Japan Rail Pass discount purchase
The Japan Rail Pass (or 'JRP') is a transportation pass granting its holder full access to Japan Railway’s lines in Japan. The JR Pass allows unlimited use of all the company's trains, buses and ferries across Japan, anytime of the day, during 1, 2 or 3 weeks. This cost-effective ticket is only aimed at foreign tourists, who must order it before their arrival in Japan.
The Japanese railway network is highly developed, punctual with an excellent customer service; on the contrary, car 🚙 rental is generally complicated, expensive and not always convenient. Given the high cost of train travels in Japan, most tourists choose the Japan Rail Pass for their trips in the country.
The JRP is very useful for train travels between cities, especially with the Shinkansen, the quick and comfortable high-speed bullet train. But it can also be used on most local, regional and express transportations, anywhere in Japan, for example on some train lines in Tokyo such as the essential Yamanote Line, circling around the central districts of the capital.
In our Japan Sightseeing Guides, the "Information" section always specifies the transportation means necessary to access a certain destination. And most of the time, you can use the Japan Railway lines, and thus the JR Pass!
As you can see with this map, most of the country is served by the JR network, and accessible with the Japan Rail Pass:
🚄 How to use the JR Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass is available only to foreign tourists visiting Japan with the status of 'temporary visitor', i.e. with a ‘temporary’ visa stamped in the passport by custom agents upon arrival at the airport. Any other visa cancels the benefit of the JR Pass: marriage, any employment contract (including training programs), studying and even Working-Holidays visa. Japanese nationals living overseas are eligible to the JRP only if they have spent 10 consecutive years abroad (until December 31, 2025).
It is not possible to purchase a Japan Rail Pass in Japan. Ordering a voucher (or Exchange Order) before departure with an authorized sales agent outside Japan is the only way to buy a JR Pass. The voucher is valid for three months, and you can order it up to 90 days before the activation date in Japan. Some authorized sales agents, like Keikaku, even offer the possibility to order the JRP voucher more than three months in advance.
There is no digital version or PDF format for the JR Pass: the voucher is printed on a secure sheet of paper and is nominative. It is sent to the holder by postal mail or carrier.
The "Green"JR Pass is the equivalent of a first-class pass and is obviously more expensive, but with additional benefits detailed in the article below:
💶 How much is a Japan Rail Pass?
The JR Pass reference price is determined by Japan Railways, and is indicated in Japanese Yens (JPY). Its raw price has not changed since the creation of the pass, except for the occasional Japanese VAT increases (which are moderate and not frequent). The cost in Dollars or other currencies’ calculation is based on the exchange rates at the moment of purchasing the voucher. However, in October 2023 the price of the JR Pass was raised drastically, as we explain further down below.
To help you have a better understanding, we converted the following amounts to the current exchange rates. For an adult (12 years and older) the official price starts from ¥50,000 (~US$333.00) and increases according to the length of use and the chosen class. Children aged 6 to 11 years old pay half-price, and train in Japan 🚅 is free for children of 5 years old and younger.
For comparison purpose and to show how much cost-effective the JRP is, you will find below prices for round trips by Shinkansen on standard reserved seats (see these trips on our Japan Sightseeing Map):
- Tokyo - Kyoto: ¥28,340 (~US$188.70)
- Tokyo - Osaka: ¥29,440 (~US$196.10)
- Tokyo - Hiroshima: ¥38,880 (~US$258.90)
- Tokyo - Fukuoka: ¥46,780 (~US$311.60)
- Tokyo - Sapporo: ¥55,920 (~US$372.40)
Therefore a JR Pass often quickly pays off! Even the cheapest one can help save money on a simple Tokyo-Kyoto round trip, travels from / to the airport and other trips over 7 days.
💳 Where and how to buy the Japan Rail Pass?
Japan Railways did not set up any official website for direct purchase of the Japan Rail Pass, even though some try to confuse prospective travelers (be careful of scams!). The JR Pass is only sold by authorized retailers, located in their respective countries. If you find the right website, ordering the JR Pass online is easy, straightforward, affordable, and a comfortable solution.
Authorized sale agents can decide on the JR Pass purchase price according to the value of the service they add. However, be wary of prices that seem too cheap, as hidden fees may arise. Kanpai recommends Keikaku, a travel agency operating in France and Japan Railways certified sale agent, for the various benefits they provide:
- Prices among the lowest on the market (sometimes lower than the price in Yens!)
- Free shipping with tracked mail (or by express carrier)
- Same day shipping for every order placed before 1 p.m.
- Excellent customer service: proactive, efficient, and helpful by e-mail and by phone
- Simple and quick ordering system on their easy-to-use website
- Secure payment by all major credit cards (including American Express) or PayPal
- An expert team, with English speaking staff in France and in Japan
See the comparative table below to choose your Japan Rail Pass provider:
Purchasing a Japan Rail Pass in Japan used to be possible between March 2017 and September 2023, in a handful of the country’s largest stations, but this service has been discontinued as of October 2023. The pass was paid in Yens, with a surcharge applied by the Japan Railways, to which bank and change fees were added, so the operation had no particular value.
🚉 How to exchange the voucher and select a starting date for the JR Pass?
The JR Pass voucher (Exchange order) must be exchanged for an actual JR Pass upon arrival in Japan at a JR ticket office in one of the numerous JR stations (See list of the stations). For this, you just need to hand your voucher to a JR staff, show them your passport and fill in a short form. You can then choose a starting date for the JRP according to your needs: on the same day or up to 30 days later. Many travelers start to use the JR Pass as soon as they arrive in one of Tokyo's Airports to avoid paying the train fare to the city.
Since 2022, the JR Pass looks like a standard Japanese train ticket, with a QR Code, the holder's passport number and the validity dates clearly stated in a Western-style format (instead of the Japanese dates).
Be aware that the JR Pass is valid for full consecutive days, and not for 24 hours periods. For example, if you start the 7-days pass a Monday at noon, you can use it up to Sunday night, not until next Monday noon.
It is naturally possible to order several Japan Rail Passes to use in a row.
🚅 How to book a seat in the Shinkansen with the JRP?
In Japan, reserving seats in trains is not compulsory (you can travel in "non-reserved seats cars") and is free with the JR Pass.
If you choose to book a seat, go to a JR counter in any train station with your Japan Rail Pass. These ticket offices are called "Midori-no-madoguchi" and are easily identifiable by their green logo. You can book for free all the train tickets you need for your trips, even if you have not started your JR Pass yet.
It is also usually possible to book for free at the vending machines in the stations. English language is available. Prepare your JR Pass as you will need to scan its QR Code, your passport number and follow the instructions on the machine to issue your seat reservation ticket.
Note that since May 2020, seat reservation may be required when traveling with oversize baggage in the Shinkansen:
During vacation times in Japan, such as the New Year holidays (December 28 to January 6), Golden Week (April 27 to May 6) and the ‘Obon’ period (August 11 to 20) it can be difficult to book a seat, because trains are full of Japanese people traveling back and forth from the cities to their hometowns.
💺 Additional information about the JR Pass
To access your platform, you don’t need to show your JR Pass to a gate attendant anymore: just slip the ticket in the automatic gate. The machine will read it and return it, so don’t forget to retrieve it! Inside the train, show your JRP to the on board crew, as well as the ticket for the seat you reserved earlier, if applicable.
Important notice: The Japan Rail Pass does NOT include:
- The fastest Shinkansen (especially ‘Nozomi’ trains, however they only save 15-20 minutes on a Tokyo-Kyoto trip), but includes every other type of trains, such as ‘Hikari’ and ‘Kodama’;
- The subway in Tokyo, managed by private companies, but there are numerous JR train lines in the capital;
- The ferry to South Korea Hakata-Pusan "Beetle II" (but you can use it on the ferry Hiroshima-Miyajima);
- Okinawa Island, as trains are scarce there.
Japan Railways (JR) is the largest rail network in Japan. It covers more than 12,000 miles (about 20,000 km) of tracks and serves the four main islands, at a rate of 26,000 departures per day on average. JR trains combine speed (up to 180mph), punctuality and comfort. Many network extensions are under construction in the country, even for the Shinkansen.
The Japan Rail Pass also grants a 10% discount in JR group’s hotels 🏨 during its validity period.
📈 Major price increase of the Japan Rail Pass on October 1st, 2023
On April 14, 2023, the Japan Railways announced a 65 to 70 % (!) rise of the nationwide JR Pass prices starting October the same year. The inflation on this product is indeed strong, but its impact is somehow softened by the weakness of the Yen 💴. For the record, compared to 2010 to 2012’s currency exchange rates, and even 2016’s, the purchase price in Euros or USD was already almost as expensive.
As the voucher can be exchanged within a 3 months delay in Japan, it was possible to buy the Japan Rail Pass at an affordable price for an activation before Christmas time.
However, it is impossible to order and use a Pass for 2024 at the same price it used to be before the rise.
Therefore, from October on, the 7-days Pass, often used for the Tokyo-Kyoto round trip, is the one that will certainly lose its edge. A survey indeed found that 70% of foreign visitors are unlikely to purchase the 7-Days Japan Rail Pass after the price increase.
Fortunately, it can sometimes be replaced by the Hokuriku Arch Pass, for an approx. cost of ~US$166.50, that covers trips from Tokyo (and its 2 airports) to the Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe and KIX airport) going through the Japanese Alps (Kanazawa, Toyama, Nagano, etc).
The 14-days Pass will be the more cost-effective to enjoy unlimited train in Japan on a relatively long period.
Among the anticipated areas of improvements from October are:
- The possibility to take the fastest trains (Nozomi and Mizuho) upon paying an additional fare, which was impossible before ;
- Discounts for sightseeing destinations (the list to be announced later).
However, this price hike is detrimental to countryside and less touristy areas, as the nationwide Pass allowed discoveries beside the "golden route".
Lastly, the JR Pass will not be available for purchase in Japan’s largest stations anymore.
While we do not recommend them, there are alternatives to the JR Pass:
- Domestic flights ✈️: in addition to a heavy carbon footprint, the trips are actually longer and more expensive than the prices initially displayed, especially when taking into account the trips to the airports (often costly and far from the cities) and the mandatory 1 to 2 hours waiting time before take-off.
- Rental cars: not to mention the cost of fuel, speed limit in Japan is low (100 km/h / 62 mph maximum on highways!), tolls are numerous and expensive, as are the parking fees, often with difficulties to find one, but mainly the quasi-impossibility of dropping the vehicle off in another rental agency in Japan (which makes the service ineffective).
🚃 What are JR Regional Passes?
Japan Railways also provides several regional passes. They are more specific, and sometimes less expensive, always intended for foreign tourists. However, they are limited to some specific areas of Japan, are not flexible and are often less competitive than a JR Pass. They have interesting features only if your trip and itinerary are exactly covered by the regional pass. For example, there is no regional pass covering both Tokyo and Kyoto.
Regional passes for Hokkaido, Eastern Japan (Kanto), Hakone, Kansai, Shikoku, Sanyo and Kyushu exist, as well as some temporary passes. Prices and targeted areas often vary so it makes it difficult to understand and plan ahead. It is possible to purchase those passes in advance, or in Japan, with an additional charge.
Most of the time, regional passes are not as cost-effective as the national Japan Rail Pass. You can still try to evaluate if they fit the needs of your trip on Keikaku’s Website, where you can also order Regional Passes. In addition to the JR Pass, don’t forget to order a Suica Card / Icoca, a must-have for bus and metro trips outside the JR network.
Have a nice trip!