Traveling with a Japan Rail Pass

Shinkansen train in Japan

Photo by jpellgen on Flickr

Author: Angela Guezen

A Japan Rail Pass can be an extremely valuable tool from getting around Japan. Japan Rail Pass holders have unlimited access to travel throughout Japan’s extensive rail network, including Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains, limited express trains, express trains and local and rapid trains.

Previously we looked at some of the benefits to taking the train in Japan, today we’re going to look at some top questions about the JR Pass by one the experts at ACP Rail.

Your Top 7 Questions – Answered by ACP Rail

Which trains can I travel on with a Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass can transport travelers across the six companies that make up the Japan Railways Group (JR Group), including JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku, JR West, JR Central, JR East and JR Hokkaido. Japan Rail Pass holders have unlimited access to travel throughout Japan’s extensive rail network, including Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains, limited express trains, express trains and local and rapid trains. The only exceptions are the pass is not valid for “NOZOMI” trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines or the Tokyo Monorail.

What’s the quality of rail services I can expect in Japan?

Shinkansen seating

Photo by wallyg on Flickr

Japan’s rail network is considered to be one of the most efficient in the world, spanning its four major islands, with a total length of about 20,000 kilometers of railway. Beyond the convenience of being able to travel far and wide, train travel in Japan also has a reputation for frequent service, punctuality, safety and high speed. Imagine Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains, travel up to speeds of 300km/hr! Not to mention high standards for modern facilities, comfort and cleanliness, Japan Rail Pass holders can look forward to spacious seating accommodations.

What Japan Rail Pass validities are available?

  • Select your Japan Rail Pass based on how many rail days suit your itinerary; 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days beginning on the date the pass is first used.
  • Ordinary Class (comparable to standard class) or Green Class (comparable to first class).
  • Adult or Child fares are available, where children 6-11 years pay half the adult fare and children under 6 years of age travel free if not occupying a seat, and accompanied by an adult in possession of a Japan Rail Pass.

Am I eligible to purchase a Japan Rail Pass?

Tokyo with train going past

Photo by tokyoform on Flickr

You are eligible to purchase a Japan Rail Pass if you are a tourist visiting Japan from abroad, under the entry status of “temporary visitor”, or a Japanese national who can show they have residency abroad. It’s important to note that a Japan Rail Pass cannot be purchased in Japan so be sure to arrange your Exchange Order prior to your trip.

What is an Exchange Order?

Once a Japan Rail Pass is paid for, the customer will receive an Exchange Order, which they will ultimately exchange in Japan for the actual Japan Rail Pass. The Exchange Order must be exchanged for a Japan Rail Pass within 3 months from the date the Exchange Order was issued. At the time of exchange, the customer must specify the date that they want to start using the pass. It can be any date within one month from the date the actual Japan Rail Pass is received. Once the Pass has a starting date written on it, the date cannot be changed.

Do I need a seat reservation when traveling with a Japan Rail Pass?

Japan train

Photo by tokyoform on Flickr

Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains and most limited express and ordinary express trains have reserved Green Class seats and both reserved and non-reserved Ordinary Class seats. To find a non reserved seat, simply show your Japan Rail Pass when boarding. However if you prefer to make a seat reservation, possible without additional payment, visit any Travel Service Centre or Reservation Office called “Midori-no-madoguchi” at a JR station in Japan. At one of these locations simply show your Japan Rail Pass and receive a reserved-seat ticket before boarding, thereby guaranteeing you a seat on the train of your choice. It is especially recommended to obtain a seat reservation over holidays and during rush hour, as seat reservations can be difficult to secure. Here are some examples:

  • December 29 to January 5 (The New Year holiday period is the most popular travel time for Japanese people)
  • April 29 to May 5 (Due to holidays, there is large-scale travel throughout Japan for leisure and recreation.)
  • August 13 to 15 (The “O-bon” season)
  • In major cities avoid traveling during the morning and evening rush hours (7:30-9:30 and 17:00-20:00).

Is there any additional advice you would give a Japan Rail Pass holder?

Looking out Shinkansen train window

Photo by Guwashi999 on Flickr

Yes, when traveling with a Japan Rail Pass, do not use an automatic ticket-reading gate, but instead show your pass at a manned ticket gate. Also ACP Rail International is a great resource for additional details, as they outline which stations have Japan Rail Pass exchange offices and they provide a detailed Japan rail map.

About the Author

Angela Guezen is a travel professional who has explored the likes of Australia, Japan, and Europe. With a love for beautiful landscapes she has great appreciation for train travel and shares this passion with fellow travelers by writing for www.ACPRail.com and wwwBritRail.com.

One Response to “Traveling with a Japan Rail Pass”

  1. Danica  on November 14th, 2012

    As you decided to travel to Japan, make sure that you are acquainted on the different means of transportation in the country. As you use rail pass, there is lesser hassle compared to other transportation.


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