Whether you’re studying for the short term and don’t need a visa or if you’re just visiting Japan on a study trip or holiday, you’ll want to see some of the sights. One of the options you might have heard about is the Japan Rail Pass, but is it worth it?

If you’re travelling to more than one other city and you use it to travel between the airport and Tokyo, then quite simply, yes, you’re onto a winner. But before you rush out and buy one, let’s look into the details a bit more.

sample of JR pass

The best way to get around Japan

Japan isn’t a massive country but as with anywhere, it does take time to get around. There are a few options that are worth considering depending on your budget. We’ve listed some of the main options below.

Shinkansen

The famous high-speed bullet trains of Japan. Definitely, the quickest way to travel but often quite an expensive choice.

Limited Express

Where there aren’t Shinkansen available, there are often limited express, express and rapid trains. These are fast equivalents but can also be relatively costly. You will need to pay an additional cost for some of these options, on top of the normal fair.

Local Trains

Local trains cover most stops in an area. In Japan, these can be relatively cheap depending on the area but it will take you longer to get there. They can be good though if you’re keen to get out into the countryside and explore small towns and villages.

Highway buses

Another good option if you’re travelling long distances as your ticket will cover the price of the tolls on the highways. The buses are comfortable and clean and good value for money. As you might expect though, it can be a very long journey.

Night buses

If you’re travelling particularly long distances or want to make the most of your days, then night buses are a good choice. They cover long distances while you sleep in relative comfort. There are different levels of comfort depending on the service and this can vary the price too but are similar to the highway buses.

Now you know your travel options, what’s the cheapest most efficient way to get around? Well, this is where the Japan Rail pass comes into its own.

Depending on the duration of the ticket you choose you will be able to use all JR run trains over the duration of your ticket.

Bullet train Shinkansen in Japan

There’s a lot included!

Firstly, there’s the Shinkansen. From our list above, clearly, the most exciting way to travel but it can be costly. The high-speed railway that connects much of the country means that you can get from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2 hours rather than 12! This is what makes the Japan Rail pass worth it. You will be allowed unlimited travel over the period of your ticket. The Japan Rail pass doesn’t include the two fastest Shinkansen, the Nozomi and Mizuho but you can use the next fastest after that and the journey times aren’t all that different. You can also book a seat at the ticket office or online at no extra charge although it’s not always necessary.

Many people often forget that you can use the pass on more than the Shinkansen. In fact, you’re covered on all JR run railways across the country. This includes local trains, rapid, limited express and express. You are also covered on some other JR services too such as the ferry to Miyajima and on JR buses. If you’re unsure as to whether you’re covered on your journey, a quick google can help or simply ask at the ticket desk. This is where extra value is added once you’re made those one or two long journeys.

Remember! Each ticket is personal and can only be used by the person who purchases it. To use it, you simply need to choose your train and then go to the manned gate that leads to the track. The attendant will check your ticket and likely ask for ID. As you can see it’s simple to use and the ticket attendant will point you in the right direction if you’re stuck.

These are the current costs (2018) for all of the above:

Type:
Green
Ordinary
7-day
38,880 YEN
29,110 YEN
14-day
62,950 YEN
46,390 YEN
21-day
81,870 YEN
59,350 YEN

For reference, a journey from Tokyo to Kyoto is around 13,000yen each way.

Convenience

You only need to buy it once and then you’re covered for almost all of your journeys. You have a couple of choices as to where to buy it and that’s pretty convenient too!

Home

You’ll get the best deal if you buy your ticket before you travel. You’ll be sent a voucher and you just need to bring it with you when you come to Japan and exchange it for the ticket once you arrive. You can normally do this at the airport or at your local major train station, it’s worth checking where is best before you travel so you’re not searching around when you arrive.

Japan

At the time of writing, it is still possible to buy a Japan Rail pass in Japan. This is available up until the end of March 2019 and possibly beyond this if they decide to extend the service. Beware though, this will be at an inflated price. It’s only available at some major train stations and Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports. Generally, we’d advise against this but if you get stuck or change your mind then it’s a good back up option.

When it might not be worth it

There are a couple of occasions where the pass may not be right for you.

Firstly, if you’re looking to stay in Japan long term. You can only get the pass if you’re on a temporary visa, so if you were to stay long term then you’d have to leave the country and then come back on a different visa.

You’re only staying around Tokyo or one of the major cities and will mostly be doing urban travel. If this is the case then we wouldn’t recommend it. To really get value for money you’d need to make a couple of long distance journeys.

You’re only travelling in one region. If this is the case then it may be more cost effective to get a regional Japan Rail pass. These have similar conveniences but are only valid in the named region of purchase. As you might expect, because the area is limited the cost is cheaper too. If you’re travelling in more than one region then a straight Japan Rail pass will be the most cost-effective.

All in all, we think the Japan Rail pass is worth it. It is one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to travel (and of course you get to go on the super cool Shinkansen). As with anything though, do your research and plan your journey before making a purchase so that you can make the most out of it. Happy travels!