Japan Rail Pass user guide. How to use JR Pass to its maximum.

It's a new look Japan Rail Pass. (C) JR Rail
It’s a new look Japan Rail Pass. (C) JR Rail

JR Group has made an announcement to change the rule of Japan Rail Pass. Any Japanese citizen will not be able to purchase Japan Rail Pass after April 1, 2017. March 31, 2017 is the last day to purchase Japan Rail Pass for Japanese citizen. The exchange order can be exchanged until June 30, 2017.

Japan Rail Pass (a.k.a. JR Pass) covers all JR lines throughout Japan. This is only rail pass that covers throughout Japan. If you travel even round trip to Osaka from Tokyo, price of 7 days pass almost equal to normal fare. I think this pass gives the greatest deal to the travellers who wants to travel in Japan.

Japan Rail Pass Official site is very informative. But some points are not clear. And also some of you are overwhelmed to read so many pages.

In this post, I tell you about this pass as simple as possible. I compare normal fare and pass, how to choose the retailer, additional charge and many more.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

How to buy

Basically only the authorized agents are allowed to sell Japan Rail Pass. You can find the agent list at this page of Japan Rail Pass official site. These following companies are major distributors.

  • JAL (Japan Airlines / National flagship)
  • ANA (All Nippon Airways / one of two major airlines)
  • JTB (Biggest travel agency in Japan)
  • NTA (Nippon Travel Agency / third biggest and the oldest travel agency in Japan)
  • KNT (Kintetsu International / same group as Kintetsu Railways. Second biggest travel agency)
  • Top Tour (Same group as Tokyu Railway)
  • JALPAK (Same group as Japan Airlines)

JAL and ANA sell the pass to the passenger who take their flight. You cannot purchase only pass from them.

In these days, many companies have a contract with these above distributors And they are selling the pass online as a retailer. If you find the name on the list at the above link, it is an official retailer. If you cannot find it, you should check that company before you buy.

Basically you cannot purchase Japan Rail Pass in Japan. But as I mentioned above, some of the agents sell JR Pass online and they can mail to you by Courier or Express post service even in Japan. So if you have already arrived in Japan as temporary visitor, you may ask the agent in your country and make sure that they can mail it or not.

Types and prices

There are two types, Green and Ordinary, and three duration, 7, 14 and 21 days.

Type 7 days 14 days 21 days
Ordinary 29110 yen 46390 yen 59350 yen
Green 38800 yen 62950 yen 81870 yen

*Child (6yrs to 11yrs) rate is 50% off.

When you purchase it, rates are adjusted by your country’s currency.

Tokaido Shinkansen
If you take Tokaido Shinkansen and Narita Express to Kyoto, Japan Rail Pass should be your choice.

This pass is eligible for the railway, bus and ferry services that are provided by Japan Railways Group with few exceptions. I explained these exceptions later.

In my opinion, Japan Rail Pass offers you the most unbeatable deal. There are many kinds of rail passes in Japan, such as JR East Pass, JR Hokkaido Pass, JR Kyushu Pass and many more. But Japan Rail Pass is only rail pass that covers throughout Japan. And of course it covers both Tokyo and Kyoto. But if you need the detail information about other passes, please access to the category, Other Rail Passes. I wrote about many other rail passes in the posts.

7 days pass price is almost same as round trip of Tokyo – Osaka

If you will have round trip between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan Rail Pass 7 days is recommended.
One way base fare and Shinkansen surcharge from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka – 14140 yen

So if you have round trip between Tokyo and Osaka, single fare is slightly cheaper, but you will get some chances to take a train in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. And Japan Rail Pass is more flexible and much easier to handle.

If you need some more information about price comparison, please see “Compare to regular fare”. You will see some example.

If you will have only one way trip between Tokyo and Osaka, single fare is your choice. I wrote about using single ticket at the post, For non JR pass travellers. Guide to use JR single ticket, basic rules, validity and stopover.

Green seat on Super Ozora by 283 series (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Green seat on Super Ozora by 283 series in Hokkaido (C) Sonic Rail Garden

What is the difference between Green and Ordinary.

Green Class is like business class seat. It was the first class in all Japan Railway’s trains. But since Tohoku Shinkansen Hayabusa started to run, Gran Class that is upper class than Green Class was introduced. As a result, Green class became the second highest seat in all JR trains.

If you take Gran Class by Japan Rail Pass, both Ordinary pass and Green pass cover only basic fare. You need to pay Limited Express surcharge and Gran Class fee. Please see the post, Japan Rail Pass can be used for Hayabusa to get details.

Advantage of Green Class seat is space and atmosphere. Green class seat it more spacious and quieter than ordinary seat. Shinkansen and most of Limited Express have this class. Even some local trains, such as Rapid trains in greater Tokyo area have Green Class seat too. Please read one of my post, Worthwhile buying Japan Rail Pass Green Pass?. I explained the details about Green class seat in this post. I hope it may help you to decide which pass you purchase.

By the way Green surcharge is calculated based on distance. But the rate differs with types of train and companies. For example, Green class surcharge is 2000 yen for Narita Express from Narita airport to Greater Tokyo area, 5150 yen for Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka. So if you have a round trip from Narita airport to Kyoto, Green pass still give you greater value.

If you really care about the budget, Ordinary class is fine. I am sure you will be satisfied with that. It is way better than economy seat on the flight. My height is 6’1″ (184 cm). But I have never had a problem with the leg space.

How to exchange

Exchange order
Exchange order

You can get “Exchange Order” at the time of purchasing. It is not an actual pass but a voucher. You have to exchange for an actual pass after you arrive in Japan. The validity of exchange order is three month from the date of issue. The pass will never be sold out. So don’t buy it too early.

Exchange place
You will find the sign in English very easily.

Exchange Order can be exchanged at the designated station. Narita airport, Kansai airport, Tokyo, Shinagawa, Osaka, Kyoto and more than 40 major stations throughout Japan are on the list. You can find the station list at Japan Rail Pass official site.

When you turn in, go to the station where I mentioned above, and show your passport and exchange order. You will get the application form and fill in.

When you turn in the pass, you can choose the first day of use within one month from this day. And you will receive the actual pass with stamped that shows the start and finish dates. So technically the earliest day to purchase the exchange order is four month prior to your first day of use.

By the way, the definition of “1 day” is 00:00 to 23:59. If you start to use 7 days pass on April 1, your pass is expired at 23:59 on April 7. However if you are on board at 0:00 on the last day, you still can take a train. Your pass cover until you get off the train. After you get off the train, as long as you don’t exit the station, your pass still cover basic fare.

ex)
If you use 7 days pass, sample itinerary below can be covered by the pass.
Day 7 Take Sunrise Seto at 23:55 at Himeji
Day 8 Arrive Tokyo at 7:08 and continue to travel to Narita airport by Airport Rapid train

Validity

Japan Rail Pass is valid for the railway service, bus service and the ferry service. Japan Rail Pass cover all trains that are operated on those lines with some exception. But most of trains are covered by Japan Rail Pass. You can go almost anywhere throughout Japan except Okinawa. (Any JR companies do not offer any services in Okinawa.)

Let’s see that we CANNOT get on by Japan Rail Pass.

Tokaido Shinkansen

Nozomi (=のぞみ) / Mizuho (=みずほ) on Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen

Nozomi is the fastest and most frequent operated train on Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen between Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. Mizuho is the fastest train between Shin-Osaka and Kagoshima-Chuo. Japan Rail Pass is NOT valid for these trains. Even a basic fare to take Nozomi or Mizuho is not covered by Japan Rail Pass at all. If you want to take Nozomi or Mizuho, you have to pay full fare.

I understand this is the disadvantage. But you can take Hikari or Sakura that is the second fastest train. I haven’t had any problem with that.

ex)
Time of travelling between Tokyo and Shin Osaka — 3 hours by Hikari / 2.5 hours by Nozomi
Frequency — 2 trips of Hikari every hour / 5 trips of Nozomi every hour
*There are some more trips of both Hikari and Nozomi in peak hours.

Please refer one of my post, Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to get the details abut the difference between Nozomi and Hikari.

Mizuho is the fastest train on Sanyo Shinkansen and Kyushu Shinkansen. This train was introduced on Mar 12, 2011 when Kyushu Shinkansen had been completed. JR West and Kyushu started to operate new train service Mizuho and Sakura bewtween Shin-Osaka and Kagoshima-Chuo. Sakura is the second fastest train on Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen. You can take this train service by Japan Rail Pass.

Gran Class of Tohoku, Hokuriku and Hokkaido Shinkansen

Gran Class seat on E5 series (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Gran Class seat on E5 series (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Japan Rail Pass covers Tohoku, Hokkaido and Hokuriku Shinkansen trains fully. Gran class that is the highest class seat is available on these Shinkansen lines. This class is first ever seat higher than Green class. If you take this Gran class, both Japan Rail Pass Ordinary and even Green cover a base fare only. You need to pay all amount of surcharge beside JR Pass.

Delux Green on JR Kyushu trains

Some of limited express trains in Kyushu have Delux Green Class. If you take this class, you have to pay both Limited Express surcharge and Delux Green surcharge. Even Green Pass do not cover both surcharge.

Green Private Compartment

Green compartment on Super View Odoriko (C) Sonic Rail Garden

These following trains have Green compartment.

If you use this type of seat by Japan Rail Pass, your party must be 4 persons because it is based on 4 person. If you use this by 3 persons or less, you have to pay surcharge for insufficiency.

Overnight train / Sleeper car

Any type of Japan Rail Pass cover only a basic fare for the sleeper car. So you have to pay the accommodation fee (berth and compartment) and limited express or express surcharge. But there are two overnight trains, Sunrise Izumo and Sunrise Seto that you can get on by Japan Rail Pass with no extra charge. Because these overnight trains have the specialized accommodation that is called “Nobi Nobi seat”. Please see the posts, Sunrise Izumo and Sunrise Seto to get the detailed information.

Trains run through Non JR lines

Some of limited express trains go through Non JR lines. You need to pay some extra for the section where your train goes on Non JR line. Because Japan Rail Pass cover only JR lines. The following list shows you the train go through Non JR lines. Please refer each trains’ page to get the details about the extra charge.

Bus services

There are 8 bus companies in JR Bus Group. But these bus companies are different from train service companies now. These eight companies operate local bus service and highway bus service. But Japan Rail Pass covers a few local bus services only.

JR’s local bus services are a sort of commute service. I pick up some lines for the tourist.

Japan Rail Pass may cover some more bus services. But even official site does not provide any detailed information. As far as I know, I can confirm that JR Pass covers only these bus services.

Ferry Service

Miyajima ferry service is operated between Miyajimaguchi and Miyajima. Japan Rail Pass is valid for this route. Miyajima is UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most popular destination for foreign travellers. This ferry cruise is very short trip. It takes only 10 minutes. Please refer one of my post, How to get Miyajima to get the details about Miyajima.

JR Kyushu operates the international ferry service between Hakata and Busan (Korea) But this is NOT valid for Japan Rail Pass.

Other train services

Japan Rail Pass does not cover any NON JR train services, such as the subways (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Yokohama, Sendai, Fukuoka), other train services by private companies, city bus services, local bus services and ferry services. The following list shows you major train services that Japan Rail Pass does not cover.

  • Sapporo Subway
  • Sendai Subway
  • Tokyo Subway
  • Yokohama Subway
  • Keihin Kyuko Railway (a.k.a. Keikyu, Shinagawa-Haneda-Yokohama)
  • Keisei Railway (Narita airport-Chiba-Ueno)
  • Tobu Railway (Asakusa-Nikko/Knugawa Onsen)
  • Odakyu Railway (Shinjuku-Hakone/Enoshima)
  • Izu Kyuko Railway (Ito-Shimoda)
  • Fuji Kyuko Railway (Otsuki-Kawaguchiko)
  • Nagoya Railway (a.k.a. Meitetsu, Chubu airport-Nagoya-Gifu)
  • Nagoya Subway
  • Kyoto Subway
  • Osaka Subway
  • Nankai Railway (Namba-Kansai airport/Koyasan/Wakayama)
  • Kintetsu Railway (Namba-Nara/Kyoto/Ise/Nagoya)
  • Hankyu Railway (Kobe-Umeda-Kawaramachi,Kyoto)
  • Keihan Railway (Yodoyabashi-Sanjo,Kyoto)
  • Hanshin Railway, Sanyo Railway (Umeda/Namba-Kobe-Himeji)
  • Fukuoka Subway
  • Nishitetsu Railway (Tenjin-Dazaifu)

Tokyo Monorail between Hamamatsucho (Tokyo) and Haneda airport is not JR train but this is owned by JR East and it is covered by Japan Rail Pass.

The following trains and segments are non JR lines. But those are covered by JR Pass.

  • Local and rapid trains on Aoimori Railway between Hachinohe and Aomori. But you cannot make a stopover except Hachinohe, Noheji and Aomori
  • Local and rapid trains on Ainokaze Toyama Railway between Toyama and Takaoka. But you cannot make a stopover except Toyama and Takaoka (after March 14, 2015)
  • Any trains on IR Ishikawa Railway between Kanazawa and Tsubata. But you cannot make a stopover except Kanazawa and Tsubata. There are direct trains from Kanazawa or Osaka to Wakura Onsen. These trains are go through this segment and then go on JR Nanao line. If you take these trains, extra charge is not required on top of JR Pass.

Who is eligible?

If you are an foreign tourist, you have to be “Temporary Visitor”. This entry status will be stamped at immigration on your passport. Other status cannot be acceptable. Be careful. You have to show your passport at the station when you pass your exchange order to get actual pass.
If you are already in Japan as other status, you have to change your status first. Otherwise you cannot buy Japan Rail Pass. Please see “How to buy and exchange”.

If you are Japanese citizen who have permanently status in foreign country, or who married to a non-Japanese, you are qualified.
JR Group has made an announcement to change the rule of Japan Rail Pass. Any Japanese citizen will not be able to purchase Japan Rail Pass after April 1, 2017. March 31, 2017 is the last day to purchase for Japanese citizen. The exchange order can be exchanged until June 30, 2017.

How to refund

You can refund within one year from issue date before you turn in for the actual pass. Simply bring or send your exchange order to the agent where you purchased it. They will subtract a handling fee and refund to you. The handling fee is usually 10% of the amount. Contact to your agent and make sure it before you refund.
You can NEVER refund after turned in the actual pass.

Lost or Stolen

Once you lost it, it’s over. Either an exchage order or an actual pass cannot be reissued. Be carefule to use!

973 thoughts on “Japan Rail Pass user guide. How to use JR Pass to its maximum.”

  1. Hi Takeshiさん.
    I want to ask, we can exchange and reserved at Kansai Airport right?
    But the reserve seat only once, can’t multiple place, is it right?
    Like at Haneda.

    I mean when arrive at KIX, I want directly using the JR Pass and reserve many train (after exchange). I wonder where is the near place I can reserve the seat at Midori no Madoguchi.

    Thank you before.
    Nan.

    1. Hi Nan san,

      I’m not sure that I understand your inquiry correctly. Anyway you can exchange and book at Kansai airport station.
      You can book your seat when you exchange the pass or later. Midori no Madoguchi is located at most of major JR stations. You can book it at any Midori no Madoguchi. You can complete all bookings at Kansai airport station. Of you can book for some trains only at Kansai and make another bookings later at other stations.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Takeshiさん thank you for your reply and my bad (=_=)

        I mean, last year when I arrived at Haneda airport and exchange the JR Pass, I only allowed to made my first reservation at the counter.
        I can’t book another reservation, so I wonder is it same method at Kansai Airport, because I really want book many reservation on first day I arrive at KIX.

        Sorry for confusing.
        Nan.

        1. Hi Nan san,

          I have never heard that. Probably Haneda airport travel desk was busy and they made some restriction.
          I usually exchange the pass at Narita. I always complete all bookings at once. I have made more than 20 bookings before. Kansai airport station has been very busy in these days. They may make same restriction as Haneda. But I have never heard that at this point.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi,

    I would need some information for JR pass, i’ve already bought a 7 days pass. Can I use it for below destination:

    Narita – Tokyo – Narita
    Tokyo – Osaka – Kyoto – Tokyo
    Tokyo – takaragawa onsen – Tokyo

    Which train (name) that we can use?

    1. Hi Natasha,

      All trips are covered.

      Narita – Tokyo – Narita
      You can take Narita Express.
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/narita-express.html

      Tokyo – Osaka – Kyoto – Tokyo
      Hikari on Tokaido Shinkansen is your choice.
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-tokai/nagoya-toyohashi/what-is-shinkansen-bullet-train.html

      Tokyo – takaragawa onsen – Tokyo
      I think Jomokogen station is the gateway. But you need to take shuttle or taxi from this station or Minakami station. If you go to Jomokogen, you can take Joetsu Shinkansen:
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-kanto/tokyo/ueno/joetsu-shinkansen.html

      Please ask your hotel in Takaragawa onsen which station your hotel can pick you up. If you need to go to Minakami, you still can take Joetsu Shinkansen but you have to get off at Takasaki and need to change to local train to Minakami.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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