Japan Rail Pass
What is a Japan Rail Pass?
Travelling by train in Japan can be a daunting task for anyone new to the country. Luckily, with a Japan Rail Pass, it has become anything but. The JR Pass allows tourists to travel along the high-speed train service, or Shinkansen for the locals, for an unlimited time for up to 3 weeks. The Japan Rail Pass gives travellers incredible freedom, allowing users to travel between cities such as Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto as many times as they like for one fixed cost.
The JR Pass is a national railcard that can only be used by non-Japan nationals on a tourist visa. As a temporary visitor, you get exclusive access to the Japan Rail Pass, the Shinkansen train network is well-known for its reliability and punctuality, with delays, if any, normally being counted in seconds rather than minutes. With a 7-day JR Pass costing roughly the same as a return trip from Tokyo-Kyoto, passengers can save a significant amount, should you use the JR Pass on a daily basis.
Despite the size of Japan, travelling between the regions can still be tough should you want to visit as many sites as possible. That’s why a Japan Rail Pass allows you the opportunity to see as much as Japan as you want, at one incredibly low price.
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Japan Rail Pass Prices
The Japan Rail Pass can be bought at 3 different price ranges: 7 days, 14 days and 21 days passes.
Using the table provided, you can budget for how long you want to travel by train across Japan, and get the most out of Japan Rail Pass.
|7 Days Pass||£195|
|14 Days Pass||£311|
|21 Days Pass||£397|
*Prices are correct as of 21 June 2018 and are subject to change without notice. All post-sale care and communications will be with the third party booking company.
How to buy a Japan Rail Pass
Buying a JR Pass with Trainline is a simple process and there are no extra hidden costs once you have reached Japan either. You cannot buy a Japan Rail Pass within Japan, so make sure you purchase it online now, to save yourself any trouble once you arrive.
Simply buy your Japan Rail Pass online now, and then once you have reached the country, you can exchange the voucher for your JR Pass at Tokyo International Airport or a number of train stations, and the train travel can commence. You do not need to pay extra for reserving seats, regardless if you have bought the standard JR Pass or the Green Pass, which is the first class equivalent.
Once you have received your pass, you can show it to any JR staff on platforms or gates, and you will be let straight onto the train. For seat reservations on your Shinkansen train, you can book at any ticket office, and at no extra cost by showing your pass.
Where can I use my Japan Rail Pass?
You can use your JR Pass almost anywhere across Japan, giving you the freedom to travel the beautiful island country at one simple price, completely hassle-free. There are some limitations, however, which should be noted before you leave. You cannot use the two fastest types of Shinkansen: Nozomi and Mizuho. These are the fastest types of bullet trains, with fewer stops than others, and also most expensive. You can, however, ride the Hikari, which is the next fastest after these. Travel times aren’t too dissimilar, so you don’t need to worry about missing out.
The Japan Rail Pass is designed to be used on Japan Rail owned train lines. Any major city’s metro or subway system, such as Tokyo’s, not owned by JR, is not available with your Rail Pass. We advise you to buy a separate ticket if you are choosing to move around the city often.
The easiest way to travel between the cities of Japan for both speed and comfort is without a doubt the Shinkansen train. Commonly known as the Bullet Train in English, this network of JR trains will be the ones you will use most often when it is time to leave one city for another. The Hikari is the fastest Shinkansen you can take, which use the same lines and calls in the same cities as the Nozomi and Mizuho, but with a few extra stops along the way.
Inside a Shinkansen you can find relative luxury regardless if you choose to sit in Standard or Green Car. In standard class you can still reserve seats, with a carriage layout designed as 3 seats on one side with 2 on the other, creating enough space and legroom for all travellers. You will need to ensure your luggage is with or near you, as there are not huge amounts of storage for larger cases, so it will be wise to keep it close by for peace of mind.
What may surprise you is that most trains have an onboard ‘smoking area’ which is a small part of a carriage that allows travellers to have a cigarette during a long journey. For all Shinkansen trains, there is at least a trolley service that provides food and drink, but for most journeys, there will be a specialised buffet car available for passengers. When travelling on the local trains, there is no food and drink service.
Things to do in Japan
Now that you have got your Japan Rail Pass, you need some places to go! What’s great about travelling by train in Japan is that you can plan your trips with ease due to the reliability of the Shinkansen, making it easy for you to plan your trips in the next city.
Just outside of Tokyo lies the imposing Mt Fuji. Famous around the world for its distinctive shape, Japan’s highest mountain is a sight you have to take in, even from the bottom. With wonderful lakes and a large shopping area, you don’t have to visit Mt Fuji to climb it, although there is no reason why you can’t!
For something a bit different, you can take Hokkaido Shinkansen to the island itself in the very north, to get a more relaxed pace of the country. From skiing holidays in the mountains to hiking trips to Cape Kamui, this is a great place to chill and take in some breathtaking views of the island, which seems a world away from the bustling streets of Tokyo and Osaka.
40 minutes outside Hiroshima, you can visit the iconic Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima, known for the giant red torii ‘floating’ in the sea. For those that take a keen eye for Japanese history, art and culture, this should be something at the top of the list to experience and take in its breathtaking view.
Need a place to stay in Japan? Browse hotels in Japan here.
Japan Rail pass review
I used the JR Pass to travel for two weeks around the South of Japan with my brother after a family member living in Japan recommended it as the best way to get around the country. We bought our passes ahead of time in the UK, which gave us access to almost any train we wanted once there.
We were able to take local trains for day trips (you can get to Hakone in a few hours from Tokyo which gives you amazing views of Mount Fuji) as well as the famous Shinkansen bullet trains to get us between Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kyoto. Booking seat reservations at the stations were really easy, and even during the summer holiday period, there were usually still seats available the day before travel. They still have smoking and non-smoking carriages on trains, so make sure you check this on your reservation.
The trains are absolutely amazing and so punctual! At one of the stations, we noticed that there were trains scheduled to leave the same platform every 3 minutes – and all of them left bang on time. At the end of the line, a Shinkansen train will arrive and station staff immediately turn all seats in the carriage around to face the new train’s direction of travel with almost no waiting time for us passengers.
Travelling around Japan is really easy – most of the staff at stations can speak at least a little English, and all the signs and maps are in both Japanese and Roman characters. Everyone is incredibly friendly - always trying to be of help - and I never felt unsafe during any part of our trip. We both travelled with large backpacks and although there are no bag racks at the ends of carriages in the same way as UK trains, the racks above heads are large and strong enough to take big, heavy cases.
The countryside outside the train window is amazing and changes so much as you travel around. Although we went in summer, it is one of those countries that definitely changes with the seasons and I’d love to go back and see it at a different time of year. We had an absolute blast, and the trip was definitely made easier with the JR Pass to help us get around.