How to get and use a JR Rail Pass

Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) – Our Ultimate Guide to the Bullet Train Pass

Enjoy Unlimited and Discounted Travel in Japan

Shinkansen Rail Pass

Photo by Gerard

Japan is famous for its amazingly modern a train and transit systems. If you happen to be visiting and are planning to stop by multiple cities, the Japan Rail Pass is a good option to help you save time and money.

What are Rail Passes?

Rail passes give you unlimited access to ride the Japan Rail lines operated by the Japanese government. These train lines run throughout most of Japan however there are also many privately owned train lines and destinations that the Rail Passes will not give you access to.

Where can I go?

The below map shows you the complete network of Japanese bullet trains from jrailpass.com – one of the official vendors for purchasing a rail pass. A typical one way shinkansen (bullet train) ticket can cost anywhere from $80 – $200 USD depending how far you are going. In general If you are planning to visit more than one major city and return round trip, the Rail pass will pay for itself and save you money.

Map of JR Shinkansen Bullet Train Routes

Is It Worth It?

If you are planning to stay in one location such as Tokyo or Osaka. A rail pass may not be worth the money. Typical subway fares within a city are $2-$5 per trip. If this is the case you will be better off purchasing a local metro card such as a Suica or Pasmo metro card.

How do I buy one?

If you do plan to visit multiple areas such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto all in one visit to Japan, it will make your life easier to purchase a rail pass. The easiest way to purchase one is online through one of the official vendors such as jrailpass.com

Receiving and Activating

Rail passes are generally available in 7, 14, and 21 day passes. After purchasing a pass, you will receive an exchange order via mail which can be delivered to your home country or any local address in Japan such as a hotel you are planning to stay at.

Once you are ready to start using the pass, you will need to “activate” it with the exchange order at any major JR station exchange office. You will receive a pretty card about the same size as your passport showing the dates that you are allowed you to use it. The Rail Pass also makes a great souvenir to keep from your trip.

How to use the JR Pass

After exchanging the pass, you can now enter and exit any JR line station. Instead of walking through the ticket turnstyles, you will need to enter via the side gates and flash your JR Pass to the attendants there. When exiting, you just repeat the process on the way out, easy peasy right?

Using JR Pass on the Metro

The most difficult part of using the JR Pass is often finding the right train line to take and the correct entrance for it. For example, the Yamanote Line in Tokyo is a JR line that takes you to many of the popular neighborhoods. You can hop on and off the train all you want for free. In large stations such as Shinjuku or Shibuya, you will see an entrance specifically for JR lines and you can it will be marked with JR or JY.

Map of JR lines in Tokyo

While the JR pass will generally cover most places you want to visit, there will still be some unreachable areas that you will need to purchase tickets for separately. You can easily purchase a metro card at most stations to use in combination with your Rail Pass.

Reserving Shinkansen Tickets

While it is possible to walk up and hop on a shinkansen spontaneously when you feel like it, it is highly advised to reserve a ticket in advance. For example – if you plan on taking the train from Tokyo to Osaka or Kyoto, you can stop by the Shinjuku Station or Tokyo Station JR Office and request a reserved ticket for a future date and time. The attendants there can help you find a train time appropriate for your schedule and you will receive a printed ticket pass that you will use to board the train.

JR Pass Prices

Japan Rail Passes are available in 7, 14, and 21 day passes. The 7 day pass starts at just under $290, the 14 day at $350 and the 21 day pass at $450.

Thanks for reading, we hope this helps you plan your next trip to Japan. If you’re planning on purchasing a JR Pass, you can help support our site by purchasing through our affiliate partner link below.

Purchase via jrailpass.com

Arigatou!