The JR Pass is a must for anyone visiting and travelling within Japan. The country’s railway system is well known for being one of the most advanced in the world, but it is also overwhelmingly complex for a foreigner. Not to mention, the travelling costs can rack up pretty quickly! Thankfully, a JR Pass solves all that.
What is a JR Pass?
Known as the Japan Rail Pass, the JR Pass allows foreign visitors unlimited access on the Japan Rail network for a period of 7, 14 or 21 days. There are two classes: Ordinary and Green Car. The latter is valid on green cars (first class cars) which offer more spacious seats.
How much does it cost?
These are the prices for JR Passes purchased outside of Japan. Prices start from ~S$364.50.
And these are the prices if they are purchased within Japan. Prices start from ~S$413.25.
As you can tell, it’s a much better idea to buy your JR Pass before arriving in Japan. You can purchase them easily in Singapore – we’ll touch on that in a bit!
Who can get a JR Pass?
You are eligible for a JR Pass if you’re entering Japan with a ‘temporary visitor’ visa, and staying not more than 90 days. Japanese nationals can also use it if they have been permanently residing abroad for at least the past ten years. Residents of Japan are not eligible for the JR pass.
Do I need a JR Pass?
If you’re just travelling within or around Tokyo, you probably don’t need the JR Pass. But if you’re planning a round trip to different cities, for example from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto and back, then yes, you should definitely get it. The price for a 7-day pass is about the same as regular Shinkansen tickets for a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. So, a JR Pass will not be worth it if you’re travelling less than that.
Which JR Pass should I get?
The JR Pass covers the whole of Japan, but if you’re only travelling regionally, there are also regional JR Passes.
How can I purchase a JR Pass?
If you are already in Japan, you can purchase the JR Pass at selected major train stations and airports such as Narita Airport, Haneda Airport and Kansai Airport.
How can I exchange for my JR Pass?
After making your purchase, you will receive an Exchange Order. After you arrive in Japan, head to a designated pick-up location, show the staff your passport (not a photocopy) and Exchange Order. They will ask you for your start date, so you can collect it first and have it start any day within a one month period.
What trains can you access with the JR Pass?
What awesome about the JR Pass is that apart from all JR trains, you can also use it on a variety of other train lines:
- All Shinkansen (新幹線) services, except for the Nozomi and Mizuho services
- Limited express (特急 Tokkyū)
- Express (急行 Kyūkō)
- Local (普通 Futsū)
- Rapid (快速 Kaisoku)
- Special Rapid (特別快速/新快速 Tokubetsu-Kaisoku/Shin-Kaisoku)
As well as some non-JR lines:
- Tokyo Monorail between Haneda Airport and Hamamatsuchō
- Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo
- Aomori Railway between Hachinohe and Aomori, Aomori and Noheji, and Hachinohe and Noheji (only on local or rapid service trains, not valid if you’re alighting outside of Aomori, Noheji, and Hachinohe)
- Ainokaze Toyama Railway between Toyama and Takaoka (only on local trains)
- IR Ishikawa Railway between Kanazawa and Tsubata (only on local or limited express trains)
You can use the JR Pass on some local JR bus lines too:
- JR Hokkaido Bus
- JR Tohoku Bus
- JR Kanto Bus
- JR Tokai Bus
- West Japan JR Bus
- JR Chugoku bus
- JR Shikoku Bus
- JR Kyushu Bus
And lastly, the JR Ferry to Miyajima.
Do I need to reserve seats?
The short answer is no, as there are many trains leaving each hour especially on popular routes like Tokyo – Kyoto. Most trains do not get booked out, unless it is peak travel season. On most local trains, seat reservations are not possible. Long distance routes will also have sections meant for non-reserved seating.
However, there are a few trains where reservations is required:
- Narita Express
- Hayabusa and Hayate trains along the Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen
- Komachi trains on the Akita Shinkansen
- Kagayaki trains on the Hokuriku Shinkansen
- Sunrise Seto/Izumo night trains
You should also make reservations if you are travelling with a group of friends of family, and want to sit together.
How can I make a seat reservation?
You can reserve seats for free at ticket machines or ticket offices at train stations in Japan after getting your JR Pass. Reservations cannot be made on board of trains. If you purchased your pass through the official JR website, you can also make your seat reservations online.
Getting to the right platform and seat
Look out for the electronic boards at the gantry. They will tell you which platform you should go to catch your train.
Once you are at the right platform, make sure to check the time of departure on the electronic boards, because there are usually multiple trains departing from the same platform. The boards will also tell you which train cars are for reserved and non-reserved ticket holders.
For non-reserved ticket holders, there will usually be two lines forming a queue. Queueing is a big part of Japanese culture, so make sure to get in line! When the train arrives, let other passengers alight first before entering the train.
If you have reserved tickets, check the car number on the floor to make sure you’re at the correct spot!
All in all, the JR Pass is a great way to save on transportation costs, and it makes travelling in Japan super convenient! Japanese trains are also modern, extremely clean and comfortable. If you’re worried about navigation, there are English signages almost everywhere, even in smaller towns. And in the chance that you do get lost, the staff are always extremely friendly and willing to help.
We hope you found this JR Pass guide helpful!