An Idiot’s Guide to the Japan Rail Pass

Spending time in the Land of the Rising Sun? Then there’s no better way to travel than with the Japan Rail Pass, as it offers discounts on most journeys.

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I can remember when I was first planning my trip to Japan to use the Japan Rail Pass. I had already visited at least once with no intention of using the trains, as I was basing myself solely in Tokyo. However, on the next occasion I wanted to explore more of this amazing country, and Kyoto and Hiroshima were certainly on my itinerary. They are both big backpacker-oriented cities, and are relatively cheap (at least as far as Japanese prices are concerned). So I began preparing to apply for and pay for my Japan Rail Pass, as I wanted to use the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, and then on to Osaka and beyond to Hiroshima. I purchased the 7 day unlimited rail pass, and I would really recommend paying for this as it is great value!

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Once you have applied for and paid for your Japan Rail Pass on the official website, you must redeem it at one of the designated redemption points upon your arrival in the country. I redeemed my JR Pass at Tokyo Narita Airport, although I believe there are a few other places in Japan where you can do this (including but not limited to Tokyo Station, and Osaka-Kansai Airport). The Japan Rail Pass is not for sale in Japan, you must purchase it online in your own country before you arrive in Japan, and wait for it to be sent to you in the post. When you are in Japan, you redeem the pass when you want to start using it. It’s that simple!

Example of previous ticket
Example of previous ticket

The fares for the Japan Rail Pass (as of mid-2015) can be seen in the table below from Japan-Guide.com. Green cars, in case you’re wondering, offer larger seats and more foot room, with slightly more onboard service (i.e. food and drink). Personally, I think Ordinary Cars are more than sufficient, as most journeys on the trains in Japan (especially on the Shinkansen) do not take any more than a few hours at a time, often much less.

Type Ordinary Green Car
7 consecutive days 29,110 yen 38,880 yen
14 consecutive days 46,390 yen 62,950 yen
21 consecutive days 59,350 yen 81,870 yen

You could fly into Tokyo, spend a week there, then redeem your JR Pass at Tokyo Station on the day you want to begin using it. From then on, you get X number of consecutive days for unlimited travel (on designated trains) depending on the type of ticket you purchased.

The Shinkansen Bullet Train awaits you!
The Shinkansen Bullet Train awaits you!

Please check out my experiences of riding the Shinkansen in Japan, but I thought I would let you know that as well as on the extensive rail network within Japan, the Japan Rail Pass can also be used on some buses that are operated by JR Railways. That said, I only used my pass on a bus while on the tourist loop bus in Hiroshima, but it is nevertheless another option for you to consider.

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