What is the JR Pass?
The JR(Japan Rail) Pass is Japan's rail pass available to visitors to the country. The pass is valid for 7, 14, or 21 days, and guarantees unlimited travel on all JR-operated trains (including bullet trains), buses, and select ferries across the country. Travelers on a budget can save a lot of money by purchasing a JR pass.
How much does the JR Pass cost?
There are two classes of JR Pass, Green (first-class) and Ordinary. Green cars on JR trains have nicer amenities and are more expensive. Green cars require a reservation, whereas ordinary class has both reserved and unreserved cars.
Green (First Class) JR Pass Prices
- 7-day: $350
- 14-day: $567
- 21-day: $738
Ordinary Class JR Pass Prices
- 7-day: $263
- 14-day: $418
- 21-day: $535
Is it worth it?
Absolutely! The JR Pass is expensive, but it is definitely worth its price. Japan can be a very expensive country to visit, and transportation can eat up a large portion of your budget in Japan.
For example, if you want to travel from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Kyoto Station, you'll have to take the Narita Express (about $30 each way) into Tokyo, and then the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto Station (about $120 each way). Even if you only plan to visit Tokyo and Kyoto, the 7-day pass pays for itself after one round trip.
During the pass' validity period, you can take unlimited trips on any JR train, including the Shinkansen bullet train! You can reach nearly any part of Japan in just a few hours by bullet train, making it even possible to take day trips to parts of the country that you might not otherwise be able to visit.
Who can get a JR Pass?
The JR Pass is only available to foreigners visiting Japan with a tourist visa.
How to buy a JR Pass
You have to purchase your JR Pass outside of Japan before entering the country. This can be done through a travel agent or through an online agent. When you purchase your pass, you'll be given an exchange order that you must take to the Japan Rail office at the airport in Japan to exchange for a valid JR Pass.
How to use a JR Pass
Once you have received your JR Pass from the Japan Rail office at the airport, you have one month to "activate" it by using it to take a trip. Once it has been activated, you have 7, 14, or 21 days of unlimited travel on the JR lines to use your pass. Try to use it as much as possible to get as much value out of the pass as you can!
You can use your pass for a reserved or unreserved seat. To reserve a seat on a train, take your pass to the JR office at any train station and tell them your destination. You will be given a ticket.
Alternately, simply use your pass to take a seat on an unreserved car by walking through the turnstile at the station marked for JR Pass holders, and present your pass to the official. Make sure that you board an unreserved shinkansen car, and take a seat wherever you want.
Traveling on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Though the pass can be used on any JR train, traveling by Shinkansen, Japan's fast and futuristic bullet train, is the best way to get across the country in speed and comfort.
Even ordinary class is quite comfortable. Seats have access to AC outlets, and the cars are frequently serviced by staff selling snacks and hot tea, coffee, and beer. There's nothing quite as nice as sipping a delicious Japanese beer on a bullet train while watching the countryside speed past. The Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto takes about 3.5 hours, and the trip between Kyoto and Osaka takes about 15 minutes.