If there is one thing the Japanese people could envy from the tourists that flock their land, it would be the JR Pass. The JR Pass or Japan Rail Pass is a very economical rail pass that is ideal for long-distance and train-heavy travel within Japan. It can only be used by foreign tourists whose passports bear the “Temporary Visitor” entry status. Only those Japanese nationals who currently live outside Japan and also a.) have the right of permanent residence in that country, or b.) are married to a non-Japanese residing in a country other than Japan, can use the JR Pass, but this is only with proper documentation.
To get or not to get the JR Pass
Although the JR Pass is indeed a very cost-effective way of seeing Japan via its famous trains, there are still several factors for consideration:
- Length of stay in Japan. The JR Pass comes in various types and differs according to the validity period. The JR Pass can be used for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. So, a 4-day stay in Japan will probably not merit a JR pass unless you take the following into account:
- Travel itinerary. The JR Pass is best used for long-distance travel within Japan. So, a 7-day stay in Tokyo, without going to other places like Osaka, Nagoya, Nara and Kyoto would probably not justify getting a JR Pass.
How to get a JR Pass
Once this is settled, it is time to get your JR Pass! Since the JR Pass can only be used by foreign tourists, they have made sure that it can only be bought outside of Japan. Yes, it is essential to get a JR Pass Exchange Order prior to your trip.
Where to get the JR Pass?
The Japan Rail Pass website lists all the accredited sales offices where the JR Pass can be bought. For my 8-day trip to Japan, I went to Friendship Tours and Resorts Corporation. I was able to coordinate with the very helpful Hermie Angeli De Castro who accommodated me and my endless questions although I got there five minutes into closing time. So, I highly recommend Friendship Tours for getting your JR Pass (address at the end of the post).
However, should it be logistically impossible to get to any of the accredited sales offices, there is always the option to order the JR Pass voucher online via klook.com. The voucher will be delivered by mail within 7 working days.
How much is a JR Pass?
The price of the JR Pass varies according to the type, whether you are getting a 7-day, 14-day or 21-day pass and also if you want the Ordinary or the Green Car Pass. The following tables present the price lists in both Yen and Philippine Peso. If you are getting your JR Pass from Friendship Tours, you can also pay via credit card.
|Reduced rates (50% off) apply to children aged 6-11.|
|Child rate is valid for kids 6-11 years old at the time of the purchase of the Exchange Order*|
What is the difference between the Ordinary and Green Car Pass?
The Green Car Pass entitles the holder to use the green cars or the first-class cars of the JR trains. They are said to offer more spacious seats and leg room, as well as enhanced board service. And because of the significant price difference, they also tend to be less crowded than ordinary cars. But based on my experience, the ordinary cars are already spacious enough; I was able to squeeze my luggage in front of me and still sit comfortably.
Where to exchange the JR Pass?
What you actually buy from the accredited sales office in your home country is an Exchange Order. It contains all the necessary details of the passenger as well as its date and place of issue. The latter is important because the Exchange Order is only valid within three months of issuance. Meanwhile, upon arrival in Japan, there are JR exchange offices available where an English-speaking attendant will ask you to fill out a form and present your passport in order to get the JR Pass.
Using your JR Pass
And that’s it, you now have your JR Pass. You can now use it to board the impressive shinkansen bullet trains and get from one prefecture to another in record time. You can also use it for other local trains, local JR buses, and even on the JR-WEST Miyajima ferry. Note however that not all bullet trains, local trains and buses could be accessed via the JR Pass, for example, the Nozomi and Mizuho trains are exempted from use for JR Pass holders. But not to worry as there are plenty of other trains to choose from.
HyperDia is a great resource for using the JR Pass. It lists down train schedules and as well as the ticket prices. It is particularly very useful in determining if there would be a train going from your airport of destination to your city of destination. For example, my flight from Manila was coming in late and there were no longer any shinkansens going to Tokyo (where I would meet my friends) that night. I was able to determine this using HyperDia, and because of that, I was able to book a cheap hostel for one night while I was stuck in Osaka.
Tip: Make sure to click “More Options” and untick “Airplane”, “Airport Shuttle Bus”, “NOZOME / MIZUHO / HAYABUSA (Shinkansen)” and “Private Railway” to filter your search to JR Pass valid routes
Using Google Maps
The complexity (and efficiency) of the Japanese train system can be perplexing for tourists. But thanks to Google Maps, this can be significantly reduced. But how can you use Google Maps without using your mobile data?
The portable Wi-Fi
Well, Japan just keeps on favoring its tourists by having the portable Wi-Fi available for use. It may not be very cheap but it is another cost-effective way of traveling within Japan. For our trip, we used WiFi Walker from Global Advanced Communications, charging 800 JPY per day. Note that they only accept credit cards for payment, but the 4G LTE connection they offered was fantastic! Very fast and reliable. We also connected at least five devices at a time and there was no slacking off in the speed either. The battery also lasts for more than a day so there is less chance of being lost because of an empty battery.
Read more: Glorious Travel With iVideo Pocket Wifi
At The Train Stations
The JR Pass is not only cost-effective, it is also a time-saver. JR Pass holders need not look for loose change nor line up for tickets. Also, holders of the JR Pass do not use the automatic ticket gates. Instead, they have to pass through the manned gate (usually the left-most or right-most gate) and show the JR Pass to the officer on duty, with validity date visible.
Although most trains do not require reservations, seat reservations are possible when it involves the shinkansens. For my trip from the Kansai Internationl Airport to Shin-Osaka and from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo, I did not make any seat reservations and just made sure to get on cars 1 to 5 of the train, the non-reserved cars. But for our Tokyo-Nagoya and Nagoya-Osaka shinkansen rides, we made reservations at one of the JR Offices in the train stations. During both my non-reserved rides, I was able to sit anywhere on the mostly empty train. This was probably because my rides were either too late or too early. But after several stations, some people would no longer be able to sit and would just stand on the aisles. On the other hand, we could not get any window seats during our reserved rides but at least all the passengers were seated.
Read more: Winter travel in the Land of the Rising Sun
***Photos were taken using iPhone 6 and GoPro Hero 4 Silver
Friendship Tours and Resorts Corporation
Address: 3F Dusit Thani Manila, Ayala Center, Makati City, Philippines
Tel. nos.: 840-1060, 894-1124, 893-8183
Office Hours: Mondays-Fridays: 9:00am-6:00pm; Saturdays: 9:00am-1:00pm