Frequently Asked Questions

The Japan Rail Pass

Q. Who is eligible for the JR Pass?

Q. What are the conditions?

Q. How do I buy it?

Q. Is the Japan Rail Pass good value?

Q. How does it compare to buying regular tickets?

Q. Does the Japan Rail Pass cover all rail travel in Japan?

General questions about Japan’s rail system

Q. What is the Shinkansen?

Q. Is taking a train cheaper than flying?

Q. Who is eligible for the JR Pass?

The pass is available to temporary visitors travelling on a tourist visa. It’s not available to residents or foreign nationals in Japan on a different kind of visa.

Q. What are the conditions?

Once activated, the pass can be used on 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days depending on the pass you choose. It can be used on any JR train or ferry except the fastest Nozomi and Hikari shinkansen that run between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka (you can use slightly slower shinkansen on the same route). The pass cannot be used on most non-JR lines such as municipal subways and private suburban railways.

Q. How do I buy it?

You can buy a voucher from online travel agents that can be exchanged for the pass at major railway stations after your arrival.

Q. Is the Japan Rail Pass good value?

All Japan Rail Passes provide a significant discount over regular tickets and are exclusively for international tourists. However, if you plan to spend all of your trip in a certain location or your only plan very limited travel to other destinations, then a regional pass or just buying regular tickets may save you more money.

Q. How does it compare to buying regular tickets?

Calculating the cost of travel between two points is usually straight forward. There are rarely return/round trip discounts, so the cost of a return journey is twice the cost of a one-way journey. On the Shinkansen, prices may vary slightly depending on whether you have reserved or non-reserved seating. Here are some indicative one-way costs (keep in mind that a 1 week Japan Rail Pass costs ¥29,110).

  • Narita Airport to Tokyo: ¥3,020
  • Shibuya to Asakusa (within Tokyo): ¥240
  • Tokyo to Kamakura (non Shinkansen): ¥920
  • Tokyo to Kyoto: ¥13,080
  • Tokyo to Hakata (Kyushu): ¥21,810
  • Osaka to Hiroshima: ¥9,710

For more information about Shinkansen fares, check this Shinkansen Fare Calculator.

Q. Does the Japan Rail Pass cover all rail travel in Japan?

No, it doesn’t. It provides free carriage on the Shinkansen and all other Japan Rail trains, ferries or affiliated lines. In addition to JR, there are private rail networks in most regions in Japan. For example, in Tokyo there are two separate subway operators and approximately 10 companies operating private suburban lines - none of which accept the JR Pass.

Q. What is the Shinkansen?

The Shinkansen is the official name for Japan’s highspeed rail network commonly known outside Japan as the “bullet train”. Bullet train was a name given to the original trains by foreign journalists at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and is a name not used by the Japanese. For the most part, the Shinkansen uses separate tracks and separate stations to regular trains. For example, at Tokyo Station, passengers first enter Tokyo Station and then have to pass through additional ticket gates to enter the Shinkansen station.

“Shinkansen” literally means “new main line” and runs from the city of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu all the way to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto in the south of Hokkaido.

Q. Is taking a train cheaper than flying?

For most destinations within a 2 hour Shinkansen journey, there are no or very few flights available. For example, between Tokyo and Sendai, there are virtually no flights because of the convenience of the Shinkansen. However, for well travelled routes that take longer than 2 hours, there are often much cheaper options by air. The most frequently flown routes in Japan include Tokyo to Osaka, Tokyo to Naha and Tokyo to Sapporo. Depending on the season and how busy it is, you can get one way fares for as low as ¥3,000. A big disadvantage to flying is that airports are often invonveniently located, necessitating a trip by train or bus into the city after arrival. Also, you’ll miss most of the Japanese landscape in between!

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