The Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass is a discounted train pass for visitors to Japan who wish to travel by train. If you plan on traveling throughout Japan then the pass gives you free Japanese train travel on most Japan Rail trains for the duration of your trip. Depending on your travel plans using the JR Pass can be a lot more cost-effective (and time-saving) than buying individual tickets. Trains in Japan can be complicated and they’re not the only method of transport, so this guide details what you need to know about the JR Pass, where to buy JR Passes, and how to decide if the JR Pass is for you. We’ve also included details of the October 2023 price increase and what it means to you, as well as what you should do to get a JR Pass BEFORE the price increase.
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JR Passes are discounted rail passes provided by Japan Railways. A JR Pass is available for foreign tourists and gives you unlimited travel on most of the Japan Rail network for the validity of the pass. You can also use a JR Pass on some JR buses and some JR ferries too. This guide covers the FOUR ways you can buy a JR Pass. It discusses whether you should actually buy a JR Pass or not. There are also details on where to get the cheapest JR Passes and where to get the most convenient JR Passes.
Japan Rail Pass Price Increases from 1 October 2023
Earlier in 2023, Japan Rail announced a big increase in JR Pass prices – about 70% on top of the current prices. This price increase occurs on 1st October 2023. This means that you can buy the JR Pass at the current prices until 30th September 2023. Price increases are also being levied on regional JR Passes. I’ve written specifically about the 2023 price increases here
The increased price JR Pass will also, however, allow you to travel on Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen (but there will be an additional charge for this).
If you are traveling to Japan between October 2023 and December 2023, then you can STILL buy the JR Pass at the current prices, as there is a 90-day activation window after you buy. So you can buy the pass in September and as long as you exchange your JR Pass voucher for a pass by 28th December 2023 you’ll get the existing pricing.
You can buy a JR Pass from Klook (takes up to 14 days for shipping)
Or get 24-48 hour delivery, even to your hotel in Japan when buying from JRailPass
Buy JR Passes from Get Your Guide here (FedEx or UPS delivery to your home address)
And while most people buy the full JR Pass – which covers all four major Japanese islands you can also buy region-specific passes if you’re just planning to visit certain areas.
How Japan Rail Passes Work
- When you buy a JR Pass you actually get what’s called “an exchange order”. This is (in most cases) a physical bit of paper that *must* be sent to a physical address. I’ll cover the option where you get a digital exchange order shortly.
- From the point of issuance, the exchange order is valid for 3 months.
- You take your exchange order to Japan with you.
- When you arrive in Japan, immigration will insert a “temporary visitor” stamp into your passport. (This always happens, regardless of whether you buy a JR Pass or not but it’s necessary for the issuance of your actual JR Pass).
- You make your way to the nearest JR Pass Exchange Office (they’re easy to find and I’ve covered it later in this article)
- You swap your exchange order for an actual JR Pass. The officer will want your physical exchange order (or digital exchange order) and to see the “temporary visitor” stamp in your passport.
- You can now ride on JR trains, and make seat reservations on relevant JR trains
Despite the cost of the pass, if you are planning to travel extensively through Japan, JR Passes are more cost-effective than buying individual tickets. The JR Rail Pass provides free seat reservations (which in Japan incur a separate cost) and it saves you time, as there’s no need to wait to buy tickets for individual trips).
For us, it was a foregone conclusion that we would buy a JR Pass, and our 21-day JR Pass saved us US$900 EACH over the 21 days of our first month-long trip to Japan. It saved us money on accommodation too, allowing us to stay in US$50 rooms, instead of US$200 rooms.
10 Really Important Things to Know About the JR Pass
- You actually buy a coupon – called an “exchange order” and then swap the exchange order for a JR Pass when you arrive in Japan.
- Depending on where you buy your JR Pass exchange order from, it can take up to 14 days for it to be delivered.
Buy a JR Pass from Klook (can take up to 14 days for delivery).
Buy JR Passes from Get Your Guide here (FedEX or UPS delivery to your home address)
Buy a JR Pass from JRailpass – can be delivered within 24-48 hours
- You can buy a JR Pass in Japan from a Japan Rail office, BUT – it is 10% cheaper to buy your JR Pass from an authorized agent before you arrive in Japan.
- You can buy a regular class JR Pass or a “Green Car” (aka first class) JR Pass.
- In Japan, trains have reserved seats and non-reserved seats. There is a cost for seat reservations as well as tickets. Seat reservations are FREE with the JR Pass.
- You cannot use a JR Pass on Japan Rails Mizuho or Nozomi trains (these are the fastest trains in the network), but you CAN use it on Hayabusa and other Shinkansen trains.
- Your JR Pass is only valid from when you exchange your “exchange order” and activate the JR Pass at a JR travel office. So if you buy it and do not need to use it for 3 days after you arrive in Japan, then make sure that your active date is the correct one.
- Your Japan Rail Pass is valid for consecutive days until midnight (or when your journey finishes on the last day. (So, don’t activate one and then stay in the same place for 3 days!)
- If you lose a JR Pass or it is stolen there is no way to get a replacement without buying another one, aka DO NOT LOSE YOUR JR PASS.
- The most important thing to do when buying a JR Pass is to plan your route – only then will you be able to decide which pass is right for you – and a JR Pass can save you a lot of money.
A (Brief) Overview of the Japan Rail Network
The Japanese Train Network is made up of a series of regional companies running train services. Not all trains and rails are run by the Japan Rail Network. There are many different private companies running trains. So a JR Pass will not be valid on all trains and all rails.
For example, JR Hokkaido runs trains in the Hokkaido area. The regional rail networks in the JR Network are JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku, JR West, JR Centre, JR East, and JR Hokkaido.
There are also private lines that are not part of the Japan Rail Network, such as the Matsumoto to Kamikochi train to hike Kamikochi National Park.
One private train track that you should take is up to Namerikawa just north of Toyama – its here, if you visit at the right time of year that you can see the famous Japanese Firefly Squid.
For years the site Hyperdia provided a great service by detailing all the routes and trains running on them, so it was easy to figure out a route sticking to trains that you could use the JR Pass on. Since September 2022 that’s changed. We no longer recommend Hyperdia for planning and using trains in Japan.
In 2023 the better site to use is Navitime. Here are the links
Different types of trains run on the rails – from the fastest Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet) trains to limited express trains and slower local trains. You CANNOT use a JR Pass on Nozomi or Mizuho bullet trains, but you can use a JR Pass on other Shinkansen trains.
Japanese Trains are fast, efficient and ALWAYS run on time. They are comfortable and the Japanese rail network is an excellent and easy way to see either specific Japanese regions or the whole country.
What is the JR Pass
The JR Pass is a special train pass for Japanese Trains for tourists. It allows you to use unlimited trains of certain types without additional cost after paying the Japan Rail Pass price. Think of it as the European Interrail ticket for Japan.
If you have a defined route through Japan that you’re going to take, then you can use the Japan Rail Pass calculator to see if the JR will work out cheaper for you than buying individual tickets.
Where to Buy JR Passes: There are 3 places to buy JR Passes
There are several places you can buy a JR Pass all of them are official vendors for the JR Pass and if you’re not sure, then you can always check the official Japan Rail Pass site which lists them all. Here’s the page for that.
1. Buy a JR Pass from an approved online vendor.
There are several online vendors in different countries that sell the JR Pass. They are usually exactly the same price to within a few dollars or so. Our recommended online vendors for JR Passes are
- Klook: They offer a good service, and get good reviews. We’ve never had or seen any problems with them. Its recommended to allow 14 days for delivery of your JR Pass exchange order to your home address. Buy a JR Pass from Klook here.
- JRailpass: We recommend JRailpass if you want a quicker delivery service. JRailpass will FedEx or UPS your JR Pass exchange order to you within 24 or 48 hours (you get the choice). However, JRailPass will also ship to your hotel in Japan. Or a FedEx pickup address. So, if you’re traveling through another country before Japan and not at home, this is a fabulous option.
- Buy JR Passes from Get Your Guide here (FedEX or UPS delivery to your home address)
There are lots more. You can find all the approved online vendors for JR Passes on the official JR Pass website here.
2. Buy the JR Pass directly from Japan Rail
This is the official site for Japan Rail. The downside of buying directly from Japan Rail is that it will cost you 10% more than other vendors.
They do NOT ship a physical exchange order to you. They will email you a digital exchange order and you still have to go to a JR office when you arrive in Japan to get your JR Pass, BUT if you buy from them you get the ability to make an online seat reservation once you have exchanged your order for a physical ticket. However, buying the JR Pass from them costs 10% more than other providers. You can also buy a JR Pass directly from Japan Rail when you arrive in Japan, you just need to go to a JR Ticket office. There’s a list of the ticket offices where you can buy a JR Pass in Japan from here.
3. Buy a JR Pass from a “bricks and mortar” travel agent
Yes, you can still go to a high street travel agent and buy a JR Pass. There is an official list of them on the Japan Rail site here. This is handy if you’re traveling the world and heading to Japan without going home. We bought our first JR Pass from an agency in Busan, South Korea (more on that shortly). Although in 2023, I would opt for using JRailpass and getting the exchange order Fedex’d to a local Fedex office and held here. It’s much quicker and more convenient.
However. You’ll need to check with each individual agent on how long it takes to get the exchange order. In March 2023, we were quoted 4-5 business days (aka Monday to Friday) from two agencies in Taipei, Taiwan. A third agency with a publicized English-speaking team still hasn’t replied to my email three weeks later.
And with the bricks and mortar agencies, you’ll also need to check how they require payment, as it is often cash only in local currency.
Ready to buy a JR Pass? Buy the Cheapest JR Pass Now!
If you’re ready to buy Japan Rail’s Cheapest JR Pass from a reputable supplier, then look no further. Here are two options to buy JR Passes.
Klook provides the cheapest option to send JR Pass vouchers to Australia, New Zealand, the USA, the UK, and Canada > Buy a JR Pass from Klook Now.
If you need to get your JR Pass in a hurry, then JRailpass will ship it to you (or to your hotel in Japan, or a FedEx pickup location) within 24-48 hours < you choose the delivery address and timescale. Buy a JR Pass and get it shipped to you within 24 hours now.
What does the JR pass cover?
The Japan Rail Pass gives you unlimited train travel on most trains in Japan for the duration of your pass. Once you’ve collected your JR Pass it becomes your ticket to ride on Japanese trains, you do not need to swap it or book tickets. A JR Pass also lets you get free seat reservations, which generally attract a separate cost in Japan.
There are some exceptions with trains and lines you can use that are not covered on the JR Pass, which we will cover below. There are also some buses and ferries that you can use it on, which is again covered below.
There are different types of JR Passes which we’ll cover here.
- There’s a regular JR Pass for an amount of time.
- There’s a Green Car aka First Class JR Pass for an amount of time
- Then there’s a JR Pass for specific regions of the country (again, regular or Green car)
There is a JR Pass for 7 days, a Japan Rail Pass for 14 days, and a JR Pass for 21 days). You can get a JR Pass only for certain regions or a rail pass for the entire country.
The JR Pass also includes free seat reservations on trains as well as a ticket to ride on the train itself.
There are some JR Pass exclusions. You cannot use the JR Pass on some of the fastest Shinkansen trains. We have covered the exclusions later in this article. Trains are a fabulous way to travel around Japan, but they are not the only way, we cannot recommend strongly enough that it’s important to plan WHERE you want to go and then plan how you will get there.
Types of JR Passes
When it comes to JR Passes you have JR Passes for a period of time and JR Passes for a geographic area. And then, there are JR Passes for different classes of carriage. Let’s start with how long a JR Pass lasts.
Length of Time of JR Pass 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days
The main type of JR Pass that tourists to Japan buy is the 7-day JR Pass, the 14-day JR Pass, or the 21-day JR Pass. These cover the whole Japanese train network (again, note the exceptions) these whole network JR passes are valid for the period of consecutive days purchased. They start on the day that the pass is FIRST USED and they end at midnight (or the last train that you take) on the last day of use. So, if the train arrives at 1 am the following day, but you got on it on the last day of your JR Pass validity then your journey is covered.
You can buy more than one JR pass. Let’s say you want to spend a week traveling around and have worked out that the 7 days pass will save you time and money. Then you want to go to Tokyo for a few days, when you wouldn’t use your JR Pass, followed by another week of long-distance travel. You could buy two 7-day passes and just not activate your 2nd pass until you leave Tokyo.
These passes are often called the JR National Pass or the JR Whole Country Pass.
Next, there are two different classes of carriage on JR trains. “Ordinary Class” and “Green Car Class”. Think of the JR Green Car as Business Class. You can buy a JR Pass for either of them.
The JR Ordinary Pass
The JR Pass that you buy for 7, 14, or 21 days is standard or ordinary. It allows you to travel in the standard carriages on trains that are included in the JR Ordinary Pass. The JR Ordinary Pass also lets you make seat reservations in ordinary carriages for free.
The JR Green Pass
The Green JR Pass is valid for the same length of time but allows you access to superior-class or business-class carriages. Free seat reservations are included in your JR Pass for green carriages. JR Green carriages are the equivalent of first-class train travel and include some additional benefits that we’ll discuss below.
JR Green Car vs JR Ordinary Pass Comparison
Ordinary cars on Japanese trains are extremely spacious and comfortable, but if you’d like a little more comfort then you might want to opt for the Green Car option.
Green Car Japanese carriages provide more spacious seats and a premium service than ordinary cars. With a Green Car JR Pass, you can travel on all allowed Shinkansen (not including Nozomi and Mizuho) in these first-class carriages. Seat reservations are required but are included in your JR Green Car Pass.
JR Green Car Benefits over JR regular cars
- Larger seat than an ordinary car
- 40-inch recline
- More luggage space
Additional Green Car benefits on specific lines include hot and cold drinks and hot towels..
If you are traveling in Japan during specific busy times (May, August, and September), then it may be a good idea to purchase a Green Car JR Pass – you’ll get more room when the trains are very busy and there are fewer travelers in green cars.
Usually, Green Cars are located at the front of the train, or closest to the platform stairs and entrances for increased convenience. You’ll find their location noted on the platform floor. (As with all carriages).
How Much Does the Japan Rail Pass Cost?
The JR Pass online price is pretty standard to within a few dollars. (and you can usually pay in your chosen currency). You rarely find discounted offers, although when we purchased a JR Pass near the ferry port in Busan, South Korea we got a 5% discount for paying cash.
Buying JR Passes in Busan, South Korea
We used the Joyride agency, located in the Post Office building as we’d visited the agency at the ferry port itself and they quoted us a significantly higher price. Additionally, Joyride gave us a discount for cash.
Authorized online JR Pass vendors will allow you to purchase your JR Pass in your local currency, but for clarity, we have detailed the prices in Japanese Yen in the comparison table below.
Children under the age of 6 travel for free if they are traveling with a pass holder. However, if you wish your child to have their own seat, you will need to purchase a JR Pass for them.
Want to know what else you should arrange BEFORE you get to Japan? Check out our ultimate checklist of what to do before you arrive in Japan,
There is a specific list of authorized JR Pass vendors, both online and in bricks and mortar agencies. You can find it here. Additional costs will include shipping to your home address. Discounts may be given at bricks and mortar agencies for cash purchases.
JR Pass Costs Before October 2023 + JR Pass Cost After Oct 2023
We’ve included the prices for the JR Pass from October 1st onwards.
|JR Rail Price Pass||Adult Pre Oct 2023||Adult After 1st Oct 2023||Child (6-11) Pre Oct 2023||Child (6-11) After 1st Oct 2023|
|JR Pass 7 day price||¥29,650||¥50,000||¥14,820||¥25,000|
|JR Pass 14 day price||¥47,250||¥80,000||¥23,620||¥40,000|
|JR Pass 21 day price||¥60.450||¥100,000||¥30,220||¥50,000|
|JR Pass Green Car||Adult Pre Oct 2023||Adult After 1st Oct 2023||Child (6-11) Pre Oct 2023||Child (6-11) After 1st Oct 2023|
|JR Green Pass 7 Days||¥39,600||¥70,000||¥19,800||¥35,000|
|JR Green Pass 14 Days||¥64,120||¥110,000||¥32,060||¥55,000|
|JR Green Pass 21 Days||¥83,390||¥140,000||¥41,690||¥70,000|
Who can buy the JR Pass?
The rules for buying JR Passes are clear as to who the JR Pass is designed for and who can use it.
Who is the JR Pass available for?
You can only buy the JR Train Pass if you are visiting Japan on a tourist visa. As you enter Japan your passport will be stamped with a “Temporary Visitor” sticker/stamp. A Temporary visitor status means that you are staying for less than 3 months and as a tourist. You will need to show this to receive your JR Pass. Here’s what your temporary visitor sticker looks like
Who is the JR Pass not available for
In the main, two groups cannot use the JR Pass
Visitors for non-tourism purposes – like working holidays, research, or work. If you are not Japanese but hold a long-term Japanese visa as a student, or instructor or if you’re on a working holiday then you are not eligible for the JR Pass.
Japanese Nationals – Japanese Nationals who meet certain criteria and can provide documentation to support it can purchase JR Passes (these include having overseas residential registration, having a certificate of overseas residence, or a permanent residence card from Canada, Brazil, or the USA.
How to Buy the JR Pass
What you actually buy with a JR Pass is what’s called an “Exchange Coupon”. This exchange coupon is a physical piece of paper in the majority of cases that must be physically handed to you or mailed to you. It can also be mailed or couriered to your hotel in Japan. You can buy a digital exchange order ONLY if you buy directly from Japan Rail themselves. (You can do that here), but it will cost you 10% more than buying from Klook or Jrailpass.
When you arrive in Japan and want to start using your JR Pass you must visit a JR Travel Service Centre Office and swap your exchange coupon for your actual JR Pass. You need to do this even if you get a digital exchange order. Your pass will be validated and you can choose when to activate your JR Pass. We have included full details on how to activate your JR Pass later in this article.
You can buy the JR Pass, either online or via an authorized agent in certain countries. If you buy it online from JR Pass agents you must have an address for the coupon to be physically mailed to.
This can include your hotel in Japan if you buy from JRailpass here.
Where to buy the JR Pass outside Japan
While it is possible to buy JR Passes in Japan (at a 10% premium), most Japan Rail Passes are bought from authorized JR Sales Agents before you get to Japan. You must allow time to receive the exchange coupon and travel to Japan with the exchange coupon.
If you buy a JR Pass from Klook – then you should allow up to 14 days for your exchange order to be delivered.
If you buy a JR Pass from JRailpass – then they can FedEx it anywhere (including your hotel in Japan, or a FedEx office for pick up) within 24 or 48 hours.
The JR Pass exchange coupon must be exchanged for a JR Pass within 3 months of purchase.
There are two types of authorized sales agents for JR Passes. Those who have an actual sales office in countries outside Japan and those who sell online.
Where to buy the JR Pass outside Japan in Person
The JR Group maintains a list of the official JR Pass vendors in countries around the world. You can find this list of approved JR Pass vendors here.
If you are looking for where to buy Japan Rail Passes in person, please consult this list before purchasing to ensure you are buying your pass coupon from an authorized vendor.
Where to buy the JR Pass Online outside Japan
The easiest way to get your pass is to buy a JR Pass online.
Your pass can be couriered to an address of your choosing, within 2 business days if you buy from JrailPass.
Or you can buy from Klook for delivery within 14 days.
Price of Buying JR Rail Pass inside Japan before October 1st, 2023.
Note that this will NOT be available as a purchase option after October 1st, 2023.
|Type||GREEN CAR||GREEN CAR||ORDINARY CAR||ORDINARY CAR|
|Adult||Child (6-11)||Adult||Child (6-11)|
|JR Pass 7 day price||¥44,810||¥22,400||¥33,610||¥16,800|
|JR Pass 14 day price||¥72,310||¥36,150||¥52,960||¥26,480|
|JR Pass 21 day price||¥91,670||¥45,830||¥66,200||¥33,100|
How to swap your exchange coupon for your JR Pass
To activate your Japan Rail Pass, you will have to exchange your voucher at a JR office. These offices can be found at the airport or the main train stations. A full list of locations where you can activate your Japan Tourist Rail Pass can be found here. Please check the opening times of your exchange office before planning to travel!
At the office, fill out the forms that they provide and show the temporary visitor stamp in your passport. When exchanging your voucher you will have to decide on the date you want to start using your pass.
This date has to be within 30 days of the exchange. Once it is validated you will be able to use your pass starting on the date you have chosen for the consecutive number of days for which your pass is valid.
Step by Step Guide on how to Swap Exchange Order for JR Pass
- Go in person to a JR Travel Office or exchange office (full list here). We used the travel center at JR Shimonoseki as we arrived on the South Korea to Japan ferry and were able to walk easily from the ferry port to the JR Station.
- You must present the following documents
- Your JR exchange coupon
- Your Passport
- You need to say which day you want it to start. You can start your JR Pass immediately or any day within 30 days of the date you collect it. The date you chose will be noted on your JR Pass.
- You provide all of this information on a form, and it is then written and printed onto your JR Pass. When you use your JR Pass you must also present your passport.
- None of this information can be changed once it is printed onto your JR Pass. We advise writing it all down PRIOR to arriving to activate your JR Pass to try and avoid errors.
The voucher exchange is simple. At the same time, we reserved our seats for our first trip, down to Nagasaki, for our introduction to Atomic Japan. > Read about what we did in Nagasaki here.
(The first train to Kokura was a local train, you just show the JR Pass and you’re on). Kokura has the dubious claim to fame that it was the original target for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.
Where to exchange your coupon for your JR Pass
You must exchange your JR coupon for your JR Pass at a JR Travel Service Centre. Again, the full list is here. Note that they are not at all JR Stations, but you can also find some at airports too.
Where can you use the JR Pass?
Where you can use your JR Pass depends on WHICH JR Pass you bought. I.e. if you bought a Hokkaido pass you can only use it in Hokkaido. If you have the All Japanese Pass, then you can use the JR Pass on all JR lines and trains. There are some JR Pass bus services that can be used too. There is a section further down on using the JR pass on buses. There are specific Japan Rail Bus services that are worth building into your schedule.
The JR Pass is valid on most lines in Japan and most trains, here are further details.
Which Trains Can You Use the JR Pass on
The JR Pass is valid on all the following trains
- JR Limited Express
- JR Express Trains
- JR Rapid Trains
- JR Local Trains
- JR Shinkansen Bullet Trains – but not the Nozomi and Mizuho Trains
There are 3 different types of Shinkansen trains in Japan. The fastest trains are the Nozomi or Mizuho trains, they also make the least stops. The next quickest Shinkansen trains are the Hikari and then the Kodama.
The JR Pass is valid only on Hikari and Kodama Shinkansen trains. You CANNOT use the Jr Pass on Nozomi or Mizuho trains.
Using the JR Pass on Tokyo’s Metropolitan lines and the Osaka Loop Line
You can also use the JR Pass on five of Tokyo’s metropolitan lines and the loop line in Osaka. (You can use the JR Pass to visit some of our top 13 totally free things to do in Tokyo)
You can also use the JR Pass on various buses and ferries which are detailed below.
Use your JR Pass on JR buses
Your JR Pass also gives you free access to local JR bus services, although not on JR Express Buses. The bus services included with the JR Pass include.
- JR Hokkaido Bus
- JR Bus Tohoku
- JR Bus Kanto
- JR Tokai Bus
- JR Shikoku
- West Japan JR Bus
- Chugoku JR Bus
- JR Kyushu Bus
Use your JR Pass on the JR Ferry
Your JR Pass is valid on the JR West Ferry from Miyajimaguchi station to Miyajima, (read about what to do on Miyajima here ) saving you the 820 Yen return fare. It is NOT valid on the JR Beetle ferry between Japan and Korea, but I’ve written about the routes here.
In 2023 we took the JR Queen Beetle from Fukuoka to Busan
Use your JR Pass to get to and from Tokyo Airports
You can use your Japan Rail Pass to get from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsucho Station in Tokyo. You can also use your JR Pass to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo on the Narita Express.
It is possible to travel around Japan WITHOUT the JR Pass – and easily – the JR Pass doesn’t cover you on the fastest trains – Claire of Claire’s Footsteps has suggestions for an itinerary in Japan for a two-week trip.
Japan Rail Pass Benefits
- Save time buying tickets at stations
- Save money on your Japanese train travel (we saved US$900 each in 3 weeks of Japanese train travel)
- In Japan there are trains (and carriages) with reserved seats and trains (and carriages) with unreserved seats, aka first come first served. You can use the JR Pass for both types of seats. There is an additional cost on top of the train ticket to reserve a seat. The JR Pass gives you FREE seat reservations.
- Get a free trip on the Miyajima Ferry
- Use JR bus routes for free
- Use the JR Pass in Tokyo – Take the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda Airport to Tokyo for free
- Take the Narita Express for free
- If you don’t have a set itinerary you can take spontaneous trips!
- Save money on accommodation – when the cheapest room in Osaka was over US$200 a night, we took a fast train for an hour, for free, and got a room right at Kariya station for US$50! – And then got the train back the next day. An hour each way on a comfortable pleasant train was simple.
- The JR Pass saves time. If you know your plans ahead of time – even just a few days ahead – then you can head into a JR ticket office with your planned route and reserve all your seats and trains ahead of time. It saves time (and the hassle of taking unreserved seat trains).
How to use the Japan Rail Pass to Travel on Japanese Trains
Once you have activated your JR Pass you are ready to use Japanese Trains. If you have a predefined route to your travel, then you will likely have also made seat reservations when you activated your JR Pass. However, you do not have to use seat reservations and can simply arrive at a station, show your pass and get on a train.
Seat Reservations or non-reserved seats on Japanese Trains
Your JR Pass includes free seat reservations. In my view, if you know your route and where you want to go it’s worth the extra few minutes to reserve a seat. If you change your mind you can always cancel your seat reservation (as that’s free as well), and if you don’t have time to cancel your seat reservation there are also no penalties. There’s more on making seat reservations on Japanese trains later in this article.
Here are a few more details about how to make your Japanese train travel smoother.
Step by Step Guide on using the JR Pass on Trains
- You do not need to book a ticket. The JR Pass is your ticket. It allows you to get on any of the trains detailed above.
- The JR Pass does not guarantee you a seat, you need to make a seat reservation for the guarantee of a seat. The JR Pass gives you seat reservations for free, but you have to make these in advance at a ticket office/window. This can be 5 minutes in advance, so long as there are seats available.
- Japanese trains have carriages with seat reservations and carriages where there are no reservations (and thus it’s first come first served for seats). Some trains ONLY have reserved seats, notably, the Narita Express.
- If you do not make a seat reservation you can always get into a carriage that is non-reserved seats and either find a seat or stand if none are available.
How to Make Seat Reservations on Japanese Trains
Another benefit that your JR Pass gives you is that it provides free seat reservations. To make a seat reservation you will need to go to a JR ticket office and show your pass or you can use the seat reservation machines at some stations.
It is a very good idea to have written down the train start station, end station, and times and dates that you wish to travel.
JAPAN TRAINS TRAVEL TIP: If you know your route book all your seat reservations when you collect your JR Pass. If your travel plans change you can always pop in and change them later.
You can only make seat reservations online with a JR Pass if you have bought it directly from Japan Rail. However, you still need to collect your tickets from a station (either an office or a ticket machine at a station).
Regardless of where you have bought your JR Pass from you cannot make any seat reservations until you have collected your JR Pass. Cancellation of seat reservations is also free.
When you make your seat reservation with your JR Pass you’ll be given a seat reservation ticket to use along with your JR Pass. Your carriage and seat number will be printed on the ticket.
Tips for Traveling On Japanese Trains with the JR Pass
These tips will help traveling in Japan using a JR Pass easier.
Keep your JR Pass Safe
if you lose it or it’s stolen you will need to buy a new one, there is no replacement service. (You should take our comprehensive travel insurance to cover against loss – here’s our article on what that means in Japan)
Make a seat reservation, especially during holidays
If you are traveling during the busy season – like the Japanese Cherry Blossom season – then we highly recommend making reservations as soon as you activate your JR Pass. Train reservations are highly recommended during the following periods:
- New Year: December 28 – January 6
- Golden Week: end of April – early May
- Cherry Blossom Season – full details and our guide to Japanese Cherry Blossom Season here
- Obon Week – mid-August
Getting onto a platform at a Japanese Train Station
There are barriers in all Japanese train stations, which open when you insert your train ticket. This does not work with the JR Pass. To use a JR Pass to gain access to a platform you need to present your JR Pass (and your passport) to a guard each time. You do the same to exit platforms when you arrive at your destination as well.
Finding the right platform on Japanese train stations
Japanese train stations and the Japanese rail network are a fabulous experience in efficiency. They are, also, however, sometimes somewhat bewildering. All signage is in both Japanese and English and every interaction we had was courteous and helpful.
At the main entrance, there will be an electronic board with details of which trains are planned for which platform.
Finding the right car on a Japanese platform
When you arrive at the correct platform you will find electronic boards to advise which cars (carriages) are for non-reserved ticket holders and which are cars for seat reservations.
If you have a seat reservation then you can check the platform floor where the car numbers will be indicated. The incoming train will stop at the exact place where the specific carriage stops are marked. You will see the names of different trains (e.g. Hikari or Kodama) indicated here. Be sure you’re in the right place for the train you’re catching.
Getting a seat on a non-reserved seat carriage
There is a strict queuing system for non-reserved seats on Japanese trains. There are usually 2 separate queues for each carriage (one at each end). Check the signage on the platform floor to make sure that you are in the right place.
Japanese Trains FAQs about the JR Pass
Here are the most asked questions about the JR Pass and Japanese trains. Don’t see an answer to a burning question that you have about the JR Pass and Japanese trains? Ask us in the comments.
Can you buy the Japan Rail Pass in Japan?
Yes. You can buy Japan Rail Passes in Japan at these JR Stations and Japanese airports. There is a price premium of 10% on the price of buying a JR Pass in Japan.
JR Stations where you can buy the JR Pass in Japan
You can see the full list here – but here are some of the key stations
Airports where you can the JR Pass in Japan
- You can buy a Japan Rail pass at Haneda Airport – International Airport
- Kansai Airport.
- Narita Airport, Terminals 1-2-3
When is the JR Pass valid from?
Your JR Pass will be valid from the date you select when you activate it at the JR Ticket office. This can be any day, up to 30 days into the future from the date that you arrive at a JR Travel Service Centre to activate your JR Pass.
Do you need a Japan Train Ticket if you have a JR Pass?
No. Your JR Pass works like a ticket. You can get free seat reservations though and we recommend you do this.
What’s Not Included in the JR Pass Japan?
It’s important when planning your Japanese travel to work out where you want to go and how you want to get there. Certain trains and routes are not included on the JR Pass, for instance, the final part of the train trip to Fujikawaguchiko – for Mount Fuji.
Can you book online with a JR Pass?
No. You do not need to make a booking, the JR Pass is your ticket. You do have to book any seat reservations, however. Seat reservations are free with the JR Pass, but all seat reservations must be done in person at a JR Trains travel service center or ticket office. If you have bought a JR Pass directly from Japan Rail you can make online seat reservations, but you will need to collect the seat reservation tickets from a ticket machine or JR office.
How are days calculated with JR Passes?
The JR Pass runs for consecutive days from the day you activate your JR Pass until midnight on the final day. If, however, you board your train before midnight on the final day, then your JR Pass is valid until the end of your journey.
Can you make a JR Pass Seat Reservation Online?
Yes and No. If you have bought your JR Pass directly online from Japan Rail (at a 10% surcharge) then you can make online seat reservations (but you’ll still need to collect the physical seat reservation ticket from a station. If you have bought elsewhere – i.e. from Klook or Jrailpass you cannot make a JR Pass seat reservation online. You must go into a Japan Rail Travel Centre to make a JR Pass seat reservation.
Do you need seat reservations on Japanese Trains?
Yes and No. There are two types of carriages for ordinary-class Japanese train travel. Those with seat reservations and those without seat reservations. (Some trains are reserved seats only – these are small in number, the most notable one is the Narita Express between Tokyo and Narita Airport). Aside from them, you can just travel on pretty much any of the allowed trains without seat reservations, as all trains have “no seat reservation” carriages. Depending on the time of year you are traveling this might not be a wise idea. Those carriages without seat reservations can get very full. Seat reservations are free with your JR Pass, and it’s easy to make a reservation at a JR ticket office.
Is the Osaka Loop Line Covered by JR Pass tickets?
Yes. The Osaka Loop Line is covered on your JR Pass.
What are Japanese Trains like?
Train travel in Japan is easy, comfortable, and very, very fast. The trains are smooth, fast, and incredibly efficient. On-time departure, arrival, and unfailingly polite staff whose English was superb – none of this travel was difficult in any way whatsoever. (Although spending 90 minutes looking for a bag locker at Osaka and Shin-Osaka station did test my patience somewhat…)
And the trains are very pleasant, very organized. After the scrums in China (even just to buy a ticket!), this was a blissful, polite organization. Even to get on the train! It’s all marked out on the platform where to stand, and that’s where the trains stop!
It’s fun, too to what the platform staff- when they wave in and wave out a train, there’s a routine they go through, with almost a dance and a series of waves. It’s a simple technique that’s used for health and safety to ensure trains depart safely on time.
The trains vary, of course, there are seats like old armchairs, and there are two plus two seats, and two plus three seats.
Two things strike you though. Other travelers are very, very polite. If they want to recline their seat (and there is always oodles of space even if they do), then they will get up out of their seat, walk to you and ask if it’s alright to recline their seat. No train rage, and no knee protectors are needed here!
The second is that you’re always facing the direction of travel. It puzzled me for a while, then we saw a train being prepared for the next trip, and between each trip, each carriage is cleaned, wiped, and the seats are flipped in the direction of travel!
Can I eat on Japanese Trains?
Yes. You can buy food at stations or stores and bring it with you. Some services provide paid-for food services on trains. Boxed meals aka bento boxes that contain delicacies from the region in which you are traveling are a great way to further enjoy the culture of your journey.
Is there power on Japanese Trains?
There are power sockets on some trains in Japan. Some trains will have USB sockets, but others will have a type A socket. You can find details of power requirements, sockets in Japan and what power adapter to bring in our guide here.
Do I need a seat reservation on Japanese Trains?
Many services have dedicated carriages with seat reservations, others are just unreserved seats. Most local trains do not have reserved seats, but the Narita Express only has reserved seats.
If you are traveling on a Shinkansen during peak travel times (0700 – 0900 and 1800 – 2000) then you should make a seat reservation. Also if you are traveling during peak travel periods, like Golden Week, Cherry Blossom Season, or Obon Week, then you should make a seat reservation.
Is it worth getting a JR Pass?
A JR pass is not cheap. Our first JR Pass for 21 days cost us 540,000 KRW (we bought it for cash in Busan, Korea), but it was worth EVERY penny. That equated to US$490.71
That’s each. We calculated that if we’d taken the trains that we did, it would have actually cost us US$1,396 – and of course, if the cost had really been that, then we would have just not gone to half the places we did.
Our JR Pass also got us on a free ferry to Miyajima. It enabled us to go to Sapporo, Otaru (read all about what there is to do in Otaru here), Hakodate, and Noboritsu in Hokkaido on a “whim” – taking an overnight armchair sleeper.
Hakodate is one of the top 10 places to go and check out the spring Cherry Blossoms in Japan – you can do that on your JR Pass! Our JR Pass meant that we could take a day to travel to and from the spa town of Kinosaki.
Final Words on Getting a JR Pass for Japan
We got to travel on some amazing trains. There were local trains. There were faster trains. There were even faster trains. And while we couldn’t travel on the fastest bullet trains that Japan has, we did meet, travel on and fall in love with the Hayabusa train. It’s a high-speed Shinkansen train. While there are some trains that the JR Pass didn’t cover (specifically around Kyoto, from Matsumoto to Kamikochi, and also the final leg of the trip to Mount Fuji) – we certainly got our money’s worth and enjoyed every smooth, pleasant kilometer that we traveled around the country.
We saw more of the country than we imagined and it was beyond our imagination – and without the JR Pass beyond our means! In fact, when we look at the map, we made a pretty good attempt to cover most of the country. And now that as I review this, we’re back in Japan and we’re getting another JR Pass because we have major plans to cover even more of the country by train.
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