There are many things to love about Japan, from the food, living tradition, and the ultra-modern streets of fast-paced Tokyo. Of course, there are also the trains. Sleek and punctual, they whisk passengers from one corner of the country to the other in comfort and style.
Regular visitors will know about the Japan Rail Pass. This affordable, all-you-can-ride ticket grants access to the many Japan Rail-associated trains, including the famous bullet train, the Shinkansen. However, prices have recently increased—and by quite a lot.
Is the Japan Rail Pass still worth it?
What Is the Japan Rail Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass is a time-limited pass that allows you to ride most (but not all) JR trains in Japan. Tickets come in seven, 14 and 21-day variants for either regular or first class (Green Car) seats. Prices start at ¥50,000 for seven days for adults for the regular car and ¥70,000 for the Green Car. There are also child prices, which are half of the adult cost for each level. (Children are defined as those 11 years or younger.)
Note that these prices went into effect on October 1, 2023, and are significantly higher than the previous tickets. More on this later.
How Do You Get the Japan Rail Pass?
Unlike most train tickets for Japan, the Japan Rail Pass is only offered to overseas visitors, those holding temporary visitor visas. This means that you have to purchase it before you come to Japan. This can be done in one of two ways.
The first way is to purchase the pass on the official Japan Rail Pass site with a passport and credit card. When you arrive in Japan, you can pick up your pass at a JR-designated ticket counter.
The other way is through a JR-approved travel agency overseas. You will then receive an exchange order. Hand this to a staff member at a Japan Rail Pass Exchange Office in a major JR station to get your pass.
Where Can You Use the Japan Rail Pass?
You can use the Japan Rail Pass on all JR-badged trains in the country. This includes the Shinkansen, limited express trains and local lines like the Yamanote Loop line in Tokyo. It also includes a few non-JR trains, like the Tokyo Monorail between Hamamatsucho Station and Haneda Airport. The pass will also get you onto JR buses (JR highway buses excepted) and the Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi ferry.
We said you can use it on all JR trains, but there are a few exceptions. Japan Rail Pass experts will know you can’t use it to board the ultra-fast Nozomi Shinkansen trains on the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Kyoto and Mizuho trains on the Sanyo and Kyushu routes. However, JR offers a special ticket to get pass holders onto these trains.
Are There Additional Benefits to the Japan Rail Pass?
Holders of the Japan Rail Pass are eligible for supplementary benefits, such as discounts at JR Hotel Group accommodations. And, as of October 1, showing your pass at certain tourist locations will grant you additional discounts and free amenities. See the JR site for more on this.
Is the Japan Rail Pass Worth It?
As previously mentioned, as of October 1, 2023, a week-long adult pass is now ¥50,000. This is up around 70 percent from the previous cost of ¥29,650. That’s quite a jump-up. Broken down daily, the new price is around ¥7,143 a day versus the previous ¥4,236. Unless you’re planning on riding the trains every day—and particularly expensive trains like the Shinkansen—it may be difficult to use the pass this much daily.
Looking at it from a different point of view, if you rode the bullet train from Tokyo to Kagoshima at the southern end of Kyushu, which is around ¥30,000 each way, you would be getting your money’s worth. However, with airplane tickets starting at around ¥5,000, it would be much cheaper to fly.
Unless you’re a train nut or plan to take the bullet train almost every day, the Japan Rail Pass just doesn’t seem to be worth the expense anymore.
Instead, we recommend looking into regional JR passes aimed at tourists. These can be purchased as needed and offer discounts on places you plan to visit. Domestic passes aimed at locals may provide better value than the full Japan Rail Pass.
What do you think about the new Japan Rail Pass prices? Do you plan to buy one? Let us know in the comments.