Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It? (2023 Update After Cost Increase)

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Travelling by practice is without doubt one of the issues we love most about Japan. There’s an intensive community, the trains are spacious and comfy, and so they all the time run on time (we even made a one-minute connection!).

The solely draw back is the worth. Buying a Japan Rail Pass upfront used to save lots of you some huge cash, however that has modified with a value enhance in October 2023.

In this assessment, I’ll discover whether or not a Japan Rail Pass is price it any longer and share helpful ideas for utilizing the cross and travelling by practice in Japan.

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Update: Japan Rail Pass Price Increase 2023

The value of the Japan Rail Pass elevated considerably (round 70%) in October 2023.

Unfortunately, which means for many guests, the Japan Rail Pass not saves you cash.

This is such a disgrace as I completely love the comfort of travelling with a cross. You ought to nonetheless take into account a Japan Rail Pass if:

  • You are travelling quite a bit – For instance for a visit that features Tokyo to Kyoto return with a day journey to Hiroshima (see the itinerary under), a cross now prices about the identical as particular person tickets.
  • You prioritise comfort – It’s so good with the ability to hop on trains with out shopping for a ticket.

Another change with the brand new passes is that you should utilize it on the quickest shinkansen trains (Nozomi and Mizuho), however you need to pay a hefty supplementary charge (4960 yen/ US $33 from Tokyo to Kyoto). This isn’t price it to achieve Kyoto 20 minutes quicker.

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What is a Japan Rail Pass?

A Japan Rail Pass is a ticket that gives limitless journey on all Japan Rail nationwide trains for a sure interval. Passes can be found for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days and you may select between a regular and inexperienced (firstclass) cross.

Japan Rail Passes are solely accessible to foreigners travelling on a vacationer visa and (often) should be purchased exterior Japan.

You can purchase your cross on-line and get it delivered to your private home handle and even to your first Japan lodge if you happen to’ve left it to the final minute.

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Japan Rail Pass Price (New Prices)

This is the present value of every of the usual Japan Rail Passes in Japanese yen with the present approximate change price in US {dollars} and the fee per day in {dollars}.

Japan Rail Pass Cost in Yen Cost in $ Cost per Day in $
7 Day JR Rail Pass ¥50,000 $336 $48
14 Day JR Rail Pass ¥80,000 $538 $38
21 Day JR Rail Pass ¥100,000 $672 $32

JR Passes for kids value half the quantities above (i.e ¥25,000 for a 7 Day Pass).

I don’t suppose there’s any must pay further for the Green Pass (¥70,000 for a 7 Day Pass) to journey firstclass as we discovered customary class snug with loads of leg room, tables, and energy factors.

The solely time it is perhaps price contemplating is throughout vacation durations corresponding to Golden Week in late April/early May when customary class trains are busy (you may make seat reservations, although).

We all the time purchase our tickets on-line with official vendor JRailPass.com. They ship worldwide in two days. 

Buy your Japan Rail Pass from JRailPass.com right here

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Which Trains are the Japan Rail Pass Valid On?

The JR Rail Pass is legitimate on all Japan Rail trains, however it will possibly’t be used on trains operated by non-public firms.

This means you’ll be able to’t take the quickest Nozomi or Mizuho shinkansen (bullet trains) except you pay an costly complement, however there are many different bullet trains and this by no means brought about us an issue.

For instance, when travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto you’ll be able to take the Hikari shinkansen which is simply 20 minutes slower at 158 minutes than the Nozomi shinkansen which takes 138 minutes.

A super fast shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan that can be used with a Japan Rail Pass
A brilliant quick shinkansen (bullet practice) in Japan

The rail cross can be utilized on some native trains inside Tokyo and different huge cities, however not on the metro or buses.

It’s principally helpful for saving cash on journey between cities. See the native transport part under for extra particulars.

Joyful Trains

Hello Kitty Shinkasen bullet train in Japan

The JR Pass is legitimate on lots of Japan’s Joyful Trains that are enjoyable, character-themed trains.

We seen the Hello Kitty shinkansen in Okayama station and have been tempted to hop on for a pleasure journey (the benefit of a rail cross is you’ll be able to comply with whims like this). 

Destinations the place we couldn’t use a JR Pass

If you’re solely travelling to main cities, you’ll be capable of use your JR Pass in all places. For journeys to some smaller cities, it’s possible you’ll must pay further to take the bus or non-public railway. 

Even with these further bills, the rail cross nonetheless saved us cash on our three journeys. 

On our first journey we visited two locations that we couldn’t entry with our rail cross. For the mountain temple city Koya-san we used our cross to journey from Kyoto to Osaka after which purchased a ticket for the non-public Nankai Railways practice.

For the tiny city of Tsumago within the Kiso Valley we used our cross to get from Nagoya to Nagiso then paid for the bus to Tsumago. 

On our second journey (see our two week Japan itinerary) we used our rail cross to get in all places besides Hakone the place we purchased a Hakone Free Pass from Odawara practice station to discover the realm by bus, practice, ferry, and cable automobile.

The solely different slight problem was having to take a slower practice with one switch to get to Nikko as you’ll be able to’t use a cross for the direct practice from Shinjuku to the Tobu Nikko station.

Hida Furukawa near Takayama
We have been in a position to make use of our rail cross for day journeys to locations like cute Hida Furukawa from Takayama.

On our third journey, the one place we couldn’t get to with a JR Rail Pass was Kawaguchiko (to see Mt Fuji at Lake Kawaguchi). 

We have been travelling from Okayama (on the identical line as Hiroshima) and will solely take the shinkansen so far as Mishima the place we took a 1.5-hour bus journey to Kawaguchiko. 

From Tokyo you will get to Otsuki with a rail cross and solely pay the common fare for the ultimate part to Kawaguchiko. 

We additionally visited the very cool Naoshima Art Island as a day journey from Okayama. The rail cross coated our practice to Uno port however didn’t cowl the 20-minute ferry (which is cheap anyway). 

Fujisan View Express train with Mount Fuji behind
Unfortunately, the Fujisan View Express practice can’t be used with a JR cross

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Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It?

Whether a Japan Rail Pass is price it for you is determined by your route.

If you’ll be travelling at a quick tempo to plenty of locations, particularly on the costly bullet trains, then a rail cross might prevent cash.

If you’re solely travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto and again inside per week, the cross not saves cash.

The return journey on the shinkansen prices ¥27,300 (for a reserved seat). You’ll need to do plenty of further journey to achieve the ¥50,000 value of a 7-day cross.

Japan Rail Pass Calculator

To work out whether or not the JR Pass is price it for you, it’s essential to provide you with a possible itinerary after which calculate how a lot it will value to pay on your tickets as you go.

To get a tough concept use Japan Guide’s Japan Rail Calculator. It’s not 100% correct, nevertheless it’s fast and simple to make use of. 

A Japan Rail Pass calculator can be used to see if a Japan Rail Pass is worth it since the price increases.
Is a JR Pass price it? The Japan Guide Rail Pass Calculator reveals that it was for one in every of our earlier journeys on the previous costs however not on the new costs.

For an correct calculation, put every leg of your journey into Navitime to see the prices.

If it’s an in depth name

If the price of the cross is just a bit greater than particular person tickets, I like to recommend shopping for the cross. It makes journey a lot simpler not having to purchase tickets and with the ability to hop on and off trains as you want.

You also can use the cross for some native journey (particularly in Tokyo the place it may be used on the trains however not subways) and day journeys. 

Our our newest extra unconventional journey from Kyoto-Kinosaki Onsen-Okayama (with day journeys)-Mishima (for the bus to Kawaguchiko)-Tokyo we purchased a 14-day Japan Rail Pass.

As we have been travelling at a reasonably sluggish tempo, this labored out roughly the identical value as if we’d purchased the tickets individually (on the previous cross value), however the comfort made it price it. 

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Our Savings with a Japan Rail Pass

For a earlier two week journey to Japan we flew out and in of Tokyo and used a 7-day Japan Rail Pass to journey to Nikko, Hakone, Takayama, and Kanazawa—see our detailed Japan itinerary.

Here are the financial savings we made through the use of a Japan Rail Pass. This features a aspect journey from Takayama and utilizing the cross for native trains in Tokyo on our remaining day with the cross.

From To Cost in Yen
Tokyo Shinjuku Nikko 5,380
Nikko Odawara (for Hakone) 8,200
Odawara Takayama 12,000
Takayama Hida-Furukawa (aspect journey) 240
Hida-Furukawa Takayama 240
Takayama Kanazawa 5,610
Kanazawa Tokyo Station 13,920
Tokyo Station Shibuya (inside Tokyo) 200
Shibuya Takadanobaba (inside Tokyo) 170
Takadanobaba Shibuya (inside Tokyo) 170
Total Cost of Individual Tickets   JP¥46,130
Cost of Old 7 Day Japan Rail Pass   JP¥29,110
Previous Saving   JP¥17,020
Cost of New 7 Day Japan Rail Pass JP¥50,000

We saved over ¥17,000 or $115 per individual with the previous Japan Rail Pass.

Unfortunately, with the brand new Japan Rail Pass costs, we’d have saved ¥4000 ($27) by shopping for tickets individually. In this case, I do suppose the cross can be price the additional value for the comfort.

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Here’s an instance for a typical 10 day journey to Japan arriving in and departing from Tokyo and visiting the highlights. 

Spend the primary three days in Tokyo (pay out of pocket for the Narita Express practice from the airport), after which activate your 7-day rail cross on the day you permit for Kyoto. 

Spend six days in Kyoto and take day journeys to Nara and Osaka (that are cheap on native trains) and additional afield to Hiroshima by bullet practice (the place you’ll actually admire the cross). See extra Kyoto day journey concepts

Return to Tokyo on your remaining day and use the cross to take the Narita Express practice to Tokyo Narita Airport.

Here’s how a lot you’ll save by buying a JR Rail Pass for this itinerary: 

Japan Rail Pass costs and savings for Tokyo to Kyoto itinerary
Is a Japan Rail Pass price it for this Tokyo to Kyoto itinerary (with day journeys)? Yes!

By buying a 7-day JR Pass for this journey, you used to save lots of a substantial quantity. After the worth enhance, shopping for a cross is about the identical as particular person tickets however could possibly be price it for the comfort.

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When Not to Use a Japan Rail Pass

If you’re flying into Tokyo and out from Osaka (or vice versa) and solely travelling to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, a rail cross might be dearer than the one-way shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto. 

Or even if you’re simply travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto and again (with out main day journeys), shopping for particular person shinkansen tickets is cheaper and also you’ll be capable of take the quickest Nozomi practice.

If you’re solely travelling in a single space of Japan, corresponding to Kansai the place Osaka and Kyoto are, paying for tickets individually will doubtless be cheaper than a JR cross. You may need to look right into a regional rail cross as a substitute such because the Kansai Area Pass (though these have additionally had value will increase).

If you’re on a very tight price range and are travelling at a sluggish tempo, it might work out cheaper to take the bus. Willer provides bus passes from ¥10,200 for 3 days of journey inside two months. 

We a lot want practice journey, although, because it’s quicker, extra snug and spacious, we are able to work on the tables, and I don’t get journey sick (an issue on the bus on Japan’s winding mountain roads).

The gorgeous view on the Hida wide view train from Takayama to Toyama.
The attractive view on the practice from Takayama to Toyama.

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Where to Buy a Japan Rail Pass

Japan Rail Passes are bought by some journey brokers exterior Japan, however the easiest method to purchase a cross is on-line.

We purchased our passes for our final two journeys from JRailPass.com who’re an official JR Rail Pass vendor. You will obtain an change order that you just change for the cross while you arrive in Japan.

Another choice is Klook, which is the best choice for Australians as they embrace free delivery inside Australia (or decide up from Sydney CBD).

The change order should be exchanged inside three months, so don’t order too far upfront.

Our buy with JRailPass.com was very simple. For every passenger you want the total title precisely because it’s written on their passport and their nationality.

You are additionally requested for an approximate arrival date in Japan, however that is simply to allow them to be certain your passes will arrive on time. You don’t must resolve the precise begin date of the cross till you get to Japan.

The process for buying a Japan Rail Pass online
The kind to fill in when shopping for a Japan Rail Pass on-line

They can ship passes worldwide and so they often arrive inside two working days, though ours took three days to Indonesia. On one in every of our journeys we have been already travelling so we obtained the cross delivered to our lodge in Bali. 

There are further bank card and delivery charges except your order is over $600 when there’s free delivery to the UK and Europe.

In the US the passes are despatched by UPS and worldwide they use FedEx International Priority. You are given a monitoring quantity to trace the progress of the supply. Someone has to signal for the supply. 

Sending a Japan Rail Pass to Japan

If you’ve left shopping for your cross to the final minute, you will get the change order despatched to your first lodge in Japan.

It’s greatest to test along with your lodge or Airbnb host first, nevertheless it shouldn’t be an issue with larger lodges.

On our final journey we have been staying in an condo in Kyoto for a month earlier than we began our two-week rail cross journey.

As I wasn’t positive what would occur if we missed the supply (and we wouldn’t be capable of learn any notices in Japanese), the agent who managed the condo agreed to obtain supply for us. 

Buying Direct

It was once you could possibly solely purchase a cross exterior Japan from an authorised agent, however Japan Rail now promote passes on-line (they stopped promoting them at sure stations). See the Japan Rail Pass web site for extra particulars.

The draw back of reserving direct is having to take care of a considerably clunky web site (the place you need to create an account).

The upsides should not needing to have an change order mailed to you in your house nation (you accumulate the cross in Japan) and with the ability to make seat reservations on-line (even earlier than you arrive in Japan), which could possibly be helpful at very busy instances of yr like Golden Week.

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How to Exchange a Japan Rail Pass

You don’t obtain the cross at first however an change order that you would be able to then change on your cross while you arrive in Japan.

A booklet with data on the place you are able to do this comes with the change order.

We exchanged ours on the JR Rail workplace in Shinjuku Station and it was fast and simple.

We needed to fill in a brief kind and present our change order and passports (don’t neglect to deliver yours). You have to decide on the beginning date for the cross inside the subsequent month and this may’t be modified.

If potential, it’s greatest to do that a day or so earlier than your first journey day so that you don’t have to fret about it on the day.

Otherwise, be sure you permit loads of time earlier than your practice departs in case there are queues.

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For native transport inside cities you should utilize the JR Rail Pass on some practice traces however not the metro or buses. 

As native transport isn’t very costly (excluding the quick airport trains), it won’t be price activating your cross till you permit town. See above for methods to calculate this. 

Tokyo Local Travel

In Tokyo, the Japan Rail Pass is sort of helpful. You can apply it to the JR Yamanote line, which is without doubt one of the most used traces within the metropolis and connects main hubs corresponding to Shinjuku, Shibuya and Tokyo Stations.

There are various different JR practice traces that crisscross the large metropolis—the Chuo line is one other one we regularly use.

You can’t use a JR Pass on the Tokyo Metro.

The cross can be utilized on the Narita Express practice which is probably the most snug and quickest method to get from Narita Airport into the centre of Tokyo.

You can activate your cross on the JR Travel Service Centre within the airport practice station.

Kyoto Local Travel

In Kyoto, the cross is of extra restricted use for native transport. You can’t use the cross on the metro or buses, however there are a few practice journeys you could possibly use it for.

You can take the JR Nara line to Inari (to see Fushimi Inari shrine—one in every of our high issues to do in Kyoto).

You also can take the JR Sagano line to Saga-Arashiyama station to see the well-known bamboo grove and plenty of stunning temples on this neighbourhood. 

If you’re flying into Kansai Airport close to Osaka, you’ll be able to activate your rail cross on the airport practice station and use it for the Limited Express Haruka practice, which is one of the best ways to get to Osaka or Kyoto.

Osaka

Although there are just a few JR practice traces inside Osaka, the Osaka subway is extra helpful for getting round, and this isn’t included with a rail cross. 

Local Transport Cards

As you’ll be able to’t use a JR Rail Pass on many types of native transport inside the cities, if you’re staying for quite a lot of days, it’s price selecting up a pay as you go IC transport card.

You add cash to those upfront after which simply faucet on and off all native transport. 

In Tokyo you should purchase a Suica or Pasmo card and in Kyoto and Osaka you’ll get an ICOCA card.

Whichever card you purchase you should utilize them in cities throughout Japan, so that you don’t want a separate card for Kyoto and Tokyo. 

You used to have the ability to purchase them at ticket machines and counters in practice and metro stations, however gross sales are presently suspended attributable to a scarcity of IC chips.

Tourists can nonetheless buy Welcome Suica and Pasmo Passport playing cards at choose stations and airports. They are solely legitimate for 28 days although.

An simpler choice is so as to add Suica or Pasmo to Apple Wallet in your telephone or watch (presently solely Mastercard and American Express work as fee strategies for it in Wallet although).

The previous IC playing cards included a ¥500 deposit, which you will get a refund for if you happen to return your card on the finish, however solely within the space to procure it. You can’t get a refund for a Suica card in Osaka or an ICOCA card in Tokyo. 

The vacationer playing cards don’t have a deposit.

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Finding Train Times

Use Navitime to seek for practice instances. Remember to click on the Tourist Pass dropdown menu and choose Japan Rail Pass to have it present routes the place the rail cross is legitimate.

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Making Seat Reservations

You don’t must make seat reservations to journey with a cross on most trains—you’ll be able to simply hop on any unreserved automobile.

The mostly used practice that does require a seat reservation is the Narita Express from Narita Airport into Tokyo.

If you need to use your cross on the airport practice, you’ll be able to swap your change order for a cross and get the seat reservation on the airport JR workplace.

You in all probability need to make seat reservations when travelling throughout Japanese nationwide holidays—see this record of Japan vacation dates.

Seat reservations are free for rail cross holders and could be made at any JR station ticket workplace—both on the counter or at ticket machines.

It doesn’t need to be the station you’re travelling from, so it can save you time by getting just a few seat reservations directly. Smaller stations could have shorter queues.

You might additionally make your first few seat reservations when exchanging your change order for a cross. We did this in Kyoto Station on our final journey, which saved time because the queues have been lengthy. 

All you need to do is present your cross and provides them the practice time you need the reservation for.

Staff might communicate English, however I discover it useful to jot down down the date, practice time, and route I need reservations for. This is why it’s greatest to analysis instances on Navitime upfront. 

Luggage Reservations

If you’re travelling on the Tōkaidō, San’yō, or Kyūshū Shinkansens and have outsized baggage, you’ll must make a seat reservation for the seats subsequent to the outsized baggage space on the finish of the practice automobile.

Luggage is taken into account outsized if it has complete dimensions (A+B+C) of over 160cm.

This is pretty beneficiant as most traditional suitcases are smaller than this. Smaller suitcases, together with any that slot in airline overhead compartments (together with our Away Bigger Carry On), ought to match within the overhead compartments on shinkansens.

Even in case your bag just isn’t outsized, you’ll be able to e-book an outsized baggage seat to have entry to the storage space behind the seat if you happen to suppose you’ll have issues lifting your baggage overhead.

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How to Use a Japan Rail Pass

To use the Japan Rail Pass all it’s essential to do is get on an unreserved automobile and discover an empty seat.

In 2023, the format of the cross modified and it’s now a small scannable ticket that you should utilize within the automated gates to entry the practice platforms.

You might also be requested to point out the cross on the practice.

When you’re travelling on a bullet practice you’ll be able to see which vehicles are unreserved on the screens, after which discover the corresponding quantity on the platform to see the place to attend.

The panels on the aspect of the carriage can even say whether or not it’s reserved or unreserved.

Trains are all the time on time so a 10-minute switch time is okay.

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan
The busy Shibuya Crossing exterior Shibuya practice station in Tokyo. There is order within the chaos!

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Japanese Train Etiquette

The Japanese are usually a quiet and respectful individuals and it’s essential to comply with these guidelines when travelling by practice:

  • Be quiet – Keep your quantity low when taking, don’t speak in your telephone and ensure it doesn’t beep or ring. We even noticed indicators warning you to not kind too loudly in your laptop computer!
  • No consuming – The exception is on bullet trains when shopping for a bento lunch field on the station is a giant a part of the expertise. On native trains we didn’t see anybody consuming or ingesting something apart from water. 
  • Don’t smoke – Unless there’s a chosen smoking automobile on the bullet trains.
  • Don’t sit within the precedence seating – On native trains these seats are designated for the aged, pregnant ladies, and folks with disabilities. If the practice is quiet you’ll be able to sit right here, however be ready to surrender your seat if obligatory.
  • Queue – There are designated spots to attend for the practice marked on the platform, so be a part of the orderly queue.
  • Be affected person – Stand to the aspect and look forward to individuals to get off the practice earlier than you get on.

Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth it?

On all our earlier journeys to Japan, we discovered a JR Pass saved us a whole bunch of {dollars} and made journey a lot simpler.

While that has modified with the worth enhance, it’s nonetheless price contemplating a rail cross if you’re doing plenty of journey.

Even if a cross prices about the identical as particular person tickets, the comfort of with the ability to hop on nearly any practice with out shopping for a ticket is price it.

Hopefully the ideas above will enable you work out whether or not a Japan Rail Pass is price it for you.

Let me know in case you have any questions within the feedback under. 

Buy your Japan Rail Pass right here.

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