They say it’s often about the journey, not the destination – and that’s certainly true when it comes to riding the trains in Japan.
Japanese trains, particularly the shinkansen (bullet train), are more than just a way to get somewhere. They are a cultural experience in themselves – and something the JR Rail Pass has made an affordable option for travellers for years.
One of my favourite things to do in Japan is to grab the lunch box known as an ‘ekiben’ from the train station, plus perhaps a coffee (or a beer later in the day) from the convenience store, and then settle into the comfortable seat of a shinkansen.
Smooth as a cloud, the train glides along at high speed, and I just stare out the window, watching the Japanese countryside go past. People always get excited about seeing Mount Fuji from the shinkansen, but I also love seeing the outskirts of the cities and the changing landscapes.
Beyond just the enjoyment of the Japanese trains, buying a JR Pass also made financial sense for many visitors to Japan.
These long-distance shinkansen trips are expensive (about 14,000 yen/US$95 one-way between Tokyo and Osaka, for example) which is why getting a JR Rail Pass has long been a popular way to save money.
That’s because once you’ve bought it, the JR Pass gives you unlimited train travel for a set period of time (7, 14, or 21 days), meaning you can travel to a bunch of places in Japan without spending a fortune.
And even that flexibility can sometimes be worth the cost of a Japan Rail Pass. There was one time I had the pass that I just randomly jumped on a bullet train every day from Tokyo station and did day trips to wherever it was heading!
An important note about the JR Pass. You need to buy it before you arrive in Japan so a voucher can be sent to you!
I recommend getting it in advance here.
A large price increase in October 2023 means the Japan Rail Pass doesn’t offer as good value as it once did – and it is reasonable to now ask if the JR Pass is worth it.
For many visitors to Japan, it will be – but don’t just assume anymore that you should get it. You may be able to have the cultural experience of riding the shinkansen and actually save money by just doing individual tickets.
To see if you should buy the JR Rail Pass, I’m going to go through all the important information now.
Be warned – it can be quite confusing because there’s a complicated series of train networks in Japan that all have their own rules. But…