Japanese Rail Passes are issued by the Japan Railways Group (JR Group), and they are the most economical means of travelling throughout Japan by rail. There are two types of pass: green (for superior-class green cars), and ordinary. Each is available as a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day pass.
The Japanese Rail Pass allows you to ride on all bullet trains except nozomi and mizuho. Keep reading for more information.
- Japanese passport holders cannot use JR passes. They are valid only for foreign tourists.
- A pass may only be used by the person named on it.
- When you order your JR Pass you will receive an Exchange Order that you need to swap once you arrive in Japan.
- Get your own JR Pass from the official JR website, from a travel agency or a distributor.
- Travel with Asia Highlights and we will help you obtain a JR Pass.
The Japanese Rail Pass
The Japanese Rail Pass is a discounted pass offered to tourists by the JR Group, to help travelers explore Japan more affordably. JR has an extensive network of trains and bullet trains (shinkansen) throughout the country.
What’s it used for?
The pass is simply a pass for traveling on JR lines and is one of the best-value deals for touring Japan. If you’re traveling to multiple regions on Japan’s main islands and you would like to save money, a JR pass is a must-have.
Who can use the Pass?
The passes are exclusively for foreign visitors to Japan who are visiting on a tourist visa (under 90 days). You should know about them early in your travel planning, for it’s too late once you arrive in Japan: as things stand, you have to purchase your pass before you arrive in Japan.
The pass provides free travel on nearly all trains in the JR system. It can also be used on some JR buses and the JR West-run ferry to Miyajima Island off Hiroshima. Read the validity section below for more information.
The JR Pass is available for 7, 14 or 21 days. When purchasing, you can choose between standard class (known as ordinary) and first class (known as green car). Choosing the green car will, of course, incur an extra charge. Read the section ‘Purchasing a JR Pass’ for more information.
The pass is valid for reserved and non-reserved ordinary car travel on all JR Group shinkansen (bullet trains, except for the “nozomi” and “mizuho” services), limited express trains, express trains, local trains and the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system. The pass itself does not ensure seating. If you want reserved seating, be sure to get seat reservations before boarding.
Purchasing a JR Pass
Simply buy your JR Pass voucher online or through a travel agency, and once you have reached the country, you can exchange the voucher for your pass. Here is further information on how to purchase the JR Pass:
How to buy
Here are some steps on how to buy the JR Pass:
1. The most important is: when purchasing the JR Pass, you must purchase an Exchange Order at an authorized sales agent or sales office before coming to Japan.
2. Get a “temporary visitor” stamp in your passport at the immigration counter when you enter Japan.
3. Hand in your voucher in return for a pass at a JR Pass office at JR hubs. You’ll be asked to show your passport as well.
Where to buy
You can buy your JR Pass at a designated travel agent, official JR website, or other official distributor. From March 2018, some Japanese train offices will sell the JR Pass, but at a higher price than what you pay by buying beforehand through a travel agency or online.
Prices shown below are yen (¥) prices for a JR Pass, current in July 2018
The process of buying
Order your pass online by credit card and upon completion receive an order summary. You can buy the pass up to 90 days ahead of when you plan to use it, and when you have bought it, you will receive a voucher for the pass, not the pass itself. You need to exchange the voucher for the pass when you arrive in Japan.
Receiving your JR Pass
Pass vouchers are issued within 24 hours of receiving your order and will be available for collection the following business day. Please allow up to several days for delivery if you request the pass to be sent to you. Delivery fees apply. (Note: fees may vary between travel agencies, official websites and countries.)
When you order your JR Pass you will receive an Exchange Order. This is a physical voucher you take with you to Japan where you can swap it for the actual JR Pass at one of many designated exchange offices. As it’s a physical voucher it can’t be e-mailed to you.
If you are departing within 7 days, you will not be able to order passes online and will need to go to a designated office to purchase your JR Pass over the counter.
Exchanging the Pass
Your exchange coupon must be exchanged within 3 months from when it is issued. You must exchange it in Japan at a valid exchange office within these three months in order to receive your pass. If you fail to make the exchange, your exchange coupon will no longer be valid and you will not be able to receive the pass.
How to use the JR Pass
Using the JR pass is simple. Follow the steps below and you can board the bullet trains faster.
How to get on the train
1. When you begin using your pass, present it to the attendant at a manned ticket gate. The attendant will apply a stamp in the space provided for official use. When passing through the gate, always ensure the period of validity is visible when you present your pass to the attendant.
2. You must carry your passport and be prepared to present it if requested by a station attendant or car conductor.
3. After entering the station, find your platform. After passengers have alighted, board the train.
4. The JR Pass itself does not ensure seat availability. If you want reserved seating, be sure to get seat reservations before boarding (no additional payment is needed).
How to reserve a seat
To obtain a reserved-seat ticket, present your JR Pass at the ticket office (midori-no-madoguchi) of a JR station, at a Travel Service Center, or the sales office of a major travel agency. For some trains it is obligatory to reserve a seat.
Unless you have reserved a seat, you can only use non-reserved seating with the pass. Please note that some trains do not have non-reserved seating, so you need to book a seat in advance. Neither an exchange coupon nor a JR Pass can be reissued if lost or stolen, so please keep it safe.
Q: Can you email me the JR Pass?
A: No. When you purchase a JR Pass you will receive a physical voucher (Exchange Order) that you must take with you to Japan and swap for the actual pass.
Q: My child is 11 now but will be 12 when we go to Japan. Is he/she eligible for the JR children’s pass?
A: Yes, children who are 11 years of age at the time the Exchange Order is issued are eligible for the discounted children’s JR Pass.
Q: Are JR Pass prices seasonal?
A: No, but prices do vary with exchange rates. The prices are set in yen by JR and then you can convert them into your home currency.
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