Should you buy a Japan Rail Pass for your trip to Japan?
Travelling on Japanese railways is expensive, very expensive, so in order not to be spending all your hard-earned cash on train fares, you must decide where you’re going beforehand to work out if a Japan Rail Pass is going to be worth getting or not.
If your itinerary is very similar to mine, (arriving at Narita Airport (you can use the Narita Express), travelling into Tokyo, then moving on to Kyoto, with a trip to Nara thrown in), then it is going to save you money. If you’re just going to Tokyo and staying there, then don’t bother. it’s not worth getting. If you’re travelling round Japan on a long trip taking in more than two cities, then it’s going to save you a LOT!
The Narita Express Airport Train
So what is a Japan Rail Pass? The JR Pass is available for unlimited train journeys around Japan on the JR Lines which include most of the bullet trains and some of the JR Metro lines in Tokyo.
A Bullet Train
You can buy the JR Pass for 7, 14 or 21 days and must be purchased outside Japan before you begin your trip. It’s only available to any foreign tourist entering Japan as a “temporary visitor” or for a Japanese national living overseas; it cannot be bought in Japan.
The JR Pass can be bought easily online. I bought mine from JR Pass.com who send you a voucher that is valid for three months. Recorded delivery postage is also included in the price.
The Exchange Order for a JR Pass
Exchanging your Voucher. The voucher that you get in the post must be exchanged for the actual JR Pass when you arrive in Japan. I would recommend making the exchange upon arrival at Narita Airport so that you can use it immediately on the Narita Express train which you will need to take into Tokyo. Arriving at Narita Airport, the JR Pass Office is easily found on the concourse.
The JR East Travel Service Centre
Once in the office, you must produce your passport and the voucher and they will give you your JR Pass that is valid for 7, 14, or 21 days (depending how long you want it) from the date you exchange your voucher. The JR Pass is also valid on consecutive days for unlimited travel on any JR Line.
The actual JR Pass you receive
How much does it cost? You can buy two types of the JR Pass; the Ordinary and the Green Car which is for First Class travel. I bought an Ordinary JR Pass which cost £159.00 for 7 days. It costs more for 14 or 21 day passes. Most people buy just the Ordinary JR Pass, as the comfort of the carriages is way above the standards of our First Class trains in the UK.
How do you book tickets with the Rail Pass? You can walk into any station and ask the person behind the counter to book you a seat on the train you want to travel on. You show your JR Pass and they make a reservation for you and print out your ticket. I was surprised at how well the ticket officers spoke English and I think this is a requirement of actually working in the ticket office. Once you have your actual train ticket you show this as well as your JR Pass at the entrance to the platforms, which is usually a glass fronted office. You don’t need to put your ticket through the machines if you have a JR Pass, you just show it to the ticket officers.
Typical fares for getting round Japan: Here are a few journeys with the typical costs of travelling between each city without using a JR Pass:
||Time by BulletTrain
|Tokyo – Kyoto
|| 320 miles
||2 hrs 49 mins
|Tokyo – Osaka
|| 345 miles
||2 hrs 33 mins
|Kyoto – Hiroshima
||1 hr 59 mins
|Tokyo – Nagasaki
|| 830 miles
||8 hrs 21 mins
Here are the journeys I took and their costs (if I had bought the tickets separately):
Narita Airport to Tokyo (return) – £32.00
Tokyo – Kyoto (return) – £202
Kyoto – Nara (return) – £12.00
I also used the Yamanote Line Metro whilst I was in Tokyo and this was also also free using the JR Pass. This would have cost me at least another ¥1000, which amounts to around £6.00.
So my total train costs if I had bought them separately would have been £252. So by using the JR Pass I saved almost £100!
Tips for using the JR Pass:
As the JR Pass is only applicable to foreigners, it has to be purchased before you enter Japan.
exchange the voucher upon arrival at Narita Airport so that you can use it immediately on the Narita Express.
If you are planning to travel within Tokyo only, I would advise against it.
The JR Pass is restricted to only JR operated trains and buses.
Your JR Pass comes close to paying off when compared to the original one way ticket of £101 from Tokyo to Kyoto.
Always book a reserved seat at the ticket office that way you know you’re going to be sitting down for your long journey on the Bullet Train!
JR Pass Rail Line Map