How to use Japan Rail Pass to its maximum! The keys to find the right duration and type.

Tokyo Metro subway
Tokyo Metro subway

Japan Rail Pass have two types, Green and Ordinary, and three duration, 7, 14 and 21 days. If you travel in Japan for 14 days, do you think 14 days pass is right on for you? Maybe not. Most of travellers arrive at Tokyo (Narita or Haneda) or Osaka (Kansai). Actually Japan Rail Pass is not very useful in Tokyo, Osaka and even Kyoto. How do you find the right duration?

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

In this post, I show you some keys to find the right one for you. If you cannot decide between Green and Ordinary, please refer one of my post, “Which JR Pass is better, Green or Ordinary? Worthwhile buying Japan Rail Pass Green Pass?“.

Must use consecutive days

Once you decide the first day of use, you have to finish your trip in the fixed day. Otherwise you have to pay extra. If you stay in Japan for same days period (or less) as Japan Rail Pass, you don’t need to worry about it. But if you stay in Japan longer days than Japan Rail Pass duration, please consider about the date when you will start to use your pass.


If you take an overnight train on last day of your pass, your pass cover basic fare and limited express surcharge until you get off the train. Japan Rail Pass still cover basic fare until you exit station.

If you take Sunrise Seto at Himeji on the last day of your pass, your pass can travel to Tokyo. And you still can transfer to Rapid train to Narita airport with no extra charge on 8th day of your pass. (Please refer Point 6 on Japan Rail Pass official site, “Notes Regarding Use”.)
*But if you take other than Nobi Nobi seat of Sunrise Seto, you need to pay limited express surcharge anyway. Because Japan Rail Pass do not cover limited express charge when using compartment, bedroom or berth. Please see the detail at the page of Sunrise Seto.

Try to use Japan Rail Pass for long distance transfer

If you travel to Hokkaido or Kyushu from Tokyo or Osaka, don’t hesitate to buy Japan Rail Pass. It is worth buying. Especially Green Pass is considerable for travel to Kyushu and Hokkaido. The trains in Kyushu and Hokkaido have nice Green car. Please see the post, “Which JR Pass is better, Green or Ordinary? Worthwhile buying Japan Rail Pass Green Pass?“.
Even if you have a round trip from Narita airport to Kyoto, it is worth buying. I show some example in this post, “Compare Japan Rail Pass and regular fare. Which one has a greater value or cheap?”.

Consider to use in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto

You may use Japan Rail Pass in the cities, like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. But if you buy a single ticket, it costs around a few hundred yen (a fer US dollars). This short trip does not help you to get a big saving.

The key is trying to use Japan Rail Pass for long distance transfer.

Second, Japan Railway is always not best way to explore. Subway may be better way in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Subway and local bus networks are much bigger than JR trains network in these cities. So when you travel in Japan more than 7 days, try to put these three cities in the first or last part of you trip.

If you stay in Japan for 10 days and spend for the first 3 days in Tokyo, I will make the 4th day a start using the pass.

I explain about how to use Japan Rail Pass in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto in these following posts:

Consider to use for airport access

If you stay at the major hotel in Tokyo or Osaka, Airport Limousine bus may be better choice to transfer. Airport Limousine take you to the entrance of the hotel but JR train don’t. It is too much work to walk in huge number of passengers with carry heavy luggage. You know how many people use Shinjuku station in one day? It is more than 3 million! The cost and travel time are almost same as Airport Express Train, Narita Express and Kansai Airport Express Haruka. I show how to access to major airport in these following posts:

Note. Exchange at major station only

If you will turn in the exchange order and start to use right after you arrive in Japan, it will be no ploblem. Because two major airport, Narita (Tokyo) Airport and Kansai (Osaka) Airport, are connected by Japan Railways. So you can turn in it to receive the actual pass at the airport station.

If you will spend several days without the pass and then start to use it, please be careful to turn in. Because you can turn in the actual pass at the designated station only.

But if you arrive in Japan at Narita (Tokyo) airport or Kansai (Osaka) airport, I recommend to exchange at the airport station. Because the station staffs at the airport are very familiar with the foreign travellers and you don’t waste your time. Even if you don’t want to start to use at the airport, you can choose any day within one month from this day. And also if you receive the pass in advance, you can start your trip at any station. If you don’t, you have to go to the designated station on your cost.
So if you have an extra time at the airport, I strongly recommend it!

*You can turn in the exchange order at another Tokyo airport, Haneda too. But Travel Service Center in Haneda open from 11:00 am to 18:00 pm only. I think most of Haneda passengers arrive in early morning or late afternoon. So Haneda is not good place to turn in.

185 thoughts on “How to use Japan Rail Pass to its maximum! The keys to find the right duration and type.”

  1. Hi Takeshi
    I am Saidah,can u enlightened me on our trip
    from 18 Nov to 13 Dec 2016
    We intend to start using JR pass on the 22/11,that is from Odawara to Hiroshima
    22-24 Hiroshima,24-26,Kyoto/Nara,26-28,Nagoya,28-1st Dec Tokyo as 1 of us will be flying back SG,,5 ppl will be travelling to Hokkaido,,as It is the first time to Hokkaido,can you advise best places to go b4 gg back to SG on 13Dec,,guess we need to come back to Tokyo again.Shld we buy the 21days JR pass.Thank you

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