Japan Rail Pass 2016

JR Pass Tips

If you’re traveling to Japan and you plan on seeing more than Tokyo, then you’ll want to take advantage of the JR Pass (also referred to as the Japan Rail Pass). These JR Pass Tips will help you understand when, where and how to use your key to Japan’s ultra efficient train system.

2024 UPDATE: Click here for information about the new Japan Rail Pass.

JR Pass Tips

Japan’s rail system is, without a doubt, one of the best in the world. It’s punctual, clean, convenient and by far the best way to get around the country.

The biggest drawback is the expense. For example, one ticket on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto costs about $130 one way. That’s were the JR Pass comes into play. A 7-day pass costs around $270 and gives you unlimited rides on JR trains (including the Shinkansen).

Where to Exchange Your JR Pass Voucher

When you order a Japan Rail Pass, you won’t actually get your pass in the mail. Instead, you receive a voucher that you’ll exchange for your JR Pass once you’re in Japan.

There are several places to exchange your voucher, but the easiest is the JR East Travel Service Center located at the airport. If you land in Narita or Haneda airports, you can use your newly acquired JR Pass to get into the city.

Rail Pass Exchange at Narita Airport

You can also exchange your voucher at major train stations, but you have to go to an office that is specifically setup to exchange vouchers. These offices have different hours from the normal ticketing offices and they vary from station to station.

Lines are usually very long when these offices first open because most people have the intention of exchanging their voucher before they start their day of sightseeing or travel. I recommend going to the office sometime in the afternoon, preferably the day before you plan to travel. It is perfectly fine to exchange your voucher and have your JR Pass start on a future date.

Note: Please be aware that you can’t go to any JR Ticket Office to exchange your voucher. They will only exchange the voucher at the designated offices. No exceptions will be made.

When and Where You Can Use Your Pass

There are no blackout dates for the Japan Rail Pass. You can use the JR Pass on almost any JR train any time of the year. However, it may be very difficult to get reserved seats during peak travel seasons.

The JR Pass is valid on nearly all Japan Railway trains. The Japan Rail is the largest train system in Japan, so you can get just about everywhere you need to go with your pass.

The Rail Pass can also be used to ride on the JR city loop buses in Hiroshima and on the JR Miyajima ferry.

Note: The JR Pass is not valid on private train lines, city buses or subway lines. Not all trains, or train tracks, belong to JR. If you’re on a JR train that switches to a private company’s track, you’ll need to pay a small fare for that portion of the journey.

How to Get Reserve Seat Tickets

With the JR Pass you can go to a JR Ticket Office and get reserved seat tickets on any train that has reserved seating, including the Shinkansen.

Tickets can sell out quickly during high season, so I recommend getting your tickets in advance. The Shinkansen trains during the 2020 New Year’s holiday were at 180% capacity. That means a lot of people were standing. This is a BIG pain with luggage.

Note: Please understand that the JR Ticketing Offices are not travel agents. If you’re getting reserved seats, it is expected that you know where you want to go, the dates, and the times you’d like to travel, before going to the ticket office. I have seen many tourists get frustrated, but the reality is that this office is there to issue tickets only.

What to Do If You Miss Your Train

You don’t necessarily need reserved seats on most trains. Local trains run often, stop at every station and very rarely have reserved seats. Missing one of these trains will only disrupt your schedule.

Most express trains that have reserved seats also have non-reserved cars. So you can always hop on the next express train and sit in the non-reserved car, provided there are seats available.

If you have a reserved seat ticket and you miss your train, and/or you know you’re not going to use the ticket, it is customary to return your ticket to the nearest JR Ticketing Office so they can put the reserved seats back into circulation.

Note: There are a few trains that are reserved seats only, like the Narita Express, the Kagayaki and the Hayabusa Shinkansen. If you miss a train that is reserve seats only, you’ll need to book a seat on the next train.

Ordinary or Green Car JR Pass

Japan’s trains are clean, comfortable, and safe, so paying nearly double the price for the Green Car JR Pass is not really necessary.

Local, and most rapid, trains only have non-reserved, ordinary seats. The Shinkansen, the Narita Express and other Express trains have green car seating, but the differences between Ordinary and Green Car aren’t that huge.

Don’t Damage or Lose Your JR Pass

Your JR Pass is extremely valuable, beyond the amount you pay for it. Don’t fold it, or damage the laminated ticket on the inside of the pass. Any damage or tears may cause your pass to be invalid.

If you lose your pass, it’s gone. There is no re-issuing of a JR Pass, your only option is to buy a new pass. There are limited places where you can buy one and it will cost more than it does to buy it online and have mailed to your home. The only place I have personally seen them for sale in Japan is at Narita Airport for nearly $100 more.

I recommend treating your JR Pass the same as you treat your Passport. Always keep it safe, in the same place and don’t lose or damage it. For the one, two or three weeks you’re in Japan, it will be one of the most valuable possessions you have.

How to Get a JR Pass

We recommend JRailpass.com. They ship your voucher to you via UPS or FedEx and it usually arrives within 2 to 3 business days. They also sell SIM cards and lease Pocket WiFi routers that you can pick up once you arrive at the airport.

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