Japan is great for travelling by rail. Known for its shinkansen (bullet trains) and comprehensive rail networks, tourists have even more reason to travel within Japan via rail with the Japan Rail Pass.
The Japan Rail Pass is a multi-use, discounted rail ticket. It gives you unlimited access to all Japan Rail National trains, as well as JR bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers. Depending on your itinerary, you can choose to purchase the whole Japan Rail Pass or any of the regional rail passes to enjoy unlimited travel within the stipulated time frame.
The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) Is Designed For Tourists
The Japan Rail Pass is one of the most cost-effective ways to travel in Japan and is intended for tourists. According to their website, “compared to standard Japan train tickets, the JR Pass represents the biggest discount on Japanese public transportation that you can get.”
In fact, Japanese nationals who reside in Japan are not allowed to purchase the Japan Rail Pass. They need to reside permanently outside of Japan for at least 10 years before they are eligible for the Japan Rail Pass.
The JR Pass gives you unlimited access to all Japan Rail National trains, JR bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers.
How Much Does The JR Pass Cost?
The standard Japan Rail Pass costs ¥29,650 for an adult pass that covers the whole of Japan for 7 days.
There is also a green pass option that offers a more luxurious First Class ticket experience that allows you to access the most comfortable and spacious seating areas on all Shinkansen bullet trains and certain fast lines.
Additionally, there are regional passes for Hokkaido, East, West, Central Shikoku and Kyushu areas. These can be a more affordable option if your itinerary doesn’t cover the whole of Japan.
While it is possible to buy a JR Pass within Japan at selected train stations, it is more expensive compared to buying online. Tourists are encouraged to buy their JR Pass before entering Japan.
Worth It For Longer Distance Shinkansen Rides
If you plan to take the Shinkansen or bullet train at any point during your trip, you will likely benefit from the JR pass.
For example, a common 7-day trip itinerary may include Tokyo to Kyoto, which takes about 2.5 hours via shinkansen. As this crosses the areas covered JR West And JR East, you will need to purchase the ordinary JR pass that covers whole of Japan.
The shinkansen fare from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station is ¥14,170 for one-way and ¥28,340 for roundtrip, via the Nozomi shinkansen (the fastest class of shinkansen). An airport transfer from Narita International Airport Airport to Tokyo Station costs ¥4,070 for a roundtrip via Narita Express.
|Japan Rail Pass
|Narita Airport to Tokyo
|Tokyo to Kyoto
|Kyoto to Tokyo
|Tokyo to Narita Airport
|¥29,650 for 7 days
This means savings of ¥2,760 without counting the fact that you will have unlimited access to the JR trains and buses within these two cities. If you can squeeze in Osaka into a 7-day itinerary, you can add another ¥6,140 (¥3,070 one-way) to the savings.
Take The Cute Character Trains In Japan
For the avid train enthusiast, the JR pass is essential to all your trainspotting dreams. The JR lines cover most of Japan with some of the most scenic train routes available.
The Tokaido Shinkansen line, which passes between Tokyo and Kyoto (yes, the same route mentioned above) will give you the beautiful view of Mount Fuji. If you are headed south to Kyoto, the mountain will be on the right of the train and vice versa.
There are also cute character trains featuring Pokémon, Anpanman and Hello Kitty.
The Hello Kitty character train is an easy fit into any itinerary travelling in west region as it serves the Sanyo Shinkansen line which travels from Osaka to Hakata (Fukuoka). If you are planning a trip from Osaka to Kobe, Himeji, Okayama or heading to Hiroshima, you can choose to ride on the Hello Kitty character train with a JR pass for as many trips as you desire.
Consider Regional JR Passes
While the standard JR pass is more well-known, the regional JR passes may be more suitable for travellers who are touring specific regions of Japan.
For example, the Kansai Area Pass is perfect for exploring the Kansai region: including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Himeji. Not only will you have access to the shinkansen and JR lines, but you will also be covered for the Kansai-Airport Express Haruka for airport transfer from Kansai International Airport.
The JR lines cover the major tourist locations such as Nara, Tennoji, Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan, Arashiyama, Kobe and Himeji Castle. Taking the shinkansen to Himeji station from Shin-Osaka station would cost ¥4,020 and already more than cost of the 1-day Kansai Area Pass at ¥2,400.
Aside from the JR regional passes, there are also a number of other transport passes available depending on your region. For instance, the Kansai region also has the Kansai Thru Pass, Kintetsu Rail Pass, Hanshin Tourist Pass, Hankyuu Tourist Pass and Keihan Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing Pass.
Depending on your itinerary, the other regional passes may be more convenient. For example, while the JR line goes from Kyoto to Arashiyama, it actually arrives at Saga-Arashiyama which is actually further than the Arashiyama station along the Hankyuu line. Regardless, due to the popularity of the JR lines, most popular tourist destinations would be covered by the JR pass and the regional JR passes.
Single City Trips May Not Benefit From The JR Pass
In general, shinkansen and longer haul express trains make the JR pass worth the expense. Regional passes also make more sense if you don’t plan to traverse the island and staying within a certain region.
Within a city like Tokyo, there are often multiple train networks that intersect which may make locking yourself to a single rail network inconvenient. Instead, it is more convenient to use an IC card (the Japanese equivalent of Ezlink) to change between the different train and bus networks.
Where Can You Buy The Japan Rail Pass In Singapore?
In Singapore, you can buy your tickets via Klook, the direct JR Pass website, or various travel agents including JTB and Changi Recommends.
Regardless of whether you ordered online or at a physical counter, outside of Japan, you would receive an exchange voucher. You will need to exchange it for an actual JR Pass within Japan. Note: you must have your passport with you to exchange for the pass.
The passes are sold in stipulated timeframes (i.e. 7/ 14/ 21 day pass) and must be used on consecutive days within its allotted timeframe after activation/exchange. A 7-day pass must be used in 7 days – after that, it will no longer be valid.
Saving money with the Japan Rail Pass is a great way to get more bang for your buck for next Japan trip. Another way to stretch your dollar is to save on FX fees and lock in favourable exchange rates with a multi-currency card/wallet such as YouTrip and Revolut.
If you’re interested in YouTrip, check out our step-by-step guide for registering for YouTrip. Use the promo code DNS5 during registration to receive an additional $5 in your YouTrip account!
Another great option for travellers is the Revolut Card, sign up with our link to receive a bonus S$15 top-up to your account! T&Cs apply. For new sign-ups only.
Featured Image Credit: JRailPass
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