One of the most useful tools for tourists in Japan is the JR Pass or Japan Rail Pass, a pass that allows us to make unlimited trips on JR group trains. In addition, it allows us to board some buses and the Miyajima ferry at no additional cost during its validity period.
There are some limitations on some services shinkansen or bullet train, but this will be discussed later. The important thing is that, with this pass, we can travel without worrying about the number of trains that we get between practically all the places in Japan. A wonder to enjoy all the destinations in this country.
Normally this pass was not sold in Japan, so we had to buy it before traveling to Japan. There is currently a limited duration test to buy it while in Japan in some stations. Later we will also expand on it.
Buy your JR Pass before traveling to Japan
To travel by train throughout Japan without worries, you can buy the JR Pass through our trusted provider and thus help us keep the web active. And you also save money from buying it when you arrive in Japan.
For those of you who don’t know, the Japanese Railways (JNR or Japanese National Railways ) were privatized years ago. Various regional companies inherited from that great public company emerged: JR Kyūshū, JR Shikoku, JR West, JR Central, JR East and JR Hokkaidō. It is in these 6 companies where we can use the JR Pass, which has its own website in several languages, although not in Spanish.
Who can request the JR Pass
The JR Pass can only be requested by people who visit Japan for tourism and have a temporary visitor stamp in their passport. That is, even if you are not Japanese, if for any reason you have a re-entry permit in the country, or your status is a student, or any other than a temporary visitor, they will not allow you to buy the exchange order to obtain the JR Pass No matter how short your stay in Japan.
As of April 1, 2017, it was said that no Japanese could buy the JR Pass, when until that moment if they had a resident status in a foreign country, they could apply for it. The criticisms were such that the regulations were modified two months later, on June 1, 2017. Thus, Japanese who certify that they have been residing in a foreign country for 10 years or more can obtain the JR Pass.
It is important to note that the JR Pass is personal and non-transferable, a question that often arises. And you need to communicate the name and passport number when buying it.
There are types of JR Pass and their prices
This is where we will realize how much it compensates to buy a JR Pass for sightseeing in Japan. And it is that a one-week pass leaves for a price similar to a round-trip shinkansen with a reserved seat between Tokyo and Osaka. If the child is 0 to 5 years old, he will not need a pass or a ticket, but will not be entitled to his own seat. If you are 6 to 11, you will have to pay the child rate and, if your age is equal to or greater than 12 years, you will have to pay as an adult.
As you can see, the JR Pass can have three different durations, 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. In addition, we have the distinction depending on whether it is enough for us to travel in a tourist or ordinary class, or we want to do it in the Green class, equivalent to the Preferred class or Business in an airplane. The detail of the consecutive days is important. Because it doesn’t work for hours. Even if we use the pass at the end of the day, it will tell us that day as the first one.
Under normal conditions, buying the normal JR Pass will suffice. If we travel in periods of high occupancy, such as the August Obon parties or similar, we may be compensated to pay a little more to be able to secure a place more easily. And although trains always carry fewer seats in Green class than in ordinary class, there are also fewer people traveling in this class.
How to buy the JR Pass in Japan
Between March 8, 2017 and March 31, 2020 the JR Pass is also sold in Japan. This began as a pilot project but its duration has been extended several times. It is quite logical to think that the purchase of the JR Pass in Japan will always be available. Like if we bought it before traveling, it is only available for tourists with a non-Japanese passport. And in addition, prices are more expensive than if we buy it before traveling and we can only get it in a small number of stations.
But without a doubt, for those who decide at the last moment and don’t mind paying a little more, it’s good news. Of course, we continue to recommend calculating the total price of the routes we want to make in order to buy it before traveling, as we tell you in this entry.
Is it worth buying the JR Pass?
Before we talked about the cost of a shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, which in the same type of train that we can use with the JR Pass would cost us ¥ 14,140 per way, that is, ¥ 28,280 round trip. As we can see, almost the same price as a one-week JR Pass.
Anyway, to know if it is worth buying, we have to calculate what routes we will do during our trip to Japan. With these routes we will look for prices in Hyperdia. And if we see that we are close to obtaining profitability, we can group the large displacements so that they all occur during the period of validity of the JR Pass that we have purchased.
In case you have more doubts, you have a post about whether this pass is worth buying or not. We have updated this post recently, to make it even easier to calculate. In it we have included examples of itineraries in which we have calculated the individual costs of each train, as you would have to do. In this way you can easily compare the costs of making the trip to Japan by paying each way or use the JR Pass instead.
But as we said at the beginning, at least the one-week pass makes up for you to make a long-distance round trip. An example would be a Tokyo-Kyoto or Tokyo-Osaka. Or also a Tokyo-Kanazawa, Tokyo-Shin-Aomori, etc.
Where is the JR Pass purchased?
For the first-time traveler this part may be a bit more complex, because the JR Pass cannot be purchased in Japan (except during the trial period we have mentioned). However, although it is bought before traveling to Japan, it is once in Japan when they deliver it to us.
For this, what we buy from our country of residence is an “exchange order”. We can buy this order comfortably through a reliable supplier. And in doing so, you also help us a little to keep Japanism alive and with the best information about Japan.
When you buy it, you will have to write your full name as it appears in the passport. And, very important, you have to take into account the date of your trip. Because the exchange order has an expiration of 3 months. If you arrive in Japan after this time, your exchange order will be wet paper. So it is good to buy the pass well in advance so that the order arrives at home (our provider takes very little time to send them) but with doing it a month before the date of the trip, more than enough.
If you buy the JR Pass from Mexico, Argentina and other Latin American countries, the shipment is made from the office that our supplier has in Los Angeles. Thus, it will arrive in a very short time since it is not necessary to wait for a shipment from Europe. From what they have told us, in 1 or 2 days you can have the exchange order at home.
In addition, something new is that they have added customer service in Spanish by phone. Of course, Monday through Friday only and during office hours. If you want it available 24 hours there is also, but in this case only in English. They also offer customer service by email and even in person at their Madrid office.
As you can see, our supplier continues to improve so that you can get the JR Pass in the best conditions and you can enjoy Japan without problems.
How the JR Pass is redeemed in Japan
Once we arrive in Japan, we have to exchange this document for the JR Pass itself. This can be done at the JR offices at Narita and Haneda (Tokyo), Kansai (Osaka) and other major airports, as well as at the main JR train stations. On the official website there is also a list of which stations have offices that can redeem the exchange order for the JR Pass, with their schedules listed. Easier impossible.
Of course, you will also need your passport to verify the type of visa you have. They will also verify that the name on it is the same as that of the exchange order. Until 2012, a form had to be filled out, but this made the process tedious and now it is enough to fill in the personal data in the JR Pass card itself.
Here we tell you how and where to redeem the JR Pass in the main Japanese airports. As we say, there will be times when you may want to go to an office outside the airports. This way you will avoid long lines. But if you want to leave it done just after landing, with the photos of the following sections there will be no chance of getting lost.
What to consider when redeeming the JR Pass in Japan
With your exchange order, you have to go to a JR office where they manage the Japan Rail Pass. As we have said, for the vast majority of people traveling to Japan, this is usually at one of the main airports of entry into the country: Narita and Haneda (in Tokyo), or Kansai (in Osaka).
Once there, you must consider these points:
When we enter or stand in line at the office, they will deliver the JR Pass or Japan Rail Pass. But beware, with this pass we still cannot travel. And it is that all the data in the back are blank.
We must fill in with our data the back side of the JR Pass that we will have previously delivered. We will need to write our name, surname, nationality and passport number. And everything exactly the same as it appears in the passport. In addition, it also has to be exactly the same as in the exchange order we receive.
The interior of the Japan Rail Pass contains the conditions for its use, but does not have any type of information of interest either for the traveler or for JR employees. We do not understand, therefore, the sense that the JR Pass remains a cardboard in diptych format. Because almost nobody reads those conditions, since the one who travels to Japan has usually read them previously or has been informed on a website like Japonism.
On the back side, a JR employee will place a card the same size as a standard shinkansen or train ticket. This card contains the information of the validity period of our pass, the type and the price. You will see that the JR Pass has a transparent adhesive cover to plasticize and protect that part of the pass so that it cannot be falsified and also does not spoil. But this will be done by the JR employee when we deliver the cardboard filled with our data. Note at this time that we can specify a validity start date after the date on which we are redeeming the pass.
At the bottom right of that back face, you will see a blank space. Here JR employees will seal the pass each time we book train tickets, adding the reservation date by hand. In this part of the pass they will put a stamp on the first day of use, which will be the only one we will surely have. And, honestly, this part makes very little sense, because the space is small, and on trips like the ones you can find on our itineraries, you will end up getting on so many trains that it is normal for not to fit so many stamps. And in fact, on many occasions they will give us tickets with a seat reservation without sealing anything in the pass.
How to find in Narita the place to redeem the JR Pass or Japan Rail Pass?
Simple, you just have to follow us along the path we did on one of our many trips through Japanese lands. We take the opportunity to collect images all the way from the moment we arrive at the airport’s terminal 1 until we reach the JR office.
As soon as we get off the plane in terminal 1, we pass immigration, then we collect the luggage and finally we pass customs. That’s when we really go to the terminal itself. In front of the area through which you leave there are some public transport information posts and stairs that go down.
This area is easily recognizable because it has signs in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English that says Railways, and there we must go. If you arrive at terminal 2, you have to look for signs that also mark Railways. You will see that Keisei has a good advertising campaign because the train we see on the poster is the Skyliner, one of the two options to get from Narita to Tokyo in a short time. But the Skyliner is not included in the JR Pass.