Ried and I bought EUrail train passes for our trip to France, Belgium, and Luxembourg in 2016…and vowed to never buy tourist rail passes EVER again as they were so expensive and we were never able to book the tickets we wanted. When we started planning our trip to Japan though, I noticed a lot of people saying how great the JR rail pass was. I was skeptical but, after much research, Ried and I decided to give JR a chance.
This post will outline some of the major questions we had before we bought and explain how to use the passes once you get them!
Is it really worth it?
Our trip went as follows: Narita Airport –> Tokyo –> Nagano –> Kyoto –> Osaka –> Hiroshima –> Miyajima –> Hakone –> Narita Airport
Before we bought our JR pass I went online and used google maps to find the approximate price we would pay for our travels while in Japan. I then compared it to the price of the JR pass and found it was absolutely worth it for us. The JR pass only covers trains run by JR and I took this into account when comparing prices (see below for more info on what the JR pass covers).
Because we were officially in Japan for around 2.5 weeks, it wasn’t worth it for us to buy the 3 week pass. Instead, we bought the 2 week pass for $524 (Canadian dollars) each and activated it on our last day in Tokyo (which was 2 weeks before our final day in Japan). We paid for all our train rides in Tokyo using the Passmo. Again, I priced all this out ahead of time and found it was more cost effective to activate the pass later and just pay for our trips around the city.
How do I get it?
We got ours at this site:
There are plenty of websites that sell the pass but we chose this one and it worked out great for us. After we ordered the pass online, we were mailed physical copies of our passes. They arrived quickly (I don’t remember exact timelines but it took around 2 weeks). You must bring the physical copy and your passport with you to an exchange point in Japan to have it activated.
Follow this link to find a list of places you can activate your pass:
How much does it cost?
This depends on how long you want your pass to be valid for. The website we bought through charged $329 for a 7 day pass, $524 for a 14 day pass, and $670 for a 21 day pass. You can upgrade to 1st class for a fee, but coach was comfortable and clean. Children’s passes cost less.
What does it cover?
– All JR lines except the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen.
– Local JR buses
– JR Miyajima ferry (really nice if you are planning to do the trip from Hiroshima to Miyajima – which you totally should!)
– JR lines in cities (we used it lots in Kyoto and Osaka)
– The Yamanote Line in Tokyo (this takes you to most of the major districts in the city)
How does it work?
After you follow the instructions above about activation, you are given a booklet which is your official pass. When you want to get on a train, just go to the gates where everyone scans their Passmo or inserts their tickets and instead of using these, you go to the person watching the gates, show them your pass, and they usher you through! Easy!
The beauty of the JR pass is that you can reserve tickets ahead of time. Just go to the JR rail office at whatever train station you are at, tell them when and where you want to go, they reserve it for you at no cost and give you physical tickets. Once booked, you don’t have to worry about getting to the train station super early and wondering if you’ll even get a seat. Just show up at your platform, get on the train, and have your ticket ready to show the staff on board.
Who do we recommend it for?
If you are going to be travelling around Japan a lot, I absolutely recommend the JR pass. It’s definitely worth it financially if you will be making multiple long train trips. Another benefit is that it’s really nice not to have to worry about having enough cash to buy all your train tickets while you’re there.
If you are still unsure, I recommend using google maps (or HyperDia as recommended by our reader Mchan) to get a rough estimate of cost for train trips before you go to Japan. This is a really easy way to compare if the JR pass is worth it for you.
If you are just travelling around a city or two, I don’t think the JR pass would be worth it for you.
Thanks for reading!