The Japan Railway Pass is a dream come true for those who want to get the most out of their trip to Japan. While it packs a punch on the ol’ budget it is highly worth it for a few reasons. The experience aboard the fabulous bullet train is next to none when it comes to train travel. The places you get to see are so, so worth it. If you’re traveling to Japan and staying in only Tokyo or Kyoto for your whole time there, while yes they are fantastic cities with lots to do, there is so much more out there!
First thing’s first, work out your budget and how long you wish to travel Japan for. For us we wanted as long as possible. Everything we heard about Japan was 100% positive (and we later found out we love it so much we want to live there!). We opted for just over 3 weeks and therefore went with the 3 week rail-pass option. But you have a few to choose from.
- One week standard pass= AUD$357 (177 GBP, USD$257)
- Two week standard pass= AUD$569 (281 GBP, USD$409)
- Three week standard pass= AUD$727 (359 GBP, USD$524)
There is also a Green Pass option which grants access to First Class cars on the trains. Sam and I were told we definitely should’ve gone for the Green Pass BUT it just didn’t suit our budget. In my experience the standard pass was more than comfortable to travel in by! The standards of anything in Japan are exceptional.
For the Green Pass add another $100-$200 to the above prices or find them here JR Pass Order Online.
Now I’ll answer some of the questions I had before buying this pass to help you out as well!
Before you even consider buying a pass make sure you do your research about the cities you wish to visit! Cities we visited and recommend will be mentioned below.
“Where do I buy a pass from?”
You can go in person to a Japanese embassy to buy an JR pass exchange order. Note that this is NOT the actual pass itself. You exchange this upon arrival to Japan at an airport such as Narita or at one of the main JR offices and it is as easy as pie! Find your options of offices here JR offices and times. You may have to wait in line for a little while these places get busy because these passes are popular.
“When should I buy my pass?”
This is an important question! DO NOT buy your pass more than 3 months before you trip. Your exchange order is only valid for 3 months before you exchange it. When you arrive and do the exchange you can also opt for your pass to have a later activation date instead of having it start on the day of exchange. In other words I can ask for my start date to be the 5th of May even though I am exchanging it on the 2nd.
“How do I use the pass?”
Once you have exchanged for your real pass and activated it it’s time to use it! Depending on the journey you wish to take you may want to book a seat. We booked seats for pretty much every journey we took because well, who wants to stand for an hour? All you do is go into any JR booking office, line-up, ask to book a seat on a train to, say, Nikko, choose your time and receive your train ticket! If you’re in a rush to catch a train at a certain time you can go straight through with your pass and onto a non-reserved car of the train.
When you go through the gates to the main JR station you don’t have to swipe anything or scan any bar-codes. All you do is enter the gate closest to the office on the side and hold up your pass with the dated side showing. It’s that easy!
“Where should I go using my pass?”
Oh I’m glad you asked!
These are the places we traveled to during our 3.5 weeks in Japan using our JR pass. Included is an overall enjoyment rating and comment.
- Nikko – 6/10
A sleepy and quaint little town that made for a leisure filled day of walking and catching buses to see the sight of the Kegon waterfall.
- Tokyo – 10/10
Tokyo was my favourite city. We spent a week here but you could easily spend longer. Each district has its own unique way about it. The best were Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya and we stayed in Akasaka which felt quite central. Read my post on Tokyo for more detail!
- Gala – 10/10
MY FIRST TIME SEEING SNOW. Need I say more? OH and skiing!!
- Kurobe – 7/10
Ah the Kurobe Alpine Route. Unfortunately the huge ice walls that were the motivation to come here were closed when we arrived, hence the lower rating. Still some beautiful sights though but tourist central.
- Toyama – 7/10
Our little stop over city during our visit to the Alpine Route above. It was a cute little city with it’s own castle ruins in the middle of a gorgeous park.
- Osaka – …/10
Honestly it was pouring so hard that day we didn’t really venture out of the Pokemon centre located in the HUGE shopping centre above the JR station! I can’t rate it.
- Kyoto – 9/10
I loved Kyoto. We set up our base here to explore the surrounding areas with our pass. There is a lot to do and see in the city itself as well!
- Matsumoto 8/10
We stopped over here on our way to Toyama. The castle ruins are beautiful and really make for some great photography!
- Nara – 10/10
DEER. So many cute little deer! Be careful they will attempt to eat your shopping bag full of goodies for your picnic. Protect your olives with your life, like me.
- Himeji – 9/10
The history of the largest castle ruins in Japan makes for a highly interesting and exploratory day out! Amazing!
- Miyajima – 10/10
This was one of my favourite destinations. We hiked up through beautiful forests to a 360 scenic viewpoint of the entire island, had wonderful food, watched the sunset over one of the highest rated scenic spots of Japan and saw more deer. Perfect day.
- Hiroshima 10/10
One of the most surreal moments of my life as I had always wanted to visit here to pay my respects to those who lost their lives in one of the single most monstrous acts carried out in all of humanity. I learned about Hiroshima in primary school through the book; Shin’s Tricycle and it really resonated with me. To visit the A-bomb dome and then the memorial museum and to see the tricycle there itself affected me so deeply I simply cannot put it into words. RIP angels.
- Nagasaki 10/10
The very last city in history to be a target of nuclear warfare. I am ashamed to say I actually did not know this until I visited! As the death toll in Hiroshima was much higher I suppose it is more publicized however the Nagasaki memorial museum I feel was so well done. This is a must visit for anyone who is going to Hiroshima as well. Do not miss this one.
- Fukuoka 8/10
Our final stop as we flew out to South Korea from here for the cheaper fare. Not a bad city but we didn’t do a whole heap here so it wouldn’t be fair to comment!
Hey, if I haven’t convinced you or informed you enough to go and get the process rolling to get your JR pass today I leave you with another option to travel Japan via camper van.
I didn’t get to do it but it looks good and if you’re so willing could be a cheaper option than the JR pass!
Whatever you choose Japan cannot be missed. 11/10 amazing country.
We can’t wait to go back south and visit Okinawa! Said to be Japans own version of Hawaii!
As always thanks for reading and don’t forget to subscribe for more adventures and information.
Sam and Kirsten x