Taking the Train in Japan – Part 2

Japanese train station attendant bowing to train

In Part 1 of our complete guide to travel travel in Japan we took a look at the different classes of trains, in Part 2 we’re going to brave the unknown by looking at how to actually purchase your ticket.

The Japan Rail Pass

If you plan to be doing a lot of train travel during your visit, you can’t go wrong by purchasing the Japan Rail Pass before you leave. The Japan Rail Pass will give you 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days unlimited travel on the national Japan Railways (JR) network. The price will vary according to distance you want it to cover and the days of travel you need. The Standard Pass is what most travelers go for and can run you from $280 – $570 depending on how many days of travel you need.

What you must remember with the Japan Rail Pass is that it is only available to foreigners and can only be purchased outside of Japan. When you purchase the pass you will be given an Exchange Order that you will exchange for the actual pass when you arrive in Japan. Another thing to remember is that the Exchange Order is only valid up to three months. That means you should purchase the pass within three months before your travel date.

Here are a few places you can purchase the Exchange Order before your trip.

With the Japan Rail Pass in hand you can make reservations at any JR ticket office. Most major stations will Ticket Reservation Offices with staff that will be happy to take care of you. If you’re thinking of reserving a seat (not necessary except on busy travel days), you need to provide information such as, the name, number and departure time of the train, and your preference of smoking or a non-smoking seat.

If you’re going to be traveling mainly in one area it may be cheaper for you to purchase a Regional Travel Pass rather than the Standard Pass. The Kansai Area Pass, for instance, will give you unlimited travel between Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, and Himeji, but they are only available for up to 4 days of travel.

The Manual Method

When I crunched the numbers for our trip to Japan I figured that it would be cheaper for us to just purchase the tickets ourselves rather than buy the JR Pass. If you decide to do the same, trust me when I say that it’s not any more difficult than if you had purchased the JR Pass.

Simply go up to the same Ticket Reservation Offices and purchase your tickets using cash or a credit card. If you want to learn a simple phrase and try your hand at some Japanese, be sure to check out our guide on How to buy tickets in Japanese.

What’s Next?

As you can see, longer distance travel in Japan is relativity simple. Where things get little tricky is when you need to buy short distance tickets from a ticket vending machine. We’ll talk about that in Part 3. Also, don’t forget Part 1!

Photo Credits: Station Manager by – Samm Bennett

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