Vegetarian's Japan Guide

A Guide to Do I Need a JR Pass & Is the JR Pass Worth It?

If you have done a bit of research about the transportation system in Japan, the term Japan Rail Pass might sound familiar to you. While the unlimited train rides on all JR train lines sound enticing, depending on your itinerary, you might not actually need a JR Pass! In fact, with the price scheduled to be increased steeply from October 2023, the nationwide JR Pass is probably not worth it for the standard first-timer TokyoKyotoOsaka itinerary (also referred to as the Golden Route).

Table of Contents

What Is Japan Railway and Japan Rail Pass?

A Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass is a transportation ticket that allows unlimited train rides on most of Japan Railway’s train lines, bus routes, and ferries during a set duration. In addition to the JR Lines, you can use the JR Pass to board certain private companies’ rail lines, such as the Ainokazu Toyama Railway.

Japan Railway (JR) was a national railway previously owned by the government. This is why its rail network stretches across the country. With the privatization of the railway company, the Japan Railway was split into six smaller companies, each owning a part of the JR train lines.

From north to south, these companies are:

  • JR-Hokkaido (JR北海道)
  • JR-East (JR東日本)
  • JR-Central (JR東海)
  • JR-West (JR西日本)
  • JR-Shikoku (JR四国)
  • JR-Kyushu (JR九州)

Currently, there are two types of nationwide JR Pass: Green (like business class) and Ordinary (like economy class).

Do I Need a JR Pass?

JR PASS is not cheap. You don’t need to purchase one unless you plan to travel for long distances on the bullet train between prefectures multiple times. If you only plan to explore the city center of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, then a nationwide JR Pass is not required. Instead, purchase a regional JR Pass or subway/metro ticket.

You can also simply get a transportation IC Card such as Suica and Icoca and tap your card as you go.

How Do I Know If the Nationwide JR Pass Is Worth It?

  • If you are after the nationwide JR Pass, Japan-Guide’s JR Pass Calculator will help determine if the pass pays off.
  • If you want to know whether a regional JR Pass is worth it, you can use either Google Maps, Navitime, or Japan Transit Planner to find out the individual train trip’s cost. Calculate the individual trips’ cost and compare it to a regional JR Pass.
    • You can also download the Navitime or Japan Transit Planners app to your device.
    • You can select the type of train pass you intend to purchase to determine if extra charges will incur for a particular train ride entered.

What If a JR Pass Isn’t Worth It for My Itinerary?

If you find that a JR Pass is not worth it for your Japan trip, simply purchase a one-way bullet train ticket for longer-distance train rides instead. Of course, if you are on a budget, boarding a bullet train is not a must. The cheapest option is the local train.

Tip: Book your bullet train ticket with klook. Not only does it allow you to reserve a seat 3 months in advance, but it is also cheaper to purchase one from an overseas agent for the train lines in the Western Japan region. Klook’s various discount codes also reduce the out-of-pocket cost even further!

Within the cities or prefectures, besides using a transportation IC Card such as Suica and Icoca, you can also consider transportation passes offered by the local bus, private rail, metro, and subway companies.

Kintetsu-Rail-Pass-1-Day
© Kintetsu Railway Co.,Ltd

Different Types of JR Pass

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Apart from the train class, there are different types of JR Pass, nationwide and regional. Please check the valid train lines and bus routes carefully before purchasing.

The JR Pass that most people and websites refer to is the nationwide JR Pass that allows you to travel across the train lines, bus routes, and ferries of all six Japan Railway companies.

Tip: If your JR Pass covers Tokyo, you can use the JR Pass to travel on Tokyo Monorail. This is handy if you arrive at or depart from Haneda Airport.

The Nationwide JR Pass

The nationwide JR Pass currently has three validity periods: 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day. Unless you plan on jumping between different regions in Japan, you won’t need a nationwide JR Pass.

Type/DurationAdult: GreenAdult: Ordinary
7-Day70,000 yen50,000 yen
14-Day111,000 yen80,000 yen
21-Day140,000 yen100,000 yen
Japan Rail Pass Types and Prices from the 1st of October 2023

Tip: No ticket is required if your child is younger than six years of age.

The Regional JR Pass

Besides the nationwide JR Pass, more than 20 regional JR Passes are also available. Although the price of the regional passes will also increase from the 1st of October 2023, they are more affordable and are more likely to save you money.

But one thing to keep in mind before purchasing a regional JR Pass is the valid train lines. Because each JR company only owns a part of the national railway network, a separate ticket is required if you travel outside the pass’s valid train lines.

A List of Regional JR Passes

RegionPass NameValid PeriodMain Covered DestinationsPurchasable WebsitesTerms and Conditions
HokkaidōHokkaido Rail Pass5-day, 7-day or 10-dayAsahikawa, Hakodate, and Sapporoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
HokkaidōSapporo-Furano Area Pass4-daySapporo, Biei, and Furanoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
HokkaidōSapporo-Noboribetsu Area Pass4-daySapporo and Noboribetsuklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Northeastern and EastJR EAST PASS (Tohoku Area)5-dayAomori, Akita, Mt. Zaō, Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, Sendai, Nikkō, and Tokyoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Hokkaidō and NortheasternJR Tohoku-South Hokkaido Rail Pass6-dayHokkaidō, Aomori, Akita, Mt. Zaō, Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, Sendai, Nikkō, and Tokyoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
East and CentralJR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)5-dayTokyo, Nagano, Karuizawa, Niigata, Matsumoto, and Hakubaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
EastJR TOKYO Wide Pass3-dayMt. Fuji/Kawaguchiko, Izu Peninsula, Tokyo, Gala Yuzawa, Kusatsu Onsen, Nikkō, Kamakura & Enoshima, and KaruizawaklookTerms and Conditions
Hokkaidō, Northeastern, and EastJR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass6-daySapporo, Aomori, Akita, Mt. Zaō, Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, Sendai, Nikkō, and TokyoklookTerms and Conditions
NorthwesternHokuriku Area Pass4-dayKanazawa, Toyama, Unazuki Onsen, and Kaga Onsenklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
East, Central, Northwestern, and WestHokuriku Arch Pass7-dayTokyo, Kanazawa, Toyama, Kyoto, and Osakaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Central and WestTakayama-Hokuriku Area
Tourist Pass
5-dayNagoya, Osaka, Shirakawagō, and Takayamaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
CentralAlpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area
Tourist Pass
5-dayTateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Matsumoto, Gifu, and Naganoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
CentralMt. Fuji-Shizuoka Area
Tourist Pass Mini
3-dayMt. Fuji, Shizuoka, Atami, and HamamatsuklookTerms and Conditions
Central and WestIse-Kumano-Wakayama Area
Tourist Pass
5-dayKumano Kodo, Wakayama, and Naraklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Northwestern and WestKansai-Hokuriku Area Pass7-dayKanazawa, Unazuki Onsen, Toyama, Tottori, Osaka, Kyoto, and Naraklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
WestKansai Area Pass1-day, 2-day, 3-day or 4-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, and Kobeklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
WestKansai Wide Area Pass5-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Amanohashidate, Wakayama, and Takamatsuklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West and Sanyo/San’inKansai-Hiroshima Area Pass5-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, and Hiroshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West and Sanyo/San’inSanyo-San’in Area Pass7-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Shimane, and Hiroshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern KyūshūJR-West All Area Pass7-dayTottori, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, and Hiroshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern KyūshūSanyo-San’in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass7-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Yufuin, and Beppuklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern Kyūshū Setouchi Area Pass7-dayKyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Matsuyama, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, and Hakataklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Sanyo/San’inHiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass5-dayHiroshima and Fukuokaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Sanyo/San’inOkayama-Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass5-dayOkayama, Hiroshima, and Fukuokaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
ShikokuALL SHIKOKU Rail Pass3-day, 4-day, 5-day or 7-dayEhime, Kochi, Tokushima, and Kagawaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
KyūshūAll Kyushu Pass3-day, 5-day or 7-dayFukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Kagoshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
KyūshūNorthern Kyushu Pass3-day or 5-dayFukuoka, Yufuin, Beppu, Kumamono, Okura, and SagaTerms and Conditions
KyūshūSouthern Kyushu Pass3-dayNagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and KagoshimaTerms and Conditions
A List of Regional JR Passes

How to Determine Which JR Pass Might Be Worth It?

As there are so many JR Passes available, it may be difficult to narrow down the passes that might suit your Japan itinerary.

The good news is that Klook has a really convenient function. By simply ticking or inputting the destinations or attractions you plan to visit, it will tell you which passes cover your selected destinations.

The map also tells you the train route covered by the passes when you hover your cursor over it!

Is the Green JR Pass Worth It?

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The seats on ordinary bullet trains are spacious and comfortable. You can even fit a medium-sized suitcase in the legroom of an empty seat.

Note that if you are tall, sitting in a green carriage may be uncomfortable for you, as the fancy footrest takes up the legroom!

Who Can Use a JR Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is a product for international tourists. As such, you must be a “Temporary Visitor” to purchase and use a JR Pass when traveling in Japan. A Temporary Visitor stamp/sticker is required to receive your JR Pass.

Important: No stamp/sticker will be marked on your passport if you use the unmanned automated gate to clear the immigration. In this case, ask the immigration officer at the airport for the stamp/sticker.

For more information about the eligibility of using a JR Pass, refer to the official website HERE.

How to Purchase Your JR Pass

There are several ways to purchase your JR Pass, nationwide or regional. Unless you purchase the JR Pass in Japan, a JR Pass exchange order will be sent to you. The exchange order can be a paper-based version or a digital version. Upon arrival in Japan, you must visit a JR ticket office or find a ticket vending machine that issues JR Passes at the train station to exchange a JR Pass Exchange Order for a JR Pass.

The Key Difference Between Purchasing a JR Pass Using the Official Website and from an Overseas JR-Designated Sales Agency

The key difference between purchasing a JR Pass using the official website and from an overseas JR-designated sales agency is at what point of time you can make a reservation with your JR Pass.

  • The benefit of purchasing the JR Pass through the official website is that you can make a reservation before arriving in Japan.
  • If you purchase the JR Pass from an overseas JR-designated sales agency, you can only make a reservation after you exchange the JR Pass Exchange Order with the actual JR Pass.

Should I Purchase the JR Pass from the Official Website or an Overseas JR-Designated Sales Agency

You might wonder why one wouldn’t want to purchase the JR Pass from the official website. After all, dealing with the JR company directly puts one’s mind at ease. Plus you can reserve a seat before arriving in Japan.

For most regional JR Pass, purchasing from the official website is 10% more expensive than from an Overseas JR-Designated Sales Agency. Why? Because of tax.

Another benefit to purchasing from websites such as Klook or Kkday is the extra discounts these websites offer their customers. Especially when events are on, you can sometimes nab a discount of over 10%!

Klook.com

Do I Need to Make a Train Reservation When Traveling in Japan

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Train services in Japan are frequent. Unless the train you want to take is reserved-only, a reservation is not required and usually not necessary. The only exception is if you plan to travel during Japan’s long public holiday.

  • During the New Year period from the end of December to the beginning of January
  • Japan’s Golden Week from the end of April to early May.
  • The Obon Festival in mid-August
  • For other parts of the year, you might want to reserve a seat on a bullet train during cherry blossom and the fall foliage seasons.

That being said, a reservation guarantees you have a seat on the train, so ensure you make a reservation whenever possible for a pleasant train ride. You should be able to get your preferred seat on the train if you make a reservation one day beforehand unless your travel period is during Japan’s peak travel period.

The good news is that the JR Pass not only gives you unlimited train rides, but you can also use the JR Pass to reserve a seat on the bullet train’s reserved carriages without extra charges!

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A Reservation Is Essential to Board the Bullet Train, Nozomi, During the Peak Seasons

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From 28th December 2023, the fastest bullet train traveling between Tokyo, Osaka, and Hakata will become a reserved-only train during the New Year period, Golden Week, and the Obon Festival. Although you can still board Nozomi without a reservation, there will be no seats for the non-reserved ticket holders during the peak periods.

Through the online bullet train platform smart-ex.jp, you can reserve your seat one year in advance!

How to Make a Train Reservation in Japan

There are four ways you can make a reservation to board a JR train if the train allows reservation:

  1. By using a reserved seat ticket machine
  2. By visiting JR’s ticket office, Midori-no-madoguchi (みどりの窓口)
  3. By using Klook‘s train reservation function
  4. By using the Japan Rail Pass Reservation Website if you have purchased your JR Pass through the official website or don’t have a JR Pass.
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To make a reservation using a reserved seat ticket machine, you will need your JR Pass and your passport. You can refer to the official website HERE for detailed instructions.

What If I Missed the Train That I Reserved?

If the seat was reserved (when using a JR Pass that allows reserving a train seat for free), don’t worry if you missed the incoming train on the seat you reserved. Use your JR Pass to reserve another seat on another train.

However, if you have paid extra to make a train reservation, speak to the station staff for solutions.

Do I Need to Reserve the Oversized Babbage Area on the Bullet Train

If you plan to take the bullet train with baggage with a total dimension between 161 cm and 250 cm, you need to reserve the oversized baggage area behind the back-row seats. If the total dimension exceeds 250 cm, you need to reserve a seat for that baggage.

The above rule applies on the below train lines:

  • Tokaido Shinkansen, Kyushu Shinkansen, and Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen
    • Between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka
    • Between Shin-Osaka and Hakata
    • Between Hakata and Kagoshima
    • Between Takeo-Onsen and Nagasaki

Refer to the Official Pamphlet for more information.

Important: You might be fined if you didn’t reserve the oversized baggage area but left your belongings there.

Tip: If your belonging’s total dimension is less than 160cm, put it on the luggage rack above your seat.

Reserving the Oversized Baggage Compartment (特大荷物コーナー)

From the 24th of May 2023, the Tokaido Shinkansen, Kyushu Shinkansen, or Sanyo Shinkansen you board might have an oversized baggage compartment. It is the same type of compartment commonly found in airport express trains, such as the Narita Express. Currently, only 16 bullet trains have this facility. They are located in carriages 4, 6, 9, 13, and 15.

The compartment has two stories. If your baggage can fit into the oversized baggage compartment, make a reservation when you purchase the bullet train ticket by choosing the seats with the right to use the oversized baggage compartment. The ticket prices for these seats are the same as other seats.

  • The upper compartment space can fit baggage with a dimension of 80 x 60 x 50cm.
  • The upper compartment space can fit baggage with a dimension of 80 x 60 x 40cm.

Luggage cable locks are available. If you want to use it, your transportation IC card can be used to lock and unlock the luggage cable locks. The bar in the middle of the compartment is also locked. The 4-digit passcode is the carriage number + your seat’s row number.

Important: You might be fined if you didn’t reserve the oversized baggage area but left your belongings there.

Important: You might be fined if you didn’t reserve the oversized baggage compartment but left your belongings there.

When Should I Exchange for the Actual JR Pass, and Can I Choose to Activate the JR Pass on a Different Date

You can exchange your JR Pass Exchange Order with the actual JR Pass at any time. However, because JR Pass’s exchange locations are limited to the bigger train stations, it is best to exchange it as soon as you arrive in Japan. Of course, if there is a queue, you can exchange it at a different location.

Refer to HERE for a list of locations to exchange for your JR Pass.

Whether you choose to exchange for the JR Pass at a ticket office or a ticket vending machine, you will be asked for the activation date for the pass. In other words, the date you exchange for the JR Pass does not need to be the date you activate the JR Pass.

Is the JR Pass Transferable?

Unfortunately, you cannot transfer your JR Pass to someone else.

JR Pass is a registered ticket. It can only be used by the person who registered their passport information. You must bring your passport with you for verification when requested by staff.

Although the chances of being checked are slim, let’s be a good tourist and follow the rules. Please don’t try to sell or give your JR Pass to someone else.

Can I Board All the JR Trains Within the Covered Areas

You can board most train types within the pass’s covered area without incurring extra charges. The below are the most common exceptions. Please check the terms and conditions carefully before purchasing a train pass and when boarding a train.

  • Some regional train passes do not cover bullet trains and limited express.
  • No matter which JR Pass you purchase, extra charges will be incurred if you want to board the sleeper trains.

Can I Use the JR Pass Non-Consecutively?

Unfortunately, all types of JR Passes have to be used consecutively.

Getting a Better Understanding of Tokyo’s Train System

Shinjuku-South-ExitTokyo-Japan
Click the photo for a guide to Tokyo’s Train System!

If you had a chance to look at Tokyo’s train map, you might be startled at first glance. With so many train companies owning train lines and stations in Tokyo, the city’s train map may look too confusing to follow for many tourists.

So if you want to understand Tokyo’s train system better, refer to our Guide to Tokyo’s Transportation System and Train Routes!

The Most Useful Apps for Traveling in Japan

In this day and age, smartphones are our new maps, translators, and guides. It is the most useful tool that helps us navigate when traveling to a foreign country like Japan.

But for it to be useful for your Japan trip, there are a couple of apps that you need to download. For more information, refer to our Most Useful Apps for Traveling in Japan article!

The Most Useful Apps for Traveling in Japan

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