JR Pass Beginner Guide – All You Need To Know!

JR Pass Beginner Guide – All You Need To Know!

With countless captivating experiences awaiting, Japan is a destination that should not be missed. However, transporting different cities within Japan can be quite expensive, often holding travelers back from venturing beyond a single city.

Before you set off on your adventure, make sure to equip yourself with the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). This magical pass allows you to explore the entire country with ease.

But if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, don’t worry! This comprehensive beginner guide will provide you with all the information you need to know about the JR Pass. So, get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty, culture, and excitement that Japan has to offer. And here we go!

Table of contents: JR Pass

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What is JR Pass?

A JR Pass is a personal transportation pass specifically for foreign travelers, which allows them to ride designated railways and transportation vehicles.

In total, there are more than 20 JR Passes available, each catering to different needs. But you can easily categorise them into 2 main types of passes – Whole Japan JR Pass and other Regional JR Passes.

Whole Japan Pass

Whole Japan Pass provides access to Japan Railways train lines, including the JR railway network, JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku, JR West, JR Central, JR East, and JR Hokkaido. It also includes access to other transportation means like the JR Bus, JR Ferry, and monorails.

In short, with the Whole Japan JR Pass, you can travel on the following transportation networks without any restrictions.

Different types of JR Transportion
The JR Pass can be used on almost all trains operated on the Nationwide JR (Japan Railway) network. JR Pass access also includes the Shinkansen (bullet train), limited express, express, rapid and local trains.
To/from Haneda Airport
To Miyajima
You can refer to the official list of valid bus networks to better plan your route.
JR Pass holders can transfer to certain non-JR trains that connect to remote JR lines. Refer to the complete list for more details.

This pass is available in 3 durations: 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day, providing unlimited travel within the chosen validity period.

JR Regional Passes

JR Regional Pass coverage varies depending on the pass selected. These passes are more affordable and suitable for visitors who are only going to specific cities or regions, like Hokkaido or Osaka and nearby areas. But note that not all trains and buses, such as Shinkansens, may be covered by certain passes.

Which JR Pass should you get?

With different options to choose from, the first step is to know the general areas of Japan you want to explore on your journey.

Traveling across the country, get the Whole JR Pass

If you plan to travel across the country, it’s recommended to get the Whole Japan Rail Pass, which grants access to all JR lines throughout Japan. For example, if you’re planning a 2-week trip to Tokyo with several day trips to other parts of the country, purchasing the 14-day Whole Japan Rail Pass can be a good option!

Exploring a specific city/region, get the Regional JR Pass

On the other hand, if you’re only interested in exploring a specific city or region, a Regional JR Pass might be more suitable. These passes have various durations, starting from just 1 day. For instance, if you’re focusing on Hokkaido, you can purchase the JR Hokkaido Rail Pass.

JR Pass Overview

If you are interested in knowing more about all the types of JR Pass, here is an overview:

JR Pass Types Overview
Pass Type Delivery Method
7, 14 or 21-day Whole Japan Rail Pass Mail Delivery
JR Central
5-day JR Takayama Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass Mail Delivery
3-day Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Area Mini JR Pass Mail Delivery
5-day JR Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Pass Mail Delivery
JR Kyushu
3, 5 or 7-day JR Kyushu Pass E-Ticket
7-day JR Sanyo-San’in Area Pass E-Ticket
Sanyo-San’in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass Mail Delivery
JR Shikoku
7-day JR Setouchi Area Pass E-Ticket
JR West
5-day Kansai Wide Area JR Pass E-Ticket
1, 2, 3 or 4-day JR West Kansai Rail Pass E-Ticket
5-day JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass E-Ticket
4-day JR San’in-Okayama Area Pass E-Ticket
7-day JR Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass E-Ticket
4-day JR Hokuriku Area Pass E-Ticket
5-day JR Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass E-Ticket
5-day Okayama Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass E-Ticket
JR East
5-day JR East Tohoku Area Pass E-Ticket
5-day JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass E-Ticket
7-day JR Hokuriku Arch Pass Mail Delivery
JR Hokkaido
5, 7 or 10-day JR Hokkaido Rail Pass E-Ticket
4-day JR Hokkaido Rail Pass E-Ticket
4-day JR Hokkaido Rail Pass E-Ticket
6-day JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass Mail Delivery
6-day JR Tohoku South Hokkaido Rail Pass Mail Delivery

Who can use a JR Pass?

The JP Pass is a great deal when compared to the regular price of a single JR ticket, but it may not be suitable for everyone.

The JR Pass is perfect for adventurers exploring Japan on a “Temporary Visitor” status with stays of less than 3 months. This pass is exclusively available to non-Japanese nationals who are visiting for tourism purposes only, not for work or military-related reasons.

So, if you’re a tourist, you can use the pass for unlimited access to Japan’s extensive transportation network!

How much is a JR Pass?

Just like a thrilling rollercoaster ride, the prices of JR Passes can vary on different platforms. So, it might take a bit of your time to put on your detective hat and compare prices to uncover the best deal.

But as your MoneySmart companion, we’ve done the hard work for you. Here are the JR Pass comparisons on different platforms:

JR Pass Price Comparison
Merchant/Pass Type Whole Kyushu (5-day) North Kyushu (5-day) South Kyushu (3-day) Shikoku (5-day)
Official Price (Local Purchase) HK$1,176 (¥22,500) HK$784 (¥15,000) HK$523 (¥10,000) HK$915 (¥17,500)
Official Price (Overseas/Online Purchase) HK$1,124 (¥21,500) HK$732.6 (¥14,000) HK$470 (¥9,000) HK$888 (¥17,000)
Klook HK$1,175 HK$783 HK$522 HK$888
KKDay HK$1,175 HK$783 HK$522 HK$888
*Prices as of Oct 19, excluding additional discounts (if any), exchange rate ¥100 = HK$5.23

MoneySmart Tip: The price of Klook may vary depending on the browser. To get the best price, try using different devices or incognito mode and avoid clicking on sponsored links. It’s recommended to try out different browsers and find the best price!

JR Pass Price Comparison
Merchant/Pass Type Kansai Region (4 days) Hokuriku Region (4 days) San’in & Okayama (4 days) Hiroshima & Yamaguchi (5 days)
Official Price (Local Purchase) Sales at train stations in Japan ended on September 30, 2023
Official Price (Online Purchase) HK$366








Official Price (Overseas Agent Purchase) HK$266


HK$337.05 (¥4,500)
Klook HK$366 HK$266 HK$239 HK$784
KKDay HK$366 HK$266 HK$239 HK$783
*Prices updated as of Oct 19, excluding additional discounts (if any), exchange rate ¥100 = HK$5.23

A quick note on the JR Passes prices: the Whole Japan JR Pass and many JR Regional Passes have increased since October 1, 2023.

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Is the JR Pass worth it?

The JR Pass is like the golden ticket for exploring Japan, perfect for travelers who want to hop on the Shinkansen and zip around the country. But here’s the deal, my friend – the prices have gone up recently in October 2023. So, before you go all in and splurge on a JR Pass, do some math and see if it’s worth it for your adventure in Japan.

Ride with Shinkansen (The bullet train) included

Let’s talk about the real reason people go for the JR Pass – the Shinkansen. If you’re planning to cover some serious ground and take day trips galore, then the JR Pass can be your saving grace.

JR Pass offers flexibility

The JR Pass offers flexibility. It’s for spontaneous souls who want to travel on a whim. If you’re more of a planner or prefer taking your time in each city, then maybe the JR Pass isn’t your cup of tea. But if you’re ready to embrace the adventure in multiple cities and ride the rails like a true ninja, then go for it.

Where can you purchase a JR Pass?

The JR Pass can be bought at various airports and JR ticket sales offices in Japan. It is strongly recommended that you purchase the JR Passes online from authorized agents like KKDay, Klook to save yourself the time, money, and hassle of trying to find one when you arrive.

The easy 3 steps of ordering a JP Pass online

1) Receive a Mail Exchange Order

You will first receive a Mail Exchange Order (MCO) when you purchase a JR Pass outside of Japan. This Exchange Order will be mailed to you within 5 working days of purchase (Global delivery).

2) Exchange your mail for the ticket

You will then need to present this Exchange Order with your passport in Japan at a JR Rail Office in order to receive your actual JR Pass.

MoneySmart Tip: Regional passes may include an Electronic Exchange Order instead of a physical one. This will be instantly issued to you upon confirmation of the booking. And don’t forget to bring along your passport for the exchange!

When should you purchase a JR Pass?

Please ensure that you have at least 2 weeks to get your Exchange Order before you leave for Japan because you must have the Exchange Order to get your JR Pass in Japan.

Also, please remember that all JR Passes are only valid for 90 days from the booking date. The exchange order will expire at 2359hrs on the last day. So please make sure that you book only up to 3 months ahead of your Japan trip.

Physical Mail Exchange Order

For Whole Japan and selected regional JR Passes that require a physical Mail Exchange Order, please make sure to select a date that is at least 1 week from your intended departure date for Japan. This will allow enough time for the delivery.

Electronic Exchange Order

For regional JR Passes that provide an Electronic Exchange Order, it will be issued immediately to your account once the booking is confirmed. Therefore, you can purchase it on the same day you intend to use it.’

Where and how can you exchange my Exchange Order for the JR Pass?

To get your JR Pass, exchange your Exchange Order within 90 days from the date it was issued (the date you confirmed your booking).

Once you’ve received your Exchange Order by mail or electronically, the next step is bringing it to Japan to exchange the tickets. You can exchange the Exchange Order through the following ways:

Physical Exchange Orders

To get your JR Pass, you need to go to a JR office at airports or major train stations. You can find the full list of JR Ticket Offices here.

Electronic Exchange Orders

You can choose to exchange at a Green Ticket-Vending Machine, which is also available at major train stations. The machine that allows exchange will have a blue passport icon displayed above the screen. It is strongly advised to check the stations available for exchange in advance to avoid any disappointment.

How do you activate your JR Pass?

Once you exchange your Exchange Order for a JR Pass, you don’t have to activate it right away. You can choose your start date when exchanging your Exchange Order for a JR Pass. This date will be the official date when your JR Pass becomes active, so plan your trip and choose wisely!

But remember to activate your JR Pass within 30 days from exchanging your Exchange Order in Japan. and once you select the start date, it cannot be changed!

What is the difference between the Green Car and Ordinary Car?

Commonly found on Shinkansen (bullet trains) and Tokkyu (limited express trains), the Green Car is equivalent to the first-class cabin in airplanes and, of course, is more expensive. In addition to excellent service, guests can enjoy footrests, larger seats, magazines, personal luggage space, and even a radio set. Furthermore, the Green Car option is becoming increasingly popular during peak periods due to its seat reservation feature. However, this also means that you need to make a reservation for each trip you take.

The Green Car is a first-class cabin available on Shinkansen (bullet trains) and Tokkyu (limited express trains). You can find excellent service, larger seats, footrests, magazines, personal luggage space, and even a radio set here, but the Green Car is more expensive than the regular cars.

If you’re interested in riding with the Green Car, don’t forget to make a seat reservation for each trip because it is popular during peak periods. Based on JR train standards, ordinary cars offer satisfactory service. However, the seat reservation and perks of the Green Car (more space, less crowded) make it worthwhile to buy a Green Car pass.

What is the difference between reserved and non-reserved seats?

If you’re unsure about reserving a seat on the train, that’s okay! Because most trains have non-reserved carriages where you can freely choose any available seat.

However, for a more tailored experience, you can opt for reserved seating on certain JR trains, including the popular Shinkansens and selected express trains like the JR Haruka Airport Express.

How can you reserve a seat?

When you decide to reserve a seat, simply visit a JR Station Ticket Office or a green ticket-vending machine. Remember to do this after you have received your JR Pass. You will then be given an additional ticket with all the necessary details.

Keep in mind that some regional JR Passes come with limitations on the number of reserved seats you can have per pass, such as the JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass with a limit of 6 and the Kansai Area Pass with a limit of 2.

Do we recommend to reserve seats?

While it’s not required, it’s a good idea to reserve your seat to feel more at ease. After all, the last thing you want when you’re traveling is an extra thing to be concerned about!

If you’re traveling with a group, it’s also a good idea to reserve your seats so you can sit together. Reserving your seat during busy times will ensure you have a seat, in case the cars with unreserved seats are full.

Does it matter what time I start using my JR Pass?

The validity period of your JR Pass is based on calendar days rather than a 24-hour rule. Therefore, it does not matter what time you start using your JR Pass.

For example, if you start using a 5-Day Pass on 1 December 2023 at 9pm, it will expire on 5 December 2023 at midnight (Day 5) instead of 6 December 2023 at 9pm (Day 6).

What’s new about the JR Pass starting 1 October 2023?

While the price changes might be a concern for budget travelers, there is good news for JR Pass holders. The new prices come with added benefits to enhance your travel experience in Japan.

Access to Fast Trains

Starting on October 1st, when you purchase the new JR Pass, you can ride the Nozomi and Mizuho trains by paying a small additional fee. These trains are the fastest ones on the Tokaido Shinkansen line (Tokyo to Shin-Osaka) and the Sanyo Shinkansen line (Shin-Osaka to Hakata), ensuring quick and seamless journeys.

To do this, simply buy the “[ONLY WITH JAPAN RAIL PASS] NOZOMI MIZUHO Ticket” when reserving your train tickets at JR stations and ticket offices. Please note that the price for the journey between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka will be ¥4,960.

Discounts at Attractions

Japan Railways has also expanded the range of attractions that offer discounts to JR Pass holders. Explore more of Japan’s famous landmarks and natural beauty without spending too much.

Tips for getting JR Pass

Before we go, here are the final tips for getting JR Pass:

  • Download the Japan Travel by Navitime app to easily check the best routes for traveling in Japan. This app provides useful information such as fares, platform numbers, and the ability to filter routes based on the type of JR Pass you have.
  • Tickets purchased outside of Japan are essentially exchange vouchers and not official JR Passes.
  • Some passes are only available for purchase overseas.
  • Exchange the voucher for the JR Pass at designated locations in Japan, such as designated counters at airports or ticket offices at train stations.
  • When purchasing the voucher from travel websites, it is recommended to purchase it 2 to 5 working days in advance before the departure date.
  • The selected date at the time of purchase is the date of ticket collection.
  • The validity of the exchange voucher is generally 3 months. Within this period, after exchanging it for the JR Pass, you can choose any day to start using it within 1 month of the exchange.
  • If the exchange voucher is not used within 1 year of purchase, it can be refunded with a deduction of 10% of the price. Additional fees may apply if purchased through a travel service provider.
  • Child tickets apply to children aged 6 to 11 and are priced at half of the adult ticket.
  • The JR Pass allows unlimited rides on designated railway lines within the covered area, but there may be some exceptions.
  • Free seating is available on certain routes with the JR Pass (no reservation required), while reserved seating has a limited number of designated uses.
  • Some JR Passes also cover JR-operated buses or ferries.
  • The above information may vary depending on the specific JR Pass, so it is advisable to check the terms and conditions before purchasing.

Frequently asked questions: JR Pass

How do you use the JR Pass?

Simple! Just go through the automatic gates with the issued JR ticket. There is no longer a need to pass through the manned gate and present your pass to the staff.

Why do I need to fill in my personal information?

Japan Rail authorities require all users to submit accurate and valid personal information before a JR Pass can be issued. The information on the Exchange Order MUST reflect that of your passport. If not, the Exchange Order will be deemed invalid and you won’t be able to get your JR Pass.

When swapping your Exchange Order for a JR Pass in Japan, you MUST show your passport and Temporary Visitor stamp/sticker for validation. A photocopy of your passport is NOT accepted.

How do you activate your JR Pass?

Choose your start date when exchanging your Exchange Order for a JR Pass. This date will be the official date when your JR Pass becomes active, so plan your trip and choose wisely! The start date can be any day within 30 days and doesn’t have to be the date of exchange.

How do you use the ticket?

Simply use your JR ticket to pass through the automatic gates. No need to go through the manned gate or show your pass to the staff anymore.

What happens if I’m on a train when the pass expires at midnight?

Your JR Pass remains valid until the end of your journey if you’re on the train at midnight, as long as you boarded before midnight.

However, the JR Pass does not cover extra charges if you transfer to a Shinkansen, limited express, or express train after midnight.

Can you use JR Pass from the airport?

Yes, you can use your JR Pass from the airport. First, exchange your Exchange Order for your JR Pass and activate it at the airport. JR lines connect most airports in Japan to the nearest main cities.

However, please note that the JR Pass cannot be used on the Keisei Skyliner that connects Narita Airport to Tokyo.

Can you cancel your JR Pass?

Unredeemed Exchange Orders can be refunded within 11 months, but lost, damaged, or stolen vouchers will not be refunded, even in cases of local schedule changes or suspended services.

Do I need to reserve a seat for my luggage?

You only need to reserve a seat with an oversized baggage area if:

  • You are traveling on the Tokaido-Sanyo-Kyushu Shinkansen
  • Your luggage measures more than 160cm (length + width + height)

If your luggage is not oversized, you can still reserve an ordinary seat and store it in the overhead storage compartment.

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