The Wonders of the Japan Rail Pass

12:30 AM

Japan Rail Pass

Looking at the bullet train rates in (a trusted website with all the train schedules, routes and prices from and to different points in Japan), seems like a quick, high-tech, inter-city Japanese tour would remain just a dream. Buses would usually take overnight and planes are just not exciting. But the Shinkansen (the Japanese name for their bullet train system which means "new trunk line") has a treat for tourists - the Japan Rail Pass. 

No, this news isn't new. And a lot of travelers from all over the world already took advantage of yet another extravagant Japanese offer. However, after trying the JR Pass myself, I was overwhelmed with how huge I saved up. We have to talk about the JR Pass again!   

How huge is "huge" savings?!

Japan Rail Pass

The 7-day pass costs $275 or roughly PhP12,900 using the current exchange rate. Plus the standard shipping fee for the Exchange Order (full instructions will be explained later in this post), the total amount I paid is PhP13,500. 

Now, you would ask: "What's so good about paying PhP13,500 just to ride trains?!" 

I used the pass to travel to five Japanese cities, from Tokyo to down south in Fukuoka, without paying extra for my outside-the-city journeys. Also, take note that JR Pass covers inside city lines like the Yamanote in Tokyo and other JR lines in Kyoto, Osaka and other big cities like Fukuoka. 

To know how much we actually saved, let's go to the details. 

All rates are converted to Philippine Peso at 0.46 JPY to PHP exchange rate 

Day 2 
Fukuoka (Hakata Station) to Kyoto (2 Shinkansen rides) - PhP4,505.25

Day 3 
Kyoto to Kanazawa - PhP1,833.27 
Kanazawa to Kyoto - PhP1,833.27
Use of the JR Sagano Line in Kyoto from my accommodation to city central (7 times) - PhP641.64

Day 4 - 5 
Kyoto to Hiroshima - PhP2,969.89
Use of the JR Line from Higashi-Hiroshima to Hiroshima downtown (4 times) - PhP1,063.29
Hiroshima Station to Miyajima Island (Local JR Rapid Train + Ferry) - PhP352.90

Day 6 - 7
Hiroshima to Tokyo - PhP5,343.97
Use of the JR Yamanote Line to different destinations in Tokyo - PhP824.97

Day 8 
Tokyo to Fukuoka - PhP6,333.03
Use of the Kuko Subway Line in Fukuoka - PhP239.14

TOTAL - PhP25,940.62

SAVINGS - PhP12,440.62

They say that the pass would only be efficient if you would ride the Shinkansen a lot. That's true. To estimate, break-even would come after at least 4 Shinkansen rides plus the use of the regular JR lines in Tokyo. 

If you would stay in one city, ditch the pass. But then again, Japan's beauty isn't limited to one city. Explore! When you do, get the pass! 

Is getting the JR Pass a pain in the ass?

Japan Rail Pass
Boarding platforms especially in huge stations like Tokyo and Kyoto can be confusing. Tokyo has 12 Shinkansen tracks while Kyoto has 8. Although there is no need to reserve tickets to ride a train using the JR Pass, reservations are helpful in a way that the information like platform numbers, bullet train numbers, car numbers for reserved and non-reserved seats and times of departure are printed. Of course, the Japanese are always ready to help. :) 

Japan Rail Pass
I used to check out the bullet train schedules, listed it down with dates, times and bullet train numbers (example: Hikari 456), and handed it down to this very helpful ticketing person just to make sure that I have seats reserved even during peak times. Bullet trains are mostly 60- 80% full but Mondays, Fridays and weekends can be very busy.  

Japan Rail Pass
It is also important to check the trains on the dates and time of your journey. The JR Pass does not cover the Nozomi and the Mizuho bullet trains. And these are the trains that service more trips. You'd better be ready for back-up schedules with Shinkansens included in the JR Pass like Hikari, Sakura, and Kodama. 

Japan Rail Pass
This is me arriving in my platform 20 minutes ahead. Just in case you don't know yet, bullet trains leave on time! In 2015, the average tardiness was 0.32 seconds. Nope, you're not risking 32 counts. Although as a JR Pass holder, you can always book and wait for the next train but it could only be available in the next 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Flashback to two week ago, I purchased the Japan Rail Pass online at I never doubted the website's legitimacy since it has been mentioned in almost all of my readings about Japan. I got mine with no hassle. So as long as you follow the instructions carefully, you should get your pass easy too. 

The Japanese designed the JR Pass to lure in more foreign tourists. Interestingly, the Japanese passport holders or the Japanese people themselves are not eligible to buy it. Or else, their trains would end up bankrupt. 

It is exclusive to non-Japanese passport holders tagged as "TEMPORARY VISITORs". This means that if you are travelling to Japan as an exchange student, with diplomatic purposes, for marriage or for any others reasons apart from being a tourist, the pass won't work. Regardless of duration (15 days, 30 days or 5 years) and term (single entry or multiple entry), as long as your Japanese VISA is marked as "temporary visitor", you're good. 

The pass can only be purchased outside Japan, which makes sense, As mentioned, it is for foreign guests only. You can purchase it online or through select travel agencies. When processed successfully, an Exchange Order will be mailed to your home country. Mine came all the way from Paris, France. Shipping usually takes 2-3 days. I got mine in 3 days. At least a week before departure would be a safe purchase period to give more room just in case there are delays.  

Japan Rail Pass
A few in Japan speaks English but ticketing counters have translation services and most personnel here know basic English. Again, for ease, use and just show them your smartphone for that specific trip that you want to book. 

Japan Rail Pass
My ordinary pass is good for 7 days. There is the green car pass which offers better seats but for a "better" price. JR Passes are also available in 14 days and 21-day validity.

Japan Rail Pass
Just so I will be reminded each time, I reserved all the Shinkansen trips that I had in 7 days. Arranging the tickets in order and having the information printed are huge help. 

Of course, bring the Exchange Order with you. Upon arrival in Japan, you will exchange it with the actual pass in Shinkansen ticketing stations. During exchange, verification process of your passport and VISA will be made. So make sure that during ordering, your name will match from your passport, to your VISA, to your Exchange Order. 

JR Passes are available in 7-days, 14-days and 21-days duration. The day you redeemed your pass in Shinkansen ticketing counters, will be counted as Day 1. If you would stay in the country for 10 days and only have a 7-day pass, plan carefully when to use it. You can choose to redeem the pass only on your second or third day. They use calendar days. So even if you exchange your pass at 11:55 PM, that day is already day 1. Five minutes later, you're already on day 2. It would be better if you can redeem your pass in the morning when you start moving from one place to another. 

The pass will be attached to a "passport" a little bit bigger than your actual passport. It will be sealed. Take care of it! Damaged passes or removed seals will make it invalid. 

The expiration date will be printed in bold. This is about the only entry in your pass that the gate guards will check. Most JR trains have special lanes for pass holders so you can show them your JRP to get instant access like a VIP. 

More of the good stuff and some insider info

Japan Rail Pass Arrived in Tokyo from Hiroshima aboard the Sakura and the Hikari with interchange in Shin-Kobe. My trip would've costed me PhP5,300+. I got it for free because of my JR Pass. 

I'd like to emphasize that aside from bullet trains, all JR trains inside huge cities are also covered. Commuter trains in Japan are expensive so if there's a way for you to use JR trains, go for it. The most important line in Tokyo would be the Yamanote Line which traverses tourist districts like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Kanda and Tokyo stations among 30+ others. The only JR train line not covered is the Rinkai Line which would take you to the tourist island of Odaiba. Since you would pay anyway, take the scenic Yurekamome elevated train instead. 

In Kyoto, the JR Sagano line is also covered which would take you to destinations like the Arashiyama Bamboo forest. The Kyoto Sight-seeing bus is also covered! In Hiroshima, the JR Ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima Island, where the iconic Torii is located, is also free! :) 

There's more! JR buses in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are also covered. The express lines to Tokyo Station from Narita and Haneda airports are also part of the pass. 

Sweet, isn't it? Staying in more than one city and staying for more than 5 days in Japan? Be a little friendlier to your pocket. Get the JR Pass!

Japan Rail Pass
The Peace Memorial Park, where the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Ground Zero are located, is just a tram away from the Hiroshima Station where most Shinkansens pass by. I'm glad to have attended the 71st Anniversary of the World War II Bombing. It was such an inspiring event. 

Japan Rail Pass
The Kodama (meaning, "spirit")  is said to be the slowest of all the Shinkansens. Even with that description, it is being operated at an average speed of 285 km/hour. 

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