If you are planning to travel around Japan, you can use the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) to save on Shinkansen and JR trains.
What is Japan Rail Pass?
When we started traveling to Japan more often, we realized we spent too much on transportation fees flying to and traveling by bullet trains (shinkansen) to different cities. What we realized is if we had planned our trips better, we could have probably saved quite a bit on transportation by using a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). If you are only planning to stay in 1 area like Tokyo, this is not a good deal. However, if you know you’ll be taking the bullet train to Osaka from Tokyo, and perhaps other cities within Japan, this pass could be a huge money saver.
Only foreigners and Japanese nationals who lives aboard permanently qualifies for a JR Pass. They start at US$300 for an adult for a 7-day pass to $600 for a 21-day pass. The round trip bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka is almost $300 by itself so it’s definitely worth it if you plan to travel on JR lines. Keep in mind this pass does not apply to metro lines and other private lines, only work on JR lines. In case you are wondering (see the chart below), “Green Car” is the equivalent of business class with wider seats.
Japan Rail Pass is Priced in Yen
Since the passes are priced in Yen, depending on the exchange rate the prices could fluctuate in your currency. There are different prices for adult vs. a child (6-11) and regular vs. green (business class) cars. Children 5 or under do not need a ticket but also do not get a seat. You will have to pay if the child requires a seat.
The most important part about Japan Rail Pass is that you have to purchase it outside of Japan and it is not available for purchase within Japan. A few more quick tips about the Japan Rail Pass:
- It is not a ticket and you will need to bring your pass to a JR office in Japan to exchange it for actual tickets.
- The exchange process is painstaking slow. It took over 1 hour to exchange our 4 passes and book tickets for our trip. For a single person, it will take about 20 min. You will need your passport during the exchange. For Japanese living aboard that’s using the Japan Rail Pass, you need to remember your foreign residence card or proof you live abroad.
- I highly recommend pre-planning your trip beforehand and know which day and train # you are going to take, and then book the entire trip at 1 time at the JR station. Use Google maps to plan out your trip (my tip on how to use Google Maps in Japan).
- You will need to show the Japan Rail Pass itself when entering and exiting stations along with your train ticket so keep it somewhere convenient to grab when traveling.
- You can always cancel and reschedule your tickets.
Use Japan Rail Pass on Narita Express
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, Narita Express from the airport to Tokyo is free. Otherwise, I would recommend taking the airport limousine (it’s a 50 seat bus and not a limo) to the hotel from the airport instead. It costs less and takes you directly from the airport to all the major hotels so you don’t have to drag your luggage around the subway systems (some of the older stations have no elevator or escalator).
Want to learn more travel tips before traveling to Japan? Check out our Japan Travel Guides.