If you’re traveling to Japan, the Japan Rail Pass can be a huge money saver. We’ll explain exactly when you should purchase the JR Pass and if it is worthwhile for your route. This is everything you need to know including where to buy the rail pass.
Roughly the size of California, Japan is a relatively small country. Yet it’s packed with an uncanny number of cool places to visit.
Planning your transportation around Japan can be overwhelming, even to a seasoned traveler.
The good news is that the country is very well-connected with roads, bus lines, metro systems, and the crown jewel of Japan’s transportation network: Trains.
Known around the world for being clean, fast and efficient, the Japan railway system is an excellent way to see the country. Plus, riding in a Shinkansen bullet train is a bucket list experience in itself!
The only major downfall about the trains in Japan is that a single ride can be expensive. Depending on where you’re going, it can be very expensive.
But fear not, friend, there’s good news:
Travelers in Japan are eligible for a special train pass that gives you unlimited rides at a steeply discounted rate.
Yes, that means that you as a tourist get a better price on transportation than Japanese people get in their own country! Sounds strange, but it’s true.
Now it’s about time we introduce you to the Japan Rail Pass (also called the JR Pass).
For most travelers, this pass will save money. Sometimes a LOT of money, so listen up…
What is the Japan Rail Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass is a discount pass for Japan’s rail system that is available only to tourists (meaning you must be a temporary visitor in Japan).
By purchasing this pass, you will have unlimited travel on specific trains during a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day period.
JR Pass Travel Guide
In this article, we’re going to go over how to calculate whether the Japan Rail Pass is worth it for your trip. We’ll also cover everything you need to know about it — from where to purchase the JR Pass, to how to make a seat reservation, and etiquette so you know what not to do on the trains.
And we’re not stopping there…
We’re going over everything you need to know about getting around Japan. From figuring out the trains to navigating the metro systems and even the local buses, we’re hitting it all!
We’ve broken this article up into sections so you can jump around based on what you’re looking for:
- Japan Rail Pass price
- Is the JR Pass worthwhile?
- Money-saving calculation
- How much can you save with a JR Pass?
- Which trains does the JR Pass cover?
- JR regional passes
- Where to buy a Japan Rail Pass
- How to buy a Japan Rail Pass
- How to reserve seats
- Local trains vs. Shinkansen
- Catching a JR train
- Japanese etiquette on trains
- Can you use the JR Pass in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto?
- Japan Rail Pass FAQs
This article is a big one, but it has everything you’ll need to know about transportation in Japan.
So bookmark it, take screenshots, or pin it for later! It is packed with advice that will save you money (and numerous headaches!) on train travel in Japan.
We condensed a lot of this article into this video below. We’ll explain why the JR Pass is worthwhile and how to use it once you’re in Japan:
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Planning a trip to Japan? Find out the best time to visit Japan based on seasonal weather patterns and your personal travel style.
Japan Rail Pass price
Let’s start by going over the cost of the JR Pass.
Below we’ve broken down the prices for an ordinary pass (standard pass), as well as what it works out to be as a daily cost.
Note that as of October 1, 2023, Japan Rail has increased their prices. The prices below reflect the new rates moving forward. All prices are listed in approximate USD, however those rates will fluctuate according to the exchange rate with the Japanese Yen.
Adult Standard JR Pass
- 7-day Pass: $336 USD, or $48 USD per day
- 14-day Pass: $539 USD, or $38.5 USD per day
- 21-day Pass: $673 USD, or $32 USD per day
As you can see, the longer the pass, the less expensive it is per day. And when you think about it, even at its most expensive, $48 per day for unlimited train travel isn’t too bad — especially when you consider some routes are upwards of $100 USD for a single journey.
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, there is an option to upgrade to the Green Pass, which is just another way of saying “First Class”.
Adult Green Pass (aka First Class)
- 7-day Pass: $471 USD, or $67.28USD per day
- 14-day Pass: $740 USD, or $52.85 USD per day
- 21-day Pass: $943 USD, or $44.90 USD per day
The Green Pass will get you:
- Wider and softer Lay-z-boy-style chairs that recline further
- More legroom than standard class seats
- Larger windows
- Snacks and drinks are served on some lines
- Larger luggage compartments
- Typically cabins will be less crowded and quieter
Is the Green Pass worthwhile?
People will have different opinions on whether the upgrade to the Green Pass is worthwhile. We personally found the ordinary pass to be very comfortable and just right for what we needed.
Compared to trains in many other countries, the “regular class” felt like first!
However, if you’re very tall, are planning to do several long train journeys, or just like livin’ the first class life (and have some money to spare!), you might find it well-worth the extra dough.
The only time we think this upgrade might be worth the money is during very busy times of the year, like during Golden Week in Japan. Having the Green Pass means you don’t have to deal with waiting in lines or crowded cars.
Tip: Browse through the pictures in this article, which will give you a feeling of what the “regular class” looks like so you can make the best decision for your personal preferences.
Traveling with kiddos?
Children 5 and under are free (yay!), and kids between the ages of 6-11 are eligible for a cheaper rate.
- 7-day Pass: Standard Pass= $169 USD, or Green Pass= $236 USD
- 14-day Pass: Standard Pass= $270 USD, or Green Pass= $371 USD
- 21-day Pass: Standard Pass= $337 USD, or Green Pass= $472 USD
Now that you know exactly how much a JR Pass costs, let’s figure out if it will actually save you money…
Is the JR Pass worthwhile?
In general, Japan is a pretty expensive country to travel. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be trying to find every way possible to cut your costs in order to maximize your travel budget!
The JR Pass is one of our top tips for traveling in Japan on a budget, but we’ll be upfront and tell you it is still not cheap. And it might not be a good choice for everyone.
So the big question is this:
“Will the Japan Rail Pass save me money?”
Honestly, the answer varies for each traveler. In this section, we’re going to help you determine whether or not the Japan Rail Pass will be worthwhile for your trip.
The JR Pass offers three key benefits to make it worthwhile…
- Ease of use
- Wide coverage
If you are planning to travel to multiple cities on your trip to Japan, the JRail pass can still save you money, even with the increased prices!
Not only do you get unlimited train rides on the famous Shinkansen bullet trains (one of the fastest trains in the world), but you can also utilize some of the local buses, subways and ferries throughout Japan.
Along with increased rates, the new JR Pass now includes access to the Nozomi & Mizuho Shinkansen bullet trains (with a small access fee). These routes are not only much faster, but were previously inaccessible with the old JR Passes.
Access with the new JR Pass will cut down on your travel time between major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakata and Hiroshima.
Plus, if you are a Japan Rail Pass holder, you get free access to the JR Narita Express train, which is the fastest way to the airport. And it costs 3,000 yen (~$23 USD) each way if you don’t have the JR Pass.
Bonus Tip: Use your JR rail pass to go from Osaka to Hiroshima on a day trip and explore the highlights of this historically significant city.
The Japan Rail Pass is worthwhile if…
You plan to fly into Tokyo and travel the “Golden Route” to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kanazawa.
The cost of the 7-day pass is less than it would cost to travel between these popular cities with individual train tickets on the bullet trains.
And if you plan to visit any more than these locations, well, the pass will absolutely pay for itself.
This is going to be true for lots of travelers in Japan. However, there are exceptions. Keep reading to see if you fit into any of these categories:
The Japan Rail Pass is probably not worthwhile if…
Below are the reasons the JR Pass may be more money than you need to spend.
You’re only visiting Osaka and Kyoto
These cities are very close together and the most time-consuming journey between the two is just shy of an hour and can be as cheap as 400 yen (~$3) depending on which train line you take.
That said, even the fastest route (15 minutes!) between them is inexpensive at just 1420 yen (~$11 USD). So if these are the only two cities on your Japan itinerary, you may not need to purchase the JR Pass.
You fly into Tokyo and fly out of Osaka (or vice versa).
When you add the cost of getting to and from the airports, the roundtrip fare from Osaka to Tokyo is more expensive than the 7-day JR Pass. So even if you’re only visiting two places, it might make sense to still get the pass.
However, if you only need to get one way (aka you’re flying in and out of different airports), this cuts your train cost in half. In this case the JR Pass will in fact be more expensive than the single train journey.
You are traveling very slowly
If you plan to spend several days in one area of Japan, the JR Pass may not be worthwhile, as it must be used for consecutive days.
For example, if you are a backpacker and are planning to do some hiking or WorkAways to keep costs low on your trip to Japan, the JR Pass might not be the best option for you.
Tip: You may want to consider getting a shorter pass, like the 7-day, and use those days to do the majority of your traveling.
You’re traveling in remote parts of Japan
If you’ve looked at your itinerary and most of the places you’ll be going are not covered on the JR Pass (for instance, you’re traveling only in Okinawa or west Japan), it wouldn’t make sense to purchase the pass.
What it boils down to is this: The Japan Rail Pass will likely save you money if you are visiting two or more cities in Japan.
Money-Saving Tip: Keep in mind that you may want to get a JR Pass for just a portion of your trip. For example, if you plan to travel in Japan for 2 weeks, a 7-day pass might be all you need if you plan to spend the beginning and end of your trip in one place.
How to calculate if the JR Pass will save you money
Be sure to look up how much each individual train ticket costs by plugging your route into the fantastically user-friendly (and free!) Japan Official Travel App to see how much each train journey will be without the JR Pass.
We did just that and recorded our findings below to show you how much money the Japan Rail Pass saved us.
How much money we saved with the JR Pass
We’ve traveled in Japan twice, and each trip had a very different time frame, itinerary, and budget. During both trips, we had a Japan Rail Pass, and both times it saved us money.
Japan trip #1
- When: February 2015
- Duration: 1 week
- Budget: Tiny!
- Itinerary: Osaka > Kyoto > Tokyo > Nagano > Tokyo > Osaka
During this trip, we purchased the 7-day pass, which was a lot of money for us to fork over at the time. We were living and teaching English in South Korea back then, and compared to the cost of trains in Korea, we felt like the JR Pass was super expensive.
We know it can be frustrating handing over a big chunk of money like that before your trip. Our JR Pass was more expensive than our flight to and from Korea!
But it turned out to actually save us a ton of money.
- What we paid for the 7-day JR Pass: $273 USD
- What we would have paid for transportation without the JR Pass: $463 USD (50,260 yen)
- How much money the JR Pass saved us: We saved $190 USD each!
Japan trip #2*
- When: August 2019
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Budget: Medium, but still trying to be mindful of our spending
- Itinerary: Osaka > Mount Koya > Kii Peninsula > Hiroshima > Nara > Osaka > Kanazawa > Takayama > Alpine Route > Matsumoto > Magome > Kamakura > Tokyo**
During this trip, we ordered the 21-day pass, since we were traveling to many places and doing so quite quickly.
Since we were traveling around so much of Japan, we knew the pass would be well worth the money. Just see our savings below, it’s kind of mind-boggling!
- Price of the 21-day JR Pass*: $544 USD
- What we would have paid for transportation without the JR Pass: $889.50 USD (96,650 yen)
- How much money the JR Pass saved us: We saved $345.50 USD each!
That means on our two trips to Japan, the JR Pass saved us a combined $1,071. That’s one hell of a savings if you ask me!
Do you want to save money when traveling in Japan?
Note: These estimates don’t include the JR metro lines we used within Osaka and Tokyo, which saved us additional money.
*Disclosure: JRail Pass gave us complimentary tickets for our most recent trip. We’ve also purchased a pass through them on a previous trip to Japan, and had great experiences both times. This in no way affects our writing.
**Some of the destinations on this trip were not part of the JR lines, so we incurred additional costs.
Which trains does the Japan Rail Pass cover?
Alright, let’s get into the nitty gritty.
The JR Pass covers:
- many train lines around Japan
- most Shinkansen bullet trains
- Narita Express (between Tokyo and Narita Airport)
- some metro lines in cities like Osaka and Tokyo, denoted as JR lines
- some JR bus routes around the country
- some ferries around the country, like the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima Island
- Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen lines are NOW covered in the JR Pass!
- Note there are small access fees associated with booking these ultra-high speed routes even with the JR Pass.
The JR Pass does NOT cover:
- some other private train lines are not covered
- the majority of buses and ferries around the country are not covered
It’s also worth noting that some popular tourist areas are not covered in the JR Pass. For some areas you can find a regional pass to cover your travel there.
Below are just a few areas worth noting, but it certainly is not an extensive list:
- Hakone: This small mountain town known for onsen and views of Mount Fuji can be reached by JR trains, but once you’re there, getting around the area is not covered. Instead, most tourists buy the Hakone Free Pass, which includes all bus, boat, and cable car transportation in the area.
- Koyasan: This area known for Buddhist temple stays and stunning Okunoin Cemetery cannot be accessed with JR trains. The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket is what most visitors use for this area.
- Shirakawago: JR trains do not pass through this UNESCO site. Instead, visitors must purchase bus tickets, which can be quite expensive.
- Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route: To travel through this area, visitors must take a handful of different modes of transport, including buses, cable cars, and funiculars, all of which is included in the Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket.
- Kamikochi National Park: Another region that is not connected by JR trains.
- Okinawa: This prefecture is made up of a grouping of islands that lie 400 miles southwest of mainland Japan, and most travelers will get there by air. Taxis and buses are a decent way to get around, but renting a car will be your best option for exploring Okinawa.
JR regional passes
Depending on where you plan to travel in Japan, it might make more sense for you to look into getting a JR regional pass, instead of the JR Pass for the whole country.
The following regional passes are available through Japan Rail:
- JR Hokkaido Pass: This pass is valid for the entire north Japanese island, including the Hokkaido Shinkansen.
- JR East Pass: This is an ideal choice if you are planning travel between Tokyo and Nagano as this pass covers the extensive rail network in the eastern area of Japan’s largest (and main) island.
- JR West Pass: Sometimes called the Kansai Wide Area Pass, or simply the Kansai Area Pass, this pass permits travel in the southwestern region of the main island of Japan. This pass includes the major cities of Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Tottori.
- JR Central Pass: There are several passes issued by JR Central that grant holders access to different regions of central Japan. One of the most popular is the Mt. Fuji – Shizuoka Pass.
- JR Shikoku: This pass covers the entire island of Shikoku in southern Japan. It includes Matsuyama, the largest city, and a wealth of other historical attractions.
- JR Kyushu: This pass covers the entirety of the southernmost of Japan’s 4 main islands. Highlights include the metropolitan centers of Fukuoka and Nagasaki as well as the picturesque city of Kagoshima.
In some of these places, like Okinawa, Hokkaido, Kamikochi, and near Shirakawago, it may even make sense to rent a car.
When planning your Japan travel budget, be sure to consider which additional transportation passes you will need in addition to the JR Pass. Many travelers won’t need any at all, as the JR Pass really does a fantastic job of connecting the country.
However, if you plan to visit any of the above places (good for you – they are all highly recommended!), they do come at an additional cost. Again, this is not an exhaustive list of places not covered.
Looking for somewhere to go? Check out our list of the most beautiful places in Japan you’ll have to see to believe!
Where to buy a Japan Rail Pass
Hopefully, you’re reading this article in preparation for your trip to Japan, because purchasing your JR Pass is actually quite a bit cheaper online than it is to buy in Japan itself.
Purchasing your JR Pass online
You can purchase a JR Pass online through an official Japan Rail Pass reseller. There are a handful of companies out there, but with any purchase this big, we like to be sure we are going through a reliable, trustworthy source.
When it comes to different vendors, the prices are within dollars of each other. So you don’t really have to worry about spending too much or seeking out the best deal possible – the difference is negligible.
What does matter though, is finding a company with excellent shipping records and great customer service.
Before both our trips to Japan (in 2015 and 2019), we ordered passes through JRail Pass (www.jrailpass.com), an official vendor. Both times, our communications with JRail Pass were professional and timely.
Plus, our passes arrived incredibly quickly, which brings me to our next point…
JRail Pass can ship your pass(es) directly to your home. Anywhere in the world. Yes, really! Here’s proof:
- In 2015, we received our JR Pass package in South Korea.
- In 2019, we received our JR Pass package in Bali.
Another option is to have your JR Pass delivered straight to your hotel in Japan. This is a good idea if you are ordering your pass last minute, or just don’t want to risk forgetting to pack it!
Our personal opinion: We liked having our JR Pass in hand before our trip, and we activated our pass at the airport.
Quick facts about JRail Pass
- They can ship anywhere in the world (or you can have your pass delivered to your hotel in Japan)
- They have a standard 2-day shipping with free shipping (when the order is over a minimum amount)
- They have a 24/7 customer service message line
- Every purchase comes with a free Japan Guide
- JRail Pass has some of the most competitive prices on the market, and is actually the cheapest we’ve found. Like we said above, it’s only a couple dollars less than the competition
- They have excellent reviews!
Overall, we were very happy with the service and can highly recommend them to anyone else looking for a trustworthy company that sells JR Passes.
Don’t just take our advice! We always encourage readers to do their own research before making big purchases.
Can you purchase a JR Pass in Japan?
Buying the pass in Japan is only possible at certain train stations and airports and for a limited time, until March 31, 2024. It’s not clear if it will be possible to buy the JR Pass in person after this time period.
Below are the prices for purchasing a standard adult JR Pass IN Japan, just so you can see the cost difference:
Standard Adult Pass purchased IN Japan (not online):
- 7-day Pass: ¥ 33.610 (~$254.78 USD) vs. $233 USD online, a $21.78 savings!
- 14-day Pass: ¥ 52.960 (~$401.46 USD) vs. $370 USD online, a $31.46 savings!
- 21-day Pass: ¥ 66.200 (~$501.82 USD) vs. $473 USD online, a $28.82 savings!
How to buy a Japan Rail Pass
When you purchase your JR Pass, it’s not as simple as giving your credit card info and receiving a digital pass. Maybe it will be that easy someday! But for now, there are a few more steps involved.
Steps for buying your JR Pass:
- Order your JR Pass online
- Your pass packet will be mailed to your home in 2 days (or delivered to your hotel in Japan if you choose)
- Once you’re in Japan, exchange your order for the REAL pass!
- Activate the pass when you ride your first train!
Alright, that’s the super trimmed-down version, but if you want to know what “exchanging your order for the REAL pass” actually looks like, keep reading…
1. Purchase Japan Rail Pass online
Just like booking a flight, fill out the name of each passenger, length of pass (7-, 14- or 21-day pass), standard or Green Pass (first class), estimated date of arrival in Japan, and delivery address for the ticket voucher.
You can do this on the JRail website.
Enter your digits for payment, confirm your information and submit your order. That’s it. Now you’re going to Japan!
Don’t you love that feeling of clicking that “order complete” or “purchase ticket” button? Ohhh, so satisfying.
2. Receive your ticket voucher in the mail
Once you complete your purchase online, you’ll be sent a confirmation email with a tracking number. That way you can follow your ticket voucher (also called an “exchange order”) delivery all the way to your doorstep.
JRail has a standard 2-day shipping delivery so you should plan accordingly. With your ticket voucher in hand, you’re ready to head off to Japan.
Alternatively, you can choose to have your JR voucher delivered to your hotel in Japan. This is a preferred option for some travelers and hotels in Japan are very used to this sort of delivery.
One thing to note if you choose to use the hotel delivery is you will have to pay for your transportation from the airport into the city, as you won’t have your physical JR Pass with you.
Important: The exchange order is NOT your J-Rail Pass, but instead is a voucher of sorts. You will need to present your exchange order along with your tourist visa (stamp in your passport) at the train station, as explained below.
3. Travel to Japan and get a tourist visa stamp
When you land in Japan, you’ll pass through immigration where you’ll get a tourist visa stamp in your passport. You’ll need your tourist visa stamp to exchange the ticket voucher for the real Japan Rail Pass.
For Americans and many other nationalities, the visa is free if you’re traveling for less than 90 days. (For Americans, you don’t need to apply in advance for this visa. You will simply receive a sticker in your passport as you pass through immigration at the airport.)
By the way, going through Japan immigration is one of the smoothest processes we’ve ever had!
Other nationalities: If you’re not sure if there is a fee or not, it’s always good to double-check on your embassy’s website.
4. Visit a Japan Rail (JR) Station to exchange your order for your REAL Japan Rail Pass!
You’re finally in Japan with the ticket voucher and a tourist visa, woohoo!
Now, head to the nearest JR Exchange office. They are located in many train stations, especially the larger ones. (Here is a list of the JR Exchange offices and hours.)
This is where you will trade the voucher for your official Japan Rail Pass ticket. At the office, you can specify the date you’d like your pass to start. The only rule is that it cannot be more than 30 days in the future.
Once you have made the exchange and received your physical pass, you’re almost ready to start exploring Japan!
But don’t leave the JR Office just yet…
The next thing you’ll need to do is to reserve your seats, which you can do at the same counter you get your pass.
How to reserve seats on a JR train
First of all, it’s good to know that you do not need to reserve seats for every single train you plan to take in Japan.
More often than not, the JR trains you will ride will be within the same city or will be labeled as regional or local trains. These trains are similar to metro trains and you can sit wherever you want on the train. You cannot reserve seats on these trains.
The JR Trains you should reserve seats in are the Shinkansen bullet trains that run in between major cities. Many local Japanese people travel on these routes so they tend to book up.
So if you know the dates and times you’ll be traveling from one major city to the next on a Shinkansen, we would recommend booking those tickets at the same time when you exchange your voucher so you know you’ll have a reserved seat.
Here is our best advice
Before your trip to Japan, make sure you know which days and times you’ll be making your longer train journeys. Write down the information so you can easily reserve your seats in person.
Here is exactly how to do this:
- Open the Japan Official Travel App.
- Plugin the date, time and cities you’ll be traveling between.
- There will be an option to “prioritize Japan Rail Pass routes,” which you will want to select. (This removed the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansens that are not covered in the JR Pass)
- You should get a list of all available times and trains for your intended route.
- Choose the best one and write down the following information:
- Date, Departure Time (in Military Time), Departure City, Arrival City, Train Type and Number
- Repeat this process for all major routes that you plan to take within Japan.
When you arrive in Japan, go to one of the JR ticket offices and show them each train you’d like to reserve.
They will reserve your seats and print off tickets, which you will need to store in a safe place. This ticket will tell you the departure time, station, car, and seat.
Local train vs. Shinkansen
You may have noticed we’ve referenced “local trains”, “regional trains”, and “Shinkansens” a few times in this article. If you’re confused, don’t worry — we’re about to explain.
Similar to a city metro, local JR trains stop frequently within the same city. You enter through a gate at a station and you can sit anywhere on the train that you like. Sometimes the trains have seats along the windows (subway style) or the seats are two by two, it just depends on the train.
Japanese train etiquette: It is frowned upon to eat while riding on local trains. Please wait until you get off at the station.
You cannot reserve seats on a local JR Train. On the Japan Official Travel App, JR local trains have a normal train icon and are denoted with the JR Pass symbol like this:
Almost identical to the local trains, regional trains make fewer stops and tend to be routes that link two towns together. The seats on the train tend to face all one direction, but sometimes they don’t.
You cannot reserve seats on a regional JR Train. On the Japan Official Travel App, regional trains look just like a local train, but may say “Express Line” or “Limited Express Line”.
Shinkansen (bullet trains)
Shinkansens are the bullet trains that Japan is famous for. The Shinkansen trains stations tend to be HUGE so make sure to budget extra time to get to your train.
You’ll have to go through the JR ticket gate and then follow the signs to the Shinkansen tracks, where you’ll have to pass through another JR Shinkansen ticket gate (you’ll have your Japan Rail Pass so you have free entry to these trains).
The trains look super sleek and are really nice inside. There are assigned seats in Shinkansens so make sure you’re in the right car, row, and seat. Typically there will be bathrooms in at least every other train car.
Good to know: You can eat on Shinkansen trains! Just be mindful of your neighbors and don’t eat anything too smelly.
You should reserve your seats ahead of time at any JR ticket service counter because Shinkansens tend to book up.
On the Japan Official Travel App, Shinkansen trains have a Shinkansen looking icon and show prices for reserving a seat, but you don’t have to worry about paying this because you’ll have the JR Pass. Here is what it looks like this:
What happens if there are no seats available?
Sometimes Shinkansen trains completely book up, especially during big holiday weeks (April 27-May 6, Aug 11-20, & Dec 28-Jan 6).
If the reservable seats on a train you want are completely full, you are still in luck! On each Shinkansen train, there are three train cars that have non-reservable seats (first come, first serve) at either the front or back of the train.
Follow signs at the train station to get in the non-reservable Shinkansen cars. Try to get to the platform early because there tends to be a line for the non-reservable cars.
We even rode in a non-reservable car from Hiroshima to Osaka and we had to stand in the aisle for the entire hour and a half ride because there were no seats open. We learned our lesson to book seats far in advance.
If there are no seats available on Local or Regional trains, try entering another car to find an open seat. If you still can’t find one, unfortunately, you’ll have to stand until someone gets up and leaves their seat.
Catching a JR train
Once you arrive at the train station, you will need to look for the JR counter.
Typically, it is on the left-hand side of the entrance gates, and there will be a person at the booth. You will show your ticket (if you have one) and your JR Pass. They will look at your pass and wave you through.
Now, find your train platform by reading the digital signs and finding your destination.
When you get to the platform, it’s important to figure out where to queue. Look at your ticket, which has the car and seat number.
The platform ground has markers indicating where your car will stop, so you can wait in the correct spot.
Japanese etiquette on trains
Manners are taken to another level in Japan, and certain things that you might not think twice about could be considered very rude.
Take a quick look over this list to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself on the Japanese trains!
1. Don’t eat on local trains
Japanese people are very mindful of where they eat, and you won’t see anyone eating on local trains. The exception to this rule is on Shinkansen (bullet trains), which are typically longer journeys. You’ll usually see locals eating food, which gives you the signal that it’s okay.
2. Be quiet
You’ll notice that even super packed trains in Japan are eerily quiet. If you’ve ever ridden the trains in India, this is the exact opposite!
Don’t be that person who is talking loudly to your partner or watching Netflix without headphones! Keep your noise level to a minimum.
3. Don’t litter
I don’t think this needs much explanation. Be sure to grab everything you brought onto the train—trash included—and take it with you when you exit.
4. No smoking
On some Shinkansen trains, which are typically longer journeys, there is a designated smoking car. Other than that, it is strictly prohibited.
5. Be mindful of priority seating
There are signs marking seats for the elderly, pregnant, or those in need. It is okay to sit here if there is nobody in need. However, we preferred to avoid sitting in these sections just to be extra cautious.
6. Know which cars are women only
Some trains have a couple “Women Only” cars during certain hours of the day (typically during commuting times). This has been done in response to many women reporting inappropriate incidences on the trains.
If there is a “Women Only” car, it will be marked with a pink or red sign on the car as well as on the ground on the station platform. If you are a man (or traveling with one), be extra mindful about this.
7. Don’t take up excess seats
Unless the train is very empty with plenty of seats, don’t set your belongings on the seat next to you. Instead, store it overhead or in a designated luggage section in the car.
You can also set it on your lap or put it at your feet, but do your best to leave seats available for others to use.
8. Don’t put your feet up
In many Asian cultures, feet are seen as dirty, and propping them on the seat is considered rude.
9. Exit quickly
Pay attention to when your stop is approaching and prepare your things. Trains are very punctual, meaning they don’t have time to spare at stations. Gather your belongings and stand near the door as the train approaches your station to avoid a rush.
Helpful Tip: When navigating transportation, knowing the Japanese word for “excuse me” can come in quite handy. The simplest way is to say “sue-mee-mah-sen” (sumimasen).
Can you use the JR Pass in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto?
Yes, but probably not exclusively.
The JR Pass includes free access on some metro lines in both Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
It’s great because taking the metro to a lot of big sites—like the Fushimi Inari Shrine, for example—is on a JR line. This means getting there as a Japan Rail Pass holder is FREE! *Cue the pouring of champagne!*
Okay, I suppose I just got ahead of myself… While you can get some places within Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto for free by using your JR Pass, there are many gaps.
- In Osaka, getting to Dotonbori, the popular downtown district, takes a bit longer with just the JR Pass. The closest JR station is JR Namba which is still a 10-minute walk to get to the center of Dotonbori.
- In Tokyo, the closest JR station to the Tokyo Tower is a 16-minute walk away, where the closest metro is half that distance.
(Luckily the main train station in Kyoto—Kyoto Station—is also a JR station, so it’s more convenient there.)
So in addition to using your JR pass, we also recommend getting a local transit card in each city.
Like with everything in Japan, it is a little confusing at first glance, so we’re delving into the different options in Tokyo and Osaka, and we’ll help you determine which are best (and cheapest!) for you.
Tokyo Metro – Suica Card
For Tokyo, we recommend getting the Suica refillable metro card.
You can purchase this card at certain kiosks at any station. You’ll start with putting 2,000 yen (~$15.15 USD) on the card at first, 500 yen of which is a deposit, so you’ll have 1,500 yen for riding the metro.
It works just like an Oyster card in London where you tap in and out of the metro gates. It even works on buses and at convenience stores too!
If your balance begins to run low on funds, you can always recharge the card at ticket kiosks.
Once you are done riding the metro, go to any JR station and they can refund your balance and 500 yen deposit. However, there is a 220 yen fee to refund the deposit, so if you have more than 220 left on the card, the fee will be subtracted from the balance and then you will be refunded the remainder.
Note: The Suica card issued from the Tokyo metro can only be refunded within the Tokyo area. You can use the Suica card in Osaka and other parts of Japan, but you can not get it refunded there.
Osaka Metro – ICOCA Card
For Osaka, we recommend getting the ICOCA refillable metro card.
It is exactly the same card as described above for the Suica card, but the sole difference is the ICOCA card can only be refunded in the Kansai region at JR stations.
The ICOCA card can be used throughout Japan, just like the Suica card, but can only be refunded in the Kansai area (Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, etc.)
Japan Rail Pass FAQs
Have more questions about purchasing and using the Japan Rail Pass? We’ve got the answers you’re looking for…
Am I eligible for the Japan Rail Pass?
Most likely, yes.
The main rule is you need to be a temporary visitor in Japan (aka a tourist).
This means that Japanese nationals are not eligible for the special deal that JR Pass holders receive. When you think about it, it’s pretty crazy that foreign tourists get a better deal on the trains than locals!
When you land in Japan, you’ll have to go through immigration where you will get a stamp in your passport, which serves as your Tourist Visa. You must present this stamp in the JR office to receive your physical Japan Rail Pass.
For most nationalities, including US citizens, it’s free to enter Japan for less than 90 days. Be sure to check with your country’s travel department to see if there is a cost for a Tourist Visa.
Can I purchase my Japan Rail pass when I get to Japan?
That’s a great question. We wondered the same thing before our trip. Japan Rail has begun selling the passes at a higher price at major stations and airports for a limited time (until March 31, 2024).
Personally we would rather buy it ahead of time online to give us the peace of mind before a big vacation. Not to mention you’ll save money on an already pricey trip.
It kind of stinks that you have to fork over a (big) chunk of change before you even board your flight, but that’s just how it is.
Your pass will be mailed to your home address, so do not delay this process. We cut it pretty close by ordering our passes a week before our trip, but thankfully, the shipping is fast and we got the package just in time.
Tip: Our suggestion would be to book further in advance so you don’t freak out as we did! Even though shipping is fast, things happen, and you don’t want to worry about it.
Can I have my voucher shipped to Japan?
Yes, you can ship out a voucher to a temporary address in Japan, like your hotel. You can choose your home or a temporary address during the check-out process.
How much money will the Japan Rail Pass save me?
This answer will completely depend on where you plan to travel on your Japan trip. With the increased costs of the JR Pass in October 2023, there are some more advantages to what the pass offers, as well as disadvantages if your planned itinerary isn’t very extensive.
We broke down exactly how much the JR Pass has saved us on previous trips earlier in this article to give you a clear picture.
However, the best way to find out how much the JR Pass can save you on your trip is by plugging your itinerary into the Japan Official Travel App to see how much each train journey will be without the JR Pass.
What happens if I miss my train?
The biggest reason to get a JR Pass is that it typically saves quite a bit of money (read above!), but there is another perk too:
If you misplace a ticket or miss a train you have reserved seats for, you won’t lose any money.
Each reservation you make is free with a JR Pass, so all you need to do is get tickets for the next available train. If it is a busy route, you may not be guaranteed to have seats, but at least you don’t have to pay twice!
What happens if my Japan Rail Pass is lost or stolen?
Go to the nearest JR station as soon as you can. Lost passes can be returned to a Lost and Found area of the station (yay for kind people!).
However, if you completely lose your pass and you can’t find it, you are out of luck. Do contact the JR Pass to see what they can do, but ticket companies cannot refund or replace a lost pass.
This is one reason why we always travel with insurance. If your pass is stolen, you might be covered for additional expenses needed to complete your trip, but you will have to file a police report.
Act like your JR Pass is as valuable as your passport. Keep it in a special folder in your day pack and don’t take your eyes off of it. It is your golden ticket around the country and should be treated like it.
Can I use the JR Pass to go to and from the airport?
Short answer: YES!
You can use the JR Pass to get to and from major airports in Japan.
How to get from Narita International Airport to Tokyo using the JR Pass:
The quickest and most comfortable option to get to Narita Airport is on the JR Narita Express, which takes just 60 minutes and is free as part of the JR Pass. (The Narita Express train costs 3,000 yen (~$22.74 USD) one way without the pass.)
If you don’t have the pass or have run out of days, the cheapest way to Narita Airport is by taking the Tokyo Shuttle Bus or the Access Narita Bus, both of which take 90 minutes and cost 1,000 yen (~$7.58 USD) in the daytime, and 2,000 yen (~$15.16 USD) at night.
Haneda International Airport to Tokyo using the JR Pass:
The easiest way to travel to and from Haneda Airport is on the Tokyo Monorail, which is free to ride with the JR Pass. It takes between 13 to 19 minutes to Haneda Airport from Hamamatsuchō Station, which is on the Yamanote Line connecting to Tokyo Station. If you don’t have the JR Pass, the Monorail ticket costs 500 yen.
Kansai International Airport to Osaka using the JR Pass:
The Kansai Airport is on its own island in the middle of Osaka Bay.
The fastest way to get from Kansai Airport to Osaka is on the Haruka Express. Leaving every 30 minutes from KIX, the Haruka Express takes 30 minutes to get to Tennoji (south Osaka), 51 minutes to Shin-Osaka, and 75 minutes to Kyoto. And it is free with the JR Pass!
If you can’t make it on the Haruka Express or want to connect to other stations, you can use the Kansai Airport Rapid train which takes 50 minutes to get to Tennoji and then you have access to the JR Osaka Loop line, which you ride for free with the JR Pass.
When planning travels to the airports in Japan, be sure to check train times using the Official Japan Travel App. It’s free and super easy to find the right train that will get you to the airport on time.
Are you planning a trip to Japan?
We have TONS of resources on travel in Japan and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Japan Travel Homepage for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- How Much Does a Trip to Japan Cost: Budget Travel Tips
- Best Japan Travel Apps
- Foods to Eat in Japan: Guide to Japanese Cuisine
- Ultimate Japan Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know for Your First Visit
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We want to hear from you!
Do you have any more questions about how the JR Pass works? Or where to buy the Japan Rail Pass? Are you confused about train travel in Japan? You’re not alone. And we are here to help. Let us know your questions below in the comments and we’ll try our best to answer them.