Planning a trip to Japan and wondering if the Japan Rail Pass is worth it? It ultimately depends on your Japan itinerary and travel style.
I visited Japan for the first time in September 2019 and loved travelling with a Japan Rail Pass. The comfort and ease of travel, as well as the economic savings made it worth it for me.
This guide you walk you through everything you need to know about the Japan Rail Pass, and help you decide whether it’s worth it for your trip or not.
- 1 What is the Japan Rail Pass?
- 2 Japan Rail Pass prices
- 3 How to work out if the Japan Rail Pass is worth it
- 4 Where do I buy my Japan Rail Pass?
- 5 How do I exchange the Exchange Order for my JR Pass?
- 6 Can you use the Japan Rail Pass on all trains?
- 7 How to use your Japan Rail Pass
- 8 So is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?
What is the Japan Rail Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass, also known as JR Pass, is a train pass for foreign travellers visiting Japan.
Much like the Interrail Pass in Europe, it’s a pass where you pay a set fee, and are then allowed to take as many trains as you want in a given period.
It’s an initiative by the Japan Railways Group to stimulate travel and tourism throughout Japan. If you’re planning a big trip to Japan with lots of transfers and train journeys, the Japan Rail Pass is a great way to save money.
You can use it for trains that go pretty much everywhere, from the popular big cities to smaller towns and hidden gems in Japan.
Japan Rail Pass prices
The prices of the JR Pass vary depending on how long you plan to be in Japan for. They have passes for 7 days, 14 days and 21 days.
The JR Pass costs 29,650 YEN (approximately 275 USD) for 7 days, 47,250 YEN (approximately 440 USD) for 14 days, and 60,450 YEN (approximately 564 USD) for 21 days. This is for adults in the Ordinary class seats.
There is also a premium Green class but I personally didn’t feel like we would have needed it. Even in the Ordinary class the seats were wide and comfortable.
How to work out if the Japan Rail Pass is worth it
Just input the train journeys that you are expecting to do on your trip and it will show you average prices for those journeys, it will add them up and show you in simple maths terms whether it makes economic sense or not.
One thing to take into account is that you can also use the JR Pass on many of the train systems inside the big cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.
It’s not only for big train journeys from city to city (although these are obviously the ones that make it particularly worth it).
That means that on top of the savings that you can calculate for the big journeys, there might be some additional smaller savings on your travel inside big cities.
I have included below a screenshot of the train journeys we did during our two weeks in Japan.
You can see that we saved at least 60 USD if we stay on the lower end of the estimates, but probably a lot more given some trains would have been on the higher end of the estimates and including the small journeys within cities.
Where do I buy my Japan Rail Pass?
The easiest way to buy your Japan Rail Pass is online. It will ask for personal information such as your passport details so make sure you have them handy.
You should ensure you purchase your JR Pass at least 7 business working days before you travel to Japan, as you need to wait for your Exchange Order to arrive in the post.
It usually takes 2-3 days but it can take longer, and you don’t want to risk it! The Exchange Order is a document that will contain all your information, which you will then use once you arrive in Japan to exchange for the actual rail pass.
How do I exchange the Exchange Order for my JR Pass?
You can go to pretty much any JR station and exchange your voucher for the actual Japan Rail Pass. You just need to bring your Exchange Order and passport, and 10 minutes later you will walk out with your new and shiny JR Pass.
One thing to note is that they need the passports for every pass. If you’re travelling with a group of friends you can send just one person to exchange them for everyone, just make sure they have everyone’s passports!
Personally, I booked all my trains at the JR station where I exchanged my passes. I already knew the train times I wanted and I was travelling with a large group of people, so I wanted to make sure we would all have seats.
This however isn’t necessary, you can also use the JR Pass without a booking, you just need to find the carriage with non-reserved seats.
Can you use the Japan Rail Pass on all trains?
No. The “Nozomi” and “Mizuho” trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen Lines aren’t included in the JR Pass.
The easiest way to make sure you don’t get on a wrong train (and end up paying a big fine for it!) is to simply ask someone. Japanese people are extremely friendly and helpful; they will go above and beyond to help you.
Another way to figure out if a train is part of the Japan Railways Group is to simply check Google Maps. I was amazed at how well integrated Google Maps and the Japanese transport system were.
If you Google a journey you want to make it will tell you exactly what train to get, all the different departure and arrival time options, and what carriage to choose to then be closer to the station exit you need.
It genuinely blew my mind how detailed it was, not quite the Google Maps experience we have in Italy!
When you search for a journey you want to do, keep an eye out for the green JR symbol next to the station name. If it has that symbol it usually means that fare is included in the JR Pass.
You can also use the Japan Rail Pass for the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima Island.
How to use your Japan Rail Pass
Using the Japan Rail Pass is very simple. Once you know what train you want, just head to the station and show your pass to the JR attendants standing by the gates.
Sometimes they will ask to properly look at them and at your passport to make sure the names match and the pass is still valid, other times they will simply wave you through.
You can reserve a seat on any train without any extra fee if you chose to, but you can also just board any train and get a seat in the non-reserved area. There are no penalties for reserving a seat on a specific train and then not taking it.
Personally, I recommend doing some research beforehand on what trains you want and reserving a seat on these. That will help you give some structure to your Japan trip.
However if you then find yourself in a place you absolutely love or hate you can always hop on an earlier or later train, at no extra cost.
We personally loved using our JR Pass and have no negative reviews about it. It always did the job, it’s simple to use and it saved us lots of money. Positive reviews all round!
So is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?
It all comes down to your itinerary, but generally speaking I would say that yes the Japan Rail Pass is worth it.
If you have an action packed itinerary it will usually work out cheaper and easier to get a JR Pass than booking individual trains every time.
However if you prefer to travel slowly and take your time in each city, then it might not be ideal for you, since the pass is only valid on consecutive days.
The Japan Rail Pass is perfect for travellers who are coming to Japan for a brief period of time, and who have busy itinerary with lots of train journeys.
Final thoughts on whether the Japan Rail Pass is worth it
There you have it, my Japan Rail Pass review and guide to working out if it’s worth it for your trip or not. I hope you find this guide useful in deciding whether to purchase the JR Pass for your trip or not.
Looking for more Japan travel advice? Check out these resources!
- The ultimate Tokyo 5-day itinerary
- Day trip to Himeji Castle (from Kyoto or Osaka)
- The 15 most beautiful places in Tokyo
- How to spend 3 days in Kyoto
- Best things to see in Kamakura
- Day trip to Nara – everything you need to know
- 33 awesome things to do in Japan