The JR Pass is a must in order to survive (and save money) in Japan. It was so convenient and I definitely got my money worth. I paid about $200+ for the JR PASS for 7 days, but I only used it for 6 full days. Without the JR Pass, I believe I would have paid more than $300-$400 USD. The main benefits of the JR Pass is definitely the Shinkansen Hikari.
The Shinkansen Hikari is the bullet train that travels about 320 km/hr (200 mph) towards all the major cities. It took me about 2 to 3 hours from Osaka to Tokyo. By car, this would take 5-6 hours nonstop. This also costs about ¥14650 (about $131 USD) one way, if I did not have a JR Pass. So for the return and expected trips back, I already got my $200 worth. The Shinkansen Hikari is a wee bit longer than the other Shinkansens, but only by 10 to 15 minutes. I have compiled a list about the JR pass that should help you make your decision when purchasing this.
1. Link to purchase.
- Available for 7, 14, and 21 days.
- CANNOT BE BOUGHT IN JAPAN. MUST BE PREORDERED.
2. Benefits of the JR Pass
- Can use it on trains, some busses, and ferries.
- Ability to reserve seats on the Shinkansen or Narita Express
There’s also a more expensive pass for the same amount of days, that have a few more benefits. But I didn’t purchase that and I could have definitely lived without it.
Shinkansens (bullet trains) are very fast, time consistent, and readily available. So don’t worry about missing the Shinkansen since they arrive pretty often, check in on your Google Maps to find the times.
3. The Green Pass (First Class) vs. Ordinary Pass
- Staff will offer you oshibori (hot towels) and drinks
- More space
- It’s generally less busy
- More expensive
- Only beneficial for Shinkansens.
- Assigned seats, busy
- Slightly tighter spaces.
- No food or oshibori service
3. Able to use it on any JR Line (West, East, etc).
- Not very applicable in cities like Kyoto and Osaka. Still has some, but not as many like in Tokyo.
- Look for signs that say JR or on the Google Maps that have routes listed as JR.
4. Can use it for the Narita Express.
- Takes you from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station (and other stations) in 1 hour.
- Narita Express starts operating from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
You don’t have to take the Narita Express to get to the airport, it’s just more convenient and faster, due to less changes and stops.
5. How to Use: Activation
- BRING THE PHYSICAL VOUCHER THEY SENT YOU TO JAPAN. They will not accept scanned or e-version copies. MUST BE THE ORIGINAL.
- Activate your JR Pass. You can activate it at any JR Office, but I find it more convenient to do it at Narita Airport (bottom floor) that way you can get on the Narita Express. Make sure that the dates you start and end the JR Pass are correct, because these cannot be changed!
- To use it at the station, visit the officer (people on the side of the turnstile) and simply show them your pass.
- Please do not lose it.
- After activation, you won’t need to visit the JR office every time. Once is good enough unless getting a Shinkansen or Narita Express ticket.
6. After Activation:
- Just show the officer by the turnstile your pass and they’ll let you enter and/or exit.
- The first time you pass through, they will stamp your JR Pass
- Don’t enter the turnstile, just go through the JR Office or show the officer.
7. How to Reserve Seats:
- Visit the Shinkansen ticket office, JR office (JR in green, not the one next to the turnstile), or ticket office to reserve seats
- It’s not necessary since there are cars that are reserved for those who do not have a reservation. However, these are on a first come, first serve business. So it’s very convenient to just simply visit these offices to reserve a seat.
- Just show the ticket officer your JR Pass and they’ll hand you a ticket.
8. HAVE FUN.
There’s a common misconception that Japanese do not really speak English. I do not believe this to be necessarily true. A lot of them, especially the younger generations speak very good English. Most of the older generations actually do understand you, but it’s hard for them to put their explanation into English, so they’ll say key words. Which is good enough and is easy to figure out. There usually is an information booth in most major stations and they do speak English. If not, then just visit the JR office or ask any officer available.