Is the Japan Rail Pass right for you?
Offering a medley of benefits, such as convenience, flexibility, and wide-ranging access, the Japan Rail Pass is a popular choice for visitors to Japan. However, prior to departing for the country, many will-be travelers contemplate on whether or not the Japan Rail Pass is worth it for them during their travels.
The answer to that question isn’t one that’s clear-cut, as it is contingent on one’s itinerary, preferences, and travel style. While the JR Pass is an unmissable option when visiting Japan, it’s still important to consider a multitude of factors before deciding to book a Japan Rail Pass. Take a look at this article to see if you fall into one of the following categories, because if you do, the Japan Rail Pass may be very much worth considering.
1. If it’s your first time in Japan
First time travelers to Japan have a number of different things to prepare and account for; cultural customs, language barrier, immigration regulations, and navigating public transportation, just to name a few.
For the last aspect of your trip preparation, the Japan Rail Pass aids in mitigating much of the potential hurdles. Japan’s train system is world-renowned, and for good reason; It’s efficient, quick, and spans almost the entirety of the country. But at the same time, it has some elements that make it not entirely intuitive to first-time travelers. Using the machines in stations to book tickets, understanding the different fares depending on the different types of trains and booking the right tickets… While the JR Pass holds all you train travel needs in one single ticket.
That’s not to say that it’s some kind of impossible enigma to understand. After all, it’s ridden by literally millions of people every day. But to reduce some of the growing pains, the Japan Rail Pass will be a handy addition to assure that first-time travelers to the country can focus on seeing everything on their itineraries. No need to stress or take unnecessary time with individual ticket purchases for every single train & public transportation trip, as the Japan Rail Pass grants easy in-and-out access for hundreds of train lines, as well as multiple means of transportation, such as airport transfers or even ferries!
For those coming to Japan for the first time, many decide to follow Japan's “Golden Route,” an itinerary based off of an old trade route that includes visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. Of course, we strongly recommend these three destinations but also advise that travelers take the time to see other destinations along the way, including day trips to places like Nikko and Himeji, and then cities like Kanazawa and Nara! Each of these destinations can be reached quickly and easily with the Japan Rail Pass, using both local trains and high speed Shinkansen bullet trains.
We at Japan Experience also offer a support service known as JRP Care for Japan Rail Pass holders, which gives them access to our multilingual hotline. Have questions about how to use your JR Pass or what trains to take? Feel free to give us a call. You can even inquire about any advice for your trip and those who sign up for JRP Care are guaranteed a full refund for their passes if they need to cancel before their trip for whatever reason.
2. If you have a busy itinerary
One of the most noteworthy features of the Japan Rail Pass is its wide-ranging coverage. Indeed, all 46 prefectures of Japan’s mainland can be traveled to via the Japan Railway system with this pass, making it especially perfect for people who have made a point to visit as many places as they can.
The passes being for 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days, those going around the country for extended periods of time can really fit every potential destination they are interested if they wish. And while major destinations like Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka will peak the interest of active travelers, day trips from these cities will be easily accessible and included with the Japan Rail Pass.
However, going to a medley of different destinations can also quickly accumulate up in costs, should you book individual train tickets. Since the Japan Rail Pass is one fixed price, travelers can stack up their visits all throughout the country without minding the details of the entire cost. It’s all covered by the JR Pass!
For a more detailed example, we can take a look at a suggested itinerary revolving around the “golden route” we discussed before.
- Tokyo > Kanazawa ¥14,380
- Kanazawa > Kyoto (via Thunderbird Train) ¥6,380
- Kyoto > Nara (Roundtrip) ¥2,220
- Kyoto > Himeji (Roundtrip) ¥9,840
- Kyoto > Hiroshima ¥11,830
- Hiroshima > Osaka ¥10,950
- Osaka > Tokyo ¥14,400
Total Cost without Pass: ¥70,000+
We can see that with itineraries such as this, with just long-distance train travel alone, costs would amount to over ¥70,000 yen, and this this doesn't incorporate travel with the pass that is covered within cities. The above example is a busy Japan-trip schedule for sure, but for travelers who have the ambitions to see and do as much as they can, it’s one that is able to be done and will be largely helped by the Japan Rail Pass in more ways than one.
Instead of having to organize transit to each of these destinations individually, the pass will let you get up and go with little hassle, maximizing the potential of places to go and check out!
3. If you like to travel with flexibility
One of the inevitable hurdles that is encountered while traveling is things not always going to plan. While preparing a detailed and focused itinerary can help to keep things on track, any seasoned traveler will acknowledge the tendency for last minute changes, scheduling mistakes, or any other unforeseen circumstances. Luckily, Japan’s endless attractions and large focus on convenience and accommodation means that there will often be workarounds to these potential pitfalls, and the Japan Rail Pass is another means of mitigating schedule disruptions.
One of the most important benefits of traveling with the Japan Rail Pass is the ability to board trains sans reservations and without any major concern for making it in time for specific train departures. Just simply pick a Shinkansen bullet train with non-reserved cars (which a majority have), use your Japan Rail Pass to enter the ticket gates, and get on!
This is ideal for travelers who don’t want to take the excess time to make reservations or commit to a specific time slot for their departure, as it's easy to get caught up in adventures when traveling through Japan all day! You never know when you might take the time to relax a bit more at a cafe, pay a visit to more spots to shop around, or if you stumble upon a limited pop-up event for your favorite anime, artist, or brand.
Not needing to sacrifice time to explore can be an invaluable benefit during your travels! But don’t worry, as you’ll still be able to make Shinkansen bullet train reservations with the JR Pass if you so wish, and at no additional cost as opposed to individual tickets!
Additionally, this flexibility with the Japan Rail Pass makes it ideal for last-minute day trips! Did someone suggest to you a spot in a prefecture nearby that you want to go and see? Well luckily, you’ll just have to research the departure times that allow you to get out there, choose one, and be on your way, and the same will apply for heading back to your hotel later that day No need to figure out where to get the right tickets for the right train, book in advance...
Still regarding flexibility, it's important to note that the Japan Rail Pass voucher must be swapped out for a usable pass at an exchange office within the country, but this exchange isn't limited to just cities like Tokyo or Osaka. There are a medley of exchange offices throughout the country that are designated as "Midori no Madoguchi," essentially, offices for Japan Railway operations that travelers can also inquire about train-related travel at. So if you want to start your journey in Kyoto, Hokkaido, or Fukuoka, you're free to do so! Or, if you want to use your pass later on in your journey, you can exchange at the beginning of your trip and have the activation start later on if there is a period of time when there is a large concentration of Shinkansen bullet train commuting happening.
For those who want some freedom and have a go-with-the-flow way of traveling, the flexibility benefits of the Japan Rail Pass are ones that should not be overlooked.
4. You’re traveling with family or a large group
Traveling with friends and family can be an invaluable experience. Being able to experience a foreign culture as distinct as Japan is one that is well-worth sharing! But, with every member involved, comes another person to account for, and it’s no exaggeration that the hassles of using public transportation also increase with more people.
Every member of a group needing to buy a ticket can be time-consuming, stressful, and hard to organize. In the case of buying tickets for the family, accounting for seating and different pricing can be a hassle as well.
For travel groups and families where every member has an easy-to-use JR Pass, the time and chances for reservation mistakes are reduced since it allows users to get on and off as they please.
This flexibility also lets individual members of groups operate more independently. Different people want to go and do different things? Well, with a Japan Rail Pass, you can freely use the transit system to go where you please and rendezvous with others later on, even in different cities due to the unlimited Shinkansen bullet train access.
Moreover, for families, there exists a Japan Rail Pass available at a discounted rate for children aged 6 to 11 years old, allowing the whole family to travel with ease and at more affordable prices.
Should you get a Japan Rail Pass?
While it will depend on your itinerary and travel habits, the Japan Rail Pass can undoubtedly be a beneficial addition to your time traveling in Japan. Of course, every traveler is different, and the ways to use the Japan Rail Pass will also differ.
Perhaps you're a solo traveller who wishes to be taken with the wind and doesn’t want to be hindered by a strict schedule. Or, maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum where you’re traveling with a big group and don’t want to be bogged down by unnecessary complications as you try to get everything on your busy schedule done and dusted.
And even if you feel the Japan Rail Pass isn’t for you, definitely take a look at some other travel pass options like the many regional passes available, that operate similarly to the National Japan Rail Pass but concentrate on a specific region, or some of the day passes that allow access throughout different cities.
Regardless, it’s important to make the process of moving around when traveling as smooth as possible to concentrate on what matters most, your experience with the places, culture, and people of Japan!
Frequently Asked Questions about the JR Pass.