Japan Rail Pass is valid for the railway service, bus service and the ferry service. First of all, please refer this map. (PDF file in Japan Rail Pass official site) You saw lots of colored solid lines in Japan. Those lines are railway lines. 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. (Japan Railway do not have any services in Okinawa.)
Let’s see what we CANNOT get on by Japan Rail Pass.
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. Japan Rail Pass is NOT valid for this train. Even a basic fare to take Nozomi is not covered by Japan Rail Pass. If you want to take Nozomi, you have to pay full fare.
I understand this is the disadvantage. But you can take Hikari that is the second fastest train. I haven’t had any problem with that.
Time required 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 Hayabusa on Tohoku Shinkansen
Hayabusa was introduced to Tohoku Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin Aomori as the newest and fastest train service in March, 2011. Japan Rail Pass cover this train service basically. However this train has the highest class that is called Gran Class. This class is first ever higher than Green Class. If you take this class, both Japan Rail Pass Ordinary and even Green cover a basic fare only. You need to pay surcharge.
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
These following trains have Green compartment.
- Super View Odoriko (Tokyo-Atami/Ito/Izukyu Shimoda)
- Spacia Nikko/Kinugawa (Shinjuku-Nikko/Knugawa Onsen)
- Most of limited express trains in Kyushu (Nichirin, Kamome, Midori and many more except Sonic and Huis Ten Bosch
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 a few overnight trains that you can get on by Japan Rail Pass with no extra charge. Because some overnight trains, such as Hamanasu (Aomori-Sapporo), Sunrise Seto (Tokyo-Takamatsu), Sunrise Izumo (Tokyo-Izumoshi) and Akebono (Ueno-Aomori) have the ordinary seats or specialize accommodation. Please see those trains pages to get the details.
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 go 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. I have not written about Super Hakuto yet. As of Apr 2012, the extra charge is 1,770 yen (basic fare 1,260 yen + Ltd Exp surcharge 510 yen).
- Odoriko, Super View Odoriko (Ito-Izukyu Shimoda/Izu Kyuko Railway, Mishima-Shuzenji/Izuhakone Railway)
- Nikko, Spacia Nikko (Kurihashi-Tobu Nikko/Tobu Railway)
- Kinugawa, Spacia Kinugawa (Kurihashi-Kinugawa Onsen/Tobu Railway)
- Hakutaka (Muikamachi-Saigata/Hokuetsu Express Railway)
- Wide View Nanki (Kawarada-Tsu/Ise Railway)
- Hashidate (Fukuchiyama-Amanohashidate-Toyooka/Kitakinki Tango Railway)
- Super Hakuto (Kamigori-Chizu/Chizu Express Railway)
- Nanpu, Shimanto, Ashizuri (Kubokawa-Sukumo/Tosa Kuroshio Railway)
- Hokutosei, Cassiopeia (Morioka-Aomori/IGR Iwate Ginga Railway, Aoimori Railway)
There are 8 bus companies in JR Bus Group. This group in under same umbrella as Japan Railways. These eight companies operate local bus service and highway bus service. Japan Rail Pass cover all local service and some highway service.
*Highway bus services will be no longer available for Japan Rail Pass that will be exchanged after April 1, 2013.