Konnichiwa! It’s Miyako here.
Since I have worked for JR East before (still sometimes…) and used to be a JR pass expert at Tokyo station, I’m going to talk about the JR pass to explain the eligibility, how to use, and price etc. I’d been taking care of a lot of foreign customers who use JR pass, but many don’t really know how they can use it properly and wisely. If you’ve never heard of JR pass and thinking to come to Japan, you should know what it is and consider getting it depending on your travel plan.
What is JR pass?
First of all, do you know what the JR pass is? JR stands for Japan Rail, which is the largest Railway group company in Japan. It used to own by government as Japanese National Railways until 1987 but it had privatized into 7 different JR group companies such as JR Hokkaido,JR East, JR Tokai, JR West,JR Shikoku, JR Kyushu, JR Cargo.
Japan Rail network runs all across Japan so that you can travel around Japan by trains. The Japan Rail Pass a.k.a. JR pass is offered by those 6 JR companies (except JR cargo) separated by region of Japan. They also have their own regional passes but JR pass is the most economical way to travel throughout Japan by trains if you are planning to visit different cities in different regions. It was made for foreign tourists and it’s basically a all-you-can-ride pass for the trains using Japan Rail network across Japan EXCEPT NOZOMI and MIZUHO bullet trains. There are consecutive 7 days, 14 days ,and 21 days pass available.
The Price and Type
The price is above. The fare includes Express fee and seat reservation fee for Limited Express and Shinkansen bullet trains.
JR has 2 different type of seat selection for Ordinary Car and Green Car. Green Car is a superior class which has a Green car attendant and slightly wider seats than ordinary car. JR East has Gran Class on Bullet Train for Northern area, which is luxury and higher class than Green Car, cannot be covered by JR pass even though you have Green Car pass.
Child fare applies between 6 to 11 years old. Under 5 year old can travel FREE if they don’t need seats. If you want to get a reserved seat. For a child under 5, simply buy a child fare pass.
JR pass can be purchased in Japan at least until March 31st, 2019 but it’s only limited places like major stations in big cites and some airports. And also It’s more expensive if you get it in Japan. So we DO recommend to get the exchange voucher before coming to Japan. It’s available in some local travel agency in your country or region, or you can also order online. But remember especially when you buy it online, you have to meet the eligibility requirements to use the JR pass.
Eligibility: Who can use it?
JR pass is NOT for everyone. It is for short time stay foreign tourists with up to 90 days in Japan. You have to get a short time stay stamp or sticker on your passport at immigration when you enter the country and show it when you activate your actual JR pass at major JR train stations. That means, if you are a Japanese residents or coming to Japan with a visa such as study, training, entertainment or work, unfortunately you are not qualified to use the pass.
Though it happens that some people buy it online or other people buy it for someone else without knowing the requirements, the vouchers cannot be exchanged in Japan to JR pass if you fail to show your passport with the stamp/sticker.
Also, be careful when you use automated gates at airport to enter Japan, you need to ask staff to get a a stamp on your passport. The person’s name is on the voucher, so it cannot transfer to someone else either. If you are rejected to exchange the voucher to the JR pass in Japan, you can get a refund at the place you bought the voucher within one year from the date of issue. But cancellation charge will apply.
The validity of the voucher to exchange is within 3 months from the date of issue, so if you keep the voucher too long, you cannot activate it so be careful with that too!
How to use JR pass
After you succeed to get an actual JR pass, you can start the travel! Actually you can choose the starting date of use within one month when you activate your pass, please get a stamp for first time of use at gate when you pass through the gate for the first time (right bottom of the picture). JR pass users CANNOT use automatic gate, you need to show date on your JR pass to station staff every time you go through manned gates at JR stations.
When you take bullet trains or limited express trains, it’s free of charge to make seat reservations. You can go to any JR ticket counter with your pass and get assigned seat tickets. Some trains are reservation required such as bullet train HAYABUSA/HAYATE/KOMACHI to go to North part of Japan, bullet train Kagayaki for Kanazawa, and NARITA EXPRESS to Narita Airport.
JR Pass works all the JR lines but there are 2 JR bullet trains you cannot use with your pass: NOZOMI and MIZUHO. NOZOMI bullet train is the fastest bullet train connecting Tokyo to Hakata(FUKUOKA) via Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima, but you can still use it for other bullet trains to travel to those cities. (like HIKARI and SAKURA bullet trains).
JR is not only one train company in Japan but it is the biggest railway company in Japan. JR pass works only for JR lines so Non-JR lines such as Subway or Metro cannot be covered. Especially a big city like TOKYO has so many other train companies and complicated train network, a lot of people get confused which ones are actually JR lines. You can get JR train map at JR station so it helps you to figure out how you can get to your destination with minimum cost by JR trains or simply ask at JR information counter!
Does it worth it?
Shinkansen Hayabusa, connecting Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate Hokuto(Hokkaido) by 320km/h
If you stay in one city or one region, definitely not worth it. But if you plan to travel one region to another by bullet trains and limited express trains, it should be considered.
JR pass cannot cover all your transport in Japan, but it does save you a lot of money if you plan your trip. Bullet trains are very expensive and domestic flights are often cheaper. But bullet trains are comfortable and you can enjoy the scenery too, and it sometimes save a lot of time rather than a flight.
A lot of people combine with JR pass and IC card or Metro pass etc. But JR pass pays off one round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto by bullet train if you get a 7 days pass!
All the Japanese people wish to have this privilege, WHY NOT USE IT!?