Japan Rail Pass Overview

When you start planning your trip to Japan a key question for most travellers is whether you need to buy a Japan Rail JR Pass and what is the cheapest option.  If you search in Google for Japan Rail Passes you are immediately inundated with many websites advertising themselves as the best place to buy your JR pass, and it can be somewhat confusing to work out the best place to purchase your JR Pass online at the most affordable price.

On our recent trip to Japan one of the things which made travelling around Japan really easy was using a Japan Rail Pass.  When you have a JR Pass you can easily reserve seats for your preferred train services, switch and change your reservations and also go around Japan on the unreserved train carriages.

In our case we used 21 day JR Rail Passes for our four week family visit to Japan and we had a great time exploring!  We started our trip with 10 days in Tokyo, so activated our Japan train pass to be used for the final 21 calendar days of our trip so that we could maximise the value of our passes.

The aim of this article is to help answer those questions so you can buy the cheapest JR Pass online with confidence.

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You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group and our new Japan Travel Planning Discord Server – they are great resources to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

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Quick Links

Klook is currently the cheapest option to purchase Japan Rail Passes for the following countries (note that these are the countries that Klook currently ship to) which includes free delivery.  Klook is a reputable online travel agency which has its main focus to sell tickets, tours and may other travel options for primarily Asian countries.

  • Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK and Canada
  • Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Mainland China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam
  • Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden

Click here to check out pricing and book your Japan Rail Pass through Klook.  Use coupon code MDE8G to get a $A5 discount off your first order!

Voyagin is a reputable online travel agency which is located in Japan and are very well known in Japan and many other Asian countries.  Voyagin offers a great service to deliver your Japan Bullet Train Pass globally within a short time period.

To order your JR Pass through Voyagin, first decide whether you want to buy a 7 Day, 14 Day or 21 Day JR Pass, and whether you plan to travel in First Class (Green Class) or Second Class (Ordinary Class).  Click here to open the Voyagin Japan Rail Pass Page which includes all JR Pass options

Click here to check out pricing and book your Japan Rail Pass through Voyagin

For other countries the cheapest JR Pass is available through JRailPass.com.   JRailPass.com is a reputable travel agency who sell Japan Rail Passes online and ships to every country worldwide.

Click here to check out pricing and book your Japan Rail Pass through JRailPass.com

For more detailed information read further down in this article.

What is a Japan Rail Pass?

A National Japan Rail Pass is a pass only available for visitors to Japan which enables you to travel on most bullet trains (or shinakansen) as well as other Japan Rail company trains, buses and ferries throughout Japan – further details on specific inclusions and exclusions are lower in this article.  Japan Rail passes can be purchased for either 7 day, 14 day or 21 day periods, and you can purchase either First Class (Green) or Second Class (Ordinary) passes.  Child Japan Rail Passes are available for visitors aged 6-11 years old, and up to two children or infants aged 5 or under are free as long as they do not need to occupy their own seat.

Your Japan Rail Pass includes the option to reserve your seats on the shinkansen at no extra cost, however in non-peak times a great option is to hop on and off the unreserved seating cars without needing to make any other bookings.  At each station there are floor markings showing where to line up for the unreserved cars.  If you have a reserved seat you go to the floor marking for the specific car on your ticket.

How Much is a Japan Rail JR Pass?

When you look at the cost for a Japan Rail Pass you need to combine both the JR pass price and the shipping cost to make an effective comparison of options for your party size. 

For the options recommended below I suggest that you go to their websites and do a trial run of placing your order to see the total cost for your group composition and location – you can then make an informed decision.  All three providers are reputable companies and we have many happy customers who use each of these companies to purchase their Japan Rail Passes and other tickets and activities.

You should order your Japan Rail Pass at least two weeks before your departure date, as a hard copy exchange order needs to be shipped to your address.  One of the options below has an option to ship to your hotel in Japan if you leave it to the last minute, and you can also purchase JR passes within Japan but at a higher price – details are further below in this article.

Japan Rail JR Station Sign

Cheapest Japan Rail Pass for Delivery in Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK, Canada, Many Asian and European Countries

Klook is a reputable Asian online travel agency who offer a competitive option who offers free delivery to Australia, New Zealand, USA and UK and many other countries.

After you have added your Japan Rail Passes in the Shopping Cart you will be offered the option to choose worldwide shipping.  Klook currently ship to the following countries:

  • Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK and Canada
  • Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Mainland China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam
  • Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden

Click here to check out pricing and book your Japan Rail Pass through Klook.  Use coupon code MDE8G to get a $A5 discount off your first order!

Cheapest Japan Rail Pass for Delivery Worldwide

Voyagin is a reputable Asian online travel agency who offer a competitive option which is very cost effective for delivery to Australia, New Zealand, USA and UK and many other countries.

After you have added your Japan Rail Passes in the Shopping Cart you will be offered the option to choose worldwide shipping.

Click here to check out pricing and book your Japan Rail Pass through Voyagin

Cheapest Japan Rail Pass for Delivery Worldwide

JRailPass.com is a reputable Japan Rail Pass specialist online travel agency for Europe who are located in Spain and ship Japan Rail Passes worldwide.  They offer competitive pricing and free delivery for customers purchasing a minimum of € 519 who are located in the following countries:

  • Austria, Belgium, England (UK), Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Scotland (UK), Spain, Switzerland and Canada.
  • For all other countries you can get a 50% discount on shipping with a minimum purchase value of € 519 – their standard worldwide shipping cost is € 30.

Click here to check out pricing and book your Japan Rail Pass through JRailPass.com

“I bought our JR Passes from the site recommended by Anne on this post. It worked out really great. Ordered Saturday, received today in Cape Town, South Africa. I sent a message to the site after I ordered and help was quick, friendly and efficient! Highly recommend – Louda C.”

TIP: Note that we have had several instances where customers have made a booking through JRailPass.com, and have been concerned when they have not received a confirmation email within a few minutes after making payment.  In all cases the confirmation email has subsequently been found in the person’s Junk Email folder.  So check there first!

Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It?

Is a JR Pass worth it is a common question asked by readers.  After running the calculations multiple times I have come to the conclusion that it is definitely worth it if you plan to travel Tokyo to Kyoto and return.  The price to purchase the shinkansen tickets direct is equal in price to a 7 day Japan Rail Pass and this does not include the cost to travel on local JR trains within Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka which are also covered.  For longer itineraries you can easily check the price for each sector to work out the relative pricing using Google Maps.

For a common itinerary for many travellers to Japan in the below table I have looked up the cost of direct fares with and without reserved seats to enable a comparison to be made.  The itinerary is as follows:

  • Narita Airport
  • Tokyo (Shinjuku)
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
  • Hiroshima (including Miyajima Island)
  • Tokyo
  • Narita Airport

Below are the direct fares you would have to pay for each sector.  I have calculated that the cost of reserved seats would be $US 565.20 and the cost for unreserved seats would be $US 366.70.

With pricing of a 7 day JR Pass of $US 271 per adult and pricing for a 14 day JR Pass of $US 422 per adult, you can see that the JR Pass is a cost effective option for this itinerary, in particular if you prefer to reserve your seats, or are travelling at peak times.  For a 14 day trip you may also want to add 1-2 more destinations onto your itinerary, so in that instance a JR Pass would definitely be worthwhile.

Direct FaresReserved SeatsUnreserved Seats
Narita to Shinjuku Station (Narita Express) (Return)2 * 3190 Yen (Reserved Seat)2 * 3190 Yen (Reserved Seat)
Shinjuku Station to Kyoto13600 Yen (Hikari)8210 Yen (Hikari)
Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station2810 Yen (Hikari)560 Yen (Hikari)
Shin-Osaka Station to Hiroshima Station (Return)2 * 10230 Yen (Sakura)2 * 5620 Yen (Sakura)
Miyajima Island Ferry Return from Hiroshima2 * 180 Yen (Ferry)2 * 180 Yen (Ferry)
Shin-Osaka to Shinjuku Station14140 Yen8750 Yen
Local Train Use (eg. assume 200 yen per local trip, assume 4 trips per day * 7 days)7*4*200 Yen7*4*200 Yen
Totals (Yen)63350 yen41100 Yen
Totals ($US)$US 565$US 367
7 Day JR Pass Price ($US)$US 257$US 257
7 Day JR Pass Cost SavingSave $US 294!Save $US 96!

If you are planning to travel at least twice between cities on the shinkansen (eg. Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka to Hiroshima or Osaka to Tokyo etc) it is worthwhile to purchase a Japan Rail Pass.  You will get best value by planning your itinerary to cover all or most of your long distance travel within either a 7 day, 14 day or 21 day period.  Your Japan Rail Pass can also be used within cities while it is active on almost all JR branded local trains and buses.

If you arrive in Tokyo and spend 4 days exploring before travelling to Kyoto etc, you can activate your Japan Rail Pass on the day you depart Tokyo to maximise the value of your pass.

Who is Eligible to Buy a Japan Rail JR Pass

Japan Rail JR Passes can only be purchased by visitors to Japan who have a passport issued by a country other than Japan and have a temporary visitor designation on entry to Japan.  You must show your passport when picking up your Japan Rail JR Pass, so ensure your passport has been stamped as you enter Japan.

Japan Rail JR Pass Inclusions

A Japan Rail JR Pass enables you to take unlimited rides on specific trains, buses and ferries in Japan as detailed below.

Railway Inclusions.  A Japan Rail JR Pass includes:

  • Unlimited rides on all JR group railways, which includes shinkansen bullet trains, limited express trains, express trains, rapid trains, local trains and the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), and the Tokyo Monorail.
  • Travel on the “HIKARI,” “SAKURA,” “KODAMA,” or “TSUBAME” shinkansen trains.
  • Reserved seats on shinkansen trains are included at no extra change. To make a reservation you can go to the ticket office at the departure station to obtain your reserved seat ticket.  Note that during crowded periods you cannot be guaranteed a seat on a specific train, so plan to book ahead if travelling during these time periods.  Crowded periods include 27 April – 6 May, 11-20 August, 28 December to 6 January.
  • If you use the GranClass car of the Tohoku, Hokkaido, and Hokuriku Shinkansen, you must pay the limited express charge and the GranClass car surcharge.
  • Passengers using JR trains on non-JR lines must pay additional fares and charges for sections traveled on such lines, because some JR trains use the lines of other companies railways for direct services.

Railway Exclusions.  A Japan Rail JR Pass does not include:

  • Train rides on the Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen trains.
  • The Aoimori Railway between Aomori and Hachinohe, the IR Ishikawa Railway, between Kanazawa and Tsubata and the Ainokaze Toyama Railway between Toyama and Takaoka each have some special conditions. If you plan to travel to these areas check the specific rules for these options.

Bus Inclusions.  A Japan Rail JR Pass includes unlimited rides on all local JR Bus lines, and validity is subject to change at any time.  JR bus lines include JR Hokkaido Bus, JR Bus Tohoku, JR Bus Kanto, JR Tokai Bus, West Japan JR Bus, Chugoku JR Bus, JR Shikoku Bus and JR Kyushu Bus.

Bus Exclusions.  A Japan Rail JR Pass does not include:

  • Travel on Express Bus routes operated by JR Bus

Ferry Inclusions.  A Japan Rail JR Pass includes travel on the JR-WEST Miyajima ferry between Miyajima and Miyajimaguchi.  Miyajima Island is a major tourist attraction close to Hiroshima.

Ferry Exclusions.  A Japan Rail JR Pass does not include travel on the JR-Kyushu hydrofoil ferry service between Hakata and Busan (South Korea).

Can You Buy a Japan Rail JR Pass in Japan?

Japan Rail is trialling whether to sell the Japan Rail JR Pass over the counter in Japan.  Of note is that purchasing the passes in Japan is significantly more expensive than purchasing them online before you depart for Japan.

Within Japan you can purchase a Japan Rail Pass from the station as detailed in this link.

Is Narita Express or N’EX covered by the Japan Rail JR Pass?

The Narita Express or N’EX provides fast transport between Narita Airport and Tokyo in less than one hour.  The major stations where it stops are Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Yokohama stations.  The Narita Express is included in your Japan Rail JR Pass.

For more information about whether the Narita Express is the best option to get from Narita to Tokyo I suggest you check out my article on best options to transfer from Narita Airport to Tokyo.

Where Can I Activate my JR Pass?

Your Japan Rail JR Pass can be activated in many locations, basically anywhere that Japan Rail has a ticket counter.  A detailed list of those ticket counters and their opening hours is available at this link.

How to Activate Your JR Pass

After receiving your physical Exchange Orders, ensure that you pack them to take with you to Japan.

Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order
Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order

After you arrive in Japan the next step is to activate your Japan Rail Pass.  You can activate your pass at the airport after you arrive, and for example at Narita Airport that will then enable you to use the Narita Express train which is included in the pass.  Ensure you allow additional time for the activation process – often there can be a queue, and at the counter it can take around 10-15 minutes to complete the process.

Japan Rail Pass
Japan Rail Pass

Note that you can also wait until later in your trip to activate your pass, depending on your itinerary.  Also, you can pre-activate your pass and select the date that it becomes active, that then enables you to reserve your seats in advance at the counter.

Your Japan Rail JR Pass can be activated in many locations, basically anywhere that Japan Rail has a ticket counter.  A detailed list of those ticket counters and their opening hours is available at this link.  Note that busier train stations may only allow you to make a maximum of two seat reservations in a single visit.

Our JR Pass Activation Experience

In our case, we were concerned that our final shinkansen trip from Osaka to Tokyo to catch our flight home to Australia was occurring in the Golden Week holiday period.  We therefore wanted to reserve our seats as soon as possible to ensure we could catch our preferred train.  A couple of days after we arrived in Tokyo we went to Ueno Station to activate our passes and reserve that train trip.  The queue at Ueno Station was long so we were there for around 45 minutes in total.

To activate your JR Passes you need both your Exchange Order and the passports for each member of your group.  Ensure that your passports have been stamped on arrival in Japan to confirm that you are a foreign visitor.  You have to fill out a form with your details and hand it in to the counter.  They then process the applications, hand you your Japan Rail Passes and you are on your way!  Once the commencement date starts you can then start to use your passes on almost all Japan Rail services as detailed lower in this article.

How to Use Your Japan Rail Pass

At each JR station there is a manned entry and exit queue, you just show your passes to the attendant and they will let you through after checking your pass.

You can also go to any JR ticket booking counter to reserve seats on any included service.  If you are travelling at peak times I definitely recommend that you pre-reserve your seats.  However if you want to stay more flexible you can plan to travel using the unreserved carriages, and take your chances to find a seat.  This can be a good strategy especially during off peak times.

Japan Rail Seat Reservation
Japan Rail Seat Reservation

Join the Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group or Discord Server

You are also welcome to join our Japan Travel Planning Facebook Group and our new Japan Travel Planning Discord Server – they are great resources to enable you to ask questions about your upcoming trip to Japan!

Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links.  If you book after clicking on one of these links then we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.