Japan has one of the world’s best transport systems. An integrated system of shinkansen bullet trains, express trains, highway buses, local buses, subways and taxis will get you where you want to go, quickly, on time and safely. What’s more, Japanese railway stations are models of efficiency and often include shopping centers, hotels and other services such as rental car offices and bus stations.
Japan has excellent public transport, whether you are traveling by shinkansen, plane, express train, highway bus, city bus, or ferry.
Japan’s train, bus and subway networks are efficient and punctual and compared with other countries extremely safe.
Costs may be on the high side but standards of service and efficiency are correspondingly reliable.
Frequently, Japan visitors and residents are striking out on their own by car hire or bicycle.
Part of visiting Japan is enjoying the comfort, safety and reliability of its various modes of getting around from shinkansen to steam train and from Tokyo taxi to Kyushu ferry boat.
Japan Rail Pass
Shinkansen Bullet Train Japan
The Japan Rail Pass makes long-distance travel around Japan much more affordable. The Japan Rail Pass cannot be purchased inside Japan, so must be purchased overseas and reserved from 3 months before intended use.
- Valid for all JR Group local & regional trains throughout Japan except for the the super-express Nozomi on the Tokaido and Sanyo shinkansen bullet train and except for the super-express “Mizuho” on the Kyushu shinkansen line.
- Usable on JR-operated local and highway bus services.
- Usable on the Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi ferry (Hiroshima Prefecture).
To be able to purchase a Japan Rail Pass, you must show that you will be a temporary visitor to Japan, and show your passport containing a Temporary Visitor visa stamp before coming to Japan.
In your home country, first buy an Exchange Order online, or at a JR licensed travel agent. Once you arrive in Japan, exchange it for a Japan Rail Pass at any Japan Rail Pass Exchange Office in Japan, including at Narita International Airport. At that time you must specify the date on which you intend using the Pass – a date within a month of receiving your Pass.
Prices below are in Japanese yen. These prices are automatically converted to, and charged in, your local currency on the JR sales website.
The Japan Rail Pass also entitles the bearer to a 10% discount at JR Group hotels.
Purchase a Japan Rail Pass.
Should I buy a Japan Rail Pass?
Purchase of a Japan Rail Pass is highly recommended if you are planning to visit Japan on a Temporary Visitor (typically 90 days) visa, and if you are planning to travel considerable distances within Japan.
The Japan Rail Pass gives you almost unlimited use of the lines of the six regional companies that make up the the Japan Rail (JR) Group: JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku, JR West, JR Central, JR East, and JR Hokkaido – covering the whole of Japan, as well as many JR buses, and even a JR ferry (Hiroshima to Miyajima Island.)
The Japan Rail Pass allows you travel around Japan, as you like, at a fraction of the price it would cost to buy a ticket for every leg of your travels. For example, even the most expensive Japan Rail Pass option: the 21-day Green (1st class reserved) pass at 79,600 yen is still much cheaper than if you were to buy the cheapest unreserved shinkansen (bullet train) seats for Tokyo-Sapporo-Kyoto-Fukuoka and back to Tokyo (which comes to over 100,000 yen.) So for even a short stay in Japan, buying a Japan Rail Pass before you come is sure to work out cheaper, not to mention more convenient, if you are intending to travel around the country.
Validity of the Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass can be used on all Japan Rail lines and many JR buses.
The Japan Rail Pass can be used on all shinkansen (bullet trains) except for two classes of high-speed shinkansen: the Nozomi express (on the Tokaido and Sanyo shinkansen lines) and the Mizuho express. Of course, it can also be used on all regular limited express, ordinary express, rapid, and local trains on JR lines across Japan.
However, with both the Green and Ordinary Japan Rail Pass, surcharges apply if you want a sleeping car, a private compartment, or the “GranClass” (airplane-style business class). More about exceptions to the Japan Rail Pass.
The Japan Rail Pass is valid on the following JR buses: local lines of JR bus companies (JR Hokkaido Bus, JR Tohoku Bus, JR Kanto Bus, JR Tokai Bus, West Japan JR Bus, JR Chugoku Bus, JR Shikoku Bus, JR Kyushu Bus) and some JR highway bus services (Sapporo-Otaru; Morioka-Hirosaki; Tokyo-Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Tsukuba Center; Nagoya-Kyoto, Osaka; Osaka-Tsuyama, Kasai Flower Center). More about using the bus with the Japan Rail Pass.
Types of Japan Rail Pass
A Japan Rail Pass is available in either “Green” (1st class reserved cars) or “Ordinary,” for an adult or a child (half-price), and for 7, 14, or 21 days. Children aged 6 or under travel free.
Eligibility for the Japan Rail Pass
You must have Temporary Visitor immigration status in order to be given a Japan Rail Pass. The Temporary Visitor visa is called tanki-taizai (“tan-key tie-zye”) in Japanese. Please ensure that this is the status by which you will be entering Japan. The Temporary Visitor visa is typically for 90 days, but may be for 15 or 30 days. Temporary Visitor Visas for all three periods are eligible. However, other short-term visas, such as “Trainee” or “Entertainer” are not eligible for the Japan Rail Pass; neither is a Re-Entry Permit.
Japanese citizens are eligible to purchase the Japan Rail Pass only if they have the right to reside permanently in a country other than Japan, or if married to a non-Japanese citizen who resides outside of Japan. Documentary evidence of current residential status is required.
On arrival in Japan, the bearer of an Exchange Order must present a passport bearing the Temporary Visitor immigration stamp in order to receive the Japan Rail Pass. A photocopy of a passport will not do. It must be an actual passport bearing an actual immigration stamp.
Exceptions to the Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass (Green and Ordinary) cannot be used for:
- the Nozomi express (the fastest train on the Tokaido and Sanyo shinkansen lines) and the Mizuho express (the fastest train on the Kyushu shinkansen line).
- an ordinary private compartment or a Green private compartment on a shinkansen or limited express train, but an ordinary private compartment or a Green private compartment can be reserved upon the payment of a surcharge and the necessary limited express charge.
- the GranClass, but GranClass seats can be reserved upon the payment of a surcharge and the necessary limited or ordinary express charge.
- a limited express or ordinary express sleeping car berth, but a berth on a sleeping car can be reserved upon the payment of a surcharge and the necessary limited express charge.
- a so-called “Home Liner” train. There are few such trains, but they are basically commuter trains designed to ensure that people on long commutes can get a seat, so unlikely to be of much use when touring Japan.
- the JR ferry from Hakata to Pusan (Korea).
The Aoimori Railway Line between Aomori and Hachinohe, being a non-JR line, involves some restrictions. The Japan Rail Pass is only good between Aomori and Hachinohe stations:
- if the passenger stays on the train the whole way between Aomori and Hachinohe stations, or
- if the passenger changes at Noheji Station (on the Aoimori Railway Line) to the JR Ominato Line.
In other words, the Japan Rail Pass is good for non-stop transit only between Aomori and Hachinohe. However, the Japan Rail Pass cannot be used at all for sleeper cars on the Aoimori Railway Line.
Using the Bus with a Japan Rail Pass
Some JR highway bus services can be used with the Japan Rail Pass. They are:
- Sapporo to Otaru, on the Sasson Line of JR Hokkaido Bus Co.
- Morioka to Hirosaki, on the Yodel-go Line, served by four different bus companies: Konan Bus, JR Tohoku
Bus, Iwate Kenpoku Bus, Iwate-ken Kotsu Bus.
- Tokyo to Nagoya, JR Tomei Highway Bus
- Tokyo to Kyoto, JR Dream Kyoto-go Bus
- Tokyo to Osaka, JR Dream Osaka-go Bus
- Tokyo to Tsukuba Center, JR Tsukuba-go Bus
- Nagoya to Kyoto, JR Meishin Highway Bus
- Nagoya to Osaka, JR Meishin Highway Bus
- Osaka to Tsuyama, JR Chugoku Highway Bus
- Osaka to Kasai Flower Center, JR Chugoku Highway Bus
Where to buy the Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass cannot be purchased once you arrive in Japan, but only beforehand, outside of Japan, in the form of what is called an Exchange Order. A Japan Rail Pass is obtained in Japan by presenting the pre-purchased Exchange Order.
An Exchange Order for a Japan Rail Pass can be purchased only from outside Japan, from a number of Japan-related or Japanese travel agencies worldwide. The Exchange Order for a Japan Rail Pass must be purchased 3 months or less before you plan to start using the Japan Rail Pass.
Vendors of an Exchange Order for the Japan Rail Pass (by definition, outside of Japan):
- JAL offices (however sale of the Japan Rail Pass is limited to passengers on a JAL flight).
- ANA offices (however sale of the Japan Rail Pass is limited to passengers on an ANA flight).
- JTB Corporation authorized travel agents
- KNT (Kintetsu International) authorized travel agents
- Nippon Travel Agency authorized travel agents
- Toptour Corporation authorized travel agents
- JALPAK Group authorized travel agents
How to Exchange an Exchange Order for a Japan Rail Pass and Activate Your Pass
Once you are in Japan, to receive a Japan Rail Pass you must present your Exchange Order, pre-purchased overseas, within three months of the purchase date, to a Japan Rail Pass Exchange Office. At this time, you must show your passport, containing a Temporary Visitor visa stamp. Japan Rail Pass Exchange Offices are typically within a railway station at the Midori no Madoguchi (“Green Window”) desk, but also available at several airports. See a list of main Japan Rail Pass Exchange Offices.
Once you have submitted the Exchange Order and received your JR Rail Pass, you must then specify an activation date from when to use your Pass. The activation date must be within 30 days of the Pass being issued.
Seat Reservations with a Japan Rail Pass
Reserving train seats using your Japan Rail Pass doesn’t cost you anything. You only pay extra if you want to upgrade your seat from what your Pass entitles you, for example, from a seat in an ordinary car to one in a Green Car, or to a seat on a super-express shinkansen (Nozomi or Mizuho).
Japan Rail Pass Refunds
No refunds are available for the Japan Rail Pass. For example, if you have a Green Japan Rail Pass (a Japan Rail Pass for the first class section or Green Car) and choose to travel in a non-reserved seat, you cannot get a refund for the price difference. If you try to reserve a seat with Green Japan Rail Pass but no reserved seats are available, you may not get a refund for having to travel in a non-reserved seat.