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?

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.

Exception

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.

Example
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.

Example
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.

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

  1. Hi Takeshi- san

    I have 12 days and will like to visit mainly these areas:
    Tokyo, Matsumoto, Takayama, Kanazawa, Kaga (Optional), Nagano Station (Optional) area.

    Would appreciate your help to advise on the pass to get. My itinerary can be edited to accommodate the limitation of the pass.

    Just wondering if it is advisable to get a

    1. JR Nagano, Niigata pass (17,000) ( 5 day flex) with hokuriku (5,000) (4 days consecutive) + Nohi Return buses (4,500 + 6,070) to connect between Mastumoto and Kanazawa via Takayama.

    or 2) 7 days JR pass (putting tokyo at the end)

    3) Hokuriku arch pass (24,000) (7 days), (putting tokyo at the end)

    Thank you for your advice

    – Mel

    1. Hi Mel san,

      Option 1 seems to be the best option but you cannot get Hokuriku area pass in Tokyo and Nagano area. You need to go to Toyama first to get this pass. So you have to pay another 5000 yen for Joetsu-Myoko to Toyama. It’s still cheaper than JR pass 7 days. So if you really want to save your cost, take this way.

      Hokuriku arch pass does not cover Matsumoto. This is not a right choice.

      JR Pass is not cheaper than option 1. But it’s all in one and easier to use. You don’t need to get off at Toyama to save your cost.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi San,
    Hope you are well. Your website has been enlightening, really.

    I am travelling on honeymoon with my wife through Japan for three weeks, and I was wondering if I should aim at getting a JR pass or look into finding better deals with regional train passes.
    Do you think you could advise me with an itinerary like this:

    1 day – Arrive in Osaka
    2 – Osaka
    3 – Kyoto
    4 – Kyoto
    5 – Kyoto (visit to Nara)
    6 – Nagoya
    7 – Nagoya
    8 – Maze
    9 – Kanazawa
    10 – Kanazawa
    11 – Kaga Onsen
    12 – Kaga Onsen
    13 – Hirayu Onsen (Close to Takayama)
    14 – Hirayu Onsen (Close to Takayama)
    15 – Tokyo
    16 – Tokyo
    17 –Tokyo
    18 – Tokyo (Trip to Niko)
    19 – Tokyo
    20 – Hakone
    21 –Hakone
    22 –Leave from TOKYO

    Let me know your thoughts

    1. Hi Joao san,

      JR pass is not a right choice because you cannot get the worth of the pass. You will use regular ticket for city to city and use local deals in the links below:

      KIX-Osaka
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/kansai-kix/how-to-choose-the-deals-for-access-tofrom-kansai-airport.html

      Osaka
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html

      Kyoto
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html

      Nagoya
      http://www.kotsu.city.nagoya.jp/en/pc/SUBWAY/TRP0001067.htm

      Tokyo
      https://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html

      Nikko
      https://jprail.com/destinations/world-heritage-destinations/how-to-access-to-nikko-from-tokyo-there-are-three-ways-from-tokyo-shinjuku-and-asakusa.html

      Hakone
      http://www.odakyu.jp/english/deels/freepass/hakone/

      Tokyo to Narita or Haneda
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/how-to-access-from-haneda-airport-to-downtown-tokyo.html
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/narita/the-list-of-deals-for-access-to-downtown-tokyo-from-narita-airport.html

      Single ticket guide
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/for-non-jr-pass-travellers-guide-to-use-jr-single-ticket-basic-rules-validity-and-stopover.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Dear Takeshi San,

        Thank you so much for the information, I really appreciate it. I was reading other threads of your posts and noticed a few conversations that were really helpful.

        I do wonder though if I can purchase these single ride tickets in advance (I will need to provide the Japanese embassy with a full itinerary with tickets + hotels reservations beforehand in order to get my visa) and if so, would I need to reserve seats adn specific train times or would they work as JR passes where I can arrive at the stations and board the time I choose on the trains in selected trains? I ask that because I would like the flexibility and want to mitigate as much of the time I can when purchasing them at the station (my Japanese is pretty rough and I want to avoid any mistakes like getting to the wrong stations or buying expensive tickets when there are cheaper ones)

        once again, I really appreciate your feedback.

        Best,
        João

        1. Hi João san,

          Basically you cannot purchase a single ticket in advance. There is no online options. Some travel agent may do it but most of them don’t. I have no idea about visa procedure. But I don’t think you can give the detailed itinerary to them before you leave your country.

          Number of tourists from overseas are significantly increased in the past few years. Most of them do not speak Japanese and they could complete their trip. I think you will be okay. Especially the major stations are very familiar with overseas tourists. They know how to handle them.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi san

    i would be coming to japan for the following days:
    day 1 – Tokyo
    day 2 – Tokyo (Disneysea)
    day 3 – Tokyo to Kyoto
    day 4 – Kyoto
    day 5 – Kyoto
    day 6 – kyoto to Osaka
    day 7 – Osaka
    day 8 – Osaka
    day 9 – Osaka to Tokyo
    day 10 – Tokyo

    Should i activate my 7 day Jr rail on day 2 ?

    1. Hi Jenze san,

      You should start using JR Pass 7 days on day 3. And you can get Tokyo on day 9. If you start it on day 2, it will be expired on day 8.

      You may use other deal before/after JR pass. Please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/how-to-access-from-haneda-airport-to-downtown-tokyo.html
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/narita/the-list-of-deals-for-access-to-downtown-tokyo-from-narita-airport.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi sensei! Would like your thoughts on how i should plan my trip. Will be landing in Haneda on 25/10/17 at 10pm. I will be in Japan from 25/10-5/11. We plan to go to USJ and Disneyland during our trip.

    Would it be wise to start in Osaka?

    25/10 – check in for a night at a nearby hotel in haneda
    26/10 – claim JR pass at haneda airport – leave for Osaka. Check in airbnb. Sightsee in Osaka.
    27/10 – USJ
    28/10 – Kyoto
    29/10 – Sightsee more of Osaka
    30/10 – ???
    31/10 – ???
    1/11 – ???
    2/11 – ???
    3/11 – ???
    4/11 – ???
    5/11 – leave Japan.

    Would appreciate your help!
    Sincerely, KC

    1. Hi KC,

      You have mentioned that you intend to visit Disneyland but I could not find it in your plan. When you go back to Tokyo in your trip plan.
      If you use JR pass 7 days, you should go back to Tokyo by Nov 1.

      You can start from Osaka if you leave from Tokyo. But it’s not an issue. You can start from either cities, Tokyo or Osaka. Please make sure what you will do from Oct 30 to the end of your trip.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hi Takashi-san,

    Need your advise on our coming trip.

    1 – tokyo
    2- tokyo
    3- tokyo
    4- tokyo
    5- tokyo go to kyoto
    6- kyoto
    7- kyoto
    8- kyoto
    9- kyoto
    10- kyoto go to osaka
    11- osaka
    12- osaka
    13- osaka

    On which day do you think i should activate my JR pass? and will 7 day pass be enough?

    thank you!

    1. Hi gladys san,

      Actually JR pass does not work. Local deals in each cities and single ticket (or Platt Kodama) for Tokyo to Kyoto are your choice. Please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/7days/basic-itinerary-of-tokyo-kyoto-and-osaka-in-7-days.html

      But if you have a long day trip, such as visiting Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Nikko when you are in Tokyo, Kyoto and/or Osaka, JR pass might work. But as long as you travel within cities and surrounding area, like, Yokohama, Kobe, Nara, you cannot get the worth of even 7 days pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takashi-san,

    Need your advise on our coming April trip.
    Day
    1 : Arrive Narita ~16:00pm
    2-3: Shizuoka, Kamakura
    4-5: Osaka
    6-7: Hakone
    8-9: Tokyo

    Do you recommend 7 days JRP? from Day 2 onwards? can we use the pass for all the rides including around Tokyo and Osaka?

    Thanks
    Florence

  7. Hi Takeshi San,

    I would be visiting your lovely country again in May 2017, below is the iternary:
    Day 1 – arrive 8.15 pm at osaka from jakarta
    Day 2 – sight seing Osaka
    Day 3 – sight seing kyoto
    Day 4 – sight seing kyoto
    Day 5 – hiroshima miyajima
    Day 6 – sight seing tokyo
    Day 7 – sight seing tokyo
    Day 8 – sight seing osaka
    Day 9 – going back to Jakarta

    I will be staying at Osaka around shin osaka Station. Would be able to advise me which Day should I started to exchange my JR pas? Green or ordinary pass should I choose?

    Rgds
    Awullia

  8. 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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