JR Pass

The green Hayabusa train used on the Hokkaido shinkansen

The JR Pass is a nationwide rail pass allowing you unlimited travel on trains operated by Japan Rail (with a few exceptions, see below) for a fixed number of days. It’s amazingly good value if you’re planning to cover a reasonable distance – basically any itinerary exceeding a Tokyo-Kyoto round-trip will work out cheaper using the JR Pass, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars.

If you’re visiting for the World Cup and planning to attend matches in a couple of different regions, the JR Pass will probably serve you well. Likewise if you want to get some sightseeing done while you’re in the country and visit e.g. Kyoto or Hiroshima in between matches in Tokyo or Osaka, the JR Pass is surely the way to go.

Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan

How to Buy the JR Pass

There are two ways to buy the JR Pass – advance booking online, or in person once you’re in Japan. Doing it in advance saves you 40 to 60 dollars, you just need to make sure you do it in good time as you have to recieve a physical voucher (called an ‘exchange order’) in the mail to be exchanged for the pass once you reach Japan. Don’t order a pass the day before you fly! The passes are sold by various online sales agents, usually with free shipping (depending where you are), and usually good for delivery within 48 hours – but really it’s best to allow a week at least to be safe. Note that traditional bricks & mortar travel agents in your country may sell them too, but likely with a steeper markup.

This is what they send you in the mail, an ‘exchange order’ which you use to pick up your pass after arrival in Japan

The JR Pass

The pass itself after exchanging at the office

If you fail to sort it out in time, or you didn’t realise you wanted one before you got there, you can just take your passport along to a designated sales point* and buy one over the counter for a slightly higher price:

7-day passes are 29,000 purchased online or 33,000 purchased in Japan
14-day passes are 46,000 purchased online or 52,000 purchased in Japan
21-day passes are 59,000 purchased online or 65,000 purchased in Japan

So, if you’re organised and like saving 40 to 60 dollars, online is still the way to go – I’ve used the JR Pass many times and have bought them both ways. I have an affiliate partnership with Japan Rail Pass, so if you click on one of my links to their site (like this one) or one of the banners on this page and make a purchase, you save 40 dollars and I also get a bit of commission (at no extra cost to you) – it’s a win-win, so if you’ve found my site useful or interesting please consider it! I use them whenever I purchase a JR Pass online, they’ve provided great service and fast delivery every time. Click the banner to make an order or browse their site:

JR pass banner

(*over the counter sales points are the following stations: Sapporo, Sendai, Niigata, Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, Hakata (Fukuoka), New Chitose Airport (Sapporo), Tokyo’s Narita & Haneda airports, and Kansai International Airport)

The red Komachi train used on the Akita shinkansen

Should You Buy the JR Pass?

If you’re just attending matches in one region e.g. Tokyo or Osaka/Kobe and staying only in that region, then probably not – pick up one of the local IC cards instead. The exception might be if you plan on a whole bunch of side-trips.

If you’re attending matches in two regions then it depends. If you base yourself in e.g. Tokyo and just fly to e.g. Fukuoka or Sapporo for a match before flying back, then obviously you don’t need a rail pass.

On the other hand if you fly in & out of Tokyo, with a round-trip to Osaka or Kamaishi for a match, the JR Pass will save you money while also covering potential side-trips to Hiroshima, Kyoto etc; whereas if you fly in to Tokyo and out from Osaka (with a single bullet train trip between them), the JR Pass won’t save you money unless you also include a visit to Hiroshima.

Basically, if you’re doing anything much more than Tokyo – Kyoto return (26,800 yen), a JR Pass is going to be good value; 29,000 yen for the 1-week pass, and obviously the more you use it the better value it becomes. To work out if the pass saves you money, look at where you intend to go and calculate the total price for individual train tickets (which you can do on Hyperdia, see here for an explanation on how to use it).

Finally, and in my opinion definitely the best idea if you have the time & budget for it, you can build your match attendance plans into a broader sightseeing itinerary and use the JR Pass to see as much of Japan as you can while you’re there.

For example if you’re going to one of the matches in Sapporo, starting from Tokyo you could fly to Sapporo for the game, activating your JR Pass when you leave Sapporo and using it travel around Hokkaido and/or travel down through the Tohoku region back to Tokyo (possibly catching a match in Kamaishi on the way through).

In the other direction, you could use the pass to go Tokyo-Osaka-Hiroshima-Fukuoka, potentially taking in matches in each of Tokyo, Kansai, and Kyushu.

JR pass banner

Riding the Train

Getting your pass: when you arrive in Japan, if you pre-ordered take your exchange order to the JR Pass counter at the ticket office – you can do this at Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports if you want to activate it immediately to use for your airport transfer, or if you want to activate it later head to Shinjuku or Tokyo Station (or any of the others listed at the * above). They’ll check your passport for your tourist stamp/visa and give you your pass – this is a good time to make any seat reservations you already have in mind. If you didn’t pre-order just go to the JR Pass counter with your passport and pay by cash or credit card.

Once you have the pass in hand, you’re then free to pass through the ticket barriers at any JR station at will – you can’t go through the usual ticket gates, look for the manned gate at the side where the staff will visually check your ticket and let you through (in practice, if they’re busy they barely even check, just wave the pass at them and go through. On other occasions they may actually want to take it and have a proper look at it). The first time you do this with your new pass they’re supposed to stamp it to validate it; if they’re busy and not fully paying attention, make sure they stamp it for you! (it’s not such a big deal, but may save you a confusing scene later on)

The shinkansen platforms are accessed via a separate concourse which in turn is usually accessed through a second set of barriers within the JR concourse. At some stations (especially smaller ones) you may find this isn’t the case, but most of the time you’ll be going through two sets of ticket gates to reach the shinkansen platforms so allow plenty of time to navigate the stations. These concourses are packed full of convenience stores, bento shops, and souvenir shops – bento are basically lunch boxes, and the ekiben (a portmanteau of eki, station, and bento) are really good! If you need to eat on the go, do it like a Japanese salaryman and grab yourself an ekiben to enjoy on the train. The trains usually also have food trolleys coming up & down with drinks and snacks, nothing fancy but it does the job.

Seat reservations: most shinkansen and limited express trains have both reserved seat cars and non-reserved seat cars. The non-reserved cars enable you to just rock up and get on any train going to your destination, but if it’s busy there’ll be plenty of others doing the same and you may end up standing. Therefore if you know which train you’re planning to ride you might want to make a seat reservation, you can do this at any ticket counter (not just the JR Pass counters) and it’s free of charge. There are some shinkansen and limited express trains which have no non-reserved cars and thus require mandatory seat reservations, notably the Hayabusa & Komachi (which are the fastest service heading north from Tokyo to Hokkaido & Akita respectively after separating at Morioka).

Exceptions: with the JR Pass you can ride all JR trains, with just a few exceptions. The main ones to be aware of are that you can’t ride the Nozomi or Mizuho trains on the Shinkansen system. The Nozomi is the fastest service operating between Tokyo & Fukuoka, and the Mizuho is the fastest service between Osaka and Kagoshima (the trains don’t actually go faster, they just make fewer stops and so provide a faster service from A to B). This means the fastest service you can use between Tokyo & Osaka is the Hikari, which also operates between Osaka & Fukuoka, and the fastest service you can use between Osaka & Kagoshima is the Sakura. Between Osaka & Fukuoka the Hikari and Sakura overlap; the Sakura is faster over that part of the network (and only marginally slower than the Mizuho).

In addition to those two shinkansen services, the pass doesn’t cover private cabins on night trains (it does cover the non-private cabins, but there are hardly any night trains left anyway and you’re unlikely to ride them unless you’re a train enthusiast), and also there are some JR trains which run along short sections of private railway which require you to pay a supplement. This could potentially happen without you realising, and the conductor or station staff will ask for the supplement – don’t feel they’re ripping you off or anything, it’s just how it works and the supplement isn’t usually much. In any case most rugby fans probably won’t end up on these sections; the most likely would be the limited express trains from Tokyo to Shimoda (on the Izu Peninsula) and Kyoto to Amanohashidate, or if you go to Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay on the JR Saikyo Line from Shinjuku/Shibuya the train runs on a private line (Rinkai Line) for the last few stops which’ll cost you a few dollars.

Any questions about the JR Pass? Give me a shout below and I’ll get back to you.

Click the banner to pre-order your JR Pass now:

JR pass banner

JR Pass photo credit: fletcherjcm, used under Creative Commons

12 comments on “JR Pass
  1. Nick Morgan says:

    Is there any way to make seat reservations online before you go to Japan?

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Nick, no but if you know in advance which trains you want to catch you can make your seat reservations at the same time when you exchange your pass

  2. Kerri says:

    Hi Simon,
    We have tickets to a game at the Shizuoka Stadium and need to get back to Haneda Airport in the morning…is this possible using the JR Pass?

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Kerri,

      You can certainly get from the stadium to Haneda using the JR Pass, but whether you can do so in time will depend what time your match ends and what time you need to be at the airport. If you can tell me which match you’re attending and what time your flight is I’ll be able to give a better answer (actually just had a quick look and most of the matches at Shizuoka would be fine, but the Australia v Georgia match doesn’t start until 19:15 and the last train you can take using the JR Pass is at 21:30 so that would be pretty tight for getting there the same evening)

  3. mervyn says:

    Hi Simon
    We planning to spent 3 nights in Oasaka, 2 nights in Kyoto and then our final leg from Kyoto to Tokyo (6 nights). I’m thinking of getting a 7 day JR pass for our final leg of our trip as we want o go to Hakone as well while in Tokyo and perhaps visiting Tokyo bay. We plan to watch a game in Osaka and 2 games in Tokyo
    Do you think the pass will be worthwhile. I want o get an Osaka 2 day pass at the start of our trip. Or do you think I must get a 14 day pass, Thanks

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Mervyn,

      Definitely don’t think you should get a 14-day pass for this; a 7-day pass, possibly. It depends – are you flying out of Tokyo or Osaka? If you have to get back to Osaka to fly out, then a 7-day pass is worth it (activate for Kyoto to Tokyo, then day 7 should be the day you leave Tokyo).

      If you’re flying out of Tokyo, then a 7-day pass is only going to be worth it if you use it for enough side trips from Tokyo e.g:

      Kyoto-Tokyo 13710
      Tokyo-Odawara return (for Hakone) 7080
      Narita Express 2820


      Still not worth 29000 for the pass. However, if you also add in a trip to e.g. Nikko that’s another 10000 so you’re saving.

      Also bear in mind that if you don’t have JR Pass you can use the Odakyu line’s Hakone Pass (5700 yen) to visit Hakone instead, and also that if you fly out of Haneda you don’t stand to save much with a JR Pass (it covers the monorail but that’s only 500 yen rather than the 2800 for the Narita Express).

      So basically if you fly out of Tokyo the 7-day pass will be worth it if you use it for Hakone plus another side trip like Nikko.

      If you have any further questions or itinerary ideas you’d like to run by me, let me know and I’ll advise as best I can.

      • Mervyn says:

        thanks for your advise
        I thought we might benefit from a 7 day pass as we have some nearby activities in Tokyo also. Find the last leg of our trip below

        Day 6 – Thu Kyoto to Tokyo (Akasaka)
        Day 7 – Fri Visit Odaiba, Tokyo Bay / Rainbow bridge
        Shibuya crossing
        Club Hopping Tour
        Day 8 – Sat Visit Akihabara – Electronics/Gadgets
        Tokyo Stadium
        Visit ageHa night club
        Day 9 – Sun Tokyo Stadium
        Day 10 -Mon Visit to Hakone – onsen bath (1 hr 30 min by train)
        Day 11 -Tue Shop at Don Quijote
        City View at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
        Day 12 -Wed Depart from Haneda Int Airport


  4. Laura Cunningham says:

    Thanks for such great info. Do you know at what age children have to pay for trains?

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Laura,

      Adult fares are from age 12 and up. Children aged 6-11 get half fare tickets. Children under 6 can travel for free with an accompanying adult, but aren’t entitled to a seat i.e. if the train’s busy they must sit in your lap. If you’re buying a JR Pass for a 6-11 year old, make sure to select the child pass!

  5. natasha says:

    Thanks for your useful article.
    Could you give me some advice on whether a JR pass would be beneficial for our itinerary?
    Should we get a 7 day pass and then pay for Tokyo – Narita Express on Day 8?
    Day 1. Narita to Yokohama
    Day 3. Yokohama to Kyoto
    Day 5. Day trip Kyoto to Osaka (return)
    Day 6. Kyoto to Tokyo
    Day 8. Tokyo to Narita

    Possible other day trips
    Tokyo – Tokyo Bay
    Kyoto – Hiroshima

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Natasha, yes the JR Pass would save money for this itinerary, significantly so if you do include Hiroshima. Even without Hiroshima it’ll save you around 40 dollars per person, rising to roughly 240 dollars with the Kyoto-Hiroshima round trip.

      And yes that’s right, you’d want to get the 7-day pass and then pay for your airport transfer on day 8.

      Hope this helps and let me know if you have any further questions!

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