Why you should get a JR Pass: 5 benefits of the Japan Rail Pass
Japan’s world-famous public transportation system is largely organized and operated by the Japan Railways Group (JR Group), and this same organization issues a special transit ticket called the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).
This pass has been a long-time essential travel tool for visitors to Japan for a medley of reasons. Take a look at its key benefits below and see how it can help you have the best time possible for your next trip to Japan!
1. Convenience when commuting
The Japan Rail Pass comes in the form of a single ticket, and its usage is beyond simple: you insert it into the ticket gates at stations, taking it back before going through the gates all the way, and repeating the same process at the station you are exiting at. Notice how this is practically a two-step process of getting in and getting out? This is one of the key benefits of the Japan Rail Pass that travelers have grown to love, and an undeniable advantage especially for first-time travelers.
Compare this process to purchasing individual tickets for every train ride, and you’ll see a stark difference in time and convenience. Even if travelers buy all their individual Shinkansen bullet train tickets in bulk, the need to organize each individual ticket can be troublesome with all the hassles already involved with traveling and moving around. Getting individual train tickets also makes it mandatory by default to plan your whole trip in advance. With the JR Pass, you don't have to pre-book train tickets. You can just hop on the train that best fits your itinerary, meaning you can be late and miss your train and just take the next one, or even go on an unplanned day trip out the city on a whim by just getting on a train. Buy a Japan Rail Pass and go about your trip with less to worry about.
And for those who do want a bit more structure, the pass allows for easy reservations without any additional fees (a luxury unfortunately not available with individual ticket purchases), so you can quickly guarantee a seat with little stress and no penalties. Simply show your pass to the staff at a Japan Railway office inside a station and choose a departure time for a train to your destination. This free reservation system also applies when it comes to booking luggage space in the Shinkansen bullet trains, a feature that is paid for user who do not have a Japan Rail Pass.
Additionally, the Japan Rail Pass allows for great flexibility on where you can start your trip, as the pass can be exchanged at a number of different Japan Railway offices throughout the country. You aren't just limited to starting your journey in Tokyo or Osaka, so you have a lot of free-reign on formatting your itinerary as you fit. In fact, your Japan Rail Pass doesn't even need to be activated for use immediately upon exchanging. Perhaps you have an itinerary that has you going to multiple places but you're in Tokyo for a large amount of time for the first leg of the trip. You can exchange them for the pass as soon as you arrive, but then activate the pass for actual usage on the day you depart from Tokyo to use the pass during the most commute-heavy part of your trip.
2. Full National Coverage
As previously mentioned, the Japan Rail Pass is issued by the Japan Railway Group, the most prominent public transportation organization in Japan. A vast majority of the national railway network, buses, and other facilities, are under direction of the JR Group, spanning through all 46 prefectures of the Japanese mainland and thus accessible to ride unlimited with the JR Pass for 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days.
That means that the JR Group facilities allow for travel to all of these prefectures in a quick and easy manner for an extended amount of time, as all Shinkansen high-speed trains are operated by Japan Railways.
Via this, theoretically, travelers can buy a Japan Rail Pass and go all the way from the most northern part of Wakkanai on Hokkaido to Kagoshima, the most southern part of Japan’s mainland in Kyushu. Be sure to take stops through all the other regions on the way, though! In total, JR Group represents over 20,000km of usable train lines throughout Japan.
For first-time travelers, especially, this coverage is fantastic as it assures access to the key destinations of Japan’s “Golden Route” that includes Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. And of course, the unlimited access to all other mainland prefectures means that other cities like Kanazawa in Ishikawa or Takayama in Gifu, along with great spots for day trips like Hakone or Himeji, will be able to be reached easily.
Coverage isn’t just limited to high-speed trains, also! Many local trains (such as the JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo) and bus networks within major cities will be accessible by those who buy the pass. Even the ferry out to Miyajima in Hiroshima is bundled in! Off-the-beaten path destinations are literally at the palm of your hand with a Japan Rail Pass.
This huge coverage area allows you to enjoy a unique perspective on traveling: very few countries offer the opportunity to get around so easily and explore as much as Japan does, so make the most of it by venturing out of the usual must-sees on your itinerary!
3. Experience the beauty of train travel in Japan
With a JR Pass, you’ll get to witness the greatest rail system in the world, with trains clean & tidy, safe, and always on time. Scenic journeys with breathtaking views as well as quirky character trains are also included. On top of that, it's the better option to get around Japan compared to the plane, the car or the long-distance buses!
The Japanese train system is truly a wonder of the world. It's an experience that is hard to describe, and that should be lived through to understand. Transporting millions of passengers seemingly effortlessly, Japan's trains are a mirror of its society: clean, safe, and always on time. It's also very much quirky and unusual, behind its serious facade, as shown by the heavily decorated Hello Kitty Shinkansen bullet train you may see zoom by through a train station or even ride on, for example. Bucolic countryside trains, riding through picture-perfect landscapes, are also a one-of-a-kind travel experience you should not miss. Just getting from one city to the other in a sightseeing tour in itself!
For domestic travel, the train is not just a pretty and trendy experience: it's the better option. Indeed, Japan has a developed domestic aviation industry, with plenty of flights servicing the country's major cities, sometimes for similar prices compared to the train. However, while the trains depart from the city center, airports are often far away from the city. Transfers are thus longer and more expensive. Trains are also less dependent on weather conditions than planes, and the whole process of arriving earlier to get through security and board means traveling by plane is not necessarily faster.
On top of being more scenic and more practical, traveling by train in Japan is also more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Cars are also an interesting option to consider, but trips take longer, on top of being more tiring. Foreigners also have to learn Japan's road rules, and even pay for a driver's license translation in some cases. Finally, while highway buses offer an affordable solution for smaller budgets, they make traveling considerably less comfortable, and much longer - meaning you'll get less time to explore and visit.
4. Cost Savings
Connected to the unlimited travel provided by the Japan Rail Pass, the pass is a fantastic way to travel around Japan without being overly-mindful of travel costs stacking up since the pass needs to be paid for just once. A great way to have a defined budget before departing and stick to it!
While Japan’s transportation is efficient and accommodating, it can also become quite expensive, especially since so much of its costs are based on distance. This is especially true for busy itineraries with many destinations and day trips, making the Japan Rail Pass a great deal for very proactive travelers who wish to see as much as possible.
Travel between Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima on the “Golden Route” and other destinations via the high-speed Shinkansen bullet train within a week alone can become a considerable expense. Then, once you account for the travel included with local transportation at each of these destinations plus the convenience provided, the pass can easily pay for itself with proper planning and the right itinerary. Referring back to the day trip example from earlier, day trips that would initially cost a significant amount for a roundtrip commute go from potentially not being worth the money and effort become much more accessible and a possible last-minute decision thanks to the JR Pass.
With free seat and luggage reservations, extra expenses can also be taken out of your budget with a Japan Rail Pass. On top of that, if you are buying individual tickets, some stations in more remote areas will accept cash only, meaning you'll always have to have some physical money on you, or be ready to withdraw some with conversion fees. Remaining on this topic, the JR Pass' price being set in yen, purchasing it in your local currency abroad may be a sweet deal, the yen being relatively weak compared to most international currencies recently.
Additionally, the Japan Rail Pass also comes with a number of discount coupons for some attractions. This includes discounted access to Himeji Castle in Kansai, discounted rides for the Mount Hakodate Ropeway in Hokkaido, and the Tokyo Bay Ferry. For a full list of discounts and promotions for the Japan Rail Pass, take a look at the official website here:
5. Assistance and Support
Being as well-known and often-used as it is, the Japan Rail Pass comes with a number of support systems to aid in your travels. The pass itself is well-understood by Japan Railway employees at the stations throughout the country, so any questions about its usage and the transportation system as a whole can be directed towards them.
Also, with all the users the pass has had in the past, there are a medley of different articles and online forums on just about any subject regarding the pass. Whatever the inquiry, the same question was probably asked by someone in the past and answered by another person, all archived online for current users to use. Of course, experts in Japan travel, such as Japan Experience, will have their own publications with advice on pass usage, and we also provide a service known as JRP Care that allows pass-holders to access our specialized hotline to answer all your questions and provide our own personal insight for whatever situation regarding Japan travel and the JR Pass. JRP Care also offers special cancellation and refund policies not accessible for general users.
There are also a number of specialized Japan travel smartphone apps that have features specifically for Japan Rail Pass users. Jorudan and Japan Travel are navigation apps that allow you to look for routes that are optimized specifically for use with the Japan Rail Pass, helping to smooth out the whole travel process and guarantee you’ll have support every step of the way!
The Japan Rail Pass and your journey through Japan
Taking a trip out to Japan requires considerable preparation and research, and the Japan Rail Pass helps travelers get throughout the country as smoothly as possible, so that they can see everything they want to during their trip. Between the convenience advantages, the ease-of-use benefits, cost-savings, and traveler support, the pass is sure to become an invaluable tool for having the most optimal trip to Japan possible.
Take a look at our different Japan Rail Pass options, such as the National Green Pass or the National Pass for children that is available at a 50% discount rate so that the whole family can travel around with ease!
Purchase your National Japan Rail Pass along with Support Services!
Frequently Asked Questions about the JR Pass.