Which Japan Rail Pass should I buy

Experience with the Japan Rail Pass (with tips on buying)

Where and when to buy your JR Pass:

Show your Japan Rail Pass, get on the train, metro, bus or ferry and drive off. It couldn't be more convenient. Always on time, very quickly with the Shinkansen. I still rave about the train ride during our trip to Japan.

Before this trip, I read a lot about traveling on the fast Shinkansen trains. At first I didn't care that the JR Pass is also valid for JR lines with buses, metro and ferries. I found out whether this JR Rail Pass is worthwhile for our 24-day round trip.The answer was: yes, we saved a lot of money.

Before the trip we still thought about which places we would like to visit and calculated. What would the individual routes cost? Which local rail lines are included in the Japan Rail Pass? And above all: which of the JR Passes do we need to buy?

After doing a rough calculation, we quickly realized that the pass would be worth it. So we conveniently ordered the JR Pass online (21 days) in advance of the trip. Because who wants to arrive and not only take care of a Metro Card (Suica or Pasmo) but also the Rail Pass? We are not.

Since March 2018 you can also buy the Japan Rail Pass directly on site. The pass, which is only valid for foreign tourists, costs 10% more in Japan itself.

I ordered my Rail Pass online here.

Once you have your passport in hand, it is suddenly super easy on site. Once you have activated the JR Pass, you can simply go through the controls by showing the pass. It is not necessary to purchase additional tickets.

This makes traveling around really fun and offers the opportunity to travel very relaxed. Here I have written down my experience (and enthusiasm) for traveling by train with the Rail Pass in Japan.

Note as comments will come: You can save money with the local trains (local trains are cheaper). But these stop much more often and are much slower. You lose a lot of time. It wasn't worth it to us. We wanted to get from Kyoto to Tokyo quickly, not on a slow train. In addition, the fact that you can also use the bus, metro and ferries with the JR Pass is never taken into account. This saves you additional money (and time).

What is the Japan Rail Pass and who can buy it?

The pass is offered jointly by six companies in the Japan Railways Group (JR Group) to all non-Japanese tourists. It is a special “flat-rate” train ticket for anyone traveling to Japan on vacation. This enables us to travel to Japan in a cheap and fast way.

The JR Pass is available in different versions for different regions. Depending on the pass, you can also travel with different Shinkansen trains.

The passes include all trains on the JR network, including Shinkansen bullet trains and Narita Express trains. It also includes metro, buses and ferries (e.g. to Miyajima) from JR.

With the Japan Rail Pass, you can choose between the 7, 14 or 21 day total validity of the pass. You can also consider whether you want to buy a standard ticket or a 1st class ticket (Green Car). In my opinion, the standard ticket is completely sufficient. You have a lot of space and it is very quiet.

You don't get the passif you have a place of residence in Japan or are in Japan for study / semester abroad. Schoolchildren, foreign workers, trainees and soldiers are also not allowed to purchase a JR Railpass.

That is why you have to show the passport with the stamp / sticker with the intention of “Stay for Sightseeing” in the passport, which is only given to tourists who do not stay in Japan for more than 90 days.

Here you can buy the Japan Rail Pass on the Internet

What does the Japan Rail Pass cost?

The pass is available in three versions: for 7, 14 and 21 days. The prices are set in Japanese yen. Payment is in euros. Because the yen fluctuates a lot, you can often read completely different prices in euros on the Internet.

In 2019 the JR Passes cost:

  • 7-day JR pass adults: 29,110 ¥ (approx. 231 euros)
  • 14-day JR pass adults: 46,390 ¥ (approx. 367 euros)
  • 21-day JR pass adults: 59,350 ¥ (approx. 469 euros)
  • For 30% more you get the respective pass for 1st class (Green Car or Green Class, which in my opinion is not worth it)

Attention: Prices in euros can change due to currency fluctuations.

Here you can buy the Japan Rail Pass on the Internet

For children between the ages of 6 and 11, the pass costs almost exactly half. Children under 6 travel for free. This is probably one of the reasons why you come across many foreign families with young children.

This is how you can see the voucher that you receive on the Internet a few days after purchasing it in Germany:

Which Japan Rail Pass is worthwhile?

I have made a list of our route and recalculated it. Conclusion: yes, it was worth it.

How to find out if the pass is worth it for you:

Write down your route. Enter the individual routes in the Hyperdia app or in Google Maps. In addition to the connection, you will also be shown the costs. Add these up and see if the Japan Rail Pass is worth it for you.

The individual journeys can be entered thanks to Hyperdia or Google Maps and the connection and price are displayed directly.

Our routes with the Shinkansen were as follows:

  • Tokyo - Odawara (for Hakone): ¥ 3,940
  • Tokyo - Kanazawa: ¥ 14,520
  • Kanazawa - Kyoto: ¥ 7,100
  • Kyoto - Nara: ¥ 1,130
  • Nara - Osaka: ¥ 800
  • Osaka - Himeji: 1,490 yen
  • Himeji - Hiroshima: ¥ 8,870
  • Hiroshima - Miyajima: ¥ 410
  • Hiroshima - Tokyo: ¥ 19,280

In addition, there were various trips with the JR Metro in Tokyo as well as Kyoto and Osaka.

Tours by bus that are included in the JR Pass:

In Hiroshima there is the JR Maple Loop Sightseeing Bus. With this you can drive around for free as well as with the bus on Kyoto which takes you from Kyoto Station to the Golden Pavilion and Ryoanji Temple. v

  • Ferry Miyajimaguchi - Miyajima Island: 180 ¥

Even though we saved minimally in the end, thanks to the Rail Pass we had a lot less stress with the constant purchase of tickets. The pass simply saves time at the machine or at the office to purchase train tickets.

Which class: Standard or Green Pass (first class)?

We asked ourselves several times on site what the Green car because be. Now I know: The Green Cars ("Green Wagons") correspond to our 1st class. I have not entered a car but I am sure that it is not worth it.

We really had a lot of legroom and space in the "normal" class. A dream for every European. That much space is only available on the plane in Business Class or First Class. Honest! It's also quiet everywhere on the trains.

When should I buy the Japan Rail Pass?

You can buy the Japan Rail Pass three months before your trip to Japan at the earliest, because the pass must be redeemed within three months of purchase.

Until recently, this represented a major hurdle for world travelers, because anyone who had been on the road for more than three months did not know where to buy the pass. But now there is a simple solution:

Either you buy the land from a travel agency that specializes in Japan travel (friends bought the Rail Pass in Los Angeles) or you buy the pass directly after arriving in Japan. Since March 2018, the sale in Japan for foreign tourists has been tested. Unfortunately, this JR Pass is then 10% more expensive. I ordered my pass online here.

How long does it take to get the Japan Rail Pass after I order?

It took me about three working days to send it to me after the order was placed. Depending on the time of year and probably the days of the week, it can sometimes take 1-2 days longer. Nevertheless, I would always order the pass 2-3 weeks before the trip.

I ordered my JR Pass online here.

How do I redeem the Japan Rail Pass?

To activate the JR Pass, you have to present the voucher with your passport at a JR Pass office in the airport or at the train station.

You have to enter your name, passport number and country of origin yourself. The rest of the work is done by the JR Rail employee where you can redeem the pass.

Where can I redeem the JR Pass?

With the purchase of the Rail Pass you will receive a voucher and a separate information sheet where you can redeem the JR Pass.

Since most of them arrive in Tokyo or Osaka, I have only listed these places here. All you have to do is follow the signs for one JR East Travel Service Center Keeping an eye out. By the way, we redeemed our pass at Tokyo Station.

Tokyo:

  • Narita International Airport: Terminal 1, JR EAST Travel Service Center or at the ticket office (Ticket Office)
  • Terminal 2 and 3, R EAST Travel Service Center or at the ticket office
  • Haneda Airport International Terminal: JR EAST Travel Service Center (Tokyo Monorail 2F Lock / Arrivals Hall)
  • Or the JR service centers / ticket counters in Tokyo train stations,Ueno,Shinjuku,Shibuya,Ikebukuro, Shinagawa.

Osaka:

  • Kansai Airport at the booking office
  • Shin-Osaka Railway Stations or Osaka station

Kyoto:

  • Kyoto train station at the ticket office (JR-WEST Central), ticket office at the Hachijo exit of the Shinkansen lines from JR-CENTRAL, JR Tokai Tours

You can find all other places to redeem and purchase the Japan Rail Pass in Japan directly on the official JR website.

Again the note that the purchase of the passport in Japan is 10% more expensive. I got the passport before my trip Ordered here quickly, cheaply and conveniently on the Internet.

When is the Rail Pass valid?

The pass is valid from the time it is redeemed. You should make sure that Activation date the date of first use of the pass should correspond.

The voucher must be exchanged for the "real" Japan Rail Pass on site within three months. When exchanging, you have to enter the desired activation date.

Since we didn't want to use the pass until three days after our arrival in Tokyo (otherwise the 21 days would not have worked), we thought that we could only exchange the pass three days later. It is not so. You can exchange the voucher immediately after your arrival in Tokyo or Osaka at the airport and specify your desired activation date. The date can be up to 30 days after the exchange.

Can I freely choose the days on which I want to use the JR Pass?

Are your travel days far apart and wondering whether you can determine the days of use yourself? Unfortunately, the pass is valid for the period of validity (7 days, 14 days or 21 days) from the first use.

Regardless of the type of pass, you have to use it continuously. Example: If you use the pass for the first time on April 11, the pass is valid for 7 days until April 18.

Can I travel on all trains if I have the Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass allows us tourists to travel the country as comfortably as possible. But unfortunately there are still restrictions that I would like to explain here.

First of all, you can use the JR Pass all trains of Use the JR network. That includes the lines JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku, JR West, JR Center, JR East, and JR Hokkaido.

Local trains and Express trains of JR you can use just like that "Shinkansen" (Bullet Train) high-speed trainsthrough which you can reach all major cities in Japan quickly and easily.

The great thing about JR is that you can also take JR buses. I didn't have to use them outside of cities, but in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka these buses made a lot of sense.

Bus lines are: JR Hokkaido Bus, JR Bus Tohoku, JR Bus Kanto, JR Tokai Bus, West Japan JR Bus, Chugoku JR Bus, Shikoku JR Bus, JR Kyushu Bus.

Also Ferries are operated by JR. For example the Ferry JR Miyajima to the small island of Miyajima near Hiroshima.

The transfer with the Toyko monorail fromHaneda Airport to the Hamamatsucho train station is therefore free of charge. Even if many people write again and again that the pass is not worth it, they have probably only compared local trains with Shinkansen, but not taken into account the additional savings these routes offer.

The Japan Rail Pass is not valid here:

Unfortunately, the pass is for the Shinkansen Express trains Nozomi and Mizuho not valid. These are the fastest Shinkansen trains that will take you directly from Osaka to Tokyo. Coming from Hiroshima, we had to change trains in Kobe, as we were not allowed to take the Nozomi direct train to Tokyo. Too bad.

The good thing is that the Shinkansen Hikari and Sakura can be used and are not much slower. You can't drive straight through from Hiroshima to Tokyo.

On private bus and metro lines is the JR pass Likewise not valid. In many large cities, however, there are some JR routes that you can use. In Tokyo these are e.g. the Yamanote, Chuo and Ueno lines. In Osaka Loop or Kanjo.

Reserve a seat for the Shinkansen

For some trains you have to reserve seats. In others this is not necessary. We always have our seats reserved before the trip. Many trains are fully booked for the Hiroshima - Tokyo route. Reserve early!

You must always show your passport and Japan Rail Pass to make a reservation.

There are different Shinkansen lines in Japan. Different trains run on these lines.

  • Akita
  • Hokkaido
  • Hokuriku
  • Joetsu
  • Kyushu
  • Sanyo
  • Tohoku
  • Tokaido
  • Yamagat

A seat reservation is required for the following trains. There are no seats on board without a reservation. If all seats are fully booked, you can reserve a standing room, which we do not recommend:

  • Akita Shinkansen
  • Hokkaido Shinkansen
  • Hokuriku Shinkansen (Kagayaki only)
  • Tohoku Shinkansen (Hayate and Hayabusa)

You do not need a seat reservation for the following trains. These trains have reserved, unreserved and green class seats.

  • Joetsu Shinkansen
  • Kyushu Shinkansen
  • Hokuriku Shinkansen (Tsurugi, Hakutaka and Asama)
  • Sanyo Shinkansen
  • Tohoku Shinkansen (Yamabiko)
  • Tokaido Shinkansen
  • Yamagata Shinkansen

How to reserve your free seat in the Shinkansen

As a holder of the Japan Rail Pass, you can reserve seats on all Japan Railway trains free of charge. You have to do this BEFORE you board the train. When we arrive, we have always reserved seats for the next train ride.

It's that easy:

  1. Go to the ticket office located in every train station. Alternatively, you can book the seats at travel service centers.
  2. At the counter you tell when and where you want to go. If you have a request for a departure time, please state this as well. Thanks to Hyperdia or Google Maps, we were able to easily check this in advance.
  3. You will receive a ticket with the name of the train, departure and arrival time and seat reservation with car number and seat.

For currently very few trains you can reserve seats online via the JR East Train Reservation. Unfortunately, online reservations cannot be made for the popular Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen. The service only applies to trains such as the Kokuriku Shinkansen (Tokyo - Kanazawa, for which we didn't even have a reservation for the cherry blossom season) and some limited express trains in the JR East area north of Tokyo and Hokkaido.

Timetables for trains in Japan

To find the best connection, we used three sources in Japan: Google Maps, Hyperdia and the Japan App. First of all, all three options offer you a great overview of the existing connections. Google Maps also shows you how much yen your trip will cost.

We mostly used Google Maps. Everyone has this app installed on their smartphone. The good thing is that the price is immediately displayed if you have to take the private metro or other means of transport that are not included in the Rail Pass.

However, there is one negative thing about Google Maps: the app only shows the Shinkansen Express trains on some routes Nozomi and Mizuho at. Unfortunately, the pass is not valid for them. That's why there are alternative apps:

Hyperdia and the Japan Official Travel App show you all connections.

Our conclusion and experiences with the Japan Rail Pass

For us, the pass was worth it. It didn't save us a lot of money, but it did save us a lot of time. Simply show your passport at the controls and go through it instead of buying a ticket at the machine every time. Saves a lot of time and we never had to worry about a ticket.

If you only want to visit a few places in Japan, you should calculate the costs beforehand and, if necessary, do without the Japan Rail Pass. Alternatively, you can check whether the Rail Pass is worthwhile for a specific region.

On the next trip I will probably only visit the south (and maybe Tokyo again). Then one of the Regional passes worthwhile (here you can view the Regional Passes).

Japan Guide with all tips for the trip

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