How to Make the Most Out of the Japan Rail Pass

Many visitors enjoy traveling by rail in Japan: The network is broad, the trains are roomy and comfortable, and they are always on time! However, train travel in Japan can get quite pricey. The Japan Rail Pass is a great solution to save some money on your trip to Japan, especially if you use it right. Find out in this article how you can get the most out of the Japan Rail Pass

JR Pass TypeOrdinary Pass PriceGreen Pass Price
7-day50,000 yen70,000 yen
14-day80,000 yen111,000 yen
21-day100,000 yen140,000 yen

Read about the new Japan Rail Pass conditions and benefits

On October 1st, 2023, new Japan Rail Pass conditions went into effect. On top of the existing advantages, such as local public transportation, some airport transfers*, free seat reservation and more, the new JR Pass will also include the currently inaccessible and much faster Nozomi & Mizuho Shinkansen bullet trains (with a small access fee). Some other changes are important to note.

- The Nozomi Shinkansen train rides on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines, while the Mizuho bullet train rides on the Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines. Now available for booking with your JR Pass, these faster options are now accessible under the following fares, both for the Standard Cars and the Green Cars: 

  • Tokyo > Kyoto: 4960 yen
  • Tokyo > Shin-Osaka: 4960 yen
  • Tokyo > Hiroshima: 6500 yen
  • Tokyo > Hakata: 8140 yen
  • Kyoto > Hiroshima: 4170 yen
  • Shin-Osaka > Hiroshima: 4170 yen

Find out more in our dedicated article on the Nozomi & Mizuho Shinkansen trains. Tickets for these trains can be purchased through machines at the station or at Midori no Madoguchi (JR Ticket Offices). 

- After October 1st, it will not be possible to purchase your Japan Rail Pass in Japan (currently available at a higher price than online) anymore. The JR Pass will only be sold online, either through JR's official website or through third-party resellers such as Japan Experience. 

- However, Japanese nationals will not be able to buy the Japan Rail Pass online anymore. Japanese nationals matching the eligibility requirements for the JR Pass will have to purchase their JR Pass at a JR-appointed sales office or agent before their departure. 

*Airport transfers included with the Japan Rail Pass :

  • Tokyo Haneda: Haneda Monorail
  • Tokyo Narita: Narita Express Train
  • Kansai International Airport (Kyoto/Osaka): Haruka Express Train (to Kyoto & Osaka) 

Keep reading below to find out how to make the most out of your JR Pass.

Total Travel Time: ~9 Days 

Price w/o JR Pass: ¥59,000+ 

7-Day JR Pass Price: ¥50,000

As previously mentioned, this itinerary uses the Japan Rail Pass to traverse a staple route for first-time travelers to Japan, the so-called "Golden Route." Some of the most iconic cities and their sites are possible to visit via train with this itinerary. Typically, Golden Route travelers focus on starting at the modern, metropolitan capital of Tokyo, continuing to the ancient capital of Kyoto, and then finishing the journey at the historic port city of Hiroshima, before heading back to Tokyo.

This journey is covered, and more, with the Japan Rail Pass. To generate more value for your trip, come back with even more memories and add a unique, off-the-beaten-path feel to your travels, we suggest adding other accessible cities like the lively Osaka in Kansai, near Kyoto, and the elegant Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, an easy day trip directly from Kansai via the Thunderbird train. (Though the Thunderbird train will be replaced with a Shinkansen bullet train extension as of 2024).

New Golden Route

Golden Route Itinerary for the 7-Day Pass

Total Travel Time: ~16 Days

Price w/o JR Pass: ¥93,590+

14-Day JR Pass Price: ¥80,000

Adding another seven days to your Japan Rail Pass usage period allows visitors to Japan to travel using the Golden Route as a basis, but allows for a more leisurely time at each destination plus the time to travel past Hiroshima into Kyushu, the most southern island of mainland Japan.

With this itinerary, it may be best to first go through the three essential destinations of the Golden Route (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima), and then keep heading south into Kyushu. Here, the journey from the largest city on the island, Fukuoka, out to the naturally and culturally rich Kumamoto, then down to the coasts of Kagoshima.

From here, Japan Rail Pass users will be able to loop back up via the trains in the area and head back up to Kansai to visit Osaka, then to Kanazawa. Before heading back to Tokyo for departure from either Haneda or Narita, a stop in the inland prefecture of Nagano will be a great way to see the Japanese Alps and the host city for the 1998 Winter Olympics. With this many cities and destinations, the 80,000 yen listing of the 14-day pass after the price update is easily met. 

Golden Route + Kyushu

Golden Route & Kyushu Itinerary

Total Travel Time: ~24 Days

Price w/o JR Pass: ¥180,000

21-Day JR Pass Price: ¥100,000

21 whole days of unlimited rides on trains throughout Japan with the pass gives a lot of time to explore the country, and, in fact, to get the most out of your trip and the most value out of the 21-day Japan Rail Pass, we suggest trying to traverse the archipelago by train from top to bottom! Instead of flying into the capital city of Tokyo like the previous two itineraries, if possible, we suggest flying into Sapporo via Shin-Hakodate Airport, starting in the less-visited North prefectures.

Immediately activating the Japan Rail Pass allows pass users to get right into the city, explore Hokkaido, and then travel downwards into Tohoku. The vastness and variety of attractions and cities in Tohoku, along with the well-connected network of trains, means destinations can be mixed and matched, but Morioka in Iwate Prefecture and Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture are safe bets for sure. Upon arriving in Tokyo, take the chance to travel around the central part of Japan and the Japanese Alps through destinations like Nagano, Gifu, Toyama, and/or Ishikawa. Then, you can make your way down South into the more usual itinerary to Kyoto & Hiroshima, and some more with an exploration of the Kyushu island.  

Cross-Country Itinerary

Cross-Country Itinerary

How to reserve seats on the Shinkansen? // How to Reserve Seats on the Train in Japan

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  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel

Our public transportation day-pass options in Japan!

  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel

Consider adding day trips to your itinerary to make the most out of the JR Pass

Even if you are only going to Tokyo, you can take many day trips that will show you other faces of Japan, without changing any of your accommodation plans, thanks to the Japan Rail Pass. From Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Sapporo, or any of the main cities your itinerary might take you to, it is possible to venture out into the Japanese countryside or to smaller - but culturally rich - cities and villages, for a day, half a day, or even a couple of hours !

From Tokyo, you can explore the beach towns of Chiba Prefecture, or get a refreshing natural outing in the Japanese Alps in Nagano or in the sublime landscapes of Nikko. From Kyoto, you almost have to get to Nara. But you can also head up to Biwa Lake, or to the fishing villages along Wakasa Bay. From Fukuoka, the world-famous onsen town of Beppu is just a train hop away. From historic Kanazawa, which is already a great day trip in itself, you can head out to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage mountain village

Shirakawago Unesco world heritage village in Japanese Alps

Shirakawago, a Unesco World Heritage village in the Japanese Alps

©vichie81/123RF

Let's feed natural deers in Nara Park!
Popular destination for the Japanese, Beppu, the resort with thousands of thermal springs welcomes visitors who come to bask in volcanic waters all year round.

Popular destination for the Japanese, Beppu, the resort with thousands of thermal springs welcomes visitors who come to bask in volcanic waters all year round.

©Sean Pavone/123RF

More 7-Day itinerary ideas with your JR Pass

From the Kansai region, a trip to the historic Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture can be done via the Thunderbird Rapid Train line, which is also fully covered. A one-way trip via this train is around 8,250 JPY for a reserved seat.

Exploration of Kanazawa can be a great day trip or overnight adventure (or longer, of course), and from here, exploring the rest of Hokuriku via way of Toyama (a rural prefecture famous for some of the country's best seafood) can be made. This would typically go for around 4,140 JPY. And from here, pass-holders can go to make a trip to Nagano Prefecture, which would typically cost 9,190 JPY with a reserved seat.

Nagano is one of the most geographically large prefectures in Japan, and boasts beautiful mountain scenery and a capital city that hosted the Olympics in 1998. From Nagano, the trip back to Tokyo can be made to explore the city and tie up any loose-ends. This Shinkansen ride comes to around 9,710 JPY, and any JR transit within Tokyo are all covered. 

The transit between the major destinations in this itinerary equate to a little over 61,000 JPY, without incorporation of local transit and transfer from the airport. But in addition to the savings made, the flexibility and ease of use with the JR Pass is a big bonus that should not be overlooked.

Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Japan Rail Pass Itinerary
Kansai Wide Area Pass

It covers a large span of cities and destinations with access to the Sanyo Shinkansen.

Additionally, the pass can be used on the Haruka Express coming from Kansai National Airport, providing beneficial features from the get-go. Kansai is one of Japan's most famous regions that offers a large variety of locales and environments to see first-hand. Prices go for 75 USD for 5 days.

East Tohoku Area Pass

It grants access to destinations such as Iwate, Aomori, and Akita while simultaneously providing service within and from Tokyo, including some Shinkansen that lead into the northern part of Honshu.

In terms of sheer coverage, the East Tohoku Area Pass is very difficult to best, essentially allowing travel to 13 different prefectures and 6 different bullet trains.

All Kyushu Pass

It allows travelers to visit all 7 prefectures of the island, famous for its rich culinary culture, warm onsens, and artisanal ceramics.

On this pass, the only uneligible bullet train is that of the Sanyo, however, all other JR Kyushu Lines can be ridden plus more for 138 USD.

Discover More of Japan with Our JR Regional Passes

The perfect alternative to Japan Rail Pass for exploring local treasures!

  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel

Frequently Asked Questions about the JR Pass.

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