So we assume that all you readers know how much Alvin and I love Japan, and we can never get enough of it. At the same time, we strongly recommend traveling free and easy all the time. We’ve had plenty of friends and fans asking and telling us how planning a free and easy trip around Japan can be really daunting, especially if you’re looking at their rail map for the first time. So let our Singapore Travel Blog break it down for you guys to make traveling in Japan as economical and enjoyable as possible with the use of the JR Rail Pass.
The best way to move around Japan (city to city) for tourists is definitely by rail. There is this pretty sweet deal exclusively for tourists called the JR Rail Pass, which is owned by the Japan Railways Company, allowing the user unlimited access for a period of 7,14 or 21 days on most Shinkansen (bullet train) and ALL JR trains running on the JR railway. The JR Rail Pass can ONLY be purchased out of Japan which means that you would have to purchase it BEFORE you even reach the country.
Purchasing the JR rail pass
There are plenty of reliable websites that offer sale of JR Passes, but the one we use to purchase our tickets are from http://www.jrpass.com/.
I would recommend purchasing the JR Pass online at least 3 weeks prior, to buffer enough time for any hiccups or unforeseen circumstances. After making your purchase, you will receive a JR Pass exchange order, which allows you to exchange for the JR Rail Pass in any JR office when you have arrived in Japan. The closest JR office would be at any of its international or domestic airports.
Using the JR Rail Pass
The JR Rail Pass allows for unlimited JR Train + Bullet Train rides.
The JR Train is the train that travels within the city. To use your JR Rail Pass for the JR Train, you do not need to make any advanced booking whatsoever. Simply show your Jr Rail pass to the station master and he would open the gates and let you through.
If you are traveling from city to city, you would require the usage of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), which could easily cost you $200~$300 per trip if you had purchased tickets without the JR pass.
The Shinkansen consists of reserved and non-reserved seats. Aside from having unlimited FREE rides on the bullet train, another perk of having the JR Pass is that it allows complimentary reservation of seats on Shinkansen in advance (which is extremely crucial considering how a trip between the cities can take several hours. It is good to know that you wouldnt have to stand and is guaranteed a seat). Simply head to a JR station and book your seats for your desired day/train prior to your departure date (refer to below for more information on how to do this). It is recommended that you do so as early as possible as seats do occasionally run out, especially during the peak season.
*PS There are various types of Shinkansen, and the JR Pass does not cover the usage on the Shinkansen Nozomi, which is the fastest Shinkansen.
Getting around with your JR Rail Pass
Now, you may be wondering, with so many interlinked tracks and platforms, how does one keep up when they are moving around or know when is a train arriving. Let me introduce to you the trusty sidekick that helps me plan my travels for Japan, Hyperdia. http://www.hyperdia.com/en/#. This website is literally godsend, once you’ve got the hang of using it.
On the left of the homepage, you can key in your search conditions, for instance “Tokyo to Kyoto”, the date you wish to travel and time of departure.
After which, click on “more options”, and in the dropdown, select the field “type”, uncheck all the type of travels you would not be using, which usually is (airplane,airport shuttle bus and sleeper).
After you hit “search”, it automatically routes the fastest route for you, including the train arrival time and platform number to board the train.
Hyperdia allows you to plan your travels in advance by letting you know of the best possible itinerary. This works in sync with the JR Pass, where you input the fields and obtain the travel plan in advance on Hyperdia, take a screenshot of it, and you can show it to the officers in any JR office and they will assist you in reserving seats on the Shinkansen and limited express trains (if they are in your itinerary), which you will learn to appreciate, unless you would like the pleasure of standing throughout the trip, which we personally had first hand experience in. Trust us, standing 3 hours on a train is really not that fun.
With all that being said, purchasing the JR Pass is only beneficial if you are travelling from one city to another, and your itinerary frequently makes use of the Shinkansen. JR Pass is not recommended for travels within the city, as the user will not fully maximize it. Another point to note, JR Pass is only valid on all JR railways and Shinkansen, but not private railways, which may run through some parts of Japan, for instance, the Tokyo Metro.
We hope our travel blog has been useful and if you have any questions about the JR Rail pass, do ask us in the comments below and we’ll try our best to answer all your queries!
Also, don’t forget to share this article for all your friends who are traveling to Japan to help them save a ton of money! They’ll be so thankful that you did.