Some people still ask ‘Why you need a JR Rail Pass’, well the answer is pretty simple. The JR Rail Pass is great value for foreign tourists, so much so that we foreign expats are super jealous. However, all being said it is a great way to promote the shinkansen system and provide cheap, convenient and reliable exploration around Japan.
It provides unlimited use of the network and is available in either 7, 14 or 21 day periods. While it does provide access to the shinkansen (bullet train) network, if you are travelling to far out place like Fukuoka, Sapporo and Okinawa, then you may want to consider flying. In these cases flying is cheaper, more convenient, and sometimes your only form of transport available.
Anyway, here are the top 8 reasons why we think you need the pass:
Use on All JR Networks
The beauty of the pass extends beyond the bullet train network to the rest of the JR train lines too. This is really convenient especially in the Tokyo and Kansai areas, where they have extensive lines across the major districts and cities.
It also includes access to the following lines JR East (Tokyo), JR West (Osaka), Central JR (Nagoya), JR Hokkaido, JR Kyushu and JR Shikoku. Including all their extensive JR Networks.
You Choose the Time Suitable to Your Stay
The passes come in 7, 14 and 21 day passes, and you can register at any time during your trip. This means if you stay for a month, but only have a 14-day pass, you don’t have to start using the pass until your first official exchange date.
For example, 7 days into your trip may be your first initial use of the bullet train (Shinkansen). From there, you should maximise your use of the pass, as it is based on a consecutive number of days. Use this part of the trip to maximise your use of the bullet train network and visit as many places as you can. Day trips are also another option, particularly if you base yourself somewhere central like Osaka or Kyoto.
Use the Shinkansen Network across Japan
The JR Rail Pass is available across all JR lines in Japan, and this includes access to major cities. These include Shizuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kyushu, Kumamoto and Kagoshima. So not only the major shinkansen stops but also the local networks connected to these stations.
Free Travel from Airports
With the JR Rail Pass, you can access major cities from both international airports. That includes Narita and Haneda to Tokyo and Kansai International Airport to Osaka or Kyoto.
As an example, you can use the Narita Express (3,190 yen) to Tokyo, it takes 1 hour + depending on your destination. You can also use it on the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda Airport to Hamamatsucho station and then Hamamatsucho to Tokyo station (approx. 640 yen).
Furthermore, you can also access Kyoto and Osaka via the Haruka Express from Kansai International Airport. To Shin-Osaka station, it takes about an hour or alternatively, you can get off at Tennoji, one stop before, which is closer to the city centre. To Kyoto station, the journey takes about an hour and 15 minutes and is 2 stops after Shin-Osaka station.
Visit Major Must-See areas in Japan
With the JR Rail Pass, you can take advantage of the following direct routes to must-see attractions including:
- Nikko Line to Nikko
- Yamanote Line to see the major districts of Tokyo
- Keiyo Line to Tokyo Disney Land and Sea (from Tokyo to Maihama station)
- Sakurajima Line to Universal Studios Japan (from Osaka)
- Osaka Loop Line (from Osaka)
- Nara Line to Fushimi Inari (shrine) and Nara (from Kyoto)
- Sagano Line to Arashiyama (from Kyoto)
All the above lines mentioned are run by JR, hence why they are covered by the pass.
Cheaper than a return trip to Osaka
A return ticket to Osaka via the Hikari or Kodama service costs around 28,000 yen return. If you compare this to the price of the 7-day ticket alone, which is similarly priced. Plus, assuming you make more bullet and local train journeys on top of this, then you’ll see value and savings being made.
In addition, Osaka is seen as the perfect central location or base, especially for short trips to Hiroshima, Nagoya, Fukuoka and so on. Using the pass, day trips to these kinds of destinations are possible due to the short travel distance from Osaka via the shinkansen network.
You can Upgrade to the Green Pass (1st Class)
If your budget allows, you can pay a little extra for the premium Green Pass. This allows you access to seating offered in the Green Car cabins, which is the equivalent of first class on their bullet train routes.
The added advantage of the Green Pass includes larger and more comfortable seating, a hot towel, plus free drinks on some routes. In addition, it is recommended you choose the Green Pass during peak seasons, like Golden Week, Obon, Summer Break and Silver Week. These are the busiest seasons, and so it can sometimes make booking a regular seat on the bullet train difficult. Usually, the green cars are not as crowded, even in the busiest seasons, and it will be easier to reserve a seat too.
Order Online Before your trip and save ¥¥¥
If you order online before you depart, you can save up to 20% or more on the price of your ticket. This is due to the price of the JR Rail Pass increasing, especially if you wish to buy in Japan. Buy online now for expedited shipping to your home address, or we can send it to your place of accommodation in Japan too.
You can buy the JR Rail Pass now online to make sure you save ¥¥¥ before arriving in Japan.
Some Minor Drawbacks
Of course, like any special, there are some exceptions applicable to the JR Rail Pass. So, we need to mention these here just to clarify.
Firstly, the pass does not let you access the fastest trains. This includes the Nozomi service on the Tokaido line and the Mizuho on the Sanyo line. However, when compared to the second fastest services, ie the Hikari or Sakura respectively, we are only talking a matter of minutes. These services are available with the JR Rail Pass.
To put this in perspective, the Nozomi service from Tokyo station to Shin-Osaka takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. Comparatively, the Hikari service between the same stations, plus a few extra and takes a little over 3 hours. The Hikari service usually runs every 30 minutes or so. The slowest service on the bullet train network is the Kodama, which can take over 4 hours and stops at more stations too.
For the Sanyo line, the Mizuho service that runs from Shin-Osaka station to Hakata takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes. In contrast, the Sakura service that operates along the same stations takes about 2 hours 40 minutes. This includes several additional stops.
We recommend you use your pass to book reserved seating, this will help you guarantee a window seat. Especially for some of the scenic views of Mt Fuji and the like along the way.
You should also be careful with purchasing two or more rail passes for yourself. This is because once you have registered one pass, you have to wait another 14 days before you can register your next pass.
Finally, passes are only available for those on the visa status of ‘Tourist Visa’. Foreign residents, Japanese Nationals or any other visa status or not eligible for the JR Rail Pass.
If you’re planning your travels in Japan, we invite you to join our rapidly expanding Travel in Japan Discussion Group via facebook.