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Is Buying a JR (Japan Rail) Pass Worth It in 2024?

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What is a Japan Rail Pass and how does it work?

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and want to experience the country’s efficient and extensive railway network, then you’ve probably heard of the JR Pass or Japan Rail Pass. Let me tell you, this pass is an absolute game-changer! If you are wondering what is a JR pass. It’s a special ticket that allows you to travel on all trains operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). The pass comes in various durations, including 7, 14, and 21 days, and is available for purchase before entering Japan. It is important to note that the pass can only be used by non-Japanese citizens who are on temporary visitor status.

I can’t stress enough how convenient it is to have the freedom to hop on any JR train and not have to worry about individual ticket costs. In this blog post, I’ll try and answer the burning question- should you purchase a JR pass? 

Now that we know what the JR Pass is, let’s discuss the cost of buying a JR Pass.

How much does a Japan Rail Pass cost? 

On April 14, 2023, they announced that the cost of the Japan Rail Pass is going to spike up drastically sometime around October 2023.  The new prices are a doozy. For example, the Regular 7-day pass is going to jump from 29,650 yen to a staggering 50,000 yen. Ouch. And the Green 21-day pass? But, this cost has skyrocketed from 83,390 yen to a whopping 140,000 yen. 

DurationAdult (Ordinary)Adult (Green)Child (Ordinary)Child (Green)
7 days¥50,000¥70,000¥25,00¥35,000
14 days¥80,000¥111,000¥40,000¥55,000
21 days¥100,000¥140,000¥50,000¥70,000

The pass still won’t cover Nozomi and Mizuho trains without an additional ticket purchase. However, pass holders can take advantage of new discounts at selected sightseeing spots and whatnot. So, is it worth it?

The answer is: it depends.

Even a round trip between Tokyo and Fukuoka, which costs around 45,000 yen by regular tickets, won’t be enough for a 7-day pass to pay off. Yikes.

Benefits of Buying a JR Pass:

The most obvious benefit is cost savings. Here’s my JR pass calculator in case you are buying the Japan rail pass before the price increase. The cost of a return Shinkansen trip between Tokyo and Osaka is 29,440 Yen. Whereas the cost of a 7-day JR Pass is 19,800 Yen. You easily save 10,000 yen by buying a JR pass even for a single journey in a span of 7 days. 

Now let’s see if it’s worth buying a 14-day JR pass. Assuming you’ll take multiple train journeys on the golden route. The cost of Shinkansen/JR line tickets for a Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka-Hiroshima-Osaka-Nara-Osaka-Tokyo is 55589 Yen whereas a 14-day JR pass is 47250 Yen. That’s a saving worth 8339 Yen. 

The same calculation won’t make sense for such a journey if you are buying the Japan rail pass at an increased cost. Unless, of course, you do the same journey in 7 days! You can make the most of the new prices of JR passes if you plan to take long-distance trains to either Hokkaido or Fukuoka. Or take the Shinkansens multiple times. Either way, calculate the cost of your route before buying the JR pass. 

Irrespective of the cost, the Japan rail pass allows for unlimited rides on JR trains, including local trains and some buses, so you can use it to travel around cities as well. I used it on all JR lines metro stations to avoid any additional cost. 

The pass allows you to be flexible, especially if you are ready to board the unreserved car of a train. You can simply hop on and hop off any station. And in case you missed a train simply take the next available Shinkansen. Note this isn’t the case with the reserved car. 

Downsides of Buying a Japan Rail Pass

One potential downside is that the JR Pass may not be cost-effective if you’re not planning on taking many long-distance train trips. If you’re only travelling within one city or region, or if you’re only taking short trips, then the cost of the pass may outweigh the savings. Additionally, the pass cannot be used on some trains operated by private companies, so you may still need to buy separate tickets for some trips.

A JR pass allows you to travel on all trains operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). However, it won’t work in case you are riding a non-JR line. Examples are the Tokyo Subway, buses in Kyoto and Osaka Subway. 

Another issue is that the pass can only be used by non-Japanese citizens who are on temporary visitor status. If you’re a Japanese citizen, a permanent resident of Japan, or if you’re staying in Japan for a long-term period (such as for work or study), then you won’t be eligible for the pass.

Can I use a Japan Rail Pass on all trains in Japan?

A JR pass allows you to travel on all trains operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group, including the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). To optimise for most JR routes, I used the NAVI time app. Simply feed in the departure and arrival station and the app throws all the possible routes. And tags ‘Included in JR pass’ in case you can it is a JR line. Moreover, you’ll see the JR logo on metro stations in case it’s a JR line. It’s pretty hard to miss. 

Things to Remember Before Buying a JR Pass:

  1. You are entitled to only one Shinkansen ticket on one route in a day, for a reserved car. In case you happen to miss the train you’ll have to visit the JR service office and request a re-issue. They may let you in an un-reserved car on the next train. But chances are you may not find a seat. So be sure about the journey before booking a Shinkansen ticket.   
  2. You can hop on and hop off in case of an unreserved car, but be ready to stand through the journey in case the train is full. Or wait for the next one. 
  3. The pass cannot be reissued if lost, so you’ll need to take extra care to keep it safe.
  4. You need to buy the pass before entering Japan, either online or at a JR Pass exchange office in your home country.
  5. You need to activate the pass in Japan within a certain timeframe, and you’ll need to show your passport each time you use it at a service office. 
  6. If you are carrying oversized baggage you must book the oversize baggage seats available only in the reserved car. 

What are the luggage rules for booking a Shinkansen

SizeReservation required
160cm and belowNo
161-250cmYes
250cm and aboveNot allowed on the train

Where to buy a JR Pass in India 

The best way to buy a JR pass in India is via Get Your Guide. If you’re planning to head to Japan and take advantage of the sweet, sweet convenience of the JR Pass, here’s what you need to know. You gotta make sure to book it at least 10 days before you jet off to Japan. Then, keep an eye out for an Exchange Order that will be delivered to you in the mail. Mine took 5 working days to arrive. 

Don’t wait too long to exchange it for the real deal when you arrive in Japan, cuz you’ve only got 90 days from the purchase date on Klook! Once you’ve got your physical JR Pass, you’ve got 30 days to activate it and start living your best train travel life. 

How do I activate my Japan Rail Pass?

How to activate your JR pass? It’s simple, head to any JR service office at one of the main JR stations in the city you are in. For Tokyo, I went to Shinjuku. The officers will activate your pass and even help you book your first trip. The office opens at 10:00 AM and people start queuing up early, so be ready to wait. 

How to book tickets on a JR Pass? 

Don’t let the stress of train travel in Japan get you down. You gotta reserve your seats ahead of time but don’t sweat it. Multiple trains are running in regular intervals so you’ll find one easily. I suggest it’s always good to book earlier so that you can plan your day better.

There are two ways to book Shinkansen tickets on your JR pass. First, you can pop into the ticket office at the train station and flash your JR Pass to the staff to reserve your spot. They are super helpful.

But, if you’re in a rush or just don’t feel like dealing with lines (I get you), head on over to one of the Shinkansen reservation ticket machines in JR line stations. You’ll see a big board with ‘Shinkansen Tickets’ so it’s pretty easy to find. Use the machine to book the tickets, easy peasy! 

Now, to answer the burning question- should I buy JR pass? 

What are the alternatives to the Japan Rail Pass (JR PASS)? 

Japan Rail Pass can be a great option for those looking to travel extensively throughout the country, there are several regional passes that cater to those who plan to explore a specific area of Japan. These passes provide unlimited travel on JR trains within their designated region and can be more cost-effective than purchasing individual train tickets. Flying is another great option when in Japan.

Here are some popular regional passes:

Hokkaido Rail Pass

This pass covers the Hokkaido region, which is known for its stunning natural scenery and winter sports. The pass provides access to popular destinations such as Sapporo, Hakodate, and the ski resorts in Niseko. The pass is available in 3, 5, 7, and 14-day versions and costs:

Pass TypeDurationAdultChild
Ordinary Pass7 days¥24,000¥12,000
14 days¥34,000¥17,000
21 days¥44,000¥22,000

JR East Pass (Tohoku area)

This pass covers the Tohoku region, which is located in northern Honshu and is known for its picturesque landscapes and hot springs. The pass provides access to popular destinations such as Sendai, Aomori, and the beautiful Oirase Gorge. The pass is available in a flexible 5-day or 10-day version and costs:

Pass TypeDurationAdultChild
Flexible Pass5 days¥20,000¥10,000
10 days¥24,000¥12,000

JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)

This pass covers the Nagano and Niigata regions, which are located in central Honshu and are popular for their natural beauty and winter sports. The pass provides access to destinations such as Nagano City, Matsumoto, and the ski resorts in Hakuba. The pass is available in a flexible 5-day version and costs:

Pass TypeDurationAdultChild
Flexible Pass5 days¥17,000¥8,500

Kansai Area Pass

This pass covers the Kansai region, which includes popular destinations such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. The pass provides access to historic temples and shrines, vibrant nightlife, and delicious cuisine. The pass is available in 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, and 4-day versions and costs:

Pass TypeDurationAdultChild
1-Day Pass1 day¥2,200¥1,100
2-Day Pass2 days¥4,300¥2,150
3-Day Pass3 days¥5,500¥2,750
4-Day Pass4 days¥6,700¥3,350

Kyushu Rail Pass

This pass covers the Kyushu region, which is known for its scenic beauty, hot springs, and historic sites. The pass provides access to destinations such as Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki. The pass is available in 3-day, 5-day, and 7-day versions and costs:

Pass TypeDurationAdultChild
Northern Pass3 days¥8,500¥4,250
5 days¥10,000¥5,000
7 days¥11,000¥5,500
Southern Pass3 days¥8,500¥4,250
5 days¥10,000¥5,000
7 days¥11,000¥5,500

Is JR Pass Worth It?

So, it’s time to decide: do you want to see all of Japan or just a specific region? If you’re someone who likes to do things big and bold, then the Japan Rail Pass is the way to go. It’s like having a golden ticket to travel around the country, hopping on and off trains like a pro. Needless to say, you’ll have to take multiple long-distance trains to really make the most of the pass.

But if you’re more of a “let’s take it slow and see what’s around the corner” kind of traveller, then the regional passes are calling your name. Given the increased cost of JR pass, these regional passes are a game-changer! Not only do they offer great value, but they also give you the chance to explore each region in more depth. 

The blog may contain some affiliate links. So go ahead, choose your adventure and get ready to discover the wonders of Japan!

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FAQ about JR Pass

What does the JR Pass cover?

The pass covers all Japan Shinkansen lines connecting you to all major cities in the country, including the famous Tokaido Shinkansen line, Akita Shinkansen line, Kyushu Shinkansen line, Hokkaido Shinkansen line, Joetsu Shinkansen line, Yamagata Shinkansen line & Hokuriku Shinkansen Line. It also covers the Narita and Haneda express lines, making it super convenient to travel to and fro airports. Besides JR trains, you can also take JR buses & JR-West ferries with this pass.

Does JR Pass cover Narita Express?

Yes, the JR pass covers the Narita Express. You’ll however need to reserve a seat since the Narita Express is a reservation only. You can do this at any ticket vending machine. 

Can you buy JR Pass in Japan?

No, you can not buy a JR pass in Japan. You need to purchase the exchange order in your home country. Use that exchange order to get the pass in Japan, at a JR service office. 

Can you use JR Pass on the Tokyo metro?

No, the metro lines do not accept the JR pass. 

Can I use JR Pass from Kyoto to Nara?

No, there isn’t a train line covered under the JR pass to visit Nara from Kyoto. You can however take the Yamatoji line from Osaka to visit Nara. This is covered under the JR pass. 

Does JR Pass cover Hokkaido?

Yes, the Hokkaido line is covered under the JR pass. 

Is JR Green Pass worth it?

Green Car seats are more comfortable and spacious. Green Cars tend to be quieter than ordinary cars. They also tend to be less crowded. But for the price difference, I’d suggest sticking to the ordinary car. Also, Green cars are reservation only. So if you plan to hop on and hop off on the unreserved cars, that won’t be possible. 

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