later.

While we (and most people) refer to the THE Japan Rail pass there are actually a series of passes.  The JR East and West passes cover only sections of the country and will be useful for very specific trips, or segments of your trip if you’re planning to travel for longer.  The most useful pass and the one you will hear talked about generally is Japan wide.  You can use it on all Japan Rail services including the shinkansen (bullet train), limited express trains, airport and local trains.  There are even a few other specific services it can be used for like the ferry across to Miyajima Island in Hiroshima and JR buses.  The pass however is only for Japan Rail services, they don’t operate the subways or inner city buses and there are a number of other private railway providers you may come across where the pass can’t be used.  That said you can traval pretty much from one end of the country to the other using the Japan Rail Pass with no out of pocket cost.

Check current prices for the Japan Rail Pass

Do I need the Japan Rail Pass?

We’ve purchased the JR Pass for each of our trips so far BUT only after planning what we wanted to do and calculating the value.  In each case the pass has give significantly more value than the dollars we spent.  We’ve used both the 7 and 14 day options and generally get around twice the value, or half priced travel, plus the convenience the pass brings.

Your style of travel, where you are going and over what time frame will determine if the pass is worthwhile for you.  Our travel style is to select a couple of base cities and explore both locally and by day trips from there.  Japan’s train system especially the shinkansen (bullet train) and limited express are phenomenal making it easy to travel this way without moving your hotel and luggage every other day.

The Japan Rail pass also works well for those whose travel style is the complete opposite of ours.  Backpackers who want to cover a lot of towns and cities in a fairly short period only stopping a night or so in each new place will also get great value.

What if I’m a budget traveller?

Although the pass can be an absolute bargain, if you’re on a very tight budget it may not be for you.  There are cheaper ways to get around Japan than trains, the trade off is time and potentially convenience and comfort so it comes down to which of these is your priority.

As an example to take the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto will cost around Y13,700 for a single ticket but the overnight Willer Express bus can be as low as Y5,000 PLUS you will save a nights accommodation as it literally travels all night.  If you don’t need much sleep or you can sleep well sitting up it could be a good option.  While we’ve talked to several people who’ve used and recommended the bus as a budget option but we haven’t used it ourselves and I’m just putting it out there as an alternative for comparison.

Is there a benchmark for deciding if you should by it?

This is where it gets a bit tricky and understanding how the pass works and some rough calculations can help.

You will probably hear people saying it’s only worth getting the pass if you’re going to travel by the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto return in 7 days.  Like most simplified statements there’s some truth in it but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  The 7 day pass is approximately the same price as a return ticket on that route, so given it’s likely you’ll do at least one or two other trips in that week it’s a safe assessment to say you’ll get equal or better value from the pass.  This two city itinerary is also the most common travel plan for first time visitors to Japan which is another reason why it’s good starting point for deciding whether or not you will buy it.

However if you are planning a different route, even one way and flying back out of a different city it may still be cost effective.  There are so many options and variables that it is almost impossible to give a generic answer.  I’d suggest listing out your key routes and then costing them on the free Hyperdia trip planning resource.  This is one of our most used tools both in planning and in country, it will help you work out all the information including travel time, any transfers and for this particular purpose the cost.  Make sure you take the total price from the top for the route you pick not the component price along the side.  We have found this resource to be extremely useful and very accurate but I will put a short post up soon on using Hyperdia as although I find it an invaluable tool there is so much information included that initially it can seem a little overwhelming.

Japan Rail Pass Banner

Are there situations where the pass isn’t good value?

Absolutely!  If you’re spending your visit mostly exploring in Tokyo with a few local day trips out of the city such as Hakone, Nikko, Kamakura or Enoshima it will almost certainly not be money well spent.  You are far more likely to use the subway most of the time within the city and there are passes or private railway options that can be much better value on those longer trips.  Check out our posts on transport tips for first time visitors to Japan and mastering the Tokyo subway system to get some handy hints if Tokyo is where you will spend a good portion of your time.

The same principle applies to basing yourself in most Japanese cities if you don’t plan on doing many intercity day trips.  The difference in most of those cities is that Japan Rail is generally used on the anywhere outside the city centre so you may use it more depending on what you want to see and do.  However unless you plan to do a number of longer distance trips (for ideas see my 10 top day trips out of Kyoto or Osaka) it’s still not likely to be cost effective.

Again I’d recommend using Hyperdia to plug in your key routes and get an idea of the costs involved if you were to buy single tickets.

 

Are there other advantages or disadvantages to using the pass?

The main advantage other than the cost saving for me is the convenience.  You simply show the pass and move through the gates at the station very fast.  You can also make bookings for seats on the shinkansen and other long distance trains such as limited express.  There are two advantages to having bookings, firstly if you want particular seats, like sitting on the right hand side out of Tokyo to see Mt Fuji or at the back of the carriage to be near the suitcase stowage for larger bags you can request that.  During peak times or seasons, or if you want the last train back but don’t want to miss getting a seat it is also worth booking in advance.  If you want a very early train one morning or you book a number of your side trips at once it can save time as you then just have to be at the platform at the required time and will know which carriage you want.  With the Japan Rail Pass you can make as many bookings as you want, normally this is an additional cost but it’s an included service with the pass.

The main disadvantage is that you are required to carry your passport with you.  I can’t recall being asked for it at any gate or on any train but it is a requirement of the pass.  You are apparently supposed to carry it as a tourist in Japan at all times for identification anyway.

The only other disadvantage or risk I can think of is getting caught up in maximising the pass value and trying to squeeze too much into a too short period of time and ending up stressed or not doing what you really wanted to do.  Or alternatively buying the pass and finding you don’t really need it.  I believe both of these can be avoided with a little bit of planning and research.

 

Types of Japan Rail Pass

If you’ve decided it makes sense to use the Japan Rail pass you next need to make 4 choices:

Which Pass

The Japan rail pass can be used right across Japan, this is by far the most common version and the one you will need if you are including a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto for example.  The JR East pass and JR West pass are for extensive travel in specific regions and the isolated areas are less common choices for tourists.  When I’ve considered these in the past for parts of our trips I’ve found it more cost effective and flexible to buy individual tickets or use a stored value card in this situation.

How long do you want to use it for

The Japan Rail Pass comes in a 7, 14 and 21 day option.  Ideally it makes sense to group your longer and more expensive trips during the duration of the pass and continue to explore within your base city outside of that.  Even if you staying 2-3 weeks in Japan you may only need the pass for the week when you do your longer distance trips then buy individual tickets outside of that.  The incremental cost of the pass does get cheaper for each additional week though so it’s worth pricing it out both ways.

The Japan Rail pass is ideal for a touring holiday such as our 14 day Japan itinerary to see the best of cherry blossoms stopping off in 10 cities between Tokyo and Hiroshima.

Standard or Premium

Japan Rail have what are called ‘green cars’ on shinkansen and other long distance trains.  These aren’t ‘green’ as in environmentally friendly it is their equivalent of a business class.  The seats and larger and grouped in 2 not 3 on each side of the carriage.  You usually have a bit more leg room, more comfortable foot and leg rests and sometimes additional facilities like charging of electronic devices.

Adult or child

The final variable is whether the passenger is an adult or child.  That’s fairly self explanatory, under the terms of the pass a child is aged 6-11, if they have turned 12 they require an adult pass.  An infant aged 0-5 doesn’t require their own pass BUT they are also not entitled to a seat if you take this option.

 

How to use the Japan Rail Pass?

The main terms and conditions

For the full terms and conditions at your date of purchase be sure to read them on the site or discuss with the travel agent before you make your payment.  However the general rules are:

  1. Purchase the pass before travelling to Japan (after April 2017 this becomes a price and convenience consideration only)
  2. You must be able to produce the pass and the corresponding passport on request
  3. The pass may only be used by the person named on it.
  4. It must only be used within the dates shown on the pass
  5. It’s for JR (Japan Rail) transport only but that includes JR buses and ferries
  6. The pass can’t be reissued in the event that it is lost of stolen.

Purchase, exchange and activation date for the JR Pass

There are three dates to be aware of if you decide to use the pass.

Purchase date:  This needs to be before you leave home, or at least before you arrive in Japan if you are on a longer travel plan.  (As mentioned earlier from April 2017 there will be a local purchase option in a few stations but the price will be higher).  You can buy the pass up to 90 days ahead of when you plan to use it, I guess you might do that if you think exchange rates are likely to move up a lot but otherwise I’d suggest getting onto it a month before you fly giving you time to shop around for the best price and although they usually only take a couple of days to arrive it gives a bit of time to play with.  What you receive at this stage is a voucher for a Japan Rail Pass, not the pass itself.

Most of our passes have been bought online which was a very quick and smooth process but the first one was through a large local travel agent chain in Australia and it was a comedy of errors.  It ranged from staff who apparantly ‘unexpected quit’, the courier tickets showing them being sent 3 times back and forwards between the branch and head office for no obvious reason, and then being dropped between folders in the filing system and sitting unseen on the bottom for another week.  The end resulted was a lot of stress and it taking almost 3 weeks to get the pass – hence my commitment to planning ahead whenever I can.

Check prices or Purchase the Japan Rail Pass online

Exchange date:  Once in Japan you can exchange the voucher for a pass at a JR station office whenever you want, this is simply receiving the pass and it doesn’t activate on this date unless you want it to of course.  You will usually be given a very simple form to fill out with your name, dates and a few details in English, you present it with the voucher and passport and they write up your pass and hand it to you.  Before you leave the counter check your name is written correctly (it must match your passport) and the dates are correct.

Activation date:  The activation date is the day you want to first use the pass.  It can be the date you exchange your voucher and pick up the pass or any date after that as long as it will be used within the 90 day purchase window.  The pass works on calendar days not a 24 hour period.

Etiquette on Japanese trains

There were a couple of things we did notice on Japanese trains to be aware of:

  1. If you have a booking and are in a carriage with allocated seating, you must sit in that seat and only that seat.  Don’t move to ‘spare’ seats with a better view as people will board at all stops along that route and they will reasonable expect to sit in the seat they booked.  Japan is a very populous country and what keeps it running so smoothly is polite and considerate behaviour, it would be uncomfortable for most Japanese people, even the conductors to have to ask you to move.
  2. Place small to medium baggage in the racks above the seats, if you have large luggage there is a section at the back of each carriage to place it in.  We never had any issue with getting luggage space on the trips when were were moving around with our suitcases as locals mostly travel with small cases.
  3. It’s perfectly OK to eat and drink on long distance trains.  You can bring food with you or purchase it from the trolley that goes past periodically.  You’re expected to take rubbish off the train at the end of your trip and out of courtesy not to bring overly ‘fragrant’ food onboard.
  4. Again it is normal practice in Japan to keep your voice low if you converse on public transport, talking loudly or being on the phone is generally considered impolite.  Again it’s just part of living harmoniously in crowded confines.  Children should have activities to keep them amused and quiet.  There is some tolerence for children being children but not running around the train and shouting.
  5. Japan is generally very orderly and queuing is normal.  Be waiting at the marked area of the platform before your train is due to arrive.  Allow any exiting passengers off first then board promptly.  Trains, especially the shinkansen run to a very tight timetable and they won’t hold the train for you.

In summary we have consistently found the Japan Rail Pass to be easy to use and represent excellent value on our travels.  That said everyones circumstances and travel style will differ and an hour to two planning to make sure you get the right pass for your needs, or no pass if that makes more sense, is worth the effort.

This article turned out longer than I intended but I hope it has answered your questions.  The terms, conditions and prices for the Japan Rail Pass do change over time and I will update this article periodically to cater for that.  However before purchasing you should always read the agents website details carefully or ask them to clarify for you anything you are unsure of.  If you have any queries in the planning stage that I haven’t answered here please leave them in the comments section below, I will answer you directly and also update additional information in the article for others.

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The Japan Rail Pass - All your questions answered

74 Comments

  • Hello, thank you for publishing your very informative blog on JR passes. We are travelling to Japan for an 11 day trip and if you could glance over our itinerary to confirm that a 7 day pass would be our best option, I would appreciate that. I am 99% sure it will be the best value, but always reassuring to have another opinion. We have three nights in Tokyo BEFORE we activate the pass to travel to Uno for two nights, via Okayama. After the visit to Naoshima, we travel back to Kyoto for two nights, then two nights in Kanazawa, then onto Narita Airport on the seventh day. I understand that all our destinations are covered by theJR pass, however excluding two particular bullet trains. Thanks in advance for any comments you may have.

  • Hi 2AT,

    Thanks for such a detailed well-written article on this! It’s certainly helped answer a lot of my questions about the JR Rail Pass.

    I was hoping to get some more detailed suggestions on what to do with my trip though. I will be in Japan for a total of 16 days — 10 in Tokyo and 6 in Osaka. Here is my proposed itinerary:

    10 days in Tokyo, traveling around the city with 2 planned day trips to Yokohama and Mt. Fuji
    Plane flight to Osaka
    6 days in Osaka with 2 planned day-trips. 1 to Hiroshima and 1 to Kyoto.

    Given this plan, I’m not sure if buying a 7-day or 14-day JR Rail pass would not be worth it. Also, I was reading that many of the train route options to Mt. Fuji would not be covered by the JR Rail pass and the faster bullet train to Hiroshima is also not covered. Is that actually true? If so, it seems like it would be more cost-effective (but perhaps more confusing) to just buy the tickets I need when I arrive in Japan.

    Any tips for the easiest but most cost-effective method would be appreciated!

    • You’re right that you can’t use the NOZOMI which is the fastest bullet train with the JR pass, but on your longest trip to Hiroshima the different between that and the one you can use is around 4 minutes so for me that wouldn’t factor into my choice to use the pass or not. The NOZOMI doesn’t actually travel faster it just has a couple less stops on the way, all the JR bullet trains max out their speed above the speed they are allowed to travel on the route so it’s not a slower train as such and there isn’t a quality different in the fitout that I could tell. That said, with your planned travels and a flight booked to Osaka I wouldn’t use the pass, it won’t be economical. If you hadn’t booked the flight you might have used a 7 day pass from Tokyo through to departure as I find the timing for the flight and train not much different by the time I get to and from the airport both ends and I find the train more relaxing and comfortable.

    • Hi, what a great blog, informative and concise, thank you! I also like a lot of travellers are confused as to whether to obtain a 7 or 14 JR pass. My daughter and I are travelling to Japan on 29/6/18 flying to Narita and then directly to Osaka. We arrive in Osaka (Kansai apt)late & will stay at Namba ( apparently the best area to stay) I believe we shouldn’t use the JR pass for this one journey into Namba but my confusion is to when we start using the JR pass if its a 7 day pass, from 30/6 (next day) or should we purchase another local pass? Can we purchase a local pass in Japan or do we buy this also in Australia?The itinerary is : Osaka 3 days, Nara 1 day, Hiroshima ( 1 day possibility) Naoshima 2 days, Kyoto 3 days then back to Tokyo 3 days before flying out of Narita Apt on 11/7. Should we get a local rail pass for the first 5 days then start using our JR passes for the last 7 days of the journey? Sorry for relying so heavily on your answer, but you guys seem to have this so sorted and it is our first time to Japan. Thanks in advance most confused Liz

      • Hi Elizabeth, thank you for your kind words. It sounds like you have a fabulous trip planned and I’m happy to give my thoughts if they can be any help. I would use a 7-day JR pass and start it on the day you go from Osaka/Nara to Hiroshima, it will then get you back to Tokyo if I understand your plans. This will give approx Y38,990 value for Y29,110 price. For Naoshima as you probably know you get the train through to Uno then the ferry across, it’s not a JR ferry so the pass won’t cover that portion. I wasn’t clear if you will be day tripping to Hiroshima (I’ve assumed not) or have accommodation in Osaka you will be returning for, as the train to Uno changes from Okayama half way between the two either works.

        I wouldn’t persoanlly use a train pass for the rest (being the time in Osaka, Tokyo and trip to Nara) as around the cities you’re likely to use a variety of subway and train companies and the 14-day JR pass won’t be economical. I would use an IC card such as SUICA or PASMO that you preload with cash then then touch on and off the stations as you travel on various train lines, it’s not necessarily cheaper but makes it simpler. As it’s your first visit to Osaka you might want to consider the Osaka Amazing Pass which includes transport and activities, I share a value assessment and a sample itinerary based on our use in this post https://www.2aussietravellers.com/osaka-amazing-pass-is-it-good-value/

  • Hi 2AT,

    This is a fabulous blog and has helped me immensely with planning our trip to Japan – just the JR pass that I am confused with. My husband and I are going there for 18 days/17 nights at the end of May with our son who will be 11 months old. I think a 14 night JR pass would be best for us, activated once we leave Tokyo, but I wouldn’t mind some advice. This is our itinerary:

    Tokyo – 4 nights
    Kyoto – 5 nights – Side trips to Nara and Himeji, possibly Kobe
    Hiroshima – 3 nights Side trip to Miyajima
    Osaka – 2 nights (Only staying here to break up the travel and make it easier with a baby)
    Hakone/Gora – 3 nights
    Fly out of Narita

    I was thinking of getting a Suica and N’EX package for our time in Tokyo and activating the 14 day pass when we leave for Kyoto as we are going directly to the airport from Hakone. But my other thought is it may be better value to activate the pass immediately and then buy a separate ticket from Osaka to Hakone where we can get the Hakone Pass and then go directly to Tokyo airport. But this seems more longwinded! Would appreciate any advice. I guess my main concern is that we get value.

    Thanks!

    • That sounds great Angela. I’d activate from the day you leave Kyoto and it will last you through to the airport on the way home – including all the planned day trips it’s approx Y74,370 value for the 14-day ticket price of Y46,390. You can use the JR pass for the ferry to Miyajima but in the cities although there are JR trains you will likely find yourself using subway and other local trains more, if you do get a SUICA in Tokyo (or any of the IC card options) you can use that in the other cities too. For Hakone area itself once you leave the train at Odawara the JR pass isn’t used. As you are there a couple of days take a look at the Hakone free-pass, with the transport options and discounts it can be good value depending on what you plan to do. https://www.2aussietravellers.com/hakone-freepass-value/. Also I think the SUICA and NEX package was stopped a few years ago (maybe they started again?) otherwise the return ticket discount probably won’t be worthwhile as your JR pass should cover it on the way home, just a standard ticket or buy SUICA and use it from there.

      Have a fabulous trip, it sounds amazing.

    • One more thought. As you are travelling with a baby, if your hotel in Tokyo is on the Airport Limousine bus route that is another option when you arrive. After a long flight (not sure where you are coming from) sometimes it can be a bit exhausting and you just want to get to the hotel. If that’s the case it’s a coach with comfortable seats and they load up and unload the bags taking some of the effort out of it, you just need to get on and relax and they tell you when you are there. Not that the train is difficult, I just find that if my hotel is a drop off and pickup point the limousine buses are a less stress option.

  • Good evening, I have just discovered your wonderful site! I am a Japanese teacher from Australia and am finally bringing my family to Japan.. (only my second time and the first was 17 years ago). I am struggling to work out how to organise our internal travel. We are coming from 26 Sept to 13 Oct.
    If you could, would you please advise what you would do in terms of hiring a car, JR pass and general train travel?

    We are flying into Narita, and thinking of 4nights in Tokyo..(currently looking at a place near Machiya station). We then want to head to Gunma for a couple of nitghts and come down through Gifu 2 nights. We then want to head to Osaka for 4nights, day trip to Kyoto etc. Thinking of then heading up to Hakone for a couple of nights before heading back to Tokyo for the last night or two.

    I am wondering whether we de the Keisei line from the airport and then just get a Suica pass for our Tokyo time, possibly hire a car to drive to Gunma and Gifu before activating a JR pass to travel Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone and back to Tokyo.. or we could drive to Osaka, give the car back and then activate a pass. There are so many options it is all very confusing. We have 4 children aged 11,12, 15 and 16…6 of us in total,

    Would SO value your advice!!
    Simone

    • I think our situation is so different that I’m not going to be much help Simone. As a Japanese teacher I presume you speak and read fluently which gives you a big advantage. I have 3 reasons why I don’t drive in Japan, the main one being not understanding the language or being able to read the road signs. Also the tolls plus rental can make it very expensive and I do actually love the train system and just enjoying the journey not being stressed by driving.

      Of course I can see the attraction with driving to Gunma, the options getting there and around are more limited depending on what you are planning on doing (National park, onsen?) and in Gifu a road trip there would mean more easily getting to places other than Takayama and Shirakawago. Also a party of 6 is quite different to our travelling as a couple. I would use the trains / highway buses myself but would need to finalise the itinerary before deciding if a pass or individual tickets are a better option due to the date spread and what side trips you plan from the cities. It sounds fabulous, would love to hear about your experience renting a car and driving if you do go that way.

  • Hello,

    Thanks so much for a very helpful article. One question for you: Because our trip is 16 days and we have the 14 day pass, we’re activating our JR pass a couple of days after our arrival. But the first day we’re scheduled to use the pass (Tokyo to Magome), we’re departing Tokyo on a tight schedule beginning squarely at 5:50 AM. Does the pass, on delayed activation, begin at 12:01 AM on the scheduled day? We’d hate to arrive at the station only to learn the pass begins at like 7 AM or something.

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Brandon. The pass works on a calendar day so once the trains are running the pass is valid. The only thing is that although you can exchange the voucher in advance so you’re ready to go I’ve not tried making an advance booking before the pass the active, although for that early morning train I’m sure there will be no issue purchasing at the station when you arrive.

  • Hello I’m in wondering what would be the best way to get to Hiroshima from Osaka using the JR rail pass, I have already bought my rail pass and will be exchanging it after I have done the 7 day tour I will be on and then will be staying in Japan for an extra 5 days. Also I’m wondering is it possible to go from Hiroshima to Tokyo because I want to go back to Tokyo for a couple of days before I head back to Osaka for my flight home. Thank you!

    • With the JR Pass you’ll want to use the shinkansen for the quickest and most comfortable trip. From Osaka you’ll take the Sakura Shinkansen to Hiroshima. Coming back you’ll do the same to Osaka then change to the Hikari shinkansen through to Tokyo. It sounds a bit daunting having to change with luggage but is easy to do, it’s just a change of platforms. If you use the service of getting the ticket desk to book those tickets they know the stations and the time they allow to make any changes has always enough to make the switch without stress. If you want a bit extra time to pick up a bento box or other snacks in Shin-Osaka on the way through just ask them for that. Have fun!

  • Hi there 2aussietravellers!! Love your blog, is a real help for me while I am finalizing our trip in 10 days time. Am about to purchase the 7 day pass for my husband and i, then a 14 day pass for my 18 year old’s that are staying on to discover more places when we leave. So, a couple of questions. We are happy to buy economy seats, once the pass is purchased can we still book seats on the economy pass ie not the green 1st class option? If so, where do we book seats? I am guessing at the train station where we receive our pass. We will travel from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka on the bullet train return. We have 4 days booked in Tokyo to discover the City, then was going to stay in Kyoto for 2 nights then Osaka for 3 nights. Checking in and out of hotels wastes time I think, especially if so close, ie Kyoto to Osaka, do you agree? Should we base ourselves at Osaka maybe for the 5 nights, then take day trips to Nara and Kyoto. Out of those 3 locations is Osaka a good place to make our base? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks again…Nadine

    • Hi Nadine, yes both the standard and green passes allow you to book seats ahead for bullet train and limited express trains. You can do it in the ticket office of most, probably all, stations that have those trains stopping at them. What we do find though is the bigger stations like Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto have staff who speak excellent English (although they always say they only speak a little) so if I have doing a bulk booking for a number of trips and have some variables it’s often quicker and easier to do it in those ones. That said I’ve booked in Kanazawa, Hakone, Hakata and Nagano in English too with no problems.

      I agree on minimising bases to avoid wasting time switching hotels when the areas are close and easily travelled between, we usually use Kyoto as the base city but that’s just a personal preference, Osaka will work just as well.

      • Thanks Toni for your advice, much appreciated 🙂 One last question, have I left it too late to order my JR Pass today. I should of done last week, being that next Friday is a public holiday here I am allowing a tight delivery of 4 days from Fed Ex?? Any advice?

        • Hi Nadine, was it the 31st that you need it by? The company I use say up to 4 days (96 business hours) for Australia. I’ve had them through faster but yes it is tighter than ideal,are you in a major centre or smaller town.

          • We live in Canberra, so would imagine they can get here by Thursday. A risk though booking $2,000 worth of JR passes and they don’t arrive??

          • It is. Your other option is to try buying them locally once you arrive, they are doing a limited time trial selling within Japan but the price is a bit higher doing it that way and there are limited outlets. Although I do mention it in the article as an option I haven’t recommended it as I have been contacted by readers once in Japan who are having trouble buying them. I prefer to have the vouchers in my hands before I go but in your case it might be an option to try given the time constraint? I’ve read that Haneda and Narita Airport stations sell them and other major stations – I would assume Tokyo station must be one but don’t know for sure.

  • Hi 2AT

    Thanks for posting your blog!

    My husband and I will be visting Japan for the first-time in May (1st – 26th)

    Our itinerary is:

    Arrive Tokyo (Haneda), staying in Shinjuku area for 6N

    Fly from Tokyo to Sapporo and staying in Sapporo for 3N

    Fly from Sapporo to Kanazawa and staying in Kanazawa for 3N (day trip to Takayama?)

    Train from Kanazawa to Kyoto and staying in Kyoto for 4N

    Train from Kyoto to Hiroshima and staying in Hiroshima for 3N (day trip to Fukouka)

    Train from Hiroshima to Osaka and staying in Osaka for 6N (day trip to Kobe)

    Fly to Hong Kong from Osaka

    Do you think we should get a 14 day pass and only activate it when we reach Kanazawa (but that means the pass will expire 2 days before we leave japan) or should we get a 21 day pass?

    • Hi Michelle, the trip sounds fabulous. Neither the 14 nor 21 day pass will pay off on just the trips listed, A 14 day pass is Y46,390 and listed trips are Y42,290. Personally we would be likely to get the 14-day anyway as it is close and for us we would use enough additional JR rides that it would cover the cost although not give the sort of savings that some get from it. For example with the time in Kyoto and Osaka you may want to plan side trips to Nara, Kobe or other destinations that use the pass, or in Hiroshima take the train and ferry to Miyajima island that are also covered making it worthwhile. While I wouldn’t want to pay just for convenience it is a benefit for me on touring trips like this because you can book ahead for the main train tickets like the ones listed above then just flash the pass as you go through the manned gate. Just a note if you do buy it consider if you are more likely to do side trips from Osaka than Kanazawa you might want to start the pass before you leave Kanazawa but not the first day so it takes you through to the airport at the Osaka end? Have fun!

      • Hi Toni
        Thanks for your quick reply!

        Are you able to buy ‘top-up’ days? So if we get the 14 day pass and decide when we arrive in Japan that we need more, are we able to upgrade to the 21 days and just pay the difference or pay for extra days as we need?

        • Unfortunately you can’t top up Michelle, you could only buy a new 7 day pass which would cost more than getting the 21 days initially. If you’re having problems with the cost comparison when you’ve finished the itinerary and want a second pair of eyes to run it through Hyperdia before you make a final decision just message me to take a look.

  • Hi 2AT,

    Your blog has proven to be a priceless resource as I plan my trip to Tokyo – thank you!

    I am having difficulty figuring out best travel routes, however. My boyfriend and I bought our JR passes. We plan to travel by bullet train to Kyoto, spend the night, then we want to go from Kyoto to Osaka for the day and head back to Tokyo. We also want to do Hakone.

    1) What is the best way to get from Kyoto to Osaka?
    2) What is the best way to get from Osaka to Hakone?
    3) What is the best way to get from Hakone back to Tokyo?
    4) Do the trains run at the early morning hours to take advantage of the limited time we will be able to spend in these cities?
    5) Are we being overly optimistic by trying to fit Osaka and Hakone in on the same day?

    Thank you!!

    • Hi Lexy, if you have another day you can use for Hakone I would suggest Osaka and Hakone on separate days, both easily have a a days worth of things to do just hitting the highlights, I’d suggest working out what are your ‘must do’ things in each to get the most out of your time, if you only have one of two things in each it could work, there’s a bit of travel time too.

      From Kyoto to Osaka depends on where you are staying and what you want to see in Osaka. If you are near the JR station where the bullet train arrives I’d suggest the bullet train to shin-Osaka then you can use local trains or subway to the specific areas you want to explore from there. Kyoto station through to Osaka station would be 30 minutes. If you are staying in central Kyoto the Keihan lines from a station such as Gion may be better, it takes closer to an hour into Osaka but you’ll save the time getting across Kyoto with luggage. This option doesn’t use the JR pass though.

      Hakone is on the main bullet train line between Tokyo and Osaka so you’ll use the same train regardless of whether you stop at Hakone or go straight through to Tokyo. With the JR pass you want the fastest option which is the Hikari shinkansen, it’s a little under 3 hours to Tokyo or 2 hours 20 minutes to Odawara (the Hakone station). It’s about 35 minutes back to Tokyo on the same line from Odawara, you can use Hikari or Kodama shinkansen.

      Trains generally stop just after midnight, if you need a connnecting train on to your hotel in Tokyo allow for that too. Try Hyperdia to test out the different scenarios once you know the stations you want. Have a great time!

  • Hi 2 Aussie Travellers

    We are planning a 2 and a half week trip to Japan for cherry blossom season this April.

    We will be in Tokyo for 3 days when we arrive and then travelling to Osaka via rail. We are basing ourselves in Osaka for 6 days and travelling out to Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Kobe for day trips. We will be returning to Tokyo from Osaka via rail again. This time for 6 days primarily based around Tokyo.
    Could you please recommend what rail pass options we should select for our trip and if we should have a separate rail pass for our Tokyo stay?
    Thank you!!

    • Hi Sally, as you will be going from Tokyo to Osaka and returning again within 7 days, and you have day trips planned that will use JR trains and ideally the bullet train the 7-day JR pass will be well worthwhile. For the days in Tokyo, unless you are doing very long day trips it won’t be worth having the longer JR pass. Instead you are likely to want to use the subway far more within the city. We find it’s worth also have an IC card each (PASMO, ICOCA and SUICA are all equally good), you top it up as you go and can use it on non JR trains, subways and buses all across Japan. You may find you also want to use it in Kyoto and Osaka to zip across the city.

      Have fun and enjoy that sakura!

  • Hi 2AT,

    Thank you for such detail article, I am planning a trip to Japan end of March for my family, with 2 young children, it is our first time travel to Japan, mainly visit main attractions within major cities, total of 21 days. We will arrive in Tokyo stay (4 nights) -> Kyoto (6 nights) day trip to Hiroshima -> Osaka (4 nights) day trip to Kobe and Nara -> Nikko (2 nights) -> Tokyo (5 nights) day trip to Hakone.

    Base on the above itinerary

    1. Is it worth getting an JR pass, if so what Pass should I get 7, 14, or 21 days?
    2. What is the best way to get from Osaka to Nikko?
    Thanks,
    Vi

    • Hi Vi, the best value would be the 14 day pass if you can activate for the day you leave Tokyo for Kyoto it should then run until the day after you get back to Tokyo, even better if you can plan to do the Hakone trip that day so you can use the bullet train to Odawara. You would still save money on the 21 day pass but really as the extra days are all based in Tokyo and you’re likely to use the subway more than JR trains while you are there the 14 is much better value.

      I work it out in Yen on one adult ticket, the cost benefit doesn’t change with additional tickets. A 14 day ticket is Y46390 which is less than just the Kyoto, Hiroshima and return to Nikko section, you are also doing Osaka, Kobe, Nara and returning to Tokyo in that period, and potentially a return trip to Hakone too.

      From Osaka to Nikko you are basically returning to Tokyo on the bullet train then heading out to Nikko. If you have the JR pass I’d change at Tokyo to the Shinkansen Yambiko (the one that heads up to Sendai) for 50 minutes to Utsunomiya station, then the JR Nikko line (about 40 minutes) the rest of the way to Nikko.

      Have fun, sounds great and a lovely time to be there

  • Hi 2AT,

    My partner and I hope to travel from Osaka to Himeji, Himeji to Nara, Nara to Koyasan then back via Nara to Kyoto, Kyoto to Takayama, Takayama to Kanazawa and Kanazawa to Tokyo. Of course there is a train change when the destination changes, but when there is only one destination can you just get on the correct JR train in each city and travel to the next city WITHOUT changing trains on the way?

    Great blog. Thank you for posting.

    • Hi Liz, it is possible to use direct trains for some legs such as Osaka to Himeji, Nara to Kyoto and Kanazawa to Tokyo but others will require a transfer. If you have the JR pass you can book them in advance which is an included service with the pass, we’ve found the JR staff are great at sorting the best options for you, including minimum transfers. Otherwise use Hyperdia and in the sort order select transfers. Himeji to Nara needs a change of train line at Osaka, and Nara to Koyasan is usually accessed via the Nankai train from Namba in Osaka, the planning for that one is a bit more involved. Kyoto to Takayama you’ll transfer from a bullet train to the limited express train and continuing on to Kanazawa is also a limited express / bullet train combo. While I always choose direct when I have the option for the simplicity and to save a bit of time the stations are all well marked in English and easy to navigate between platforms. Either Hyperdia or the JR staff put up options with viable transfer times between platforms and Japan trains run very strictly to time which helps.

  • Hi 2AT,
    We are going to Japan the first time in June, we will have 7 nights in Osaka-Kyoto and then 4 nights in Kanazawa then we will go to Tokyo for 6 nights, during the time in Tokyo we may visit Hakone. After Tokyo we will have another 4 nights in Shirahama and then back to Osaka to flight back home. Could you please advise which pass I should buy and for how long. many thanks for your help.
    Catherine Aldred

    • Hi Catherine. If these are the only longer trips you will be doing (ie no day trips from the various bases) then it’s likely that individual tickets will mostly work out better for you than pass. When working it out I look at the blocks of travel and see if there are significant clusters in the 7, 14 or 21 day windows. For yours you have it nicely spread out but that isn’t as effective for the JR passes. I then use Hypedia to price out the travel in Yen and compare that to the pass prices in Yen (I believe the current rates are Y29,110 for 7 days, Y46,390 for 14 days and Y59,350 for 21 days.

      The 21 day doesn’t work out cost effective for the destinations listed, neither does the 14. The only block that may work for you is the 7 days from the day you leave Kanazawa for Tokyo, a return trip to Hakone (Odawara) while you are there and on to Shirahama. This assumes you are doing Shirahama by train not flying? I assume you would use the bullet train back across to Kyoto then the Limited Express down to Shirahama the same day? If so the Kanazawa-Tokyo is Y13920, Tokyo-Odawara return is Y6440 and through to Shirahama is Y16800 so would work out Y29,110 instead of Y37,160 and you could use the pass in Tokyo for any JR travel (not subways).

      I’d suggest you do your own checks on your itinerary with Hyperdia in case I have misunderstood you plans but that would be my choice for the route. Have a fabulous trip!

  • Hi! We are landing in Tokyo, then going to Hakone, Kyoto, and then back to Tokyo. We read that the JR Pass is the best for our situation – but are wondering which pass we should get; North, South, Central, East, West?
    We also have a day trips throughout and are trying to figure out what the smartest option to Kamakura would be from Tokyo too.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Jordan. There’s a few variables that do into working out what the best pass options are, as a general rule if you were going to go between those cities in a 7 day period then the main 7 day JR Pass which is valid nation wide is the one you need. However if you are spread over a period of more than 7 days and add in other destinations is where the variation comes in. For Kamakura if it’s within the period you have a JR pass then that is a good option as the cost is covered for the transport, however if not there are some other options to consider.

  • Hi 2AT
    My husband and I are heading to Japan for the first time in 6 weeks time. We are there from the 30th December late afternoon and have 9 nights with my husband flying out at 7pm on the 8th Jan from Narita and me staying on to meet a school group on the 9th at Haneda.
    We would like to do two nights in Tokyp (one being the night we fly in)
    3 Nights in Kyoto
    3 nights in the snow (either Hakuba or Niseko)
    1 night/2 days Hakone area

    Do you think a JR pass is worthwhile for this trip and are you able to suggest a good order in visiting these places to maximise our time and travelling?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Lauren. I’d first decide where you want to ski as getting to Niseko (Hokkaido) and Hakuba (Nagano) are very different. With your 9 nights and what you want to see you would need to fly to Hokkaido whereas for Hakuba you would take the bullet train to Nagano then a bus to Hakuba. In December your snow will be better and more certain in Niseko whereas it’s quite early in the season in Hakuba and whether there is sufficient quality snow is less certain.
      Also Hakuba is very popular with Australian and Japanese skiers in January so it will be quite busy. From Hakuba you could see the snow monkeys though, one of my favourite winter things to do in Nagano.

      If you decide on Hakuba the JR Pass would pay off. As you want 7 nights away from Tokyo that won’t fit with a 7 day JR pass, if you don’t want to drop a day away from Tokyo I would suggest doing the Hakone night last then paying that final train trip from Hakone back to Tokyo separately as it’s a short trip and the lowest cost section. So you would use the 7 day JR Pass for Tokyo – Nagano -Tokyo (passing thru) – Kyoto – Hakone.

  • Hi 2AT,
    I am traveling with my daughter to Osaka and then on to Kyoto in October.
    Several friends told me that I need to get a JR Rail Pass.
    When I plunk all the places into Hyperdia, the value is much cheaper than getting a pass.
    We plan to go to Himeji from Osaka. Then to Kyoto from Osaka…
    The hope is to see Arahiyama, Enryakuji, Nara, and North and South Higashiyama areas.
    This should encompass 7 days.
    I add up to about $150 per person. Does that seem to make sense?
    Is it hard just buying individual tickets each day?

    Appreciate your time and any input. Thank You…

    • Hi Sean, You won’t need a JR pass for the trip you describe. It’s not difficult to buy the tickets individually, there’s an English button on the machines. You can use a stored value card like the PASMO or SUICA to make it quicker and earier if you want to just load it up once then touch on and off local trains, buses and subway. You generally need to do at least one long return trip such as Kyoto to Tokyo and back to make the JR pass pay off. Have a wonderful trip.

  • Hello! my fiancé and I will be going to Tokyo for our honeymoon for 7 nights. We want to spend 2 nights in Disneyland area to go to Disney for 2 days, and we would like to see Kyoto (open to a day trip or one over night, whichever you recommend) Will the rail pass get us to and from the airport to our hotels? And to and from Disneyland from Tokyo airport? And then Kyoto and back? Would that in itself make the 7 day pass worth it? Also, is Kyoto pointless for a day trip? We land in Tokyo at 710am and were thinking of just getting right on the train to Kyoto since we can’t check in anywhere anyways, spending our first night there and then riding it back to Tokyo to start out Disney/Tokyo portion. Any help would be so appreciated!! Thank you!

    • Hi Colette. Congratulation to you both and I hope you’ll have a wonderful time in Japan.

      There’s likely to be a very small benefit using the JR pass, assuming you fly into Narita and are planning to take the NEX to the city (return) and Kyoto (return) within the 7 days it’s around Y34,000 to purchase tickets and Y29,110 for the pass. These prices vary with dates so is just an indication you can check yourself using Hyperdia.com. There are multiple ways to get from the Airport to the city and the city to Disney, depending on which airport and your hotel location you may or may not choose JR to get there.

      We love Kyoto and always manage to squeeze it into our trip somehow, having said that a day trip is a push but by the time you land, collect your bags, get to Tokyo Station and on to Kyoto you’re unlikely to be there before lunchtime. Half a day is a very short time to see much of the city and if you’ve flown any distance overnight that might impact your decision too. What would you prioritise to see in Kyoto? If there are one or two main things that would really make your trip it could be done, also knowing how spread out the places you want to get to are might help you decide? We don’t usually do tours so can’t recommend a specific one but possibly a half day tour might be an option if you decide to do it. That way it takes the hassle out of getting between sites quickly.

  • Hi,
    My wife and I are planning our 2nd trip to Japan in October. Overnight at Kansai Airport and take Shinkansen to Hiroshima for three days w/ day trip to Okayama/Kurashiki Then to Kyoto for four days w/ day trips to Kanazawa, Enryukuji and Nara. The on to Osaka for two days before we fly home. We plan on buying the regular JR Rail Pass and are thinking of “upgrading” to the green car for the Shin-Osaka – Hiroshima and Hiroshima – Kyoto trips due to luggage and length of trip and plan on riding regular cars for day trips. This is the first time we will be using the Shinkansen and are thinking upgrading the two trip would make it easier on us. any thoughts?

    v/r David

    • Hi David, personally we have purchased the green car version as it’s a lot less busy and we have never had an issue getting the suitcases in storage space at the back of our carriage even at the busiest train times and during peak cherry blossom etc. We also like the setup of the seating in 2’s so we always have our own space. I guess it is a splurge and not technically necessary but as we usually do some longer trips and move our luggage with us rather than using forwarding services so I would do it again. That said it’s not technically necessary, really just a personal choice, have also experienced the standard seating and carriages and there is nothing wrong with them, much more space and comfort than economy in a plane

    • Hi 2AT

      I’m loving your blogs. We are first time visitors to Japan. 10 -25 Dec. We like to travel as you do. We are thinking about first 6 nights in shinjuko then 6nights Kyoto and last 2 nights back in Tokyo. I think we would be best using the subway to get around Shinkuko/Tokyo and buying a JR rail pass to get us to/ from Kyoto, using it for day trips out of Kyoto. Do you see any issues with us doing it this way. Many thanks Vanessa

      • That’s what we would normally do Vanessa unless we were taking longer day trips from Tokyo (eg Nagano), even if you want to do some smaller day-trips like Yokohama, Enoshima, Kamakura, Nikko and even Hakone they are either cheap enough to just pay individual fares or there are better pass options.

  • Hello!

    Very detailed and informative article. My wife and I are planning to visit Japan for 6 days (3 days in Tokyo, 1 day trip to Hakone and 2 days in Aomori in the Tohoku region) during late October. We chose Aomori to experience the fall scenery since we heard it is quite beautiful.

    We are contemplating two options to travel from Tokyo to Aomori:

    Option 1: Round trip flight via JAL Explorer Pass (~100 USD per person) – 1.5 hour flight
    Option 2: Round trip train ticket using JR East pass (~$170 USD per person) – 3.5 hour train

    While this may seem like a no-brainer decision in favor of option 1, we were wondering if the JR East pass offers any additional benefits to make it a worthwhile alternative? We like the flexibility of having multiple train departure times to choose from and think the door-to-door time using option 2 may ultimately work out to be similar (if we factor in transit to Narita airport and bus to city center from Aomori airport).

    1. Do you happen to know if JR East pass offers subway train access within Tokyo or local train/bus access in Aomori that may offset the higher cost?
    2. Could we possibly use it to travel to Hakone?
    3. Could the JR East pass offer any other benefit that we may not have thought of?

    Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks so much!

    • Hi Jim it sounds like a great trip and a less common choice to see the fall colours which sounds great. Japan Rail is a different company to the ones that operate the subways so you can’t use the JR pass on the subway within Tokyo. There are JR trains in Tokyo although we find them less useful, the Yamanote loop may work if you have a JR station near your hotel as it’s 29 stops are mostly in areas visitors will want to go (Shibuya, Ueno, Shinjuku etc) and most connect with subway stations if you need a connector. You can also use it on the Narita express and the monorail but not out to Hakone.

      In Aomori you may use the pass for example if you want to get to Hirosaki castle but I think many of the fall locations like the lake are accessed by bus and I don’t think the JR east pass covers the JR buses like the JR pass does. While the JAL Explorer Pass offer great deals something we have found is that the time difference in domestic flights vs trains is quickly used up in the longer checkin process, wait times and getting to the Airport which is usually much less convenient that just getting to Tokyo station. Also there are costs in getting to and from the airports at both ends which are usually quite a bit more than the train station to the hotel.

      Either option I’m sure you’ll have a fabulous trip, enjoy!

  • Hi, thanks for posting your blog – it’s so difficult to get my head around the Japan transport system! I’m wondering if it is worthwhile getting a JR pass. I will be going to Tokyo then Mount Fuji (Hakone area) and then Kyoto. We will be doing several day trips from Kyoto which will be Nara, Osaka and Kobe. We won’t need to return back to Tokyo as we are flying back from Osaka airport. Do you think it will be worthwhile to get a JR pass?

    Also can this pass be used within the Tokyo and Kyoto cities?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Lisa, the easiest way to tell is to use the Hyperdia site. You haven’t mentioned a timeframe but based on what you have said above and assuming the trip is within the 7 day window, a 7-day JR Pass at the moment is around Y29110. The train fares, using bullet trains when it makes sense, would be Y27390. That assumes one way from Tokyo to Odawara, One way Odawara to Kyoto, Kyoto to Nara return, Kyoto to Osaka return, Kyoto to Shin-Kobe return, Kyoto to Kansai Airport. You can use the JR trains in Tokyo although personally we do find the subway more efficient around the city itself, it will depend where you are staying and how close the stations are to that. Also if within the 7 day window you can use the train from Narita Airport to Tokyo. On that it probably isn’t worth it or only a minimal saving. Have a great trip.

  • We are planning to visit Japan for the first time. We decided to go Tokyo, Haknone, Osaka and Kyoto. We are planning to do Sankensen (bullet train) just to experience it. Do you think its worth buying Rail pass?

    • If you just want to experience the shinkansen on a single trip and not using the trains for much else then probably not. However if you are going from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka return within a week then the Japan Rail pass will cost about the same as the individual tickets so will be worth while as you can also use it for any other JR trains and ferrys you use in that 7 day period.

  • We are heading to Japan with our teenage boys in March (super excited) I love your blog and will be pouring over it to plan some day trips from Kyoto and for exploring Kyoto.
    I have a JR pass question for you. Where is the best place to buy one? I have a great travel agent that can buy me JR green passes for about $525 each but I just did a google search and found a site where they are $437. Do you purchase online yourself? or go through an agent

    • Hi Annette. I’ve done it both ways, from a local travel agent and several times online. Personally, my online experiences were better, the travel agent was one of those situations where if it could go wrong it did, it was one of those ‘how not to do business’ experiences but it is just about the particular situation at the time in that office so I don’t want to name them. As for online on a bigger ticket purchase I do a bit of research to see other people’s experience, was it delivered promptly or any other issues but I will buy ours online again next time.

  • Hi guys!

    Terrific article on the JR. We would have been kicking ourselves if we didn’t do our due diligence and discover the JR prior to boarding our plane, crunch the numbers and realise that it was going to work for us. For anyone seriously interested in covering a bit of distance while they’re in Japan, it would seem silly not to consider whether a JR pass would suit them.

    After reading your post, it makes me want to get back over to Japan this year! Thanks for a detailed and helpful post!

  • Train passes are extremely helpful for mid budget travels. I had availed it in Switzerland. Saving up this info for a possible trip to Japan someday in near future.

  • Great travel tips for those looking to explore Japan by rail. By reading other’s experiences, looks like you nailed it! Your comment section here looks to be another wealth of information~ Great post!

  • Great resource article. Super clear and really well laid out. We are planning on making a few visits to Japan in the next few years after we (hopefully) relocate to HK or Shanghai. Good tip about buying them in advance. I would of just thought you could purchase a rail pass when you arrive, but that’s not obviously the case in Japan!

  • We loved our experience with the Japan Rail pass during our visit to Japan. You’ve covered all of the items needed very well! I wish I had come across a post like this before our trip. I completely agree with purchasing your pass ahead of time.

    • Alice as far as I know none of the subway systems are run by Japan Rail (definitely not in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Sapporo) so you can’t use the pass on them. There are some surprises though, JR do run some buses and the ferry to Miyajima Island so it’s not just the trains.

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