If you’re visiting Japan for sight-seeing and plan on frequently using the public transportation system to get around, then the JR Pass is a great deal! The vast majority of trains in Japan are owned and operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group, and after purchasing a JR pass, you can ride all JR trains and even the Shinkansen! Read on to learn about the JR Rail Pass and how you can use it to save time and money on your travels in Japan.
What is the JR Rail Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass (a.k.a. JR Pass) is a near all-inclusive rail pass for traveling via Japan Rail (JR) trains in Japan. It is very popular with tourists, as it is a great way to save money on public transportation, and also save time by skipping the ticket-buying process every time you board a JR train.
There are two types of JR Pass: Ordinary, and Green (for superior-class Green cars). Both of these types are available as a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day pass.
Many travelers find the size and space of ordinary train seats to be more than enough, but those who wish to have additional luxury should consider the Green pass. Green cars offer larger seats, more foot space and enhanced board service, and they tend to be less crowded than ordinary cars. They are available on most shinkansen (bullet train) and limited express trains and on a small number of local trains.
Eligibility for a JR Pass
To purchase a JR Pass, you must meet one of these two eligibility requirements:
1. You are a foreign tourist visiting Japan from abroad under the entry status of “temporary visitor”. According to Japanese Immigration Law, the Temporary Visitor entry status allows a stay in Japan of 15 days or 90 days for “sight-seeing, etc.” If you apply for a “stay for sight-seeing” purpose when you enter Japan, the entry inspector will stamp your passport as “Temporary Visitor”. In order to purchase a JR Pass, your passport must have this stamp or sticker.
People on longer-term visas like work visas, student visas and permanent residence visas cannot use Japan Rail Passes. Neither can those on other types of short-term visas such as “Trainee,” “Entertainer,” or “Reentry Permit”; your official status must be “temporary visitor”.
2. Japanese people who are living abroad and meet the 2017 eligibility requirements.
Buying a JR Pass
There are many places online where you can get a Japan Rail Pass. Once you purchase the pass online, you will receive a Booking Confirmation (also called an Exchange Order) by e-mail, which you can exchange for the Rail Pass itself after you arrive in Japan at the airport or at any major JR Rail station. Keep in mind when you are picking up your pass that you will have to show your passport and temporary visitor visa status as proof that you are eligible.
You can buy the JR Pass in Japan, but it will be slightly more expensive than if you had purchased it in advance online. See the price chart below:
For a full list of places you can get your JR Pass after booking it online, as well as where you can buy one in person in Japan, click here.
How to Use the JR Pass
When you are riding the trains, the Japan Rail Pass will serve as your ticket. When passing through the ticket gates with a JR Pass, rather than using the automatic ticket gates, you will have to pass through the manned gate (look for a window with an attendant) and present their pass to the staff. When passing through the gate, always present your pass to the attendant so that the period of validity is visible. JR Pass holders might also occasionally be asked to show their passports.
When taking the train with the JR Pass, no other ticket is needed unless you’re using a reserved seat, which will require you to get a seat reservation ticket. Seat reservations are free with the Japan Rail Pass, although on most trains, seat reservations are optional, and they’re not even possible on local trains. Seat reservations are most helpful on the faster, long-distance express trains and the Shinkansen (bullet train). To make a seat reservation, show your rail pass to the attendant at any JR ticket office before entering the gates, as reservations cannot be made on board of trains or at ticket machines.
For more information on how to reserve seats for free with a JR Pass, see the official page here (English).
Where to Use the JR Pass
The Japan Rail Pass is valid on the following railways, buses, and ferries:
- All JR Shinkansen “bullet trains” nationwide except the Nozomi & Mizuho trains
- All JR Trains nationwide – limited express, express, rapid and local trains
- The Tokyo Monorail
- The Osaka Loop Line
- Aoimori Railway between Aomori and Hachinohe (local or rapid trains only)
- The IR Ishikawa Railway Line between Kanazawa and Tsubata (local or limited express trains only)
- The Ainokaze Toyama Railway Line between Toyama and Takaoka (local trains only)
- All local JR Buses
- *The pass is NOT valid for travel on express bus routes/highway bus routes operated by JR Bus
- The JR-West Ferry to Miyajima in Hiroshima
For a full English map of all railways, buses, and ferries eligible for JR Pass, see the official nationwide route map here.
JR Pass & the Shinkansen
As previously mentioned, the Japan Rail Pass can be used on JR trains across Japan, including the shinkansen (bullet train). However, there are just two exceptions: the Nozomi, the fastest of the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen trains, and the Mizuho, the fastest of the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, are not covered by the JR Pass. Riding these trains will require you to pay a full price ticket that includes both the basic fare and the limited express charge. Please keep this in mind if you plan on traveling via the Shinkansen.
Conclusion: Should I Get a JR Pass?
At first glance, getting a JR Pass may seem like adding an unnecessary expense to an already potentially expensive trip. However, taking the train can add up quickly, especially over long distances. For people visiting Japan who are planning to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, for example, having the JR Pass will certainly save them money. And, if you’re planning on taking the train a lot around some of the bigger cities (i.e. Tokyo and Osaka), the pass is incredibly cost-effective.
In addition to saving you money during your travels, using the JR Pass will save you time as well. When using the JR Pass, rather than stopping at machine to buy a ticket every time you board a train, you just show your pass to an attendant, and pass right through the gates.
If you’re visiting Japan for sight-seeing and want to get the most out of your experience, then purchasing the JR Pass is a great option to consider!
For Japanese train system, you may want to check our blog: Your Ultimate Guide to Japanese Trains as well.
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