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.

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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.