The Japan Rail Pass: Is it worth it?

After spending a week in Japan, I can easily say that it is one of my favorite Asian countries to explore! This month, as I continue to share more and more of my trip around Japan with you, I thought it only practical to share some tips that helped us along because let’s face it, Japan really isn’t one of the cheapest places to visit. In fact even exploring the major cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto on one short visit can get pretty expensive so finding simple ways to cut costs will certainly be a plus.

One of the biggest ways we saved money on our trip was by cutting down on travel expenses from city to city using a Japan Rail Pass. If you are planning on visiting Japan for a few days but are still unsure if it will be worth your while to purchase a JR Pass then read on for a full review!


What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail (JR) Pass is a special discounted travel service created by the Japanese Government that aims to promote foreign travel in Japan for up to 90 days. It basically serves as a special discounted multi-use ticket that can be used on almost all Japanese national trains, shinkansen bullet trains as well as certain buses and ferries for a set number of days.

What does it cost?

One of the biggest questions you’re going to ask before purchasing the JR Pass is… is it actually worth it? After all, it can seem like a pretty expensive purchase at the time, costing somewhere between 29 110 yen for an ordinary 7 day pass. That’s about USD 258 and ZAR 3337.

Life of Shal_Hiroshima_Wandering the streets

Is it worth it?

Let’s say you plan a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto and use the shinkansen bullet train to get there. A one way ticket is going to cost approximately ¥ 13 080 and a round trip will cost you around ¥ 26 160. That’s almost the full cost of purchasing a JR pass. If you plan on exploring a new city for every day that you’re in Japan then having a JR Pass will save you a lot of money.

But, is it worth it for you?

The next step is to calculate if purchasing the JR Pass will actually be worth it for your particular trip. This means you’ll need to have some idea of what your Japanese Itinerary will look like. Will you be spending most of your time exploring one particular city or will you be changing cities a lot?

Bear in mind that your JR Pass can only be used within the consecutive number of days that it was purchased for. This means that a 7-day JR Pass must be used within 7 days from the date of activation in Japan. After this, it will no longer be valid. For example, if you purchase a 7-day pass and arrive in Japan on the 16th of July and choose to activate it from the 17th of July, it will be valid until (and including) the 23rd of July.

After planning your Japanese itinerary, take the total cost of your JR Pass and divide it by the number of days you will be traveling for. This will give you an average cost per day spent on travel. For example: a 7-day JR pass will cost about ¥29,110. That’s about ¥4,158 per day. Compare this to your itinerary and do a rough calculation of what you would expect to spend on travel per day without your JR Pass. This will help you determine if the pass really is worth it for you.


How to use the JR Pass?

The JR Pass is pretty easy to use. After arriving in Japan, visit one of the many activation offices and activate your JR Pass. Remember though, that your pass will only be valid for the consecutive number of days purchased from the date of activation. Having the pass means you do not need to buy train tickets or even stand in queues to pass through. There is usually a separate counter for JR Pass holders which allows you pass quickly and easily through gates.

One of the disadvantages however, is that the JR Pass does not cover the Nozomi shinkansen trains. You can however take the Hikari shinkansen which is almost as fast as the Nozomi (the Nozomi is a few minutes faster). The JR Pass is valid only on JR trains and certain buses and ferries. It cannot be used on all modes of transport.

Buying a JR Pass

If you choose to purchase a JR Pass for travel in Japan, you will have to buy it before arriving in the country as it is not sold in Japan. There are however many official travel agents that sell them outside of Japan around the world. Visit the original site here.

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So is the JR Pass worth it?

If you’re planning on moving around the country a lot and in a short time frame, then yes, purchasing a JR Pass is definitely worth it. You will save both time and money when traveling from city to city.

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I'm Shalinee - a Geminian scientist who loves to travel, write, draw and eat chocolate. I've visited over twenty countries, published a Environmental Science encyclopaedia and somewhere along the way started a science communication company to help students and corporates translate that hard-to-read data generated in a lab. Other than that, I'm just searching for the magic still hidden in the world.

4 thoughts on “The Japan Rail Pass: Is it worth it?

  1. Hyperdia is great and very useful Ruta! 🙂 The JR pass saved us tons on travel costs because We jump cities daily but overall I certainly think it’s worth it:)

  2. Great post! Just went through the calculation and decision phase myself.
    I found this website very useful It helped me to lear prices of trains that I will be taking and after adding all together, it seemed that JR pass was more friendly to my savings 🙂

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