A guide to using the JR Pass

By GaijinPot Travel

The famed Japan Rail Pass, or JR Pass, gives travelers a golden ticket to hop around Japan and save lots of cash doing it. Zip between TokyoHiroshima, and Hokkaido by simply showing the pass to train station staff and you’re good to go.

Sounds great, but is it really the magical all-access ticket it claims to be? How do you even use the darn thing? It can all be a bit confusing, so let us break it down for you.

What exactly is the JR Pass?

Japan has over 100 railway companies, one of the bigger ones being the Japan Railways Group, or JR for short. These guys are responsible for issuing these coveted JR Passes which are supposed to work on all trains in Japan and can be an incredibly good value for money.

The pass offers unlimited travel on JR train lines and some buses and ferries within a set number of days. It can also be used on some shinkansen (bullet trains) that’ll jet you from one side of Japan to the other.

However, it does come with certain restrictions you should be aware of and it may not necessarily be right for all travelers.

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot Travel

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I wouldn't come to Japan without one. Absolutely, if you're spending more than a week in Japan and you plan to move around a bit, the JR pass is worth the money and makes things easy. Also great using it within Tokyo on JR lines such as the Yamanote Line, for example, which covers a lot of areas of interest to tourists. I'd also recommend making a seat reservation before each trip - it's free, and the unreserved cars in some shinkansens can get very crowded, especially on the popular routes like Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima - standing is no fun.

Finally, there's that feeling of effortless superiority you get when breezing past the JR gates, JR pass in hand, ushered through by (usually) polite and smiling staff. As the article says, there are limitations to where you can use it in some places, but it's always been worth it for us - and we have actually sat down and done the calculations to prove it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It’s a JR pass specifically for JR trains so what in the world do you mean by “...these coveted JR Passes which are supposed to work on all trains in Japan...”?

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these coveted JR Passes which are supposed to work on all trains in Japan

No, they're supposed to work on most JR trains, not all of them though. You cannot ride Nozomi shinkansen (bullet trains) with them, nor, if I recall correctly, the overnighter trains.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The passes are great if you are going longer distances. If you know which cities you wish to visit you can calculate the cost of the fare using Hyperdia. You'll soon find out whether you need a pass or not. Plus, Hyperdia lists which trains are JR trains.

The writer points out that if activated in the evening that counts as a day. It's also wise to calculate which day of your journey to activate the pass if you are staying longer than the duration of the pass. That allows you to arrange all your long haul trips to be covered by the pass.

I have used the pass to take day trips from a home base in Kyoto, Kanazawa, and Tokyo. It's very handy as you don't need to pack up or take a new hotel every night. Leave early, return late and save money doing so.

Also, some passes can now be bought within Japan. Check the website for details. Recently, while living in Tokyo for a few months, I travelled to Yonezawa. When I booked the reservation for the round trip the agent informed me that it would cost me less to purchase a JR East Pass which would entitle me to 5 trips within 7 days. As I happened to have time off, I used the 3 extra trips offered by the pass to take day trips to parts I otherwise wouldn't have paid to see. That gave me about 52,000 yen worth of additional travel. Definitely worth it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My recommendation is do your research. Do not assume the JR pass will save you money. My wife and I will traveling again to Japan for 22 days in November and the JR pass will not work for us. I’ve done hours of research on travel costs and timings for our itinerary and I cannot make any combination of the 7, 14 or 21 day pass work, and, albeit our preference is green class, I cannot justify ordinary class either. We are actually flying from Tokyo to Osaka cheaper than the bullet train, but we are travelling back to Tokyo via various stops on trains, but buying individual tickets as it works out cheaper than purchasing the JR pass. We also have suica cards which I highly recommend for local trains.

I will add, we purchased the 14 day JR green pass for our 11 night trip 2 years ago, and it did pay off, as we travelled all the way from Tokyo to Hiroshima.

Effectively, the cost of this pass covered all our long distance travel so any local travel was effectively costing us nothing, except when the use of a private railway line was necessary. So for this example the JR pass worked brilliantly.

Do your research to see if the JR pass works for you!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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