Which Japan Rail Pass Is Right For You?

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 08.04.2024

From subtropical beaches, to snow-capped mountains, and the world’s biggest city, it’s fair to say Japan offers travellers a richness of unforgettable experiences. To help you make the most of your trip and get around Japan by train with ease, for less, read the Rough Guide to the Japan Rail Pass.

What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass (JR pass), is a discounted rail ticket that gives you unlimited access to Japan Rail National trains, bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers. 

Before running through the benefits of buying a JR pass, we should raise some important preliminary points so you can decide whether you need one, and if you’re eligible to purchase one.  

Firstly, in order to buy a full Japan rail pass, you must be travelling on a “temporary visit” visa that’s valid for stays of up to 90 days.  

While the JR pass can also be used by Japanese nationals who can prove they’ve been permanently residing abroad for at least ten years, it can’t be used by residents of Japan. 

Secondly, note that the Japan rail pass is not valid on the Nozomi Shinkansen trains — the fastest class of bullet train. If you’re caught on one of these, even unwittingly, you’ll be liable for the full fare for the trip. But, while the Nozomi isn’t included, JR pass holders can ride the Hikari Shinkansen bullet service on the same route. 

Now those important details are out of the way, in short, it’s worth buying a JR pass for even the most moderate itinerary. For example, a 7-day JR Pass costs around 29,000 yen. A return ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto costs around 28,000 yen.

So, if you only use your JR pass to get and from the airport, and take a return-trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, you’ll have saved money.  

Considering a trip that takes in Tokyo and Kyoto? Read up on where to visit first, find out why Kyoto will win over your heart, and read up on quirky Tokyo

As well as saving you money, having a JR pass will also save you time — no more having to buy tickets for every journey you decide to take.


With a Japan Rail Pass, you'll save money by just taking a train from Tokyo to Kyoto © Shutterstock

Different types of JR Passes 

The first question to consider when choosing your JR rail pass, is whether you should go for a Standard Pass or a Green Car Pass, the latter of which is the pricier first-class option.  

Standard Class versus Green Pass 

Green Cars are found on shinkansen (bullet trains) and tokkyu (limited express trains). As for what you’ll get for your money, Green Cars are comfier, more spacious, and tend to be less crowded. 

In addition, all Green Cars seats are reserved. While that’s great if you plan and book ahead, this means you can’t just hop aboard and grab a seat. 

It’s also worth knowing that standards are high on all Japanese trains. So, if you’re not that bothered about having more space, you’re likely to be perfectly happy with the Standard Pass option. 

In short, Standard Passes are cheaper and more flexible. Green Passes are more expensive and less flexible, but come with more space and comfort.

Want to avoid crowds? In addition to considering going for a Green Rail Pass, you might want to read up on how to get off the tourist trail in Japan


Sleek and speedy bullet trains in Japan © Shutterstock

How many days can I buy a JP Pass for?

After deciding whether to go for a Green or Standard Pass, select how many days you need it for. You can take your pick from a 7-day pass, 14-day pass, or a 21-day pass.  

Here are sample prices for the different durations and classes of Pass:

    Standard Pass

  • 7-day pass £172
  • 14-day pass £274
  • 21-day pass £351  

    Green Pass

  • 7-day pass £228
  • 14-day pass £398
  • 21-day pass £483 

Are there Japan Rail Pass discounts for children?

Children under 6 can travel on all JR trains and buses for free. Note, seats can’t be reserved for them, so they have to sit on your lap. 

JR Passes for children aged 6-11 are 50% less than the adult price, and seats can be reserved for them.

Children over 11 aren’t eligible for any discounts — they need an adult JR Pass.  

Travelling with kids? Read up on how to plan a family holiday to Japan.

Maglev - Shanghai bullet train

Maglev—Shanghai bullet train © Shutterstock

How and where to buy a JR Pass 

Now you know a thing or two about the Japan Rail Pass, let's dive deeper into how and where you can but such a pass.


For the best price, and greater convenience, your best bet is to buy your JR Pass online ahead of your trip. 

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be sent an Exchange Order (JR voucher) by post. You can opt to have this sent your home address before you travel, or have it delivered to your temporary residence in Japan. 

On arriving in Japan, your voucher needs to be exchanged for the actual pass, within three months of when the Exchange Order is issued. 

Selected locations in Japan

For the time being, you can buy a Japan Rail Pass from certain train stations and airports in Japan.  

Note that it’s more expensive to buy a JR Pass in Japan than to pre-purchase it online. 

Note also that this in-person option is available until 31st March 2024 — Japan Railways hasn’t yet announced whether this will be extended beyond that date. 

Until 31st March 2024, you can buy a JR Pass from the following locations: 

  • Train stations: Hakata, Hiroshima, Nagoya, Niigata, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Shinjuku, Takamatsu, Tokyo, Yokohama.
  • Airports: Haneda, Kansai,, Narita, New Chitose.
Osaka castle, Japan ©  comzeal images/Shutterstock

Use your JR Pass to travel to Osaka in style. Osaka castle, Japan © comzeal images/Shutterstock

What transport can I use with a JR Pass? 

A common misunderstanding is that the Japan Rail Pass is only available for train travel, which is not the case. With this pass, you can use (certain) buses and ferries too.


The Japan Rail Pass covers all JR Group limited express trains, express trains, rapid and local trains.  

Shinkansen bullet trains are also covered, with the exception of Nozomi and Mizuho. 

In addition, you can use your JR Pass on the Tokyo Monorail, Tokyo Metro, the Aoimori Railway between Aomori and Hachinohe, the Ainokaze Toyama Railway between Toyama and Takaoka, the Narita Express from Narita Airport to Tokyo. and the IR Ishikawa Railway line between Kanazawa and Tsubata.   


The JR Pass is valid on some local JR bus lines including JR Hokkaido Bus, JR Tohoku Bus, JR Kanto Bus, JR Tokai Bus, West Japan, JR Bus, JR Chugoku bus, JR Shikoku Bus, and JR Kyushu Bus. 

Note the JR Pass is not valid on express bus routes, even if they’re operated by JR Bus. 


In good news for nature lovers, your JR Pass is valid on the JR-West Miyajima ferry services, which can take you to magical Miyajima Island, part of Setonaikai National Park. 

Note the JR-Kyushu ferry between Hakata and Pusan is not included in JR Passes.

Use your JR Pass to visit Kyoto © Shutterstock

Where can you travel with a JR Pass?

In short, pretty much anywhere, depending on how long you have in Japan! 

For example, if you have seven days, you could try the following popular and eminently rewarding route using your JR Pass.

Example itinerary: Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara

Spend your first three days in Tokyo, including taking a day trip to see the giant bronze Buddha statue in Kamakura. You can get there with your Japan Rail Pass on Tokaido Line from Tokyo Station, and changing to the Yokosuka Line at Totsuka Station. 

Then travel to Kyoto for a few days to see the romantic Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Handily, it’s a ten-minute walk distance from the Saga Arashiyama Station. You’ll also want to take-in Kyoto’s temples and gardens. 

Next, take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station to reach Nara in under an hour. Japan’s first permanent capital boasts a bounty of culture and heritage. 

Another recommended route is to travel by train from Tokyo to Osaka.

Japan, Osaka sakura - cherry blossom ©  Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Osaka, Japan © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Coverage of islands

The good news is, your JR Pass will enable you to visit a vast diversity of Japan’s islands.

For example, slow-paced, shrine-rich Shikoku — the smallest of Japan’s four main islands — comes recommended for travellers who want to mix ancient heritage with modern art. 

In addition, visiting Shikoku by train is an experience in itself. The Marine Liner train offers incredible views of the sea and islands, and you’ll cross the double-decker Great Seto Ohashi Bridge. 

Want more island inspiration? Discover the magic of island-hopping Japan’s Aichi prefecture

View over the Kankakei gorge on Shodoshima Island, Kagawa, Shikoku, Japan

Explore Shikoku using your JR Pass © Shutterstock

Using your Japan Rail Pass

Using te JR Pass is straightforward and will explain itself when you use it. However, we do want to share our best tips.

Reserving seats on shinkansen trains 

While you’ll usually find free seats on the bullet train, you’d be wise to reserve your seats during peak commuting hours and holiday periods.

To do that, for no extra charge, head to the train station’s Midori no Madoguchi ticket office with your JR Pass and tell the attendant which train you want to reserve a seat/s on.

They’ll then present you with a reserved seat ticket — simple! 

Once you’re on the train, you’ll need to show your JR Pass and seat reservation to the ticket inspector.  

Activating and exchanging the JR Pass 

Once you arrive in Japan, go to any of the JR Exchange offices at airport terminals, train stations, or metro stations to make the exchange with your JR Exchange Order.

You need your passport (with a Temporary visitor stamp/sticker in it) and the physical Exchange Order. Only the original document is accepted.

You can then choose the first day you wish to start using it.

Additional JR Pass benefits and discounts

One extra benefit is the option to secure seat reservations and seat selection for free. 

In addition, the JR Group operates a variety of hotels around the country, and JR Pass holders can get a discount of 10-15% on normal hotel rates and up to 30% discount on special rates.   

Opted for a Green Pass? Depending on the train, you might get a free drink, oshibori hand towel, and sweets.  

On a budget? Japan’s night trains are included in the JR Pass, which means you could save on accommodation costs. For example, the Sunrise Express travels overnight between Tokyo and Osaka.


Use your JR Pass to soak up epic scenery © Shutterstock

Exploring lesser-known places with a JR Pass

With the freedom your Japan Rail Pass gives you, it would be a crying shame not to take advantage of it to explore some of Japan’s lesser-visited destinations.  

Here’s an overview of just few of the rewarding places you could easily visit using your JR Pass.


Laden with richly diverse heritage and glorious gardens, Kanazawa is the perfect place for culture vultures who are looking  to experience a range of Japanese attractions.

Among the city’s many highlights, Kenrokuen Garden is the jewel in Kanazawa’s crown. One of Japan’s Three Great Gardens, it’s been designed to dazzle in every season.

Visit in spring for the enchanting cherry blossom, or head here in autumn to be amazed by blazes of fiery orange-and-gold leaves.

Meanwhile, the Higashi Chaya District sees old geisha houses take centre stage. 

Getting there: use your JR Pass to reach Kanazawa from Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka in just 2-3 hours.

Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa

Your JR Pass can get you to Kanazawa © Shutterstock


When an international port opened in Yokohama in 1859, this once-sleepy fishing village begin its transformation into Japan’s second biggest city.

Today disused dockyards have been regenerated as Yokohama’s thriving central business district, with its Landmark Tower offering epic views that extend across Tokyo to Mount Fuji.

Yokohama is also home to a huge range of museums that’ll keep all ages happy, and one of the largest Chinatowns in Asia. 

Getting there: Yokohama is less than an hour from Tokyo by train, and covered by your JR Pass.


China town in Yokohama © Shutterstock


Famed for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, the modern mountain city of Nagano is scenically positioned, and offers many rewarding experiences for skiers and non-skiers alike. 

Surrounded by orchards and snow-capped peaks, millions of pilgrims flock to Nagano each year to visit Zenkō-ji Temple, home of a legendary sixth-century image of Buddha. 

Another attraction round these parts is Jigokudani Monkey Park. Close to the city, the snow-surrounded hot springs here see countless Japanese macaques enjoy an al fresco spa. 

Getting there: use your JR Pass to reach Nagano from Tokyo. It’ll take you around 1.5 hours by train.

Japan Rail Pass FAQs

While we’ve covered all the pertinent must-know information above, here are the answers to other questions that might crop up when you’re considering getting yourself a JR Pass, or when you have one. 

Can I use an email confirmation to receive my JR Pass in Japan?

In a word: no. Due to Japanese Government regulations, to receive your Japan Rail Pass you must show your physical Exchange Order at an exchange office.  

You must also show your actual passport (no scans or photos) stamped to show you’re a temporary visitor.

When will my Japan Rail Pass arrive?

The standard delivery time is two business days. After placing your order online, you’ll be emailed tracking information.  

Yikes! I don’t think I’ll receive my JR Pass Exchange Order in time. What can I do?

You can opt to have your JR Pass delivered to your accommodation in Japan. Just make sure you have the correct address details. 

If my travel plans change, can I cancel my Japan Rail Pass?

As long as it hasn’t been exchanged or used, you can cancel your JR Pass. Once it’s been exchanged, you can’t cancel it, or get a refund. 

Can I change the days on which I wish to use the Japan Rail Pass?

Once your Japan Rail Pass has been activated by swapping your Exchange Order for your JR Pass, you can no longer change the selected days. 

Can I use my Japan Rail Pass from the airport?

Good news — the JR Pass is valid on the JR lines connecting the main airports to the main cities. But don't forget, you need to swap your Exchange Order for the actual pass before you can start using it.

Help! My JR Pass has been lost/stolen. What should I do?

While they don’t issue refunds, or provide a new pass, you’re advised to contact Japan Rail Pass S.L. immediately.  


Magnificent Mount Fuji, Japan © Shutterstock

To sum up, if you’re planning to visit Japan and want to explore beyond your immediate destination, the JR Pass will save you money and time, with additional benefits adding to its value. 

    Our concluding tips: 

  • Order your JR Pass online in good time
  • Activate your JR Pass for a start date that'll enable you to make the most of it.
  • Enjoy your journeys around Japan!

Considering taking a trip to Japan? Discover the best things to do in Japan, and get The Rough Guide to Japan. You might also want to browse our customisable Japan itineraries.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 08.04.2024

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