JCT Tips - Rail Passes

shinkansen local train Money

One of the best things a visitor to Japan can get is a rail pass - locals view them with envy as they can provide unlimited travel on the rail network, including shinkansen all over the country.  However, many people find the JR Pass and the regional passes confusing and are unsure if they should get them or not.  For the tours JCT operates, we usually get nationwide passes as they provide an economic and simple way to get around the country, and we tend to travel a bit further than just a return Tokyo/Osaka trip.

This page deals with travel between cities rather than the local train, subway or metro passes that are available in different places around Japan.  Some of those can be quite useful, and stored value cards (SUICA and PASMO) can be handy if you do not want to buy individual tickets all the time, but that is not too time consuming if you know where you are going.

The Short Version:

The JR pass comes in three durations: 7 days, 14 days and 21 days.  Usage is counted in whole days, but if you start a journey on the last day of your pass, you can complete the journey even if it runs past midnight.  It is most likely to be the correct pass to get if you are travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka (that is, between east and west Japan) because the regional passes do not cover both of these cities under one pass.

Green Car Pass: Provides a higher level of comfort.  On shinkansen the seats are wider, more likely to have carpet, and the cars are better positioned so when you stop at stations, the exits are closer.

The cheapest adult pass is Y29,110.  If you are travelling Narita to Tokyo and then to Kyoto or Osaka return, this is cheaper than individual tickets (Y33,640 for Kyoto).  However, if you arrive at Tokyo and depart Osaka, then you do not get the return trip, so it is not as valuable.

Type:
Green
Ordinary
Duration
Adult
Child
Adult
Child
7-day
38,880 YEN
19,440 YEN
29,110 YEN
14,550 YEN
14-day
62,950 YEN
31,470 YEN
46,390 YEN
23,190 YEN
21-day
81,870 YEN
40,930 YEN
59,350 YEN
29,670 YEN

 

The Longer Version:

When considering if a JR Pass is worth it, you need to have a look at where you are going and over what duration.  Fares for different trips around the Japanese rail network are available to pull up on Hyderdia.com, but this can take quite a while to work out different combinations. 

The following shinkansen examples are pretty typical one-way journeys (adult, ordinary, reserved seat):

Tokyo to Kyoto: Y13,800

Tokyo to Kanazawa: Y14,320

Tokyo to Shin-Osaka: Y14,340

Tokyo to Niigata: Y10,770

Tokyo to Hakata: Y22,530

Tokyo to Sendai: Y11,400

Tokyo to Kagoshima-Chuo: Y30,260

Tokyo to Akita: Y18,140

Tokyo to Nagano: Y8,400

Tokyo to Shin-Aomori: Y17,550

Kyoto to Hiroshima: Y11,290

Kyoto to Nagoya: Y5,790

 

The longest shinkansen journey is between Kagoshima-Chuo to Sin-Aomori is basically one end of the line to the other, 2,177.5 km for Y43,480.

The following local train examples are useful to fill in some of the gaps in the shinkansen network (adult, ordinary, reserved seat):

Kanazawa to Kyoto: Y7,100

Tokyo to Nikko: Y5,780 (including shinkansen)

Kyoto to Takayama: Y8,770

Tokyo to Takayama: Y15,010 (including shinkansen)

Kyoto to Matsumoto: Y10,260

Tokyo to Matsumoto: Y7,100

Nagano to Matsumoto: Y1,140

Hakata to Nagasaki: Y4,700

Akita to Niigata: Y7,410

Nigatta to Kanazawa: Y10,430 (including shinkansen)

Aomori to Sapporo: Y13,570

Aomori to Akita: Y3,870

An example:

Our July 2015 train tour took us from Tokyo to Aomori, Akita, Niigata, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nagoya and back to Tokyo over 14 days.  The rail pass cost of Y46,390 was less than the individual trips.  Using the above tables gives an approximate cost of Y49,730 (Tokyo to Shin-Aomori: Y17,550, Aomori to Akita: Y3,870, Akita to Niigata: Y7,410, Kanazawa to Kyoto: Y7,100, Tokyo to Kyoto: Y13,800). 

The savings were actually larger because we included a day trip to Nagoya (Y11,580 return), a visit to Hirosaki from Aomori (Y1,340) and two of our guests went to Tokyo for shopping from Niigata (Y21,540 return).  We cancelled a trip to Hiroshima due to weather (typhoon), but that would have been Y22,580, and the Y6,440 for the short ride from Akita to Kakunodate was also covered, as would have been a visit to Nikko on the last day of the pass validity (but shopping in Tokyo was chosen instead).