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To buy Japan Rail Pass or not?

Japan Rail Pass

One of the main thing to consider when planning a Japan trip is whether to buy a Japan Rail Pass or not. This is very important because Japan Rail Pass can only be bought outside Japan. It is not available for purchase in Japan. So if you need it, you will have to buy it before you leave. But before making that decision, it is important to know the details about Japan Rail Pass and whether its beneficial to you or not.

What is the Japan Rail Pass?

Japan Rail Pass is a rail pass that offers unlimited travel on most transportation offered by the JR Group. It is only available to foreign tourist. It is not sold in Japan.

What are the different kinds of Japan Rail Pass?

There are 2 different kinds of Japan Rail Pass. One is for the Ordinary Car and the other for the Green Car which is similar to First Class on the airplane. There is also a time limitation on the pass purchased which is the 7 day pass, 14 day pass or 21 day pass.

How much does it cost?

Here’s a chart of how much it cost:

7 days
14 days
21 days
Green Car
Adults (12 yrs & older)
310
502
653
Child (6-11yrs)
155
251
327
Ordinary Car
Adults (12 yrs & older)
232
370
473
Child (6-11yrs)
116
185
23

* all prices are in USD

Where to buy Japan Rail Pass?

You can buy the Japan Rail Pass exchange order voucher through different travel agencies. Then when you get to Japan, you will have to exchange the voucher like the one below

Japan Rail Pass Voucher

for the actual Japan Rail Pass like these ones

Japan Rail Pass

at the JR offices which have locations at the airport and major train stations. We bought ours from Japan Experience and were very happy with their service.

What transportation does the Japan Rail Pass includes?

It includes all trains that are operated by the Japan Railways (JR) except for the Shinkansen Nozomi. It also includes all buses that are operated by JR.

Now for the all important question!

Is it worth it to buy the Japan Rail Pass? 

Yes and No! It all depends on your itinerary.

Here’s what our trip looks like:

Japan Rail Pass Comparison

Overall, it saved us about USD$145. It may not be a big saving but any savings on a trip is helpful. Besides saving money, it also saves us a lot of unnecessary stress of fiddling with the local ticket vending machine. We don’t have to worry about underpaying or overpaying the transportation tickets. Also some of the machines are very complicated due to the vast number of trains and ticket types. We had to ask for help from the ticketing officer a couple of times because we could not figure out the right types of ticket to buy when we travelled with the local train. With the Japan Rail Pass, we can just hop on & hop off the train whenever we want within that time frame.

For us, it was totally worth it to buy the Japan Rail Pass. So to make the decision, you will have to plan a pretty detail itinerary with all the necessary transportation to decide to buy or not. You can use the Hyperdia app to price out your entire itinerary to estimate how much you will spend if you buy individual tickets vs Japan Rail Pass.

When is it not worth it to buy the Japan Rail Pass?

If you are planning to staying in just one city for an extended time frame, then it is not worth it to buy the Japan Rail Pass. In that case, regional passes like the PASMO, SUICA or KANSAI THRU PASS  will work better.

Ordinary Car vs Green Car

We purchased the ordinary car and it was pretty comfortable for us. We did not have a big luggage since we used the luggage forwarding service, so luggage space was not a big factor for us. The ordinary cars have a 3 seat -2 seat combination while the green car has a 2 seat-2 seat combination.  We did not have trouble getting reservations for the ordinary car but it might get a little crowded during peak seasons. So you will need to make reservations for the train pretty early or opt for the green car where it is not so crowded.

How long is the exchange order valid for?

The exchange order voucher is only valid for 3 months, so do not buy the pass too early.

 

If you have any more questions, check out the Japan Rail Pass website for more answers especially about what transportations are included with the Japan Rail Pass and when are the peak periods for travelling and more.

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