Save Money Before You Go To Japan: Buy A JR Rail Pass In Your Home Country

February 12, 2013 by Anil Polat  

shinkansen train inside

Japan’s train network is clean, extensive, and less expensive with the purchase of a Japan Rail Pass (JR Rail Pass). The only drawback is that most travelers (like myself) don’t tend to find out about it until they’re already in Japan – which is a problem since you can’t really get a JRRP inside the country. Japan has the world’s third highest rail density and trains connect practically everywhere you’ll want to see, making a JR Rail Pass a serious consideration for anyone visiting the land of the rising sun.

kobe japan train stationComplete 7-21 Day Access To Most Japanese Tracks

A JR Rail Pass is essentially an open ticket to the Japanese rail system, including most of its services, except two shinkansen (high-speed bullet) lines – the Nozomi and Mizuho. (Of course you can still get from say, Tokyo to Kyoto, it will just include a few extra stops and take a bit longer.) You’ve got two options, the green (aka. first class) and ordinary; both being unusually comfortable and exceptionally sanitary for public transportation. For most lines you can hop on any of the non-reserved seating cars in your class with a wave of your JR Rail Pass. Reserved seating also doesn’t cost you anything extra – aside from a few minutes waiting in line at a JR station or Travel Service Center.

Passes cost approximately $305/$485/$620 for ordinary tickets lasting 7, 14, and 21 days respectively; green passes will run you $405/$660/$855 US dollars.

tokyo narita airport gateHow To Get A JR Rail Pass

For starters – don’t be in Japan. Assuming you’re not reading this from Kobe right now, you can buy tickets online from JR Travel through one of their authorized agents. They’ll then send you an exchange order which you’ll need to trade for an actual Rail Pass at one of these JR train stations. It’s also worth noting that if you’ve got some kind of work permit, residency, or anything other than a temporary travel visa you’re not eligible for a JR Rail Pass.

Remove All Old Baggage Tags (Including Bar Code Stubs) To Avoid Lost Or Delayed Luggage

What If I’m In Japan Right Now?!

In case temporal mechanics are working against you and you’re already in Japan, you can purchase limited rail passes. Those passes however are generally more expensive enough to hardly make them worth purchasing (unless you’re a student or on a working holiday visa) – not to mention they don’t cover all or even most of Japan. Be sure to calculate your costs and routes carefully on Hyperdia to see if it’s worth purchasing a rail pass from inside Japan for your specific situation.

Some money saving travel tips are bold sweeping ones that can save you thousands of dollars, like accumulating all of your frequent flyer miles in one place; but more often than not, it’s the little tricks like the JR Rail Pass or Granada Card that keep your budget happy over the long term.

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  1. Dave Brett says:

    Saved a fortune getting the Japan rail pass, it’s a really good investment. Especially when the price of two Tokyo-Kyoto return trips on the bullet train covers the price alone, it really is a steal. Also I loved how universally supported the pass was at all the stations we visited. The seat reservations (which is free!) was done so smoothly and always greeted by helpful staff who was able to translate where we was going perfectly. Also another note is making the most out of the few night trains that are available such as going up to Hokkaido which is a great use of the pass and for sure worth checking out. Safes on accommodation that can be considered in the price.

  2. So I totally did all of this when I went to Japan. Then, I activated my JR pass on the wrong date and had to buy an a la carte ticket from Osaka to Tokyo and voided all my savings. Oops.

  3. Hilton says:

    The JR pass won’t be cheaper if you’re only traveling one-way and over a longer period of time, such as from Osaka to Kyoto to Matsumoto to Tokyo, as I did. You’d be better off just buying at the train station and taking regular non-Shinkansen trains, which aren’t that bad.

  4. Great advice, i’m thinking of heading to Japan this summer and wouldv’e never known to pick up my pass first. This article is exactly the reason why you should always read up first before going travelling, it can save a whole heap of time and effort.

    • Anil Polat says:

      It’s one of those things I’m sure many arrive, notice, and then go, “I wish I had done that!” Hopefully this helps save you from that situation 🙂

  5. Simon says:

    Great article – you may also like to see our interactive map of the Japan Rail Pass ( Really helps you make the most of your trip 🙂

  6. Sounds like a relaxing way to travel around Japan. I’m a bit tall, 6’4″, so I have to ask…how’s the leg room? Also, do they have wifi on the trains?

    • Anil P. says:

      The leg room was good on the Shinkansen and not bad on the other trains comparatively. (The latter is still more than most seat in couch on airplanes.) As for wifi, as far as I know there is only wifi on some of the Shinkansen routes.