JR Pass in a Nutshell. Part 1: Before Leaving to Japan

About the JR Pass

Everyone who’s planning a trip to Japan will come upon mention of the JR Pass. In short, the JR Pass is a transit pass that allows you to move around the Land of the Rising Sun via JR (Japan Railways) trains. It’s available only for nonresidents, which is good news for tourists! Let’s see what it’s all about.

The pros

  • You can conveniently travel around Japan without having to buy tickets and standing in lines every time (doesn’t apply for seat reservations – more about that later.)
  • If you travel a lot, it’ll cost you much less than buying separate tickets.
  • Free seat reservations – so you don’t have to worry whether you’ll be able to sit or not. Normally this entails additional costs.
  • Free ferry ride to Miyajima island.

The cons

  • The price might seem high, but – believe me – it the pass pays for itself after a few shinkansen rides.
  • You have to show your JR Pass along with your passport every time you want to go through the gates.
  • It doesn’t include private lines and two shinkansen lines (which wasn’t an issue at all for us, but your mileage may vary).

What does the JR Pass cover?

  • the Narita Express (N’Ex) to and from Narita Airport
  • the monorail to and from Haneda Airport
  • local JR trains
  • almost all shinkansen lines (bullet trains) – with exceptions
  • JR buses
  • the ferry to Miyajima island

What doesn’t it cover?

  • two shinkansen trains, called „Nozomi” i „Mizuho” – you have to be careful not to board one of them by mistake (been there, done that! ;))
  • private lines
  • sleeper cars
  • subways
  • non-JR buses and coaches

Cost

We’ll be providing prices in Japanese yens, since exchange rates may fluctuate.

The Green Class is the equivalent of First Class. We haven’t used it, but apparently if you don’t have excessive requirements then Second Class is perfectly fine.

Ordinary - second classGreen - first class
AdultsChildren (6-11 yo)AdultsChildren (6-11 yo)
7 days¥29110¥14555¥38880¥19440
14 days¥46390¥23195¥62950¥31475
21 days¥59350¥29675¥81870¥40935

How long should I buy it for?

That depends on your personal preferences, but it’s worth considering how much you’ll actually be traveling. For example, if you’re staying for two weeks, but the first week will be in one place (e.g. Tokyo), it might be better to buy a 7-day JR Pass and use 1-day tickets or a Suica card (we’ll cover that in a separate post) to get around the Tokyo area – that it could turn out to be more cost-effective. Of course, it’s best to just calculate your estimated ticket costs and see whether buying a JR Pass is worth it, and for how long. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to activate your pass right after you arrive to Japan, you can do it at time (well, almost) during your stay.

OK, I want to buy it – but where?

The easiest way to do it is to buy the pass before your trip in a travel agency near you or – like us – the internet (which can also be cheaper). There’s a lot of websites that sell JR Passes, but we decided on https://www.japan-rail-pass.com and can wholeheartedly recommend that site (no referrals, just spreading the word). The form is simple and delivery is fast (we received ours the next day. It must’ve teleported along the way because we ordered after 3 PM and it arrived in less that 24 hours from France to Poland :P). No worries – we’ll guide you step by step. Till March 31, 2019 you can also buy the JR Pass in several places in Japan – more info here: http://www.japanrailpass.net/file/trial_basis_en.pdf. Please keep in mind that it will cost around 10-20% more than buying it overseas.

How do I buy it?

Step 1 – choose your pass type

“Ordinary” is selected by default, so if you want a different kind, click on the “+GREEN & CHILD PASSES” in the the lower left-hand corner of the white panel. This will also allow you to buy a children’s ticket. We chose the 21-day option (which was still too short :P). Next, click on “ORDER YOUR JRP”.

Step 2 – choose where you want it delivered

Enter the country where you want the pass to be delivered, and in the “DATE OF DEPARTURE TO JAPAN”, enter – no surprises here – your date of departure to Japan.

What if you found out about the JR Pass a little too late and you’re leaving tomorrow? Easy! Just choose Japan as the country to deliver to, and enter the address of your place of stay in Japan or the nearest post office. The Exchange Order will then arrive when you’re already in Japan (though it can take up to 4 days, so make sure you take that into account).

Remember that the Exchange Order can be exchanged for the proper ticket within 3 months of buying it. So if you’ve already bought your plane tickets half a year before the trip, don’t go buying the pass prematurely 😉 Below the departure date you have some additional options, but they’re not included in the price. We didn’t take any of them, but you might want to.

Step 3 – enter your personal data

Now you have to enter your personal data in the fields marked with a red asterisk (*). The data has to be exactly the same as in your passport, so for example if you have a second name in your passport, you have to use it here, too. After you fill in the form, double check to make sure everything is correct and continue to order.

Step 4 – payment

Not much to say here – just a normal credit/debit card payment. Keep in mind that the actual amount may be higher, depending on your bank’s internal currency exchange rates. Of course, if you have a foreign currency account then problem solved! If you want to pay with a different currencty than the default Euro, you’ll have to pick your preferred currency on the top of the page at Step 1.

After successful payment, you’ll get aconfirmation email, and all that’s left is to wait for Fedex to deliver.

Step 5 – enjoy your new JR Pass Exchange Orders

Got’em!

In the next post we’ll write about how to exchange your Exchange Order for an actual JR Pass.

See you next time!

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