Shinkansen beside Mount Fuji in spring (Photo: Blanscape / Shutterstock.com)

JR Pass: Guide to Japan's Best Rail Pass

An in-depth look into Japan’s discounted travel ticket

Shinkansen beside Mount Fuji in spring (Photo: Blanscape / Shutterstock.com)
Japan Travel   - 12 min read

If you are visiting Japan, chances are that you will need to ride more than just a train or two. Fortunately, with the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass), you can easily access a number of the country’s trains, buses, and ferries in a convenient and affordable manner.

Thanks to its flat-rate cost and widespread transportation coverage, the JR Pass is the most cost-effective option for long-distance travel within Japan, especially if you plan to cover as much of the country as possible.

Quick Facts:

  • The JR Pass provides coverage on JR trains, buses, and ferries across Japan (restrictions apply)
  • 7, 14, and 21-day JR Passes are available
  • Only overseas visitors with temporary visitor visas are eligible to purchase the pass
  • It is cheapest to purchase the pass outside of Japan through an online third-party vendor or at an overseas JR-designated sales office. You can also purchase the ticket online at JR’s official website or at a ticket office in Japan for a higher price.

The pass

Japan Rail Pass
Japan Rail Pass (Photo: oatautta / Shutterstock.com)

The JR Pass is a multi-use, discounted rail ticket that gives passholders access to numerous JR trains, bus services, ferry services, and more. This pass is exclusively available to overseas visitors and can be purchased both online—via authorised retailers or JR’s own official website—as well as in person in Japan. Buying directly through JR’s website or at selected major stations/airports in Japan is about 10–13% more expensive than other channels, but can allow you to book seats immediately and only requires your passport for collection.

The JR Pass cannot be used for the Nozomi and Mizuho services-type Shinkansen bullet trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines, which are slightly faster than their Hikari and Sakura-type counterparts.

Pricing

The pass comes in 7, 14, and 21-day versions, both for adults and children, as well as two class types: Standard Car and Green Car.

With Green Car seating, you can expect more space, a quieter atmosphere and less crowding—for a higher price. If you plan on traveling a lot, the extra comfort and peace may be worthwhile to you.

Please see the JR Pass's pricing below:

JR Pass pricing as of October 2023.
Class 7 Days 14 Days 21 Days

Green Car

Adult

¥70,000

¥110,000

¥140,000

Child

¥35,000

¥55,000

¥70,000

Ordinary Car

Adult

¥50,000

¥80,000

¥100,000

Child

¥25,000

¥40,000

¥50,000

*Children between ages 6 to 11 years old are eligible for the children’s discount. Children under 6 ride free, but without seat reservation.

Who is eligible?

The JR Pass is only available to visitors with temporary visitor visas
The JR Pass is only available to visitors with temporary visitor visas (Photo: ArtWell / Shutterstock.com)

In order to be eligible for the JR Pass, you must have a temporary visitor visa upon entering Japan. If you hold any other visa status, you will not be able to obtain the pass but a variety of other passes are available to foreign residents.

The JR Pass is valid for the length of time that you purchase the pass: 7, 14, or 21 days. Staff will stamp your pass upon your first use, and the expiration date will be clearly marked inside the pass.

Do I need it?

In order to get the most value for your money, the JR Pass is best if you’re planning extensive travel within Japan. Those who plan to stay within one area during their stay do not usually choose to purchase the JR Pass as they are not likely to make their money’s worth. Therefore, before buying the JR Pass, plan ahead and make sure that it aligns with your trip.

In addition to reserving Shinkansen seats and unlimited travel on JR rails, buses, and ferries, you can also receive discounts when staying at JR Group hotels.

What's covered?

The JR Pass can be used for the following train rails, buses, and ferries.

Trains

Tokaido Shinkansen in Shizuoka
Tokaido Shinkansen in Shizuoka (Photo: tackune / Shutterstock.com)

All JR-operated lines, including local (普通 futsu), rapid (快速 kaisoku), limited express (特急 tokkyu), and Shinkansen (except Nozomi and Mizuho on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen) are valid under the JR Pass.

The JR Pass can also be used on the following non-JR lines:

  • Tokyo Monorail between Hamamatsuchō and Haneda Airport
  • Yamanote Line (Tokyo Metro)
  • Aomori Railway, for the following (local and rapid only):
    • Anywhere between Hachinohe and Aomori
    • Anywhere between Aomori and Noheji
    • Anywhere between Hachinohe and Noheji
    • Note: travel is only covered if pass holders get off at Aomori, Noheji or Hachinohe
  • The Ainokaze Toyama Railway between Toyama and Takaoka (local only)
    • Note: travel is only covered if pass holders board at Toyama and disembark at Takaoka, and vice versa
  • Narita Express between Narita Airport and Tokyo
  • IR Ishikawa Railway between Kanazawa and Tsubata (local and limited express only)
    • Note: travel is only covered if pass holders board at Kanazawa and disembark at Tsubata, and vice versa

Buses

JR Tohoku Bus in Aomori
JR Tohoku Bus in Aomori (Photo: Shawn.ccf / Shutterstock.com)

While not valid on JR Bus-operated express routes, the JR Pass can be used on local routes for the following bus lines:

  • JR Hokkaido Bus
  • JR Tohoku Bus
  • JR Kanto Bus
  • JR Tokai Bus
  • West Japan JR Bus
  • JR Chugoku Bus
  • JR Shikoku Bus
  • JR Kyushu Bus

Ferry

The pass is valid for the JR West Ferry service between Miyajima and Hiroshima.

Purchasing

Purchase the JR Pass easily online
Purchase the JR Pass easily online (Photo: Ivan Kruk / Shutterstock.com)

Outside of Japan

There are a few ways you can purchase a JR Pass before arriving in Japan:

  1. Purchase the pass directly from the official Japan Rail Pass site. Once you arrive in Japan, you can pick up your JR Pass at a JR-designated ticket office. You will need to present your passport in order to obtain the pass.
  2. Purchase the JR Pass through an authorized third-party vendor, like Klook. Upon successfully purchasing a pass, the vendor will send you an exchange order. To swap your exchange order for the JR Pass, visit a designated JR ticket office upon your arrival in Japan. You must show the physical copy of your exchange order and your passport to receive your pass. Electronic copies or photocopies of any of the two documents will not be accepted. Please also note that the exchange order must be exchanged for a JR Pass within 90 days of its issuance.
  3. You can also visit an international JR-designated sales office to purchase your pass, and will receive it on the same day.

Things to know

Soon you will be traveling like a local
Soon you will be traveling like a local (Photo: Benoist / Shutterstock.com)

The basics

The JR Group offers 7, 14, and 21-day JR Passes, and their validity periods always start and end at midnight. For example, if a visitor activates a 7-day pass for immediate use on July 1 at 12pm, then the pass will expire at midnight on July 7, as opposed to July 8 at 12pm.

Once you have your JR Pass, you can enter stations either via manned gates or automatic ticket gates that accept physical tickets. If you use an automatic ticket gate, be sure to retrieve your JR Pass from the machine after walking through the gantry.

During your journey, transport staff may ask you to present your passport with your JR Pass.

Reserve a Shinkansen seat

There are two methods to easily reserve Shinkansen seats:

  1. Visit a JR Ticket Office at any train station, a Travel Service Center, or a Travel Agency ticket sales office. Tell staff members your desired start point, destination, and departure time, and they will reserve a seat for you.
  2. You can also reserve seats at automated ticketing machines in any JR train station. First, select your preferred language at the top of the touch screen. Next, proceed to the QR code reading screen, scan the QR code found on your JR Pass, and input your passport number on the next screen. Input your start and end points and preferred departure time. Lastly, collect your reserved tickets.

Oversized luggage

Visitors traveling on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines with oversized luggage must make advanced seat reservations. Japan Rail defines oversized luggage as baggage with dimensions exceeding 160cm and/or weights over 60kg. These measures are put in place to ensure that you have a seat with enough storage space for your oversized luggage.

These reservations can be made with no additional cost. Bicycles, strollers, musical instruments, and other special carry-ons do not require this additional reservation.

Failure to reserve an oversized-baggage ticket will result in a 1,000 yen fine, and luggage will be moved to a designated oversized baggage area. More information can be found here.

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