With a smile on my face I think back to the summer of 2015 when we were Japan for two weeks. We had a great time; the food, the friendly people and public transport were all amazing. During our trip through Japan, we used the Japan Rail Pass, a pass that you pretty much can’t travel without when you’re visiting Japan. In this article I’ll be telling you how to use the Japan Rail Pass.
How to use the Japan Rail Pass?
You’re planning a trip to Japan and are wondering what the Japan Rail Pass is and how to use it? We will tell you all about it!
Traveling by train in Japan
When you are visiting Japan there is a good chance you’re going to see a bit more than just the city you’re flying into and the easiest way to get around Japan is by train. You can also travel by bus or by car, but it will take much longer to get from A to B when you choose these modes of transportation. On top of that, you’ll have to be a confident driver if you’re used to driving on the right side of the road. In Japan they drive on the left side, which could be a challenge for some of us.
So traveling by train makes the most sense. Trains in Japan are fast, reliable, and secure. The only downside is the cost of train travel in Japan. It is quite expense to travel by train. Fortunately, Japan has a pass that makes train traveling affordable and easy: the Japan Rail Pass.
What is the Japan Rail Pass?
The Japan Railway Pass is a card that you buy prior to your visit to Japan. It is a pass that allows you to use all JR trains in Japan for free. This doesn’t mean you can use all trains for free as there are different companies operating trains and metros in Japan. You can use the Japan Rail Pass for long distance trips (like Kyoto – Osaka), but you can also use it in the Tokyo subway.
The JR Pass is only available for people who have a temporary visa. So if you’re working or studying in Japan you’re not eligible to use the JR Pass. The Japan Rail Pass comes in different forms; you can opt for a 1 week, 2 week or 3 week pass.
We were in Japan for two weeks and bought the 2 week pass. We decided to purchase this pass based on the route we were planning on doing. We also did the math and compared the price of tickets to the cost of the JR Pass.
What does the Japan Rail Pass cost?
When I was looking into the price of the various JR Passes, I discovered that these tend to vary. I thought that was interesting as it is a standard pass, only the amount of time you can use it varies. This means that companies that sell the JR Pass adjust the price to make more commission from their sales. If you like saving money like we do, it’s worth checking out different providers to find the best deal.
These are the standard prices of the JR Pass:
7 days → € 213,00
14 days → € 339,00
21 days → € 433,00
We paid € 329.00 for 14 days, so a bit cheaper than the above prices (which I recently found online). On top of the costs for the JR Pass we had to pay the shipping costs, which were € 14.00. As you can see it’s worth to shop around a bit to get the best deal!
How to use the Japan Rail Pass?
First, it is really easy to use the JR Pass! After you have received the Pass and all the paperwork you can activate the pass as soon as you enter Japan. It is pretty easy, you just go to one of the JR offices and let them activate it for you. We activated ours at Tokyo Narita airport, the airport where we flew into from Beijing.
Before you fly into Japan, you have to think carefully about when exactly you want to use the pass. For example, when you bought the 14 days pass and you’re going to be in Japan for 19 days, there will be five days you won’t be able to use the pass. Think about when you’re going to be making your most expensive train rides and choose to use your JR Pas during those days.
Once you’ve active:
When you have activated the JR Pass, it’s super easy to use. When you go into the station you’ll see one of the employees who sits at the entrance gates. Show your JR Pass to them and they’ll let you in. Do the same when you leave the station, could not be easier!
Is the JR Pass worth the money?
We think this is quite an important question, especially because the Japan Rail Pass isn’t the cheapest. It is important to check in advance what route you’re going to take on your trip through Japan, how many trains you will take, which ones are covered by JR and which individual tickets you will still need to buy. A great site for this is Hyperdia. Here you’ll find many of Japan’s train routes and the price of the tickets for these routes.
When we were in Japan we took the following route.
Tokyo – Hakone – Kyoto – Nara – Osaka – Tokyo
When we were planning our trip we also wanted to visit Mount Koyasan, but when we started looking into accommodation there, there were no affordable accommodation left, so we had to skip this pretty place. Also, we activated the pass at Narita Aiport, so we didn’t need to pay the expensive train ride that would take us to the heart of Tokyo.
The following are the rides I took and the single ticket price for each of these rides:
When added together, these individual train tickets total up to ¥ 32,630, which in euro’s is €238,79. As you can see, this turns out to be less than what we paid for the JR Pass. I suspect it is partly because we didn’t go to Mount Koya.
Not mentioned in this overview are all the JR rides we took in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. When possible we took a JR trains in the city, so we never paid (much) for transportation. We only paid for transport in Kyoto a few times, because we had to take a bus instead of a train.
Although it seems we ended up paying more for transportation with the purchase of the Japan Rail Pass, I think it’s really worth buying the JR Pass. It was so easy to use, that we were happy to pay a little bit extra for that convenience. We never had to stand in line to buy tickets, didn’t have to ask train staff for help and were not frustrated by ticket machines that we didn’t know how to operate. Looking back I’m very happy we decided to buy the JR Pass!
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More inspiration for your trip to Japan? Please also read these articles we wrote.