Is a Japan Rail Pass worth it?

Is a Japan Rail Pass worth it?

Should I buy a Japan Rail Pass? Does a Japan Rail Pass save me money? Is a Japan Rail Pass worth it?
The answers really depend on your itinerary, therefore, firstly I will recommend that you make a plan of where you want to travel in Japan.
You have to organise and purchase a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) outside of Japan in advance, so it’s important to have an idea of your travel plans before you go. You cannot purchase a Japan Rail Pass in Japan!

Types and prices of Japan Rail Pass

Types and JR Pass

There are two types of JR Pass – Green (for superior-class cars) and Ordinary. Each of these types is available as a 7 day, 14 day, or 21 day pass (consecutive days).

JR Pass Prices

Ordinary Green
7 days JPY 29,110 JPY 38,880
14 days JPY 46,390 JPY 62,950
21 days JPY 59,350 JPY 81,870

*Children who are aged 6 to 11 as of the date on which the exchange order is issued are eligible for children’s prices (50% of Adult).

How does it work?

The Japan Rail Pass is designed for foreign tourists on temporary entry permits
All you can ride – the Japan Rail Pass will cover most trains on the Japan Railways Network including JR Limited Express and Express trains and thousands of local trains both in the cities and rural areas. There are a few exceptions which are detailed on the official Japan Rail Pass website. The extensive Shinkansen “bullet train” network is fully covered with the exception of the “Nozomi” and “Mizuho” Shinkansen.
Also, the JR Pass can be used on airport express trains such as the Narita Express (NEX) and the Kansai Airport Limited Express train (Haruka), as well as certain JR buses and the JR ferry between Hiroshima and Miyajima.
You can book a reserved seat for bullet trains, limited express and express trains.
You can’t use the JR pass on private railway lines or on subway lines.

Single train ticket prices between major cities

Destinations Single ride price
(JPY reserved seat)
Approximate
AUD
Narita Airport – Tokyo
(Narita Express)
JPY 3,020 $ 37
Tokyo – Nikko JPY 5,580 $ 68
Tokyo – Sendai JPY 11,200 $ 135
Tokyo – Matsumoto
(using bullet train)
JPY 10,130 $ 122
Tokyo – Matsumoto
(using limited express train)
JPY 6,900 $ 84
Tokyo – Nagano JPY 8,200 $ 99
Tokyo – Nagoya JPY 10,880 $ 131
Tokyo – Osaka JPY 14,140 $ 171
Tokyo – Kyoto JPY 13,600 $ 170
Tokyo – Hiroshima JPY 18,560 $ 224
Osaka – Kyoto JPY 560 $ 7
Osaka – Hiroshima JPY 10,230 $ 124
Osaka – Kansai Airport
(Airport Express Haruka)
JPY 2,580 $ 31
Kyoto – Nara JPY 710 $ 9
Kyoto – Hiroshima JPY 11,090 $ 134
Kyoto – Kansai Airport
(Airport Express Haruka)
JPY 3,370 $ 71

*Prices are all for JR trains.

Simulation and comparison

Let’s simulate your 7 day holiday of Japan using a 7 day ordinary JR Pass compared with not using a JR Pass.

 

Plan 1:
Your flights are in and out of Narita Airport.
You have planned to stay at Tokyo and Kyoto.
You are considering taking a day trip to Nikko from Tokyo and to Nara from Kyoto.

 

Comparison

Single ride price
(Railway company)
With a JR Pass
JR Pass 7 days – Ordinary JPY 29,110
Narita Airport – Tokyo JPY 2,630 (Keisei + JR)
Tokyo – Nikko JPY 2,920 (JR + Tobu)
Nikko – Tokyo JPY 2,920 (JR + Tobu)
Tokyo – Kyoto JPY 13,600 (JR)
Kyoto – Nara – Kyoto JPY 1,420 (JR)
Kyoto – Tokyo JPY 13,600 (JR)
Tokyo – Narita Airport JPY 2,630 (JR + Keisei)
Train ride within the cities
(single ticket JPY 140 – 400)
JPY 3,000
(JR, subway, private railways)
JPY 1,500
(subway, private railways)
Total JPY 42,720 (approx. $515)  JPY 30,610 (approx. $369)

We can save nearly $150! With this example itinerary, using a JR Pass will provide you with a more cost effective method of travel. You might also save time as well because when you choose the cheapest train journey option, you might find that it is not as convenient. Changing trains and waiting for connections will eat into the time you have to explore Japan.

Plan 2:
Your flights are in to Narita and out of Osaka (Kansai).
You have planned to stay at Tokyo and Osaka.
You are considering to limit your exploration to the cities only. (Perhaps a day trip to Kyoto)

 

Comparison

Single ride price
(Railway company)
With a JR Pass
JR Pass 7 days – Ordinary JPY 29,110
Narita Airport – Tokyo JPY 2,630 (Keisei + JR)
Tokyo – Osaka JPY 14,140 (JR)
Osaka – Kyoto – Osaka JPY 1,120 (JR)
Osaka – Kansai Airport JPY 11,90 (JR local line)
Train ride within the cities
(single ticket JPY 140 – 400)
JPY 3,000
(JR, subway, private railways)
JPY 1,500
(subway, private railways)
Total JPY 22,080 (approx. $266)  JPY 30,610 (approx. $369)

In this example, you will save a lot of money by purchasing single tickets each time you travel rather than purchasing a JR Pass. If you are considering taking an excursion to Hiroshima or Miyajima Island from Osaka, the return cost will be JPY 20,460 (approx. $247). In that case a JR Pass will provide better value.

As you can see in the comparisons, whether or not a JR pass is worth it really depends on your itinerary. Planning is very important, because (as I mentioned) you have to purchase a JR Pass outside of Japan in advance. After your arrival in Japan, even if you change your mind to take more day trips rather than hanging around one city, you cannot get a JR Pass inside of Japan.
Make your basic plan, then check the price of each train journey using HyperDia or Jorudan. These websites are not only useful for searching train ticket prices, they are very useful for planning your travel timetable and route.

How to get a JR Pass

To be more accurate, you must purchase a JR Pass exchange order (voucher) from an agent (we are one of them! Check our current Japan Rail Pass prices, then contact us!). You must bring the voucher and exchange it for your JR Pass at certain JR train stations in Japan.
The pass must be activated within 3 months from the issuing date so make sure you organise to purchase your pass less than 3 month before you depart.

So…….. Is a Japan Rail Pass worth it?

Depending on your itinerary, you can save a lot of money and enjoy more efficient, convenient and easier travel in Japan. Plan well, organise well, and then make a decision to get a JR pass or not. Once you get the pass, make extensive use of it and discover more of Japan!