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Japan Rail (JR) Pass: will it pay off?

Currently priced at JPY 29, 110 (about PhP 10,811), some first-time travelers to Japan struggle whether or not to purchase a 7-day ordinary Japan Rail (JR) Pass. Its price is a major turn off, yes. But once you realize how convenient it is to have one at your disposal, you will agree that it is definitely worth the extra budget.

Here are some tips on how you can make your JR Pass pay off:

  1. Plan your itinerary well. Plot your daily train transfers schedule in Japan.
  2. Know when to activate your JR Pass.

  3. Check www.hyperdia.com/en to compare point-to-point cost of each train ride. Summarize all train rides you will most likely take and compute for the total train fares.
  4. Reserve a seat. Seat reservations costsa little extra for regular tickets. But these are waived for JR Pass holders! Reservation also guarantees you a seat in the train. It’s a life saver during peak travel dates.

What happens if you miss a train that you have a reservation for?
Please exercise all possible efforts to arrive at the train station with at least 30 minutes to spare before your scheduled train departure. At the moment, JR Pass holders can reserve another seat in lieu of the missed one at no extra cost. But who knows, this privilege might get revoked once they learn it’s being abused.

5. Take screenshots of ALL your Hyperdia train routes for the day before leaving your hotel. Include 2 train schedules departing earlier and 2 schedules departing later than your intended travel time. This will save you the trouble of figuring out the next departing train (platform location, type of train [local service, rapid, express]) in case you arrive way past your schedule. Or if you come to the station way earlier than your desired travel time, you can just hop on the next train out of the city.

6. Choose Shinkansens whenever it’s available. It takes you to your destination faster! Except for the ultra-fast bullet trains (Mizuho and Nozomi), all other Shinkansen rides are covered by the JR Pass.

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SAMPLE ITINERARY TO MAKE THE 7-DAY JR PASS PAY OFF

Cost in JPY (unreserved seat) Cost in JPY (reserved seat)
Day 1 (Kyoto Temple Hopping)
Osaka (Umeda Station) to Kyoto (Kyoto Station)
560 (via Special Rapid Service); 1,210 (via Ltd. Exp) 1,730 (via Ltd. Exp)
Kyoto Station to Umeda Station 560 (via Special Rapid); 1,210 (via Ltd. Exp) 1,730 (via Ltd. Exp)
Day 2a (Himeji Castle + Western Kyoto)
Osaka (Umeda Station) to Himeji Station
1,490 (via Special Rapid Service); 3,220 (via Shinkansen) 3,740
Himeji Station to Sagaarashiyama Station 5,070 5,590
Sagaarashiyama to Umeda 1,620 2,140
Day 3 (Hiroshima day trip)
 Osaka (Umeda) to Hiroshima (Hiroshima Station)
9,710 (Shinkansen) 10,230
Hiroshima to Osaka 9,710 (Shinkansen) 10,230
Day 4 (The Tokyo Intro)
Osaka (Umeda) to Tokyo (Shibuya Station)
13,620 (Shinkansen) 14,140
Shibuya Station to Harajuku Station 140 N/A
 Harajuku Station to Shinjuku Station 140 N/A
 Shinjuku Station to Akihabara 170 N/A
Day 5 b (DisneySea/ Disneyland Tokyo)
 Shibuya Station to Maihama Station 390 N/A
 Maihama to Shibuya 390 N/A
Day 6 (Mt. Fuji [Kawaguchiko])
Tokyo (Shibuya Station) to Kawaguchiko (Otsuki Station)c
2,000 2,520
 Kawaguchiko (Otsuki) to Shibuya 2,000 2,520
Day 7
Tokyo (Shibuya Station) to Narita Airport
3,190 (all reserved seats via Ltd. Exp Narita Express)
TOTAL JPY 50,760    or  JPY 53,790            JPY 58,990
SAVINGS
(a 7-day JR Pass costs JPY 29,110)
JPY 21, 650 (~PhP 8,043 or USD 181)  OR JPY 24,680(~PhP 9,169 or USD 206) JPY 29,980 (~PhP 11,138 or USD 250)

a  You may instead go to Nara (JPY 800/ way).

b Alternatively, you may schedule a day trip to Nikko (JPY 4,000/way – unreserved) or Chichibu for the Shibazakura/ Pink Moss Festival in Hitsujiyama Park [if you’re visiting in late April-May]). For the Seibu-Chichibu trip, only JPY 170 of the JPY 1,590 worth of train ride is covered by the JR Pass.

c Your JR Pass takes you to Otsuki Station at no extra cost. From this station, however, you need to pay an additional JPY 1,410 for an unreserved seat to Kawaguchiko Station via the Fujikyu Railway. JR Pass holders are given discount for roundtrip train tickets.

8 thoughts on “Japan Rail (JR) Pass: will it pay off?

    • Thank you, Ivy! If there’s anything I can help you or your friends with re: Japan trip, just send me a message. Would be happy to help! 😀

      Safe travels!

      -Chris

  1. Hi! This your tips are awesome. Never tried the Jr pass when we were in japan last year. Planning to go back next year and use it. Have you tried the kansai pass? Im planning a 2 week vacation kyoto-osaka-tokyo for next year. should i get a 2 week jrpass, or a 1 week jrpass and a 3 day kansai pass? Help… thanks so much!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Miriam. 🙂 Yes, I’ve tried the Kansai Thru Pass during my first visit but after computing the cost of the train rides I took and the sites I visited using the pass, I realized I still didn’t breakeven. However, if you plan your routes carefully and if you stick to your timeline (my main flaw during that trip — I was battling jetlag), you can actually make the pass pay off.

      Now for a 2-week trip, a 14-day JR pass may sound economical BUT I’m sure you wouldn’t be riding Shinkansens on a daily basis, right? Or is that part of the plan? 😀 Anyway, I’d advise that you get an ordinary 7-day JR pass and combine it with a Haruka + ICOCA card. If you’re planning to spend a day or two in Osaka, you may get an Osaka Amazing Pass as well.

      Hope this helps.

      -Chris

  2. Good day! I find your entry to be really helpful!
    My family is planning to go to Japan next year, May. But since it’s our first time to visit Japan, I would like to ask for an advice regarding our itinerary and if a JR pass will be worth it. If possible, may I send it to you so you can look through it? Thank you very much and God bless!

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