Do You Really Need A Rail Pass In Japan?

Do You Really Need A Rail Pass In Japan?

If you have been doing some research for your upcoming visit to Japan, you may already have come across several posts talking about the Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass.

What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass is a special kind of rail pass only available to foreign tourists visiting Japan. Offered by Japan Railways, it can be purchased online or through a travel agent before your trip. It allows you to ride most JR lines, including the Shinkansen, special and commuter trains, buses, and ferries, across the country as many times as you want for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days.

Should you get a Japan Rail Pass for your Japan trip?

There are a number of factors to consider before purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. Whether you should get it or not for your trip greatly depends on your itinerary.

Where do you want to go?

If you are staying in only one city, it does not make sense to buy a JR Pass.

For example, in Tokyo, you can conveniently get around by using the metro and subway systems. A single-ride ticket costs only about 2 AUD, and, in one day, you may only have to spend less than 10 AUD on fares. It is better to just get a prepaid IC card, like the Pasmo or Suica card, which you can top up anytime and use even outside of Tokyo.

In addition, JR is not the only train/bus company in Japan. There are many other private ones where the JR Pass is not valid on.

In Kyoto, for instance, the JR lines do not really reach the city’s top attractions. You are better off using the non-JR local buses and subways, and paying for your fares with an IC card.

How much train travel do you plan to do?

A JR Pass only pays off if you do at least a couple of long-distance Shinkansen trips with a few day trips.

For example, if your itinerary includes a roundtrip between Tokyo and Kyoto, and day trips to Nara and Hiroshima within 7 days, purchasing a 7-Day JR Pass is very much worth it. Using Hyperdia, here are the fares of the train journeys included:

  • Day 1 - Tokyo to Kyoto: ~170 AUD
  • Day 4 - Kyoto to Nara, Nara to Kyoto: ~18 AUD
  • Day 6 - Kyoto to Himeji, Himeji to Kyoto: ~130 AUD
  • Day 7 - Kyoto to Tokyo: ~170 AUD
  • Total - ~488 AUD

As the 7-Day JR Pass costs 395 AUD, you get to save 93 AUD.

How important is travel time to you?

The JR Pass is valid on most Shinkansen lines, except on the Nozomi and the Mizuho trains, which are the fastest, traveling at superfast speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour.

A trip between Tokyo and Osaka, for instance, takes only 2 hours and 30 minutes, via the Nozomi. But, if want to use your JR Pass, you are stuck to taking the slower Shinkansen trains, like the Hikari and the Kodama, which take about 3 to 4 hours.