How to Use the Japan Rail Pass: 18 Frequently Asked Questions!

Everything to know for how to use the Japan Rail Pass. We cover all your frequently asked questions on how to get around Japan!

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, chances are you’ve come across the suggestion of buying a “JR Pass” to get around. I read article after article trying to figure out everything I needed to know about getting around Japan. Luckily, the JR Pass made it super easy – so I wanted to make a guide for you! What is the JR Pass? Do you need it? Will it save you money on transportation? It all depends on you, so let’s get started! 

What is the JR Pass? 

The JR (Japan Rail) Pass is essentially a pass that you carry on you to travel across Japan. The Japan Railway Company made the Japan Rail Pass to easily get around the country fast and efficiently. You purchase it for the duration of your trip and have access to unlimited JR transport. It’s extremely cost-effective for travelers traveling long-distance (i.e. a round trip from Tokyo to Osaka). 

What is the JR Pass eligibility? 

Luckily, the eligibility isn’t too bad. You just need to be a foreign tourist visiting Japan staying for less than 90 days on a ‘temporary visitor’ status. 

How much does the JR Pass cost? 

It depends on how long of a pass you’re getting and which type of pass – Ordinary or Green. The pass is sold in 7-day, 14-day and 21-day increments. 

How much is a 7-day Pass? 

An ordinary 7-day JR Pass starts at $279.00 while the Green Class starts at $373.00 (prices are from 2021). You can purchase your pass here.

What is the difference between the Ordinary JR Pass and the Green Car JR Pass?

The Green Card is valid for first-class green cars. These cars are more luxurious and spacious than ordinary cars. Otherwise, these passes are the same and available on the same trains. 

When is the JR Pass NOT worth it? 

If you’re staying in one major city or doing shorter day trips within/around that city, the JR Pass wouldn’t be worth it. You can get a local pass that is more cost-effective. If you’re flying into one city and out of another and only doing one long-distance ride, it wouldn’t be worth it. If you’re visiting smaller, regional areas for a shorter amount of time, the local pass would be better as well. 

Can I use the Japan Rail Pass from Narita Airport to Tokyo?

Yes! This was one of the biggest selling points for us. You can use the JR Pass on the Narita Express Trains to get you from Narita Airport into central Tokyo. The ride lasts about 45 minutes. 

Can I use the Japan Rail Pass from Haneda Airport Tokyo? 

Yes! You simply go to the JR Exchange in the Airport and take the JR East to Tokyo.

How do I buy a Japan Rail Pass? 

Before heading to Japan, you should purchase a JR Pass from their website. A voucher will be delivered to your home address – this will need to be exchanged in Japan for the actual JR Pass. 

Be sure to order the pass a few weeks (1-3) to ensure the voucher gets delivered to your address in time. You can only exchange the voucher three months after it was issued. So do NOT purchase the pass earlier than 3 months before your arrival in Japan. 

How do I exchange my voucher for the Japan Rail Pass? 

Once you arrive in Japan, you can exchange your voucher at the JR Information desk. They will ask when you want to activate the pass (meaning the first day you want to use it – it does not have to be the day you enter Japan). It can be any day within a month from the date that the pass is issued to you. It’s important to know what date for this, as it cannot be changed. 

How do I use the JR Rail Pass? 

Once you exchange the voucher, all you have to do is show the Pass at the manned gate in the train station. They do not need to scan it, just see that you have one. 

Can I use the Japan Rail Pass on the subway?

Not usually. In Tokyo, you can use it on the Yamanote Line and the Loop Line in Osaka, but not typically on the subway. If you’re staying in one city and plan on using the subway a lot, then get a subway card, not the JR Pass.

Can I use JR Pass on local trains? 

Usually not. If you plan on doing a lot of local train rides, you may need a local train pass to use on metro subway lines. The two nationally recognized passes are Suica and Pasmo. At any train station, there are ticket machines for one of these two. Most have had an English language option and the option to purchase a new card. A new card costs 500 yen, and you’ll have to top it off with a minimum of 1000 yen. 

What Lines are covered by the Japan Rail Pass? 

The only JR lines that are NOT included in the JR Pass are the “Nozomi” and the “Mizuho” lines. You can tell if a stop is covered by the name of the line. If the line has a JR in front, it is covered and all the stops are JR stations. If you want to use these lines, there are extra charges. Visit one of the exchange offices a few days in advance of your ride. 

Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, Japan

Can I use the JR Pass on Shinkansen trains (or bullet train)? 

Yes! This is why it’s a great deal if you’re doing long trips. Driving from Tokyo to Kyoto can take over 5 hours but in a Shinkansen it can take 2! (Plus, no stress about driving in another country!). It’s a great way to save money and time in Japan. You can use the JR Rail Pass for unlimited travel on any Japan Railways (JR) line! You can use the JR pass to get to some of these amazing day trips from Tokyo!

How do I reserve a seat on the train with my JR Pass?

Depending on the type of train, there may be both reserved and non-reserved seating. For non-reserved seating, simply show the JR Pass when entering the station, and head to the line for the cabin you want to sit in. For seat reservations, head to the JR Ticket Office (there are signs guiding you in almost every station). Let them know what train and time you’d like a seat on. You can request a certain side of the train (to see Mt. Fuji if you pass it) as well. There is no additional charge with the pass and you’ll be issued a paper ticket with the reservation. 

If you accidentally sit in someone’s seat who has seat reservations, don’t worry. Just apologize and move somewhere else. 

What is the etiquette for the Shinkansen?

It’s important to be aware of the etiquette when using the trains. There are smoking and non-smoking cabins, so pay attention to which cabin you’re sitting in. You are allowed to eat in the cabin, and many people do. At each station, you can get ‘ekiben’ which are bento box lunches and vary from region to region. 

The primary thing you can’t do on shinkansen is: be rude to other people. This means having loud conversations on the phone or with others. Also, be aware of the volume of your earbuds or headphones because music can leak from them. Don’t leave your luggage in the aisle – there are storage areas when you first get on the train or in front of your seat. 

Clean up after yourself – leave no rubbish behind.  Be sure to be aware of when your stop is. The stops are notoriously short, so give yourself time before the train stops to get everything in order. The trains are very smooth at take-off and stops! 

Hiroshima, Japan
Hiroshima, Japan

Can I use the JR pass on ferries? 

There are a few JR Ferries around the country. The most well-known is the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima. (But be sure to spend at least one day in Hiroshima – there is plenty to do!)

Do you have any questions about using the Japan Rail Pass? Let me know in the comments! 

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How to use the Japan Rail Pass
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