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Home - Travel - Transportation - Trains - Rail Passes
Japan Rail Pass

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The Japan Rail Pass (also commonly called JR Pass) is a very cost effective rail pass for long distance train travel in Japan. It can be used by foreign tourists only, and offers unlimited use of JR trains for one, two or three weeks at a cost that residents of Japan can only dream of.

The Japan Rail Pass must be purchased before your arrival to Japan, because it is not available for sale inside Japan. The pass comes in two types: ordinary and green car. The latter is valid on green cars (first class cars) that offer more spacious seats than ordinary cars.

Purchase the Japan Rail Pass

Japan Rail Pass (as of April 1, 2014)
Type
Ordinary
Green Car
7 consecutive days
29,110 yen
38,880 yen
14 consecutive days
46,390 yen
62,950 yen
21 consecutive days
59,350 yen
81,870 yen
Reduced rates (50% off) apply to children aged 6-11.

Validity

The Japan Rail Pass is valid on:

JR trains
  The pass is valid on almost all trains operated on the nationwide network of JR (Japan Railways), including shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid and local trains. Below is a map showing the major train lines that can be used with the pass.
 
Aoimori Railway between Hachinohe and Aomori
  But pass holders are allowed to get on and off only at Aomori, Hachinohe and Noheji Stations. This allows pass holder to access the Shimokita Peninsula.
 
Tokyo Monorail to/from Haneda Airport
 
JR Ferry to Miyajima
 
Local JR buses
  The pass is valid on local buses operated by JR (but not on highway buses). There are not too many, but among them, the following can be useful to foreign tourists:
     Yamaguchi - Hagi
     Kyoto Station - Ryoanji - Takao
     Kanazawa Station - Kenrokuen
     JR buses to Lake Towada
     JR city buses around Sapporo
     JR local bus to Kusatsu Onsen

The Japan Rail Pass is not valid or requires a supplement fee in case of the following exceptions:

Nozomi trains along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen
  The Nozomi, the fastest category along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. However, pass holders can use Hikari trains along the same line, which stop at a few more stops than Nozomi trains and are slightly slower and less frequent than Nozomi trains. Pass holders using a Nozomi will have to pay the full fare.
 
Mizuho trains along the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen
  The Mizuho, the fastest category along the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. However, there are only six round trips per day, anyway, and pass holders can use Sakura trains along the same line, which are more frequent and only sightly slower. Pass holders using a Mizuho will have to pay the full fare.
 
JR trains using non-JR tracks
  There are about a dozen JR trains which partially make use of tracks owned by different railway companies. Japan Rail Pass holders will have to pay the fare for these non-JR sections. Please see our special page on JR trains using non-JR tracks for a list of these trains.
 
Special compartments and berth
  Special compartments, such as berths on night trains, are not fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. A supplement fee has to be paid. See our night train page for more details.
 
Trains requiring Liner Tickets
  There is a small number of suburban "liner" trains on the JR network, e.g. Home Liner, which require a special "liner ticket" and are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. However, since these trains are targeted at suburban commuters, foreign tourists are unlikely to use them. Confusingly, there are also a few trains that contain "Liner" in their names, but do not require a liner ticket, such as the Marine Liner, Seaside Liner and Ishikari Liner. These trains are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
 
Highway buses
  The pass is not valid on any highway buses. It used to be valid on a small number of JR highway buses before spring 2013.

The Japan Rail Pass includes the following additional features:

Free Seat Reservations
  Japan Rail Pass holders can make seat reservations for JR trains for free (more details below).
 
Discounts at JR affiliated hotels
  The Japan Rail Pass offers discounts on regular rates at JR affiliated hotels, such as the Metropolitan, Mets, Associa and Granvia hotel chains, which are usually conveniently found near or inside railway stations. Note however, that discount rates available elsewhere, e.g. through online hotel reservation websites, are often just as good or better.

Japan Rail Pass holders cannot use Nozomi trains

Upgrading to Nozomi or Mizuho possible?

No, it is not possible. When riding the Nozomi or Mizuho, Japan Rail Pas holders will have to pay the entire ticket price. Be careful not to board a Nozomi or Mizuho train by mistake.

Green vs. Ordinary

Green cars offer larger seats, more foot space and enhanced board service, and they tend to be less crowded than ordinary cars. They are available on most shinkansen and limited express trains and on a small number of local trains. Many travelers find the size and foot room of ordinary seats sufficient, but those who wish to have additional luxury, should go for the green car.

Upgrading to Green Car possible?

It is possible, but the ordinary rail pass will cover only the base fare. The green car fee and eventual shinkansen or limited express supplement fees will have to be paid separately, which usually adds up to a rather large amount.

Ordinary Car
Green Car

Validity: Calendar Days or 24-Hour Periods?

The validity period of the Japan Rail Pass is based on calendar days (midnight to midnight) rather than 24 hour periods. For example: when starting to use a 7-day pass at noon on day 1, it will expire at midnight at the end of day 7 rather than at noon of day 8.

What happens if I am on a train when the pass expires at midnight?

If you happen to be on board of a train at midnight, the Japan Rail Pass remains valid until the end of your journey, i.e. until you leave your final station through the ticket gates. This is true even if you transfer trains after midnight. However, if you transfer to a shinkansen, limited express or express train after midnight, the pass will not cover the express supplement for that train anymore.

Can the pass be shared or transfered?

No, the Japan Rail Pass is a strictly personal pass and can only be used by the person whose name is printed in the pass. Pass holders may be asked by railway staff to produce their passports in order to confirm ownership of the pass.

Japan Rail Pass on night trains

The Japan Rail Pass does not fully cover the berth fee of night trains. When using a berth or private compartment on a night train, pass holder will have to pay the berth supplement and the express supplement, which usually amount to a rather large amount. However, there are a few night trains with seats or special compartment types that can be used by pass holders without a supplement fee. See the night train page for more details.

Many night trains are not fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass

Purchase and Exchange

The Japan Rail Pass can be only used by tourists in Japan and has to be purchased outside of Japan. When purchasing a rail pass, you will receive a voucher that has to be exchanged to the actual pass inside Japan and within three months of purchase.

Purchase the Japan Rail Pass

Who can use it?

The Japan Rail Pass can be used only by short term visitors to Japan, who enter Japan as "temporary visitors". It cannot be used by residents of Japan. The pass can also be used by Japanese nationals with permanent residence outside of Japan or who have a spouse that lives outside of Japan, however, solid proof of residence abroad is required in these cases.

Where can it be purchased?

The Japan Rail Pass can be purchased online or through travel agents across the world. A list of some travel agencies is found on this page.

Where and how can the voucher be exchanged?

The voucher can be exchanged at designated major JR stations across Japan, including the JR stations at Narita Airport and Kansai Airport. See this page for a list of designated stations and opening hours. Hand your voucher and passport (photocopy not accepted) to the ticket counter staff. After some processing, you will receive your Japan Rail Pass.

Selecting a starting date in the future

When you exchange your voucher to the actual pass, you do not need to start using the pass from the same date. You can select any date within a one month period as your starting date. However, once the actual pass is issued, the starting date cannot be changed.

Rail pass exchange counter at Tokyo Station

How to use the Japan Rail Pass

See our separate pages about the basics on how to use trains and shinkansen in Japan. Generally, the Japan Rail Pass is your ticket. No other ticket is needed except when using a reserved seat, in which case you will get a seat reservation ticket. Seat reservations are free with the Japan Rail Pass.

Rail pass holders cannot use automatic ticket gates

When passing through ticket gates, Japan Rail Pass holders cannot use the automatic ticket gates, but have to pass through the manned gate and present their rail pass to the staff. On rare occasions pass holders can be asked to also show their passports.

Pass holders have to use the manned gate (right) instead of the automatic gates (left)

How to make seat reservations

Japan Rail Pass holders can make seat reservations for free by presenting their actual rail pass (as opposed to a voucher) at any JR ticket office across Japan. Reservations cannot be made on board of trains or at ticket machines. Some trains in Eastern Japan can be reserved over the internet. See the pages on how to use trains and shinkansen for more details about how to make a seat reservation.

Are seat reservations mandatory?

On most trains seat reservations are optional. On most urban and local trains they are not even possible. Among long-distance trains, most carry some non-reserved seating, for which seat reservations are not mandatory. However, there is a small number of trains, which carry only reserved seating and require seat reservations. They include the following trains:

Are seat reservations recommended?

Many trains do not get booked out, but some do. During busy travel periods, some trains may get booked out several days in advance. For peace of mind it is always recommended to make seat reservations especially when traveling in groups and you wish to sit together. After all, seat reservations are free for rail pass holders. On a few trains reservations are mandatory (see above).

What happens if I miss a train for which I have seat reservations?

This may cause inconvenience to other passengers and the railway company and should be avoided by all means. If it does happen, try to cancel your reservation at a ticket office before it is too late. You can then ride a later train in the non-reserved section or make a new reservation for an upcoming departure.

Seat reservations can be made at any JR ticket counter across Japan

Does the Japan Rail Pass pay off?

It depends on your itinerary! It won't pay off for urban travel alone. But if you cover some long distances within a relatively short time period, the pass is likely to pay off. Furthermore, the pass provides convenience and flexibility in addition to saving money. For example, pass holders won't need to buy tickets whenever they ride trains and can spontaneously make side trips at no additional cost.

On the other hand, the pass is not valid on Nozomi trains which can be a small inconvenience when traveling along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen. Note also that some travel agents might charge a service fee or apply an unfavorable exchange rate, resulting in an inflated cost of the rail pass.

When does it pay off?

As a rule of thumb, the 7-day pass costs about the same as regular shinkansen tickets for a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. It will not pay off if you travel less than that. The timetable website Hyperdia is a good tool to calculate regular ticket costs. The access pages of destinations in our sightseeing guide also contain lots of fare information.

Is it useful for urban transportation?

Urban transportation alone will not justify the purchase of a Japan Rail Pass. A pass will only pay off if some long distance travel is involved. However, in cities that are well served by JR train lines, the Japan Rail Pass can also be useful for urban transportation.

Tokyo and Osaka are two of the few cities where the pass is quite useful, particularly thanks to Tokyo's Yamanote Line and Osaka's Loop Line. In many other cities, however, for example in Kyoto, non-JR trains, subways and buses are more convenient but not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Tokyo's useful Yamanote Line is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass

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Japan Rail Pass
Official website of the nationwide Japan Rail Pass.

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