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When planning a trip to Japan, one thing you’ll come across a lot is the JR Pass, aka the Japan Rail Pass. This is a pass that you buy in advance (more on that below) for a set price and it covers all your train travel through Japan including those fancy Shinkansen / Bullet Trains you’ve probably seen photos and videos of online and on TV.
‘Is the JR Pass worth it?’ is a common question for those visiting Japan as the Japan Rail Pass is expensive. I say YES if you are planning on visiting many places around Japan, you will need this pass otherwise you will spend much more money on individual train tickets.
Trains are the most popular way to get around Japan because the infrastructure of the railways is so great. Japan does have buses connecting many of the cities but these take much longer.
From my 2.5 week trip to Japan here is the information you need to know about the JR Pass and all the information I wish I had known to help you organise your JR Pass before you get to Japan, when you first arrive and as you travel around Japan!
You NEED to get the JR Pass BEFORE you arrive in Japan.
Are you going to Japan in the next 1-2 days and need you pass NOW??
Japan Rail Pass can issue passes within 24 hours depending on your delivery location so get onto their website now!
What if you’re not at home before going to Japan to order a JR Pass?
This is the situation I was in. I was travelling around Asia so I had to plan to get my JR Pass in advance. Luckily you don’t need to have the JR Pass delivered to your home address, it can be any address OUTSIDE Japan.
I was in Taiwan before Japan so I got my JR Pass delivered to one of my hostel’s in Taiwan with the help on this service. (If you do this, be sure to contact your hostel or hotel before and ask them if it’s ok, ask for the official delivery address, and for them to keep a lookout for it when it’s delivered).
My delivery was tracked and arrived by the date promised so I really recommend them as they deliver all over the world.
These days you can get the JR Pass delivered to a hotel in Japan, Japan Rail Pass offer this service, however, it’s not the official way and will probably cost a lot more money. The reason the JR Pass has to be sent to an international address is because it is a tourist pass and they do not want local’s using it. This is also the reason the JR Pass is highly recommended for tourists visiting Japan as it is designed for tourism uses.
Side Note – If I have helped you in this post I would appreciate you using the links provided (like this one)to purchase your JR Pass through as I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
My Biggest Tip for Saving Money When Buying a JR Pass!
In order to save money on your JR Pass because they are not cheap, have a good think about your Japan itinerary because you may not need a pass for the whole length of your trip.
For example, I was in Japan for 18 days and I got the 14-day pass rather than the 21-day pass as I didn’t need to use the JR Pass on my first or last few days as I stayed in the Cities I was in. You mainly only need it when travelling away from your base Cities so think about ways in which you can work your itinerary so you don’t buy a pass and have days either at the start or end of your trip when you don’t use it.
Related Post: My Tips on Saving Money in Japan!
How To Work Out if a JR Pass is worth it for your trip to Japan.
If you’re still struggling to come to terms with how expensive the JR Passes are, if you know the route you’re going to take around Japan or have an idea, go onto HyperDia and search for some trains, they’ll bring up the costs that you need to pay if you do not have a JR Pass so you can get an idea of how much you will actually spend.
With that being said, keep in mind that once you have the JR Pass, you feel very free. You can go wherever you want in the Country by train and not pay any more money for it!
It also depends where you’re visiting in Japan, if you’re going to one of the lesser-visited islands and places like Naha on Okinawa island, you won’t need the JR Pass.
Before you book or catch a train in Japan using your JR Pass you need to exchange your JR Pass Letter which was delivered in the post to you for the actual JR Pass. To do this you’ll need to visit a JR Exchange office in Japan.
I saw a JR Exchange Office in Kansai Airport which serves the Cities of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto however there was a pretty long queue and I didn’t want to use my JR Pass from the airport anyway.
I started my trip in Osaka so I went to Osaka Station to exchange my JR Pass Letter. The JR Exchange Office in Osaka Station is on the first floor of the Central JR Gate, next to the JR Information Counter.
I confirmed what date I wanted my JR Pass to activate, aka the day I wanted to leave Osaka (it doesn’t have to be on the same day, it can be in the future). The lady at this office was also able to make train bookings for me so I booked the first train of my Japan Backpacking Trip with her.
Related Post: Knowing a bit of Japanese when in Japan is useful as English is not always widely spoken. Here are some helpful Japanese phrases for travel to learn before you go!
Trains in Japan cannot be booked online, or at least not with the JR Pass (which is a bit annoying and behind the times in my opinion but there we go), however, you can check timings online so you have an idea of what times the train leave. Many apps are available or you can use HyperDia.
As part of the JR Pass, you are allowed to reserve seats on trains in advance. To pre-book a train in Japan and reserve a seat on a JR Train you need to go into a Train Station and to the Ticket Office with your JR Pass.
You do not have to pre-book a train and seat in Japan, you can just turn up on the day, however, if you are travelling Japan during high season or a popular time of year like Spring and Cherry Blossom Season, I would recommend booking your train and seat in advance using your Japan Rail Pass.
I found that the best thing to do when you arrive in your new destination by train is to head the ticket office straight away and book your train to leave if you know when you’re leaving to save going back to the train station whilst there.
Alternatively, if you know your Japan Itinerary in advance and have it all organised, you can book all of your trains in advance in one go with one ticket office if you wish.
When it comes to getting on the train, the train tickets you have been issued by the ticket office do not work in the entry and exit barriers to the platforms.
Instead, there is a ticket inspector gate/room to the side of all of the barriers where they check your ticket and JR Pass instead of using the gates.
My Biggest Tip for Saving Money When Using a JR Pass in Japan!
The JR Pass covers all Japan Rail Lines and these lines do not only run from city to city on the super-fast Shinkansen / Bullet Trains, but they also run within and through cities too.
The JR Pass does not work on the Subways, Metros or Trams, you’ll need to buy loadable cards to use these like the ICOCA card for the Kansai area of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto to use those meaning extra money spent.
So to save money in Japan with the JR Pass be sure to always keep your JR Pass on you in your bag and get the JR lines through the cities where possible. For these trains you do not need to get a ticket in advance as you are not reserving a seat, you just show your JR Pass to the ticket inspector at the window by the barriers and get on the train to wherever you want!
For exampl,e in Tokyo I stayed in a hostel near a JR Station with a JR Line running through it which meant I didn’t spend any money on transport in Tokyo as I made sure to ways go to JR Stations on the JR Lines.
I hope this information helps you buy and use your JR Pass correctly and in the best way possible!
For more of my Japan posts see:
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!
NOV-DEC: PROBABLY INDONESIA
If you want to join or read more about the details of the group tour.