What’s all this Japan Rail Pass business all about anyway? What is it and why should I care? Can’t I just buy a ticket when I get there?
Well, kind of.
But there’s more to it than that.
The Japan Rail Pass
The JRP is a heavily discounted train pass that allows you to use the famous Shinkansen (Bullet Train) and travel all over Japan in record time. We should make Tokyo to Kyoto (457 kilometres) in 2.45 hours.
And there’s snacks!
You should care because it’s a great deal and will allow you to see more of Japan in less time than using the normal trains and buses.
How do I book?
Booking a JRP is very similar to booking Studio Ghibli tickets. You have to do it through a vendor in your country and your JRP voucher will be mailed to you with an authenticating stamp on it. You can book the whole thing online too!
If you’re in Australia JRP’s can be purchased via JTB travel just like the Ghibli tickets.
If you’re planning to stay in Tokyo and travel around Japan from there I can’t recommend the Japan Rail Pass (ALL) enough as it allows you to travel in every direction. If you’re going to a specific part of Japan and are planning to travel around that area, an area-specific rail pass is more appropriate. You can purchase rail passes for:
- JR East
- JR West
- JR Hokkadio
- JR Kyushu
- JR Shikoku
- JR Sanyo Shikoku All Kyushu
As you can see on this useful interactive map the JRP (ALL) is important if you want to visit Kyoto or even Mount Fuji as there is no specific rail pass that connects Tokyo to these areas.
What will it cost?
At first glance the JRP (ALL) can seem expensive sitting at around $300 AUD per person for seven days of consecutive travel in Economy.
But, considering that without this pass a one-way ticket on the Shinkansen to Kyoto is $150 AUD, it really is quite a good deal. It’s even more of a good deal when you realise that the JRP will allow you to travel on many of the local train lines including the Yamanote Circle route (although there are exceptions for private lines). Some of the lines that the JRP pass covers include:
- JR Yamanote Line
- JR Chuo Line
- JR Narita Express Line
- JR Osaka Loop Line
- JR Kansai Line
One slight catch is that the JRP can only be used for consecutive days of travel. So if you book a seven day pass you have to use all of your train travel within seven days rather than spread out over say a fortnight or a month. You can get a pass that allows you to travel on individual days but these passes are only available for area specific JRP passes and NOT the JRP (ALL) version.
It’s not really a huge problem but it will shape your travel plans at least a little bit. For us it means that the first half of our trip is going to be very busy and travel heavy.
But that’s not such a bad thing. It means we’ll have to become familiar with the rail system quickly so it’ll take less time to become comfortable using it. In my books that’s a positive.
What happens next?
A week after you’ve ordered your rail pass you’ll receive an exchange order in the mail that looks like this:
This exchange order must be…er, well exchanged when you get to Japan for your actual rail pass. You can do this at most train stations at a designated Midori-no Madoguchi (Green Window). Present your exchange order and passport to have your actual JRP ticket issued. The symbol for a Midori-no Madoguchi looks like this:
[NOTE: No longer correct! The Midori-no Madoguchi is where you book Shinkansen tickets. Change your order at the Information Centre at Shibuya Station. Read more here.]
When you visit the Midori-no madoguchi you designate the start-date of your pass. That is your seven, 14 or 21 days won’t begin until you exchange your order. And the start date doesn’t have to be the day you pick it up. If you want to do your travelling in the second half of your trip or in the middle you can totally do that so long as your start date isn’t more than one month in advance of the day you activate the pass.
Once you have your pass make sure to reserve your seats for any immediate Shinkansen travel. Some trains will accept tickets that don’t have reserved seats others won’t. Best be safe and reserve your seats while you have the chance.
If you’re using the Shinkansen to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto you CAN’T use the JRP on the Nozomi Shinkansen. You have to ride the Hikari or Kodama lines to go to Kyoto. That’s because Nozomi line is used by residents of Japan whereas the Hikari and Kodama lines service international travellers. This infographic shows exactly how the Shinkansen system works. 🙂
Oh oh and one very last thing? This is Tokyo’s train network:
So now you know what the JRP is, how to buy one, what it will cost and what it will save you; your only question should be: what awesome places should I visit?
Until next time,
Kally & Mon.
[Feature Image Credit: Radials Blog]
[Image credit (1): Japan Rail]
[Image credit (2): Peas on Toast]
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