Should You Buy a Japan Rail Pass?
Travelling by train in Japan is absolutely the way to go! The trains are clean, frequent, efficient and very fast! But I wouldn’t call using them cheap, especially if you are riding the trains everyday and taking several long trips between cities. As a tourist you have access to purchasing a Japan Rail Pass which may make this travel expense better value for money. But before jumping in and buying that JR Pass, you need work out if it will pay off for you. Is the JR Pass worth it? Will it save you money?
Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?
The decision to purchase a JR Pass will depend on your plans during your trip. I would say if you are only planning on spending your time in one of the major cities as well as one or two longer journeys then give the Rail Pass a miss. But if you are planning a trip similar to ours with multiple longer journeys then it’s an absolute must! We were only in Japan for two weeks and had to move quickly between each destination.
Will the Japan Rail Pass save you money?
If you are not sure it will be cost effective to use the Japan Rail Pass you can always use google maps to check the cost of a particular trip. I would say come up with a plan for all the longer journeys. Calculate the total cost of these trips and compare this to the cost of the JR Pass.
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A couple of other things to consider. The JR Pass can only be used on trains operated by Japan Rail. Although Japan Rail is the major operator with the biggest network of lines, there are other operators in Japan that you will need to use from time to time. We used non JR trains when travelling from Nagano Station to Yamanouchi Station when we travelled to Shibu Onsen; Otsuki Station to Kawaguchiko Station for when we travelled to Mt Fuji; and some short trips around Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Should you order a Japan Rail Pass before you arrive in Japan?
YES! YES! YES! We strongly recommend you make this decision and purchase an Exchange Order well before you leave your home country. You must receive an Exchange Order, which then needs to be exchanged and activated in Japan for the actual JR Pass.
Previously, you had to purchase and receive the Exchange Order before you entered Japan. Now tourists have the option to have the Exchange Order delivered to their hotel in Japan. The reason we recommend getting the Exchange Order before entering Japan is so you have the option to exchange and activate for the actual JR Pass in the airport and start using it straight away. We used it straight away in Tokyo getting from the airport to the city on the Narita Express.
Should you get the first class ticket?
So you’ve decided you are going to go ahead with the Japan Rail Pass. Your next big decision is to decide whether or not to get the first class ticket (also known as a Green Pass). We went with the first class ticket because we wanted the extra room to spread out with our son Javi.
Plus we wanted to be sure that when travelling on those longer journeys we would have assigned seats. When using the general pass there are no assigned seats so there is the chance you may not be able to sit together if a train is crowded. Please note that not all trains have first class seats. First class seats are usually only available on the longer journeys between cities.
The best thing about the Japan Rail Pass when travelling with kids
When you hold a JR Pass and are using the trains around major cities like Tokyo, there is no need to work out how much your train costs, scramble through your wallet or purse to take out money to pay for your ticket, or work out how to use the ticketing machine. You just flash your JR Pass to the staff at the gate and they let you right through. This makes it is so much easier to proceed through the stations, particularly when you’re travelling with kids.
How do I get my Japan Rail Pass?
There are many companies to choose from to order you Japan Rail Pass. We’ve found some companies do charge a little more than others. We recommend jrailpass.com as they have lots of positive reviews, easy booking, worldwide shipping within two business days and online tracking.
A couple of things to know about the Japan Rail Pass
The Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains are not available to JR Pass holders. This is because Nozomi and Mizuho are operated by private rail companies that are not part of the JR Group. If you have the need for speed, JR Pass holders can ride the Shinkansen Hikari bullet train instead. It reaches speeds of 300 km/h which is the same speed as the Nozomi and Mizuho trains.
Children under the age of six travel for free on all JR public transport.
A Japan Rail Pass can be valid for either 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days.
We hope you found this article helpful. Let us know in the comments if you decided to buy a Japan Rail Pass. Also, come back to tell us how your trip through Japan went. We’d love to hear about it!
The World n Us
Very useful. I’ll check it out if I go to Japan.
thanks! and please do, it could certainly be worth your while.
What’s the price differential between a first class and standard class ticket? In some of Europe it’s almost nothing to upgrade – and much nicer…but here in the UK it can be expensive
Thanks for the question. If you check the link above you’ll be able to compare as it might have changed from when we visited. Good to know for when we head to Europe though!
I love travelling in trains & Bullet trains of Japan are on my wish list. It looks like the Rail Pass saves you time as you probably skip queues – is my understanding correct? I wish there was a way to get window seat on trains as well – the windows always look like a live screen that show you the changing landscape outside.
Definitely! You sometimes have to queue to purchase long distance train tickets as well as the time wasted navigating ticket machines. All solved with the pass though. We didn’t find getting window seats to be an issue while in Japan. Make sure to get to the station earlier for long distance trains so you are one of the first to board the cabin and pick a seat.
I’ve always wanted to visit Japan so thanks for the great tips about the rail pass. I’d definitely do a long trip with multiple stops so think that it would be worthwhile for me to buy. Great idea about purchasing before hand so that I can use it after arriving from the airport. Too bad the general pass doesn’t have assigned seats, looks like I’ll need to go first class!
You are welcome! Hope you get to book a trip to Japan soon. I’m glad you found our tips useful.
Just got off the Shinkansen two weeks ago! Japan has a thing for trains that makes it a must do in Japan. I too had contemplated a JR pass, but passed up as our travels were not many. Anyway loved their super awesome bullet trains. Even caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji in one!
That’s awesome! Sounds like you had a fantastic trip. I think its great you contemplated the pass even if ultimately it wasn’t suited for your trip. It shows its important to look into it and plan ahead. Thanks for reading!
The trains over in Asia are so amazing. They’re fast, clean and efficient. I agree – buy a rail pass!
Yes! Japan was unreal to us, its amazing how organised it all is. Excellent system!
I loved the Japan Rail Pass. Unfortunately though our 2 week passed ended 2 days before we were leaving so we ended up paying “almost” the full price for one pass in 2 days! AGH! Love Japan and their rail though 🙂
Oh no! I guess that really shows the excellent value the pass can provide. They do have an excellent rail system though 🙂
Thanks for helping weigh the pros and cons of the JR Rail Pass – I’ll be in Japan next month, and want to make the most out of my time, likely to have multiple long journeys like you guys, so thinking a rail pass could be the way to achieve that. Very good advice to pricing out all of your potential individual trips against the cost of the rail pass – I think it’s very easy to assume that a rail pass gives you value, without wanting to put the research or planning in.
Sounds like first class might be the best option too – thanks for your tips!
Hi Meg, I’m glad we could help. Enjoy your trip to Japan next month! If you can, check out our 16 Tips for Travel in Japan with Kids article, it has helpful info for all travellers alike. Also, we’d be happy to help if you have any questions while you are planning your upcoming trip =)
This is all great advise! I purchased a JR pass for my first trip to Japan, almost 15 years ago. My itinerary was similar to yours for a three week trip, and it was well worth it to cover the many legs of our journey, both from a cost and convenience perspective. On my next trip we were only there for a week, with fewer stops, so we opted to just pay for single journeys. It’s smart to do the research before you go to make sure if it’s the right choice for you! Maybe next time we’ll opt for first class 😀
Train is my least favorite way to travel, but I have heard good things about the Japanese trains and the bullet trains are quite a bit faster than even the fast trains here in Europe. It sounds as though the rail system is pretty extensive there. How long is a long journey? Do you ride overnight at all? I’d definitely go first class – it’s the only option as far as I’m concerned when it comes to train travel. I like ensuring I have a seat.
Thanks for this post. I am planning on going to Japan next year and these information are definitely helpful. I am clear on the “railway pass” or “individual tickets” question. Any information regarding the plane situation? Is it easy to fly from city to city? Is it worth it?