Why you should get a JR Pass: 5 benefits of the Japan Rail Pass

Japan’s world-famous public transportation system is largely organized and operated by the Japan Railways Group (JR Group), and this same organization issues a special transit ticket called the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).

And for those who do want a bit more structure, the pass allows for easy reservations without any additional fees (a luxury unfortunately not available with individual ticket purchases), so you can quickly guarantee a seat with little stress and no penalties. Simply show your pass to the staff at a Japan Railway office inside a station and choose a departure time for a train to your destination. This free reservation system also applies when it comes to booking luggage space in the Shinkansen bullet trains, a feature that is paid for user who do not have a Japan Rail Pass. 

 

Japan Rail Pass ticket

Japan Rail Pass ticket

@Wikimedia

Additionally, the Japan Rail Pass allows for great flexibility on where you can start your trip, as the pass can be exchanged at a number of different Japan Railway offices throughout the country. You aren't just limited to starting your journey in Tokyo or Osaka, so you have a lot of free-reign on formatting your itinerary as you fit. In fact, your Japan Rail Pass doesn't even need to be activated for use immediately upon exchanging. Perhaps you have an itinerary that has you going to multiple places but you're in Tokyo for a large amount of time for the first leg of the trip. You can exchange them for the pass as soon as you arrive, but then activate the pass for actual usage on the day you depart from Tokyo to use the pass during the most commute-heavy part of your trip.

MidorinoMadoguchi

JR Ticket Office (Midori no Madoguchi) at Kagoshima Chuo Station

@Wikimedia

That means that the JR Group facilities allow for travel to all of these prefectures in a quick and easy manner for an extended amount of time, as all Shinkansen high-speed trains are operated by Japan Railways. 

Via this, theoretically, travelers can buy a Japan Rail Pass and go all the way from the most northern part of Wakkanai on Hokkaido to Kagoshima, the most southern part of Japan’s mainland in Kyushu. Be sure to take stops through all the other regions on the way, though! In total, JR Group represents over 20,000km of usable train lines throughout Japan. 

For first-time travelers, especially, this coverage is fantastic as it assures access to the key destinations of Japan’s “Golden Route” that includes Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. And of course, the unlimited access to all other mainland prefectures means that other cities like Kanazawa in Ishikawa or Takayama in Gifu, along with great spots for day trips like Hakone or Himeji, will be able to be reached easily. 

Coverage isn’t just limited to high-speed trains, also! Many local trains (such as the JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo) and bus networks within major cities will be accessible by those who buy the pass. Even the ferry out to Miyajima in Hiroshima is bundled in! Off-the-beaten path destinations are literally at the palm of your hand with a Japan Rail Pass.

Golden Route Itinerary

Golden Route Itinerary to travel with the Japan Rail Pass

Golden Route + Kyushu

Golden Route & Kyushu Itinerary

Cross-Country Itinerary

Cross-Country Itinerary

The Japanese train system is truly a wonder of the world. It's an experience that is hard to describe, and that should be lived through to understand. Transporting millions of passengers seemingly effortlessly, Japan's trains are a mirror of its society: clean, safe, and always on time. It's also very much quirky and unusual, behind its serious facade, as shown by the heavily decorated Hello Kitty Shinkansen bullet train you may see zoom by through a train station or even ride on, for example. Bucolic countryside trains, riding through picture-perfect landscapes, are also a one-of-a-kind travel experience you should not miss. Just getting from one city to the other in a sightseeing tour in itself!

For domestic travel, the train is not just a pretty and trendy experience: it's the better option. Indeed, Japan has a developed domestic aviation industry, with plenty of flights servicing the country's major cities, sometimes for similar prices compared to the train. However, while the trains depart from the city center, airports are often far away from the city. Transfers are thus longer and more expensive. Trains are also less dependent on weather conditions than planes, and the whole process of arriving earlier to get through security and board means traveling by plane is not necessarily faster.

On top of being more scenic and more practical, traveling by train in Japan is also more sustainable and eco-friendly

train tohoku gorge bridge fall landscape
Offset your CO2 emissions with our JRP Carbon-free initiative! // JRP Carbon-free Project

While Japan’s transportation is efficient and accommodating, it can also become quite expensive, especially since so much of its costs are based on distance. This is especially true for busy itineraries with many destinations and day trips, making the Japan Rail Pass a great deal for very proactive travelers who wish to see as much as possible. 

Travel between Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima on the “Golden Route” and other destinations via the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train within a week alone can become a considerable expense. Then, once you account for the travel included with local transportation at each of these destinations plus the convenience provided, the pass can easily pay for itself with proper planning and the right itinerary. Referring back to the day trip example from earlier, day trips that would initially cost a significant amount for a roundtrip commute go from potentially not being worth the money and effort become much more accessible and a possible last-minute decision thanks to the JR Pass. 

With free seat and luggage reservations, extra expenses can also be taken out of your budget with a Japan Rail Pass. On top of that, if you are buying individual tickets, some stations in more remote areas will accept cash only, meaning you'll always have to have some physical money on you, or be ready to withdraw some with conversion fees. Remaining on this topic, the JR Pass' price being set in yen, purchasing it in your local currency abroad may be a sweet deal, the yen being relatively weak compared to most international currencies recently. 

Map of the Japan Rail Pass network

Map of the Japan Rail Pass network

@Japan Experience

Take a look at our recommended smartphone apps for your next trip to Japan! // Smartphone apps to use for your trip to Japan

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Japan Rail Pass

Frequently Asked Questions about the JR Pass.

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