A Complete Guide to Japan Rail Pass: How to travel around Japan Easily

The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is a foreign tourist only rail pass that is cost effective when traveling long distance with trains in Japan. It provides unlimited use of  JR trains for one to three weeks at a cost that is way more affordable.

The pass is valid for all major forms of transport in Japan except for a few that we will talk about later.

Who can use the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass is only applicable for short term visitor to Japan who enters Japan as “temporary visitors”. It can also be used by Japanese nationals with proof that they have been residing abroad for at least ten years.

How much does a Japan Rail Pass Cost?

The price shown below is as of February 2019:

Class7 Days14 Days21 Days
Green CarAdult¥38,880¥62,950¥81,870
Child¥19,440¥31,470¥40,930
Standard CarAdult¥29,110¥46,390¥59,350
Child¥14,550¥23,190¥29,670

What’s a green car pass?

The “Green” pass is like a first-class pass. It allows you to take green cars on any JR trains.

Will a Japan Rail Pass Save You Money?

The JR Pass is popularly used for long-distance travel within a short period of time. If this is part of your itinerary, then the answer is most likely a yes!

However, if your itinerary only consists of urban travels, the pass would not be fully utilized.

shinkansen at fuji mountain - Japan rail pass guide

For example, let’s take a roundtrip of Tokyo and Kyoto within two days of your one week traveling.

A round-trip fare costs 26,160 Yen (around $236), whereas a one week pass is 29,110 Yen (around $263). You will save a ton of money for the remaining days of your trip!

Two of the few cities popular for using JR Pass are Tokyo and Osaka. It is particularly useful in these cities due to Tokyo’s Yamanote Line and Osaka’s Loop Line.

Plus, the extra benefits of the pass are convenience and flexibility! For example, you can skip buying tickets when riding trains and even make spontaneous train rides without any additional cost.

shinkansen seating - Japan Rail Pass Guide

Green Car vs. Ordinary Car

Although most travelers may find ordinary cars to be sufficient, however, green cars offer a more luxurious traveling experience.

Green cars offer additional features such as larger seats, more leg room, and enhanced board service. They tend to be less crowded than ordinary cars too.

You are able to ride in green cars on most shinkansen, limited express trains, and even on a certain number of local trains.

For more detailed comparisons, please check out this article written by Inside Kyoto.

Where To Buy The Japan Rail Pass

IMPORTANT! The Japan Rail Pass can only be purchased outside of Japan. You may purchase the passes on numerous online websites.

GoVoyagin.com is considered one of the most popular websites to purchase and it is also an official partner of JR Rail.

Another widely known online platform is Klook. The same process in GoVoyagin is applied here. Generally, Klook is commonly used purchasers living in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam.

For more information, check out Japan Rail Pass official site.

Japan Rail Pass Exchange Process

  1. Once you have made the purchase online, a voucher will be sent to you by post.
  2. The voucher is exchanged at designated major JR stations across Japan, including the JR stations located in Narita Airport and Kansai Airport.
  3. Pass both your voucher and passport to the ticket counter staff. Take note that photocopy passport is a big no-no!
  4. After some processing, you’ll have your Japan Rail Pass ready!
JR Ticket Office - Japan Rail Pass Guide

How to use the Japan Rail Pass (On Bullet Trains)?

Once you have received your pass, you are able to select any date within the same month to choose as your starting date. However, the starting date cannot be changed once the actual pass has been issued. Take note!

When you take train rides, the Japan Rail Pass serves to be your ticket so you do not need another ticket. There is an exception when reserving seats which you will receive a seat reservation ticket.

P.S. seat reservations are free for Japan Rail Pass holders.

Present your rail pass to the staff (sometimes, together with passports) through the manned gate when passing through ticket gates. Be mindful that all pass holders are not able to use the automatic ticket gates.

JR Ticket Office with Logo - Japan Rail Pass Guide

Steps:

  1. Go to the Midori no Mado Guchi ticket counter, recognizable by its logo as shown in the picture above. Specify the train that you want to reserve a seat on.
  2. You will get your reserved seat ticket
    Translation: (carriage 号車, row 番, seat 席, Dept 発, Arr 着)
  3. Present your rail pass to the staff (sometimes, together with passports) through the manned gate when passing through ticket gates. Be mindful that all pass holders are not able to use the automatic ticket gates.
  4. Go to the platform. Take note of your carriage number on your ticket. Stand at the carriage point according to your carriage number. (Carriage numbers are usually found hanging from signs or painted on grounds.)
  5. Stand behind the white line. Line up if necessary. Wait for the train patiently.
  6. Enter the train when it arrives and locate your seating. Seat numbers are normally shown above the window.

Tip: you can sit in any seat in an unreserved carriage

Have your ticket with you because you may be required to present the ticket inspector with your Japan Rail Pass and the seat reservation.

How to make seat reservations?

Seat reservations are made by JR Pass Holders for free at a JR ticket office across Japan. You will need to present your actual rail pass and not the voucher.

It is important to note that reservations cannot be made when on board of trains or at ticket machines.

For some trains in Eastern Japan, it is possible to reserve over the internet.

Is it necessary to make seat reservations?

Seat reservations are optional on most trains. Most urban and local trains do not have reservations services, whereas only certain long distance trains are applicable for seat reservations.

The following are trains that carry only reserved seating and seat reservations are mandatory:

  • Narita Express (Tokyo – Narita Airport)
  • Hayabusa and Hayate trains along the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen
  • Komachi trains along the Akita Shinkansen
  • Kagayaki trains along the Hokuriku Shinkansen
  • Sunrise Seto/Izumo night trains

Although most trains do not get booked out, some do get booked out a few days in advance especially during peak travel seasons.

To avoid changing your traveling itinerary, it is recommended to make seat reservations, especially when traveling in groups. Take note parents with children, if you wish to sit together with your children.

Plus, seat reservations are free for Japan Rail Pass holders.

What happens if I miss a train when I have already reserved seats?

In the event that you miss a train ride with your seat reservations, you may quickly cancel the reservations at a ticket office before it is too late.

Next, you may make a new reservation for an upcoming train departure or ride a later train in the non-reserved section.

How to use the City Buses with Japan Rail Pass?

Spotting a JR city buses is easy! They have the JR logo on their bodies. You just need to find bus stops with JR emblems if you want to get on a JR city bus. Don’t board highway buses as they are no longer covered by the JR passes. For long distances, use the train instead.

JR Bus - Japan Rail Pass Guide

The procedure for boarding a bus in Japan may be different from where you are from, so it will be very helpful to have an idea of how it works there. Here are the things that you need to know:

Boarding a bus in Japan may differ from where you come from.

So here’s an idea of how it works:

  1. Get on the bus through the rear entrance. (the front door is an exit!)
  2. Passengers will take a ticket from machines next to the doors. Since you are a Japan Rail Pass user, you can skip this.
  3. By the driver, you will see an electronic display that shows the next stop.
    Tip: familiarise yourself with your destination’s Kanji. They sometimes don’t do English!
  4. If you want to get off on the next stop, press the yellow button on the backs of the seats or near the walls. This will inform the driver.
  5. Once the bus reached your stop, walk to the front and show your pass to the driver.
  6. Exit through the front door!

What additional features does the Japan Rail Pass include?

JR train seating - Japan Rail Pass Guide

Free Seat Reservations

The Japan Rail Pass allows holders to make seat reservations for JR trains for free.

Discounts at JR affiliated hotels

JR Pass holders are given discounts on regular rates at JR affiliated hotels. Most of these hotels are commonly found near or inside railway stations that are strategically placed for convenient train traveling. The popular three JR affiliated hotels are Metropolitan, Mets, Associa, and Granvia hotel chains.

What the Japan Rail Pass does not cover

The Japan Rail Pass is not valid or requires a supplement fee in case of the following exceptions:

  • Nozomi trains along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen

    The Nozomi trains not covered by Japan Rail Pass and pass holders will have to pay full fare when using it. It is considered the fastest category along with the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen.

    Solution:
    Use the Hikari trains along the same line. The only drawbacks are the trains are slightly slower, less frequent, and stops a few more stops than the Nozomi trains. But they are covered by Japan Rail Pass, so you’re good to travel with no additional cost.

  • Mizuho trains along the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen

    Pass holders who use the Mizuho will have to pay full fare when traveling in it. Despite it being the fastest category along the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, it only has six round trips per day.

    Solution:
    Use Sakura trains along the same line. Although slightly slower, they make more frequent trips than Mizuho trains and they are covered by the pass. Sounds pretty good, eh?

  • JR trains using non-JR tracks

    Pass holders are required to pay the fare whenever traveling in JR trains that use tracks owned by different railway companies other than Japan Railway.

  • Special compartments and berth

    A supplement fee is required when requesting special compartments such as berths on night trains.

  • Trains requiring Liner Tickets

    There are a small number of suburban “liner” trains on the JR network that is not covered by the JR Pass. These trains require a special “liner ticket” and are usually used to travel by the suburban commuters.

    Hence these trains are unlikely to be used by foreign tourists.

    However, do not be confused by a few trains that “Liner” included in their names because these trains are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

    For example, Seaside Liner, Marine Liner, and Ishikari Liner.

  • Highway buses

    The pass is not applicable to any highway buses.

Frequently Asked Questions

shinkansen train - Japan Rail Pass Guide
  1. Can the pass be shared or transferred?

    No. The Japan Rail Pass is a strictly personal pass. All JR Passes will have their pass printed with pass holders names on it. In some instances, railway staffs may require pass holders to produce their passports to confirm ownership of the pass.

  2. What is the validity period based on?

    The Japan Rail Pass uses calendar days (midnight to midnight) to track the validity period rather than 24 hour periods.

    For example: when starting a pass at noon, it will expire on midnight of the expiry date rather than noon.

  3. What happens if I am on a train when the pass expires at midnight?

    The Japan Rail pass will remain valid until the end of your journey despite traveling on a train at midnight or past midnight. However, be mindful that the pass will not cover anymore if you transfer to a shinkansen, limited express or express train after midnight.

  4. What happens if I upgrade to Green Car?

    The ordinary rail pass will cover only the base fare. Hence the green car fee, shinkansen or limited express supplement fees will be paid separately.

For Super Serious (And Excited!) Travelers

Are you planning to have the best trip to Japan? If this is your first time and you’re not sure about what to do, we have the ultimate Japan travel guide just for you. It’s going to give you insights to help you make the best decision while planning your trip. We’ll be covering different things such as places to visit, food to try, money saving tips and more!

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