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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.

Planning a trip to Japan? We have 100’s of articles to help you. Visit of our comprehensive Japan Guide page to quickly find the information you’re after?

 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.

Since April 2017 Japan Rail have been trialing having the passes available to purchase at a very limited number of stations within Japan but we believe it’s still best to have it arranged in advance.   Not only will it be cheaper if you buy it before you land in Japan but the whole process is going to go a lot smoother. When we looked at the price comparison at launch it was a 13% premium for purchasing them in Japan and I always have a whole lot better things to do with my travel funds than overpaying for something 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 additional out of pocket cost.

Check current prices for the Japan Rail Pass with our preferred supplier

Do I need the Japan Rail Pass?

We’ve purchased the JR Pass for most 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 trips 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.

Where to purchase: We normally organise our passes about a month before we travel but that is a personal preference.  Most of our passes have been purchased online which has been a very quick and smooth process.  The first one we ever bought was through a large local travel agent chain in Australia and it was a comedy of errors.  It ranged from staff who apparently ‘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 took almost 3 weeks to get the pass – hence my commitment to planning ahead whenever I can.

We now always use and recommend these guys.  They have been competitively priced, quick delivery and we have had no issues dealing with them.

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 reasonably 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 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 tolerance 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


  • Hi. This is really great blog. Just wondering if I need the JR Pass. We’re a group of 7 and we’re travelling to Japan for 14 days. This is what our iternary looks like for November
    * Tokyo (7th – 10th)
    * Kyoto (11th – 13th)
    * Osaka (14th – 16th) – with a day trip to Nara
    * Tokyo (17th – 22nd) – with an overnight trip to Hakone

    • Hi Vijay, as you are travelling return to Tokyo within the 7-day window (11th – 17th) and within the Kansai area in that time, the JR 7-day pass should pay off with a small saving plus convenience. You’re itinerary is a nice pace but you won’t see massive savings using the pass on this trip.

  • Hi Toni,
    I am amazed at the depth of your knowledge. You are an inspiration and so thoughtful with your responses to everyone.
    I think from reading all the earlier requests and doing my best on the Hyperdia website that the JR Pass will be worth it for my trip, but I’m hoping you might be willing to give me a quick yes or no.
    I am flying into Tokyo, heading out to Kyoto, coming back via Hakone and then Mt Fuji to Tokyo. I saw that most of the way to Mt Fuji isn’t covered, but I think the major trips seem to be and the cost seems to be a slight benefit.
    On another note, are you able to give me any advice on food in Japan? I have to have a low sodium diet and I know this will preclude me from most Japanese foods. How available are simple western meals, or are there any Japanese dishes which don’t have much in the way of seasoning/sauces?
    Thanks so much,

    • Hi Melinda. If you are travelling within the 7-day pass then yes it will be worthwhile, you can go as far as Otsuki on the limited express using the pass on the day you go to Fuji.

      On the food side, I will be less helpful I’m sorry. It’s not easy following specific diets in Japan between the language barrier and that it’s not normal to make special requests of the chef. If you like nigiri sushi you will be in luck of course but many broths for noodles will be high in sodium, then there is the soy sauce, miso and many types of seaweed and sea vegetables are also high in sodium. I can’t pretend it won’t be tricky to stay strictly on plan. There are cafes with western style foods, western fast food and places serving European style food such as Italian but still I imagine it will be hard to be sure of something like sodium content. Yakitori style could be an option when the flavoured salt is served on the side for dipping to taste. Sorry I can’t offer more suggestions.

  • Hello Toni!

    Thank you so much for writing up this blog post, it was incredibly detailed and I’m grateful for all the information. However, I still have a slight issue in considering if purchasing a JR pass is worth it.

    I’ll be travelling with my grandparents to visit Japan in July for 14 days.
    We will be arriving at Tokyo NRT airport and flying out by Osaka KIX.

    As we are flying out by Osaka, I’m heavily contemplating if a JR pass is really necessary. This is our rough itinerary and if it doesn’t trouble you, I would really appreciate your advice.
    7 days in Tokyo (with a day trip to Hakone and possibly Nikko)
    4 days in Kyoto
    3 days in Osaka (with a day trip to Nara)

    These are just my rough plans. As I’m travelling with two elderly folks, I’m not sure if making so many day trips would be good for them. After calculating the day trips we would be making, I wasn’t sure if a 7 day pass was worth it, but have read countless of blog posts that advise people to purchase the pass, due to its flexibility (and as I am travelling with my grandparents, I really hope for a smooth sailing journey), hence my dilemma. I was also considering if I should just purchase the kyoto bus pass as I’m spending 4 days in Kyoto. Which do you believe is more worth the cost? I would also like to inquire how much money to allocate for transport in Japan?

    • With your itinerary and timing for the trip I wouldn’t use a JR pass for this but I would buy an IC card such as Suica or Pasmo which you can use all across Japan. It is unlikely you would get value from the JR pass and depending on where you are staying you may find that using a variety of railway companies rather than being locked into JR in the cities makes things easier. Travelling with your grandparents you may want to use the most convenient stations to avoid unnecessary walking. The subways will be useful, potentially Tobu is easier for Nikko, the Hakone free pass (our article) and even between Kyoto and Osaka the Keihan line will take you directly to the Gion area of Kyoto which can sometimes be more convenient.

  • Hi

    Husband and I will be travelling to Japan early October for 17 days. Arrive at Narita Airport on to Tokyo (should I activate our JR Pass to travel from airport to Tokyo). Maybe 2 days in Tokyo then we will be off to Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima (total 8 days) then back to Tokyo. Should we purchase a 14 day pass for each and obviously at the end of the trip back to Narita airport, our JR Pass would have expired so we would have to purchase tickets back to the airport. Also can we use the JR Pass to go to Kanazawa.

    Looking forward to your reply.

    • Hi Doreen, do you mean it is 8 days total trip or 8 days between when you leave Tokyo and return, it would make a difference to the option I choose? Yes you can use the JR Pass to go to Kanazawa, from Tokyo you can do the route north through Nagano by bullet train all the way, or from Osaka/Kyoto you can take the bullet train part way switching to the limited express, it’s also a very comfortable and quick way to travel and takes you up through the middle to Kanazawa.

  • Hi Toni,

    Thanks for your great tips. We need a little help deciding between the 7 and 14 days pass.
    we fly in to tokyo Narita on the 8th.
    train to Osaka on the 13th
    train to Kyoto on the 16th
    head back to tokyo on the 19th
    fly out of narita on the 20th.

    I’m a little behind in planning our day to day activities, so not sure what sites we’ll see yet and how often we’ll be catching trains.
    do we only need the 7 days pass and an IC card for the inner city travels and to and from airpot.
    Or are we better off getting the 14 days pass and that covers all travel?

    Thank you

    • If you use the 7-day pass from the 13th when you travel from Tokyo to Osaka you should get value from the pass and depending on how you spend the day and where you are staying the savings will change. I would not buy the 14-day pass for this trip as individual tickets or an IC pass would be more cost-effective during that time in Tokyo

  • Thank you for your fantastic post about the rail pass. My partner and I are going later this year so trying to be organised as it will also overlap with the rugby World Cup. Just a question regarding seating… do the seats have ample size? My partner is 6’7 so wondering if it’s worth the money to pay for a green pass?

    • The seats do offer a reasonable amount of leg room even in the standard car of limited express and shinkansen but yes, there is more space in the Green car seats, we have splurged on this trip ourselves for the bit of extra comfort. I took some photos of leg space in standard limited express seats yesterday and will do similar in the green car on the shinkansen tomorrow and update this post to give a better idea of what to expect and to compare the two.

    • As you advise occssionally you may need to travel on lines that don’t accept the JR pass and you will need to by a ticket. A word of caution when using ticket gates… When going through a ticket gate make sure the person before you has removed their ticket from the gate exit side BEFORE inserting your ticket to pass through. This happened to me and I mistakenly took the person in front’s ticket thinking it was mine. The person in front had simply forgot to take theirs and after remembering she complained to security who then pulled me aside and created a scene demanding I hand over my ticket, waving the arms and yelling at me in Japanese. Luckily I was with a guide who eventually was able to calm the situation. My ticket was long gone presumedly either gobbled up by the machine or mistakenly taken by the person behind me when it popped up from the exit slot. I think the whole thing may have actually got out of sequence for many following people. BE VERY CAREFUL!!!!

      • I suggest using the JR Pass or IC card as much as possible to avoid needing to use the ticket and adjustment machines as a visitor, it is just easier. That said in 9 years of travel to Japan and a lot of tickets along the way I’ve never seen that happen, nor someone in a customer facing role behave like that. Train station staff are usually very helpful. It is good advice to stay focused and be careful, it would be easy to forget to pick up your own ticket too if you aren’t used to the paper ticket system. I hope it wasn’t too upsetting and the rest of your trip is less stressful.

        • Thanks for the reply Toni. We have been using tge ticketing system fir a little while now and once you get used to the fare system, there’s an English button on the ticket machines that makes purchasing a ticket easy. The person who forgot to pick up their ticket eas clearly a Japanese local. Many in our group thought she was trting on a scam to travel without a ticket, but I think she simply girgot to pick it up. The people are very courteous and friendly and I agree this was completely out of character, but nevertheless it wss very embarrasing snd intimidating. Obviously there is a strict etiquette that needd to be followed and I think we possibly don’t understand it properly. Yes the JR pass is the way to go. We will be exploring the possibility of taking a bus next time whete the pass is not accepted.


  • Hi Toni,

    Good day.

    My husband and I with our 7-year daughter would like to visit Japan for the first time come January 12-21, 2020 from Perth (Perth-Osaka-Nagoya-Tokyo-Osaka-Perth). I have been stressing about our itinerary specifically transportation for weeks now. I am set to avail the JR Pass but then again I have read posts that it may or not be worth it. I have read many blogs about travelling to Japan and yours is by far the most comprehensive. Although I am still unsure if the 7-day JR is worth getting. I was hoping you can kindly share thoughts, please.

    Below is the itinerary I have come up so far, could you also advise if this achievable or too ambitious in terms of timing.

    Take the train to JR Osaka Station and shuttle to hotel
    NAGOYA TO TOKYO via JR Shinkansen Hikari Train
    Day 10 (Wednesday) DEPARTURE IN JAPAN
    04:00 AM ETD for Osaka Airport (Tokyo to Shin-Osaka via Hikari Shinkansen)
    From Shin-Osaka take Haruka Limited Express to Osaka Kansai Airport
    09:00 AM ETA for Osaka Airport
    Breakfast after Airport Check -in
    10:00 AM ETD for Perth
    10:40 PM ETA Perth Airport

    Thank you very much for your time.

    Looking forward to your response.


    • It sounds like a great trip. There isn’t a big saving to be made on this trip but as it appears to be 7-days between leaving Osaka for Nagoya and departing for the airport it will provide some savings assuming you’ll be using it from Osaka – Nagoya – Nagashima – Nagoya – Tokyo – Osaka – Kansai Airport. Depending on where you stay in Tokyo you may find you use the JR trains for some other those trips rather than the subway.

      Have you confirmed that last day from Tokyo to Kansai Airpot works on timing? As far as I know the Shinkansen don’t start running for the day until 5am?

      • Thanks for your reply Toni.

        We have actually a change of plan:

        Day 1 -Fly in from Perth to Osaka
        Day 4 – Osaka to Nagoya via JR Hikari Shinkansen
        Day 7 – Nagoya to Tokyo via JR Hikari Shinkansen
        Day 10 -Fly out from Tokyo Narita to Perth

        For the hotels, we plan to stay near the city centre – is this a good idea?

        With the above, kindly advise if we will benefit from a JR Pass.

        Thank you very much.

          • Thanks Toni.

            Okay I am now looking at getting the 2-day Osaka amazing pass, Pasmo in Tokyo, Manaca in Nagoya and single ride tickets for the Shinkansen bullet trains.

            Much appreciated your time is responding.

          • The IC cards are no longer limited by region, for example we are in Japan at the moment and have been using Kansai’s ICOCA card in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Tochigi, Chiba etc with no problems including reloading cash onto it in Tokyo. The Manaca is less well known as it is Nagoya’s card but it should work in Tokyo, or pick up ICOCA in Osaka early in your trip and use it everywhere. The only difference in using the IC from another region is you can’t get the refund on it once you leave the region.

  • Hi Toni, Thanks for all the wonderful information on your site. We are in our 60s and my mobility is a bit impaired due to rotten knees! I am organising our first trip to Japan in early December and have a couple of queries. We are in Japan, on a stopover home from the UK, for 5 nights (almost 6 days) as we arrive at 10.30 a.m. on day 1 and depart at 7.30 p.m. on day 6. Our plan is to leave our big suitcases in a luggage store at the airport and just travel with our cabin bags. We plan on purchasing a 7-day Japan Rail Pass as it works out the cheapest for the travel we want to do.I have been on Hypedia to check costs.Here is our itinerary so far.
    Day 1. After exchanging our JR pass, we want to take the Narita Express to Shinagawa and then connect with the bullet train to Kyoto for 3 nights.
    Day 2. Look around Kyoto and /or do a half day trip
    Day 3. Head off early to Miyajima Island and then back into Hiroshima then back to Kyoto.
    Day 4. Head to Odawara station and put our bags into a locker and buy the Hakone Free pass. Do the loop and then continue onto Shinagawa and our hotel in Osaki (one stop away).
    Day 5. In Tokyo-not sure what we will do. We are still looking at some of your suggested day trips
    Day 6. Leave our bags at the hotel and we have until about 3 p.m. until we have to look at getting the Narita Express back to pick up our excess bags and check-in for our flight by 4.30 p.m.
    My questions are: –
    1. I read on a blog that we can reserve our seats on the bullet train where we exchange our JR voucher at the airport-is this correct?
    2. Am I correct that with theJR pass that seat reservations are free?
    3. Generally how much notice do we need to give for making a bullet train seat reservation? ie can we do it when we arrive at a train station or do we need to book in advance? This especially applies to our trip on Day 1 and our return trip from Hiroshima on Day 3 as we are unsure how long we will be out and about that day.
    4.To walk up to the Dashai Temple is it a steep incline to get up to see all the little Buddhas in your blog photo? I realise there are heaps of stairs at the actual temple, from the photo on your blog & I will have to make a decision on the day as to whether I am up to them.
    5.I have found a map of Odawara station and it shows coin lockers. Do you know if these are big enough for 2 cabin bags and also at that time of year would it be more likely that there would be any available?
    6.If we decide to go straight to Tokyo from Kyoto and do the Hakone free pass on the Saturday would it be very busy there at that time of year7. Is there much walking involved going between each section of the Hakone loop?
    Sorry about all the questions and I look forward to your reply, Kind regards ,Karyn

    • Hi Karyn, your trip sounds great. In answer to the questions:
      (1) You can reserve the seats under a JR Pass at any station with a booking office including the airport. I often have quite a list to book at once and I probably wouldn’t do that at the airport just because the ticket desk there is usually so busy but I don’t think there is anything to stop you.
      (2) Yes, the free seat reservations are one of the advantages of the pass
      (3) We often do the same and book our one home when we get to the station, during peak travel times like cherry blossom and Golden Week that would be risky, especially on main lines such as between Tokyo and Kyoto for example but otherwise we’ve never had any issue doing it that way as we like to keep it a bit flexible. On days when we are transferring with luggage, early starts, the last train of the day etc I do book in advance.
      (4) The walk up to the temple has is uphill but not steep, you don’t notice it is uphill really but as you arrive at the temple gates there is a big bank of stairs in front of you and they aren’t the only ones around the temple grounds.
      (5) From memory, there were three sizes that would fit up to a large suitcase so you should be fine with cabin bags.
      (6)Because Hakone is a prime spot for autumn leaf viewing, and that normally continues into the beginning of December it can be quite a busy time. There isn’t much walking required on the loop at all, things link together well but there are opportunities to explore more from various points if you want to.

    • I see, Toni. That’s is good news.

      Did you mean that I get can ICOCA in Osaka and use across Japan but I will be unable to make refunds in Tokyo (since departing from Tokyo)?


  • Hi, thank you for you great blog! i’ve been so confused about all of this.
    would love your advice..
    we are travelling from tokyo – mount fuji – kyoto then back to tokyo to fly home..
    would we simply need the green class JR pass? is it worth it? its about $500 AUD each.. and do these trains have daily running lines? how do i pre book our seats , I’ve already booked accommodation so you can imagine I’m stressed we don’t get proper timed transport to those cities..
    Would appreciate your help.. thank you so much

    • Hi Roxana, If you are completing the travel from Tokyo and back to Tokyo within a 7-day period then the JR Pass should be a good option. You don’t need to use the green pass, when we are moving around a bit with our luggage like we are over the next month we often do book the green pass as the cars are less busy and we’ve never had any issue getting the seats we want and room at the back of the car for our large cases even in busy times. That said many people take their luggage successfully in the normal car and don’t have any issues if it’s not a very busy period like cherry blossom and golden week.

      Trains on those main lines run many times a day, every day, even during the holiday period, trains do usually stop around midnight through to the early hours of the next morning.

      When in Japan you pre-book your seats at the information centre in the JR stations, you will need to have exchanged your voucher for the pass first which you do in Japan but you can have the exchange and start date as different days. Then book your tickets if you are concerned they will be busy times, I usually book our major shinkansen travel or anything that I need a very specific train for. With the JR Pass you can’t prebook specific trains from outside Japan.

      With the JR Pass only the JR portion is covered on the way to Mt Fuji, that’s the limited express train to Otsuki, then it is local trains and buses the rest of the way. There are passes that cover all transport in the region but check what you are going to be doing to see if it will be worth it, when I looked for our day trip this time even though we are going to several different places it wasn’t going to save us money and the PASMO (or equivalent) is just as convenient.

  • Hi!
    Just to say your blog/website is amazing and so helpful and to ask for a bit of advice!
    The JR Pass is really confusing me. So I’m in Japan for a month, the first 10 days of which i’m in Tokyo and then I travel to Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa, Takayama, Sendai and Sapporo, maybe stopping in Himeji as well. I was thinking of getting the 14 day pass to travel, spending a day or so at each place to the last few places on the list.
    So it would be Day 1-10 in Tokyo
    11-16 in Kyoto
    16-19 in Osaka
    19-22 in Kanazawa/Takayama
    22-24 in Sendai
    24-26 in Sapporo
    with a few free days in between in case I do want to go to Himeji or Hakone or somewhere else during that time. I figured it was more economical to buy an over night coach ticket to Kyoto from Tokyo and then start using the train system and the JR Pass to travel to Osaka and onwards? Is this correct? Any advice you have at all would be great!

    • Hi Hannah, the trip sounds fantastic. Can I confirm you are planning to use the JR Pass to travel by train up to Sapporo and that you fly out of Sapporo at the end of your stay in Japan?

  • Hiii! We have found your blog extremely helpful! We are planning our first trip tp Japan in May/June and we’re so excited!
    I’m doing all of the planning/booking myself, but I am just a little confused about the JR pass/travel options. I had initially planned to book a 14day pass for my husband and I, but upon research I am a little confused about the regions etc.. Are you able to PLEASE provide some light on this? Any advice is so appreciated!
    We arrive in Narita and are staying in Tokyo (near Ginza) for 6 nights. No “day trips” planned, just things such as Disneysea, Imperial palace etc. Then travelling to Mt Fuji for 2 nights. Then travelling to Kyoto for 6 nights. Wanting to do day trips to Osaka, Nara and Hiroshima from Kyoto.
    Then back to Tokyo (Shinjuku) for 7 nights, where we will do trips such as to the Ghibli Museum, the Meiji Shrine etc. Our trip is 3 weeks all up.

    I suppose the question is: The JR pass is worth it in this case, yes? From my research, I thought that I had concluded that it was. And if so, when purchasing, which ‘region’ do I select? I’m just so confused. I feel like the websites I have been looking at are so contradictory.

    • Hi Shadae, I’m not sure what provider you are looking at, I’ve linked the one we use in the article and it’s always been easy to follow, I would be cautious of buying from a website if I’d found there are contradictions but there are plenty of options available. The one you want is called the JR Pass, JR is the national railway company, all the other passes should have more specific names like the Tokyo Wide Pass, the others usually have longer names that specify the region such as the JR East Nagano-Niigata Pass or Kansai Wide Area Pass. These passes can be very good for some itineraries but there are many of them and you need to read the rules very carefully to be sure you get the right one, they include and exclude quite specific areas, some allow bullet train and some don’t etc.

      For your itinerary it would look at the JR Pass, the one that covers the whole country. In Tokyo you might use JR trains but not enough to make good use of the pass, the subway is a more common way to get around the inner city. I would look at the 7-day JR pass and start it when you leave Mt Fuji, if I am understanding your plan that would cover going from Fuji area to Kyoto, return day trips to Hiroshima, Nara and Osaka and the trip back from Kyoto to Tokyo. This would leave you with needing a separate ticket to get to Mt Fuji, depending on where exactly you will stay there are a variety of ways to do that. Then for your 13 nights in Tokyo I’d get an IC Card (a PASMO or SUICA) that you can use all around the country for incidental transport such as the tram in hiroshima, buses in Kyoto and subway in Kyoto & Osaka. The 7-day pass and ticket to Fuji should be a lot less than a 7-day pass and you would be getting good value from the 7-day over buying individual tickets for the whole trip.

  • Hi Toni
    Like all your interested travellers I am unsure re JR pass I need because of other train travels going on
    4 of us fly to Osaka going straight on to Kyoto for 3 days planning a trip to Bamboo forrest that will require a train trip I think
    Day 4 we plan to go to Nara stay one night
    Day 5 train Nara to Ise where we begin a 10 day trek using trains to return to accommodation each day ie Owase station, Mikisata stn, Kata sta, Nigishima stn ,Adawa stn, Kumanoshi and Shingu stations ..10 days all up
    Then we want to make our way to Hiroshima for three days including Myrajima and Himeji castle then back to Osaka for a night then we fly out from Osaka
    I think a 7 day JR pass might do the job but is there another pass I should consider for the other rail travel? I think Nara is a Kintetsu line which is different from JR..have no clue yet re the 10 day trek rail travel its a little confusing for me just now … We start our adventure in May
    Hoping you can direct me
    appreciate your advice
    Best wishes

    • Hi Helen, as you aren’t going east I’d look at the JR West passes, something like the Kansai/Hiroshima or Sanyo passes might do what you want at a lower cost. Just be aware that there are different limitations on these than the full JR pass that you need to work with, the Kansai pass for example doesn’t allow reserved seats but in May (if after Golden week) that may not be a concern. JR or Japan Rail is a railway company with their own passes, Kintetsu is another company with their own passes, your route crosses the two and the most convenient options depending on your whole itinerary may not split in a way where sole use of either is ideal. I would suspect that one of the JR Passes from around Osaka to Himeji, Hiroshima, back to Osaka and potentially the airport trip may be cost effective though. There are multiple companies that will get you from Kyoto to Nara and Arashiyama, the most convenient will depend on where you are staying and where you want to get to once you are there. Hyperdia is a great resource once you’ve got the detail of your itinerary and the stations you’ll need worked out.

  • Hi Toni,
    Your blog has been extremely helpful and it’s probably our main resource in planning our upcoming trip. We have a 10 day trip coming up in late April – and wondering when you would recommend we activate our JR pass. WE planned to stay in Tokyo for day 1 (Meiji Shrine, Asakusa etc) then do Mt Fuji / Hakone area (2 days 1 night – using the Hakone free pass) then return to Tokyo for day trips ( Nikko; Disneyland; Kamakura; Kawagoe ? 1 day we haven’t decided) then Tokyo for last few days before heading home. As we were planning to use our JR pass – would you recommend us activating it in the first or last part of our trip. As we are doing things at the last minute, our itinerary is currently flexible.
    Thanks in advance!

      • oh really? No we haven’t coz unfortunately (or maybe fortunately in this case) I’m a last minute person. What would your recommendations be, Toni?

        • We would use an IC card (PASMO, SUICA or ICOCA) for convenience which can be used to tap on and off of most transport in the region, in Tokyo the Subway is usually more convenient than JR trains and aren’t covered by the JR Pass, and the JR trains such as Disney are short distance so much cheaper than the pass. For Kawagoe and Nikko we would use TOBU Railways which also aren’t covered on the JR Pass. You mention the Hakone Free Pass which we would also use and is good value but you can take a JR train to Odawara as a local starting point still for much less than the pass cost.

          You can use Hyperdia to work out the cost for each journey, use the price shown in the top left of each screen, not the one next to the trains as some require supplements and other seat fees that are included in the total figure.

          You might alternatively want to look at the Tokyo Wide Pass which you buy from JR once in Tokyo for Y10,000 as it covers many of the day trips you want to do and not only with JR. It’s possibly better though if you wanted to do Mt Fuji from Kawaguchiko rather than Hakone. It doesn’t cover the subway but is a lot cheaper than a JR Pass. It runs for 3 consecutive days so you do need to plan around it.

          • Wow!! Thanks for your time in replying. Amazingly helpful! Now off to do some research.
            Thank you once again

  • Hey Toni. I have found your site so helpful whilst planning my first trip to Japan. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. After reading the info you have shared, I think I am better off purchasing the 7 day JR instead of my initially planned 14 day JR. Do you agree?

    I am flying in to Narita then staying in Tokyo for 3 nights. From here I will travel down to Hakone where I will purchase the ‘Hakone 2 day free pass’ as I am here for 2 days/ nights. My next stop will be Kyoto for 3 nights. Following that, I shall travel to Osaka for 3 nights and will include a day trip to Nara. Lastly, I will travel back up to Tokyo for my final 2 nights then head to Haneda airport to go back home.

    My understanding of getting the best value for travel would be to purchase the 7 day JR to activate the day that I travel from Hakone to Kyoto and use it to travel:
    Hakone – Kyoto- Osaka- Nara- Osaka- Tokyo.

    Your input would be massively appreciated.

    All the best,


    • Hi Letesha, I would go with the 7-day pass myself for the part of the trip you have identified, the 14-day pass won’t be economical. In the cities, you’ll mostly use the subway and that isn’t covered but there are times you might also get a bit of extra use from the pass on local trains (maybe Fushimi Inari or Arashiyama in Kyoto for example). Have a great trip!

  • Hello Toni,

    I am hoping you can assist with a trip that I’m planning for a group of 4 adults travelling to Japan for the first time. I’ve read through your website and love it! Very helpful but just need some assistance with the following itinerary if you can:

    Sydney to Osaka 29th April @ 1800
    2 nights Osaka
    Train to Kyoto
    4 nights Kyoto
    Train to Tokyo
    6 nights Tokyo
    flight from Tokyo to Osaka
    11th March Osaka to Sydney @ 20:25

    * we would like to do a tour to Hiroshima & Miyajima and were planning to do this out of Osaka but given that we don’t have much time there should we do this out of Kyoto instead?

    *Rail option: We are thinking about doing the following day trips:
    Nara (Kyoto)
    Hiroshima & Miyajima (Osaka or Kyoto)
    Hakone (Tokyo)
    Mt Fuji (Tokyo)
    and possibly Nagano or Hitsujiyama Park (Tokyo)
    Then add on we will be doing a train from Osaka to Kyoto and then to Tokyo.

    Not sure what the best rail option is based on this.

    Hopefully you might be able to give some ideas/feedback as to what you believe is the best option/s for us.

    thank you in advance.


    • Hi Daniel, thanks for your kind feedback. For the best value, we’d use a 7-day pass and structure the day trips within the cities to make the best use of that. I’d suggest the Hiroshima day trip in the later part of your Kyoto stay and starting the pass on that day. If you are going to include Nagano I’d make sure that is in the early part of Tokyo as that’s an expensive bullet train trip and you’d want it covered in the pass.

      The 7-day pass will more than pay for itself with just the Hiroshima/Miyajima day trip and the ride through to Tokyo from Kyoto (Y36,420 value from the Y29,110 price) but you will be able to get far more value from it than that. The bullet train return to Nagano is Y16,800, to Odawara as the starting point for Hakone is Y3220 return although there are cheaper options if you don’t have the pass, Y3980 to Otsuki for the JR section of Mt Fuji on the special rapid etc

      One suggestion, although there are plenty of other ways to structure it, might be

      – 3 April – Hiroshima and Miyajima day trip from Kyoto
      – 4 April – Nara (shorter travel day and more time on your feet to break up the longer journeys but still uses the pass)
      – 5 April – Kyoto to Tokyo trip
      – 6 April – Hakone day trip
      – 7 April –
      – 8 April – Nagano Day trip??
      – 9 April – Mt Fuji / Kawaguchiko day trip

      Hitsujiyama park will use a private railway not the JR Pass so if you choose that option you might do it on a day you aren’t using the pass. If you are going for the pink moss season then another option you could consider, although we’ll be doing it for the first time this year so can’t give a review yet, is seeing the flower fields in your Mt Fuji day and doing the Shiba-zakura festival, there’s a shuttle bus from Kawaguchiko station to the site.

      The trip sounds fabulous – have fun!

  • Hi Toni,

    Thank you so much for your blog and insights! Its been really useful in planning out trip. I had a quick question on our trip, and was hoping maybe you can help clarify. We are going to Japan between the 27th of March and the 9th of April for Cherry Blossom season. We are starting off 4 nights in Tokyo, 3 nights in Kyoto (with day trip to Osaka) and the rest of the 6 nights back in Tokyo (10 days total in Tokyo). In your article, you state that it is more beneficial to have the JR Pass when traveling throughout different cities, but we are spending the majority of our trip in Tokyo. Our cousin also mentioned to us, similarly to your article, that you cannot use the JR pass throughout all public transportation in Tokyo, and she mentioned that day passes are also available. That being said, I wanted to know if maybe you can suggest what will be the most practical, cost efficient tool we can use to travel during our stay. We would really appreciate your insight.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    • Hi Brenda. The 7-day JR Pass for the Kyoto section of your trip isn’t a terrible idea, the adult pass is Y29,110 and the return trips between Tokyo and Kyoto, then Kyoto and Osaka on JR using the bullet train are Y29.840. You might then also use it for the NEX from the airport to the city, if you wanted to go out to Fushimi Inari or Nara from Kyoto or perhaps somewhere like Kamakura from Tokyo that also has great cherry blossoms giving extra use and value from it but it’s not amazing value.

      In the cities, depending on where you stay, you will probably use mostly subway and possibly bus in Kyoto. You probably will still use JR too but not so much. We use an IC card, something like PASMO, ICOCA or SUICA for any transport that isn’t under a JR Pass, it’s convenient to tap on and off but it’s not a cost saving. In some cities like Osaka you can look at something like the Osaka Amazing Pass that covers transport and many attractions that you might be interested in for your day there. In Kyoto they also have day passes for the subway & buses and in Tokyo there are subway 1-3 day passes but with those options you’ll need to think about how much you’ll be hopping on and off the transport, for us we just don’t use them enough and instead stick with the SUICA for those sections of the trip.

  • Hey,
    thanks for the article(s), they all help so much! I am planning to spend approximately three weeks in both big cities and Countryside. Do you have any tips on travelling alone for a 19- year old female?

    Thank you

    • Mainly just enjoy yourself, be open to the cultural differences and experiences and slow down enough to take it all in. Japan has a reputation as a very safe country and that has always been our experience but as a young woman in another country do take the usual precautions.

      I would suggest looking for shared accommodation if that suits your travel style especially if you don’t speak Japanese. One thing I notice on longer trips is that while I love being there and we have met so many friendly and wonderful people I do start to miss engaging with others in a deeper conversation that the language barrier can make difficult.

      If you can justify the expense I would recommend WIFI to remain connected as there are still few free options and being able to check a timetable, map or translate something on the go is so useful. Corner stores like 7-eleven are your friend for quick meals and snacks on a budget and the food is great quality. There’s a small deposit on IC cards for public transport like PASMO & SUICA but you can get it refunded at the end of your stay and the convenience is worth it. People are generally friendly and offer help easily if you start to look lost or confused, accept it, it’s genuine.

      Have a fabulous trip and happy to answer any other questions you have.

  • This is a amazing article! Thanks a lot.

    I am planning to get a 7 day JR pass and travelling with 2 kids from 03/30 to 04/04 ( between tokyo and kyoto ). Since I am travelling with 2 kids ( 4 and 5 ) , I understand that its free. We are planning to get the “green class” tickets for 2 adults in the “unreserved section”

    My question is …would you know if the trains are crowded during that time and if it makes sense to get atleast 1 ticket for the 2 kids so that we can have a comfortable journey ?


    • Hi Rakesh. Yes children 5 and under can travel free with an adult on the basis they will sit on the adults lap. They are allowed to use empty seats but must move if a fare-paying passenger is without a seat. We’ve travelled in Japan at many times of year and late March to mid-April has been the busiest on the trains. That is also the most popular route so it is possible you will hit a full train or struggle to find spare seats close together for the family. That said we’ve not personally been on a train where seating was that tight.

      Buying them a pass is an option so they have their own seat for that longer trip, that way you might want to reserve seats, from what we’ve seen the reserved car is usually less busy and green car are in sets of 2 seats so if you have 3 booked on either side of the aisle it’s less likely someone will pick that 4th aisle seat unless the train is packed.

  • Hi There ~ Your article has been extremely helpful so many thanks. We have a 2 1/2 week trip to Japan in mid April. We have 4 nights in Tokyo then 5 nights in Kyoto then 7d/6n hiking the Komano Kodo starting from Kii – Tanabe and departing Kii-Katsura for 3 nights in Osaka before flying home. We plan on doing 2 day trips from Kyoto including Nara , train to Tanabe, train from Katsura to Osaka and then a day Trip from Osaka to Hiroshima and Miyajima Island. I’m not sure if it is worthwhile for us to purchase a JR pass as our planned train travel is so spread out. I would very much appreciate your thoughts. Many thanks fo your wonderful blog on Japan.

    • Hi Jayne. Thanks for the great feedback. That trip sounds amazing but I agree that the spread isn’t going to work well with the passes. I did look at just the 7-day ticket to cover the Kii-Katsuma back to Osaka, the Hiroshima and Miyajima day trip and the Airport Express but even that is right on the line saving only a few hundred yen with the pass. I always run the numbers and consider the options but for this one I’d probably just buy individual tickets or use an IC card as I went, especially as I don’t know that you’ll use the JR train to the airport (from Namba Nankai is better). Have a great trip!

      • Many thanks for your helpful reply. We are in Japan 11-29 April and I wondered as it is Cherry Blossom time, will it be necessary to pre book trains for our 4 day trips and transfers between Tokyo, Kyoto, the trek start, the trek finish and Osaka. What do you advise? Thanks Jayne

        • Hi Jayne, we’ve been in Japan during cherry blossom season a few times and haven’t been on a train that was packed full so you can probably get away without the bookings. If you have the JR pass however I would make use of the free booking service, booking them out in advance saves us time not having to get the tickets in the morning and doing several bookings at once.

  • Hi 2 aussies Travellers,
    We are travelling to Japan in may of this year for 16days/15 nights. We are wanting to what sort ofJR Railpass we should get 7 day or 14 days? These are the following places we intend on visiting on the duration of our trip:
    Tokyo 4 nights
    Kamakura – day trip
    Nagoya 2 nights (day trip Takayama)
    Kyoto 5 nights (day trips Nara and maybe Himeji)
    Osaka 4 nights
    Back to Tokyo for 1 night
    Also which of these cities should we spend 1 night for in a onsen and can you recommend any?
    Do we need to activate the JR Rail pass before we leave?
    Thanks so much

    • Hi Theo. The itinerary in the sequence mentioned doesn’t seem to fit well into a 7-day pass but it will give you a cost saving on the using the 14-day pass even if you don’t end up going out to Himeji. There is onsen in Arashiyama (out of Kyoto city) or my favourites are in the Hakone area or Kinugawa Onsen in Nikko both of which you would do out of Tokyo as a base and can be done (mostly) with the JR pass. I’ve linked a couple of articles of onsen I’ve used in both.

      With the pass it’s cheaper and more convenient to purchase it before you leave home, they are still doing the trial selling them locally in Japan but not at all stations. Once there you can exchange that voucher you received for the JR pass at any time that’s convenient, you just specify which date you want to start using it for travel on for your 14 days. You can then book any of the trips you want ahead. Remember you can also use it for the NEX airport train if that’s convenient possibly at one end of your trip. Have fun!

  • Hi 2 Aussie Travellers, Terrific article – thank you very much.

    My wife and I are travelling to Haneda Japan 11/03 returning 15/04. We plan a couple of days in Tokyo to acclimatize and assemble our bicycles and then and will start pedaling south hoping to end up around the Kitakyushu general area. Our idea then is to catch a train back to Tokyo and spend the last week…ish disassembling the bikes and seeing Tokyo and nearby sites. We are considering the JR 7 day pass and activating it for the return journey to Tokyo. Your advice on this would be greatly appreciated. I have tried using the HyperDia link but could not really work it well enough (likely my fault not the links).
    Is the JR pass a viable option for the long return trip and for daily use around Tokyo and surrounding cities/sights. Or would we be better just purchasing a one way ticket back to Tokyo on the day and utilising daily subway and train options abck in Tokyo.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Peter. The cost to get back to Tokyo on the bullet train from Hakata/Fukuoka is around Y22,130, well under the cost of the JR pass but I don’t know much about doing it with bikes. I do know that you are allowed bikes on trains including the Shinkansen but I heard something about them needing to be in a special carry bag, which I can see for those fold up city bikes but unsure if that will work for you. If you have done your sightseeing on the way down and are travelling directly back that is a long train journey, have you priced out the early booking discount airfares as an alternative? I guess that option may have an excess charge for the bikes and I haven’t travelled with oversize but those deals could be competitive for something like that.

      The JR Pass around Tokyo and surrounding cities if you are thinking places like Yokohama and Kamakura is unlikely to work out more cost effective than individual tickets.

      • Hi Toni,
        Thank you very much for the reply and info. We do have the bags for train travel (Rinko’s) and did consider domestic flights but comments from experienced travelers to Japan and supported by your article suggest that that the Japanese Rail System is as much an experience as any of the attractions. We will however take your advice and give the JR Pass a miss and just sort travel as we need.
        Once gain thank you very much for your assistance.

  • Hi Toni
    What would be the most reasonable priced option to get to the Tokyo Hilton in Shinjuku please from Narita airport ?
    2 persons 2 suitcases with wheels
    Also do i book reserved ( green seats ) in advance or when I turn up at the station for departure ?
    We are doing 3 legs– Tokyo/ Kyoto, Kyoto/Himeiji/Hiroshima return , Kyoto /Tokyo
    regards Wayne

    • From Narita the Airport Limousine Bus is Y3100 and goes directly to the hotel. Another option is the Narita Express train which is Y3190 but it’s a 1.5 km walk which is a fair way for luggage wheels on uneven paths so you will probably need a taxi or the Hilton Shuttle from the station to the hotel. These are the options I would use with suitcases but you can do it cheaper if you are prepared to use local trains rather than the express and changes trains.

      You can book your seats either in advance or immediately before you board the train, if it’s a busy time you will have more choice doing it early but normally it’s not too much of an issue. When I have a clear itinerary as you do I’d normally book those main legs all at once in advance although if you are looking to stop at Himeji then continue on you may want that next leg to be more flexible.

  • Hello, great blog thank you for the useful information. My partner and I are in the process of ordering a pass for either 2 or 3 weeks. What I wanted to understand was the process for making reservations on specific trains? How is this carried out as we would rather this than just rocking up on the day and catching the train. Thanks and happy new year

    • Hi Harry, at the major stations there is a JR booking office and you can pop in and book them there. Just tell them the date where you want to go, where you will be going from and to, and the time you want to leave, they’ll find the best option you don’t need to know the exact trains. We normally have a rough outline of our major trips (bullet train / limited express) and book them all, or a week at once. In the bigger stations (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagano, Odawara) we’ve never had any issue with making the bookings in English, normally any station that is a limited express or shinkansen stop would be fine.

    • Hi there,

      We’re heading off to Japan on first feb and finding it overwhelming deciding on the JR pass – I believe if we do a 7 day it would be suitable

      So far we fly into Tokyo Narita – 4 nights there with a day trip somewhere mixed in
      1 night hakone
      3 nights Kyoto
      1 night Osaka
      Then fly out of Osaka next day

      Needing to make this decision pretty quick if I’m needing it

      Your help would be greatly appreciated – really enjoying reading your info!

      • Hi Rachel, unless you are planning on doing a very long distance day trip from Tokyo the pass won’t pay off and you’ll be better with individual tickets and possibly an IC card to use within the cities. Flying into one city and out of another as you are is a great way to save the time and cost of the return train trip.

        • Hi Toni,
          Wow thank you for the prompt response!
          We may do a day trip to Nara from Kyoto and the longest day trip from Tokyo would possibly be Nikko.
          So I’d stay stick with the advice and not bother?
          If we don’t get one does this just mean we can’t book the trains ahead and we just go to the station on the day? I’m guessing there will still be people to help us in the right direction?

          • You can still book the trains ahead at the JR office at the station, there is a small additional fee but still not worth buying the pass. You’ll have no problem getting the help you need. For Nikko you may find Tobu Railways from Asakusa more convenient and cost-effective than JR anyway. Nara from Kyoto isn’t an expensive trip but a lovely spot if you can fit it in.

  • Hiya!
    I’m off to visit my partner in Japan in a couple of months. I will be entering on a temporary visitor visa so I believe I am eligible for the JR pass, however he is on a working holiday visa. I believe this means he doesn’t qualify for the JR pass, but is there an alternative for him? Or is he able to get the JR west pass (for example) instead of the full country?

    Thanks heaps and really appreciate how helpful your blog is!


    • The Japan Rail Pass and other tourist passes such as those issued by JR West are only available to those on a temporary visa and they do check the passport to confirm. I don’t know of any that are able to be used by residents or people on other visa categories.

  • Hi 2 Aussie Travellers! I’m currently planning a trip to Japan for the Spring this year. I’ve already decided a rail pass will be a good investment. It is a 16 day trip, and my group will activate the (14 day) pass on day 3 when we go to Nikko from Tokyo.

    Do you know a good method for searching through transit options so that I know my rail pass will be valid for use? I don’t want to accidentally plan on using a bus that isn’t under the JR Pass. So far I’ve just been using things like Google maps to figure out transit options, and I have never used a subway before (I live in a smaller suberb).

    • Hi Chris, the best website to use is which will tell you the price if you are trying to work out the pass value (use the total in the top left) anywhere you need to change, how long it takes, what company it is and your best options for getting from a to b. With the JR Pass the main thing to remember when looking at the options is that is it only Japan Rail (JR) not the private railways, subways and buses. Nikko for example can be accessed with JR or Tobu Railways so you’ll want to pick the JR option – it does take a bit of research as they generally have their own infrastructure and run from different stations.

      You’ll be fine with the subway but I have a few tips for first timers, it’s often the best way to get around in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka but the pass doesn’t cover it, we use an IC card to tap on and off, the SUICA, ICOCA and PASMO all work.

      We’ve planned a lot of trips now so if you need suggestions on getting to any particular places just ask. Have fun with your planning!

  • Hi Toni,

    Thanks for all your Blogs, I’m using them to plan my trip around Japan during the Rugby world cup this year. Just wondering what your thoughts are on whether my family and I should purchase the JR Pass. We are travelling in a party of 5 (2 adults, 13 year old, 6 year old and a 2 year old). I am trying to fly into Sapporo and then look to activate my pass once we leave Sapporo.

    1) Sapporo to Hanazono (7 days – also visit Tokyo and Kyoto)
    2) Hanazono to Kumamoto (7 days -also Visit Osaka and Kobe)
    3) Kumamoto to Hanazono (7 days – also visit Hiroshima and Miyajima Island)
    4) Hanazono to Osaka – fly out of Osaka

    Do you suggest I buy a 21 day pass?


    • Hi Mel, if I understand correctly that you will be going from Sapporo in Hokkaido, through Tokyo and Osaka and down to Kumamoto in Kyushu and back to Osaka in the 21 days then the 21-day pass will be great value, even more so with the stops and trips you are planning. It is a lot of time on trains but you will see some diverse scenery along the way. What an amazing trip.

  • Hi, I am loving your blog and info on Japan, as I plan our trip.

    Just a question, with the Pass, does it cover ALL of the bullet trains? As I thought I read that it doesn’t cover the Nazami, (the fastest one). If it doesn’t, how do we make sure we don’t get on the wrong one?

    I am thinking of purchasing the 14 day pass, as we are there for 13 days. I see we can use the pass straight up from the Narita Airport to tokyo station, so we will activate it at the airport. After a few days in Tokyo and Disneyland we plan on heading down to Hiroshima via Hakone and Osaka, back to Kyoto then back to Tokyo. Visiting Miyamiima island as well. So I think we will get good use out of the pass.

    Again, thanks for all the info. It is great, and I am feeling much more confident travelling to Japan with my 2 teenage daughters.

    • Hi Lara, the JR pass doesn’t include the Nozomi, Mizuho or Hayabusa. These ‘faster’ trains are quicker because they stop at less stations along the way so where you are on a longer trip that can make a difference but you can get to the same places on other bullet trains. All the trains can travel at speeds well in excess of the allowed speeds on the track. The NOZOMI is the one you need to watch out for on the route you are doing but it’s well marked so you won’t catch the wrong one. When you buy or book your ticket you will see what platform you need to go to.

      To decide if you could use the 7-day rather than 14-day pass check how many days you’ll have in Tokyo and at Disney as you won’t get much use out of the pass there – if between leaving and returning to Tokyo it’s 7 days or less you could use the cheaper pass and buy single tickets for the airport train tickets. If not then you will still be getting great value out of the 14-day pass. Have a fabulous trip!

  • I am absolutely loving your blogs, so much information and for being a first time Japan traveller I am so thankful! Please forgive me if you have answered this question before, but I was wondering if you could give me some insight into our itinerary and whether or not the JR pass will be worth it and if we have enough time in each place.

    Fly into Narita – spend three nights in Tokyo
    One night in Mt Fuji
    Two nights in Kyoto
    Three nights in Osaka (including a trip to Nara)
    Two nights in Hiroshima
    Two nights back in Tokyo
    Fly out of Narita

    thank you so much for your help 🙂

    • Hi Claudia, that itinerary looks fantastic and the 14-day pass will be good value, even if you went directly Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and back the individual tickets would cost more and you have plenty more use of the pass beside that. In addition to what is listed above you can use it on the train to and from Narita and also if you get out to Miyajima Island in Hiroshima it covers both the train and ferry.

  • thank you for sharing your blog I have found it very helpful. Hopefully you can help me out with my question. My husband and I and our 3 kids – 13 year old, 6 year old and 18monrh old will be travelling to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in Sep/Oct 2019. We will be traveling and trying to find things to do in each city in between games.

    Arrive Tokyo – 1 night
    Arrive Sapporo – 6 days ( Rugby game first night then remaining days looking sightsee in the area or possible travel back to Tokyo)
    Arrive Hanazono – 6 days
    Arrive Kumamoto – 6 days
    Arrive back at Hanazono – 1 day
    Back to Tokyo to fly out of Japan.

    We are looking to spend about 21 to 25 days in Japan and looking to see much of the country as we make our way down the country to the rugby venues in Sapporo, Hanazono, Kumamoto. Each game is 1 week apart so we want to fit in the main spots – Hiroshima, Osaka, Miyajima Is, Kyoto, Mt Fuji, Universal Studios, Disney land.

    Do you think we should purchase the JRP? Last time I was in Japan was over 10 years ago and I did use the JRP then however I was only there for about 2 weeks.

    If you could advise and let me know if there are any other places I could take my kids that would be great.


    • Apologies for the delay Mel, we’ve been off-line over the holidays and just catching up now. I think the train questions were answered in your message below. We don’t have children so that part I’m not so familiar with at the various ages but you have so much diversity planned I’m sure there is something for everyone. Both Disney and USJ come highly recommended from families who have dropped us a message after their trips.

  • Hello, these are the places I’d like to go:

    Kakunodate Samurai Village
    Edo Wonderland
    Mount nokogiri
    Mount Takao

    Would a jr rail pass cover all this? And would it be worth it?

    • Hi Charles, for most of the destinations you can get to the nearest station by JR Trains and are therefore covered by JR Pass. Mount Takao is in Tokyo so a short fare and you need a local train for at least the last part but could use JR part of the way if you want to. I cover Mt Takao in this post.

      What period of time do you plan to cover the destinations in, the JR Pass comes in a 7, 14 or 21-day pass, often a 7 day will be cost effective where the others are not but that can be a very busy itinerary. Also are they all day trips from a central base (Tokyo?) or do you plan to move accommodation? It makes a difference as to whether you are calculating return trips or continuations in which case sequence will matter more.

      As a general rule, I’d say any 7-day itinerary including a return trip between Tokyo and Kakunodate will be cost-effective as that bullet train trip alone is more than the pass. Therefore addition trips fitted into that week are all added value you gain from the pass.

      • Thank you for the reply. Sorry for the lack of info.

        I’ll be staying in Tokyo Ueno in March for two weeks. Don’t plan to stay at another place. Just like to take day trips for the last week, so I was thinking of 7 day pass.

  • Hi, terrific article and such helpful responses for everyone!

    I have just booked my rail pass for Japan and after opening this blog post fear I might have made the wrong decision in ordering a 21 day pass and a 14 day pass. I really screwed up my maths there and thought it could be used in tokyo for whatever reason. I think I may need to cancel one but I don’t even know if it’s possible. I’m heading to Japan & Seoul for a total of 6 weeks, I plan on staying in tokyo (~5 days), fuji 5 lakes, kyoto, nara, osaka, okayama (for naoshima) and hiroshima finishing off in Seoul (~7 days) and Tokyo (~4 days). I’ve emailed the distributor and hopefully will be able to recoup my losses, probably not much more I can do (especially before Christmas. Thanks for providing so many people with information and assistance so there are less people making my mistakes!

    • Hi Claire. That is so annoying but there is still hope. Many of the providers do have a cooling off / cancellation period so I will keep my fingers crossed that you fit into that. It’s not that you can’t use it at all in Tokyo but there is limited use and it’s not an economical or convenient choice generally. So many people with good intentions tell first-time visitors that they MUST get the pass that I decided to write this article to give a bit of balance. Are you flying back from Seoul to Tokyo rather than crossing the country by rail again?

      • Hey Toni, thank you so much for the crossed fingers! It was such a silly mistake and I’m already cutting it close timewise hence rash decisions. The only other long term rail pass I’ve ordered was the eurrail (10 trips in 3 months) and I was thinking about total travel days. Of course, it’s naturally very different in a different continent! I’m flying from Seoul to Tokyo and spending a few days there before I fly home. With both passes I’d be paying for so many days in Tokyo and from reading this blog post and all the comments, that’s not economically worth it. We’ll see how it goes, thanks for the kind words!

  • Hi,

    Thank you so much for this article. So informative and helpful!

    I was hoping you could help me with some advice on whether you think my family should purchase a rail pass? We’re flying into Tokyo and heading straight to Nagano for five days, then back to Tokyo for four days, then three days in Kyoto and flying out of Osaka.

    Thank you for your help!

    • Hi Helen, with the 5 days Nagano, 4 days Tokyo, 3 days Kyoto split I wouldn’t use the pass. If the Nagano and Tokyo were the other way around it might be worthwhile with a 7-day pass to cover the 3 longer journeys.

  • This is a great site and I’ve only just discovered it. Thank you. We are a family of 6 adults and 2 young children. We will be in Japan for 15 days. (January 9 to 24, 2019) 4 nights in Tokyo, 8 nights in Hakuba and 3 nights in Hiroshima before departing from Tokyo. I think it is good value for us to purchase a 7 day pass and activate it when we leave Hakuba. We are staying nearby Tokyo Shinjuku Station. Is it more time efficient to exchange the coupon at the airport or Shinjuku?
    Also I have read different views on whether to buy and book a seat in advance for our first train journey to Hakuba or to try our luck in the unbooked carriages. What is your advice? On the ticket search, I see 2 prices- one for the journey and another for the seat. Is the price different if you don’t book a seat? If not why wouldn’t everyone book a seat?
    Do the trains have wifi?
    For the trip from Hukuba to Hiroshima I settled on the train in preference to flying because of the wasted time in airports. Is that a correct assumption?
    Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Wendy,

      When you look at Hyperdia thre will be a price against total, fare and seat fee. When you change your seat type where that is an option, say from reserved to unreserved, or to green car the seat fee price will change but you will always pay a seat fee – even if you go unreserved and end up standing on a busy day you will pay the unreserved seat fee. If you are going Tokyo to Nagano the difference from a reserved seat or unbooked carriage is Y720.

      Some trains have free WIFI in Japan, they are rolling it out progressively across various routes and trains, so far we haven’t found it consistent or reliable more of a bonus if you end up with it and it works. We travel with a mobile wifi device as I need to be able to get online over there.

      For simplicity I would use the train to Nagano and the bus transfers to Hakuba, you can get there by local trains but there are likely a few switches and with a bigger group and children it might be worth weighing up the additional cost.

      Through to Hiroshima I would also take the train. There is a regional airport at Matsumoto but the chance of a conveniently timed and well priced flight getting you there any faster is low and if you have to go back to the Tokyo airports then your costs will be higher and it will likely take just as long or longer.

      If you are using the train then the JR pass will be worthwhile. You could change it either at the airport or Shinjuku station, whichever will fit with your timing. As you have 4 nights in Tokyo and are near the station I would do it there at either the JR East travel centre or information centre but only because you are likely to be passing it a few times, I usually can’t wait to clear the airport once I get there and you don’t need to use it immediately.

      • Thank you so much for taking the time and informative advice. Sorry I have 2 more questions

        Is likely to be snowing and wet in January in Tokyo and Hiroshima to the extent we should purchase special waterproof shoes and will the weather make it very difficult to walk from stations to hotels with bags?

        We arrive in terminal 3. Narita IA. Is the only way to terminal 1 and 2 on foot and exposed to the weather?

        • You are very unlikely to experience snow in Tokyo or Hiroshima, on average they get a light fall once or twice each winter and it won’t impact moving around on foot it rarely sits on the ground for long before melting away. Rain is definitely a possibility at any time of year but we’ve had much heavier rain in summer than winter in Japan. I just wear leather boots or casual shoes/sneakers in the cities during winter and the cooler seasons.

          Terminal 3 to terminal 2 is a covered walk or you can take the free shuttle bus that runs every 10 minutes or so. To terminal 1 take the bus.

  • Hi! Thank you so much for this informative and useful article. However, I am still slightly confused at how all of this works and was wondering which rail pass you would recommend.

    We are staying in Japan for 12 days in total (19th – 31st Jan)
    ~ Tokyo (19th – 23rd)
    ~ Kyoto (23rd – 26th)
    ~ Osaka (26th – 29th) – Planning to have Nara day trip
    ~ Tokyo (29th – 31st)

    These are probably our major movements around japan, but we may also likely make some smaller day trips around each city. I am also travelling with 2 other friends.

    Also i was wondering where we could purchase these tickets? (I heard online was easier and a better experience).

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Hi Daniel, the 7 day pass to cover the trips to and from Kyoto, Kyoto to Osaka, and the Nara day trip are approximately the value of the pass. Individual tickets would cost you Y30,320 and the pass is Y29,110. There’s a small saving with the pass, free booking for the Tokyo-Kyoto legs to make sure you get your choice of seats and I find it slightly more convenient. To get a bit of extra value you have a JR loop in Osaka but where you are staying will impact how convenient it is to make use of that, subways stop are more common. Tokyo also has a JR loop. In Kyoto if you go out to Arashiyama or Fushimi Inari there are JR options but within the central city again subway or buses are usually the better option.

      We recommend online purchase and always do it that way ourselves now. We use these guys and have been happy with the service, speed and price but there are a number of reputable online providers.

      We personally have only had issues once and it was with a major travel agent in store in Australia, one experience isn’t a trend but still our choice since has been to go online. The main thing we are told by friends and through this website is that travel agents are often trying to upsell travellers to longer passes that just don’t make sense for the persons itinerary. Most people don’t need the pass for their full stay and no one wants to throw their travel dollars away.

  • Thank you for your japan rail pass article. However just going to ask you for advice as well if you dont mind if i should just get the 7 day or 14 days pass. Hope you dont mind. Travelling with me is 2senior and 2kids
    We arrive in Haneda airport on the jan 13th and then go to Osaka.
    Osaka stay is jan 13 -17. While in Osaka, plan is visit USJ and the aquarium in addition to visiting Nara or Kyoto if time allows. Staying in a hotel near Jr Namba station..
    Then shinjuku 17-19 jan. Hotel near JR shinjuku station
    Then hotel okura near disneyland 19-23 jan.
    23 leave japan via Haneda airport.
    No set day trips yet planned unfortunately.
    I am alloting 2days for disneyland (jan 20-21) Other day (jan 22, jan 19) no concrete plans yet – depending on the energy level of both seniors

    • Hi Juliana, the 14 day pass won’t be economical but the 7 day (13th-19th?) activated from arrival for the trip from Tokyo to Osaka would save you a little. You’d use it for the return trips from Tokyo to Osaka, the day trips to Nara and Kyoto, it’s a JR line out to USJ and you can use the JR loop line to get to, or close to many places in Osaka. For the aquarium for example the closest you can get to Bentencho station which is a 4km walk so you might take the subway closer. Honestly I use the subway more often in Osaka but if you are staying near JR Namba it’s a 3 minute ride to JR Imamiya station which is on the loop so it’s possible to minimise your subway use without tiring out other family members to much.

      The pass will still be active when you get back to Shinjuku and there is a JR station there and a similar Tokyo loop plus you want JR to get out to the Disney resort area.

      Have a great trip!

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