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    Is the Japan Rail Pass Worth It? Use these 7 simple questions to see if it’s right for you.

    The beautiful archipelago of Japan is one of the most amazing travel highlights in Asia. Plus, with the fast, reliable, and comfortable Japan Railway network, and the futuristic bullet trains, seeing the 2,361 mile long country by train is a bucket list worthy experience.  In all Japan’s efficiency, the Japan Railway Group makes a pass available for unlimited train travel throughout Japan for a period up to 21 days for one simple purchase.  But at 66,000 Yen (~$485) for 21 days (and 100,000 yen for 21 days with new pricing), is Japan Rail Pass worth it?



    Is Japan Rail Pass Worth It? Use these 7 checks to see if the JR Pass is worth it, or if you’re better off buying individual ticks

    Use the simple rules to determine if either of the Japan Rail Passes are worth purchasing for you:

    A JR Pass is worth purchasing if:
    1. You will travel the 2,900 km (1,800 miles) trip by train from the northernmost station (Wakkani Station, Hokaido) to the Southernmost Station (Nishi-Oyama Station, Kyushu) (Click to see the Google Maps Route and Prices)

    2. If you will travel from Tokyo by train to either the northern tip or the southern tip of Japan (~2,900 km or 1,800 miles)

    3. If you will travel roundtrip by Shinkansen bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka (or the equivalent) 2 or more times within a 7 day period, 3 or more times in 14 day period, or 4 or more times in a 21 day period (Click to see Google Maps Tokyo –> Osaka Shinkansen bullet train route and prices)

    4. If you want to be able to reserve your train tickets up to one month before departure

    5. If you want consistent access to the first class VIP trains (via the Green pass)

    A JR Pass is not worth purchasing if
    1. You have not defined your itinerary yet and are unsure how much you will travel between cities

    2. If you prefer not to plan your itineraries and go with the flow in a hop on hop off fashion

    Is Japan Rail Pass Worth It? Japan Rail Pass New Prices

    And remember:

    • You can still purchase a JR Pass when you get to Japan, from official outlets, so don’t stress too much now

    • You can easily get a refund (we tried it) if you book a JR Pass through official outlets, so again, don’t stress to much and realize that it may be worth paying an extra few dollars to purchase from an official


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    The Bottom Line on Whether Purchasing a Japan Rail Pass is Worth it

    If you have a trip fully planned to travel the entire length of the country in a 21 day period, the JR pass cost is worth it.

    If you have enough of your trip planned to calculate the cost of travel by train between cities, you can use Google Maps directions function to compare the cost of the trip, purchasing individual train tickets as you go, and see if the JR Pass is worth it for your trip. (Click here to go to Google Maps routes for trains in Japan, with fare prices)

    If you do not have an itinerary planned I recommend not buying a JR Pass because, from personal experience, this puts more pressure on you to take train trips to break even that you otherwise might not take. Additionally, purchasing train tickets in Japan one at a time is still a smooth and enjoyable travel experience.

    However, if you are likely to travel between cities frequently enough to equal one trip from the northernmost station in Japan to southernmost tip (roughly 3,000 kilometers, or 1,800 miles), the JR pass will be worth it, as this is the break even point for purchasing pass.

    The JR Pass does offer perks of advance reservations online, and (with the green pass) first class tickets with luggage

    Additionally, if you are an obsessive planner and want to book your trains in advance (up to one month) or insist on riding VIP in the first class cars (using the JR Green Pass) the JR Pass’s perks may come in handy for the sake of convenience.

    The JR Pass does offer the Bullet Train free, which is fast, luxurious, and convenient for exploring distant parts of Japan without planning

    If you plan to frequently take the bullet train to get between cities in Japan, the JR Pass may be worth it, as 7 of the 9 Shinkansen bullet trains (excluding Nozomi and Mizuho) are included. With each one way ride on the Shinkanen costing $100+, the savings can add up if you’re making rounds trip journeys from a base location like Tokyo or Osaka.

    For instance, a round-trip ride from Tokyo to Osaka via the Shinkansen bullet train is 29,000 Yen (~$200). If you plan on traveling just this 2.5 hour route, Tokyo to Osaka, twice in a 7 day period (with 50,000 Yen for a 7 day pass), or 3 times in a 14-day or 21 day period (with the new 14 day pass costing 80,000 Yen and the new 21 day pass costing 100,000 Yen), the JR Pass will be worth it.

    The 7 JR Train Lines that are included with the jr pass are:

    Bullet Trains Running from Tokyo to the south that are included in the JR Pass

    • Tokaido Shinkansen: Connects Tokyo with Osaka

    • Sanyo Shinkansen: Connects Osaka with Fukuoka

    • Kyushu Shinkansen: Runs throughout the island of Kyushu running north to south

    Bullet Trains Running from Tokyo to North, and are included in the JR Pass

    • Akita Shinkansen Line

    • Hokkaido Shinkansen Line

    • Hokuriku Shinkansen Line

    • Joetsu Shinkansen Line

    • Tokoku Shinkansen Line

    • Yamagata Shinkansen Line

    Bullet Trains not included in the JR Pass

    • Nozomi which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines and requires additional payment

    • Mizuho which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines and requires additional payment

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    If you plan to do an epic north to south or south to north exploration of Japan, I highly recommend doing so by train using the JR Pass

    If you plan to travel the entire length of the country during your Japan trip, either from the far north Wakkanai Station in the Hakaido Prefecture to the far south Nishi-Oyama Station in the Kyushu prefecture, from the far south to the far north, or from Tokyo to either tip (north or south) and back, I highly recommend purchasing a JR Pass. The cost of an unlimited Japan Rail Pass over 21 days just barely becomes cheaper than the cost of buying individual tickets, and will carry the perks of free rides that you may take off your planned route. By comparison, the 14 day and 7 day JR Pass prices are absolutely worth purchasing for a north to south train Journey, or from Tokyo to either tip of Japan and back.

    To travel the length of the entire country, or travel either half twice (out and back) would cost roughly 67,000 yen when paying single fares, making a full country to by train barely cheaper than the price of the Japan Rail Pass at 60,450 Yen at current prices. However, once the new prices of 50,000 yen for a 7 day pass, 80,000 yen for a 14 day pass, and 100,000 yen for a 21 day pass prices begin, you will need to assess whether you will be able to ride the equivalent of the ~40,000 additional yen in a 21 day period.

     Note: JR pass prices will increase in October 2023 making single ticket purchases look like an even better idea, unless you are planning a true Japan train adventure


    Bottom Line: If you have a big train journey in mind and plan to travel at least the length of Japan in rides, or the equivalent, the JR Pass will save you money.  If you travel less than this, then you are better off purchasing an ”IC” card to charge with credit and easily swip and pay for individual rides between cities.


    Is the JR Pass Worth it - New JR Pass Prices

    What does a cross country Japan rail ride look like?

    1. Travel by rail from Tokyo to the northernmost train station (Wakkanai Station, on Hokkaido island) (Google Maps Route) and back to Tokyo

    2. Travel from Tokyo to the southernmost train station (in Kyushu prefecture) and back to Tokyo (Google Maps Route)

    3. Travel from southern tip of Japan (Nishi Oyama station in Kyushu Prefecture) to the northern tip (Wakkanai Station in Hokkaido prefecture) (Google Maps Route)

    4. Travel from the northern tip (Wakkanai Station in Hokkaido prefecture) to the southern tip of Japan (Nishi Oyama station in Kyushu Prefecture) (Google Maps Route)

    For travelers looking for an authentic experience quite literally off the beaten path, this rail ride, completed by hopping off in smaller cities as well as  big and then hopping back on, would take you through smaller Japanese towns that rarely see tourists, have a more authentic feel, and are far cheaper than the Japan itinerary (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka) that most people are accustomed to hearing about.

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    Essential things to know about the National JR Pass: Good for rides between cities, not for (most) local rides

    The unlimited ride National JR Pass is essentially that, a “national” pass. The pass allows for unlimited rides on the national Japan Rail company trains, which connect major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, and major lines like the luxurious Shinkansen Bullet train. However, this useful pass does not allow free rides on local trains and transportation, such as subways, trams, and buses. This means that if you will be taking numerous trains between large cities in Japan, the Japan rail pass will be worth the money. However, if you will say primarily in 1 or 2 cities for most of your trip, the pass likely will not be worth it.

    You can use the JR Pass for some JR lines that exist in the major cities, such as Osaka Loop or Kanjo line and the Tokyo Yamanote line, so account that into your calculation if you will be staying in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka. For reference, when I did not have the JR Pass, I spent ~$10 to ~$20 per day (~1,500 to 3,000 yen per day) on trains alone exploring Tokyo.

    Pros of the Japan Rail Pass

    • Online reservation, easily plan out your trip in advance

    • Straightforward process – once you’ve purchased, you’re done

    • Free local train rides in Tokyo

    Cons of the Japan Rail Pass

    • The “break even point” of making the 21 day pass worth purchasing is ~3000km (~1900 miles) of train travel. That’s the equivalent of traveling from Tokyo to Osaka once every 3 days for your entire trip.

    • Purchasing a JR pass locks you into moving for your entire trip. If you find a city orprefecture you like and decide not to travel much, you essentially lose your money


    What are the JR Passes available and what does each Japan Rail Pass cost?

    The JR pass types available are the regular pass, and the Green pass, all offered in increments of 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days. The Green pass is essentially a first class ticket for your entire trip and entitles you to first class cars for your entire trip, with wiser, plush chairs and more spacious seating.

    Japan Rail Prices

    Is the JR Pass Worth it - New JR Pass Prices

    The current prices for Japan Rail passes (valid until October 2023) are as follows:

    7 Day JR Pass Cost

    • Standard (7 Day): 29,650 yen ($224)

    • Green Pass (First Class 7 Day): 39,600 yen ($300)

    14 Day JR Pass Cost

    • Standard (14 Day): 47,250 yen ($358)

    • Green Pass (First Class 14 Day): 64,120 yen ($484)

    21 Day JR Pass Cost

    • Standard (21 Day): 60,450 yen ($458)

    • Green Pass (First Class 21 Day): 83,390 yen ($630)

    The new prices for JR passes (starting October 2023) are as follows:

    7 Day JR Pass Cost

    • Standard (7 Day): 50,000 yen ($352)

    • Green Pass (First Class 7 Day): 70,000 yen ($493)

    14 Day JR Pass Cost

    • Standard (14 Day): 80,000 yen ($564)

    • Green Pass (First Class 14 Day): 111,000 yen ($783)

    21 Day JR Pass Cost

    • Standard (21 Day): 100,000 yen ($705)

    • Green Pass (First Class 21 Day): 140,000 yen ($987)

    Is the Green Pass worth the extra cost?

    Because the Green Pass offers access to first class cars, with more spacious seating arrangements and luggage compartments, the Green Pass will be most useful during busy times of year – such as during the blooming of the Cherry Blossoms, Golden Week, Obon and New Year’s Eve.

    Not only will you be ensuring that you have a comfortable amount of space, while the ordinary cars will definitely be extremely crowded, you will also be able to reserve in advance online guaranteeing your plans aren’t derailed because a car has been sold out.


    How do you use the JR pass once you’ve purchased it?

    Once you’ve purchased a JR Pass online, you can start using the online seat reservation site free of charge.

    After you’ve reserved your seat online, pick up the reserved seat ticket at the reserved seat ticket machine or “Midori-no-madoguchi” (ticket office) located at JR stations.

    Visit this information pageon the official Japan Rail Pass site for details on booking reserved seats in advance, and using your pass to “purchase” seats via kiosks at JR stations.


    When will the Japan rail pass save you money?

    • If you plan to travel Japan tip to tip, the any of the rail passes will save you money

    • If you are likely to travel more than 3,000km (1,900 miles) by rail within a single 21 day trip, or the equivalent for shorter trips, the JR pass will likely save you money


    If you don’t get a JR Pass: The best option is to get an IC Card (Suica, SUGOCA, etc.)

    If you’ve decided that getting a JR pass isn’t right for your trip, what is the right move?


    IC cards are a type of prepaid, touchless payment system used throughout Japan. Getting one of these cards will allow you to charge the card with yen, and simply swipe at an local train to pay and board the train. Additionally, because each of the national IC cards are accepted throughout Japand, you will be able to pay for all types of train tickets quickly and easily with this single card.

    All of these cards essentially perform the same function, allowing cashless payment throughout Japan (at train stations, shops, vendors, and more). The only difference is region of Japan that the IC card is tied to.

    • SUICA – Tokyo

    • ICOCA – Osaka

    • KITACA – Sapporo

    • NIMOCA – Fukuoka

    • MANACA – Nagoya

    You can purchase each of these at any central station at the city you’re in, so simply ask for the card that fits your region, and head to an automated kiosk (in the station) to add yen accordingly.

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    Japan Rail Pass vs. air travel and flying through Japan

    Thanks to the beauty of Japan’s varied landscapes, from seas to volcanoes, and the pleasant efficiency of the Japanese train system, trading the pleasant, peaceful and easy experience of rail travel, for the security checkpoints and chaotic experience of air travel in a no brainer.

    If you have the time, and desire, to experience Japan outside of the megacity centers, opt for rail travel.

    Personally, whenever I travel to Japan, I only opt for rail travel, for the convenience, the pleasure, and the one of a kind travel experience. 

    Japan rail booking, for single rides, is well automated, with prepaid cards “ticket ATMs”, and extremely clean and pristine railway stations, making every step of the way pain free.  There are virtually no gaps in the network of trains, so you don’t have to worry about surprises.  And the trains themselves appear to be as well maintained as a fleet of airplanes, so whether you ride a bullet train or a sonic train, the experience will be pleasant an memorable.

     If you have a choice of flights or rail travel in Japan, do yourself a favor and opt for rail.

    JR Pass vs. Bus Travel

    First things first – so far, nothing in Japan offers a sub-par experience.  Not even buses.  For those that are “cash strapped” and need to save money, busses tend to be half the price for the same distance of travel but take twice as long.  Additionally, the seats of busses aren’t as big or comfy.  But, if you are backpacking through Japan on a budget, consider busses as a cheaper option that you can stick with for the trip, or use occasionally to reduce your average daily travel costs. Howver, busses in Japan don’t allow large backpacker style backpacks, except on specific busses and bus lines, so beware of that risk.

    But, ultimately, I would recommend rail travel in Japan – whether done with the unlimited Japan Rail Pass, or purchased as individual trips – because anyone who likes trains will fall in love with the mode of travel here.

    Essential things to know about your JR Pass

    • The Japan rail pass valid period is 21, 14, or 7 days depending on the pass you choose to purchase

    • The official JR Pass site only allows you to purchase a pass one month before your intended trip, but you can start booking trips immediately

    • The JR Pass does not allow subway travel or trams within cities, but most big cities have JR lines such as Osaka Loop or Kanjo line and the Tokyo Yamanote line.


    What is included with the JR Pass

    The JR pass covers free, unlimited travel on all national rail lines – essentially, the more costly rides between large cities – and most local trains within Tokyo.

    The JR pass does not include fairs on local trains and subways around the country, but these local rides tend to total ~500 yen per day if you’re bouncing around town exploring.


    How to buy a Japan Rail Pass: Online or in person (in Japan)

    To purchase a JR Pass online, visit the JR Pass official site at, and follow the steps to purchase the pass online. From there, you will visit one of the JR exchanges in Japan dedicated to JR Pass pickup (click here to see the list of pickup locations).

     To purchase a JR Pass in Japan, know that it will be slightly more expensive than purchasing online, but you can visit one of the designated JR exchanges to purchase the pass.

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    Japan Rail Pass FAQ

    What trains in Japan are JR trains and included in the JR Pass?

    The “JR Pass” is essentially a national Japan rail pass which covers all of the “national trainlines” which run between major cities, such as between Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshoma, Fukuoka, etc.

    With the exception of Tokyo, the unlimited rail pass does not included the trains in cities outside of Tokyo used for daily commute because these are not JR trains (nationally managed trains), they are regional trains.  So, if you are traveling beyond Tokyo, you can use the JR rail pass for a free trip to your destination city, but you will have to pay for local trains to get around and explore once you arrive.

    Does the Japan Rail Pass include bullet train options?

    Yes, the Japan Rail Pass includes all of the bullet trains besides that limited Shinkansen Nizomi and Mizuho lines that operate on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.

    The JR Pass includes the Tokaido Shinkansen: Connects Tokyo with Osaka, Sanyo Shinkansen, Kyushu Shinkansen, Akita Shinkansen Line, Hokkaido Shinkansen Line, Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, Joetsu Shinkansen Line, Tokoku Shinkansen Line, Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

    Where to Purchase the Japan Rail Pass: Official outlets are best

    Though you can purchase the JR pass online, beware that there are many blogs and affiliate sites (that aren’t the official JR Pass site) selling the passes at a discount. Normally discounts are good, but these discount affiliate sites have extremely strict refund policies (or none at all) and also have strict timeframes about how long before your trip you can purchase, how you can have your pass shipped to you, and rules for picking up. Ultimately, these restrictions and fine print can lead to a headache that isn’t worth the discount.

    Ultimately, your best approach is to buy from the official JR Pass site (here, don’t worry, I’m not an affiliate, just trying to help make your Japan trip smoother). Via the official JR pPass site your pass is fully refundable and you can pickup in person easily.

    Additionally, remember if you are a foreigner, you can simply purchase the JR Pass in person in Japan to keep your life simple, and focus on other things in the meantime, but the pass will cost a little extra when purchased in person

    You can purchase a JR Pass at the following locations in person:

    • Hakata Train Station

    • Hiroshima Train Station

    • Nagoya Train Station

    • Niigata Train Station

    • Osaka Train Station

    • Sapporo Train Station

    • Sendai Train Station

    • Shinjuku Train Station

    • Takamatsu Train Station

    • Tokyo Train Station

    • Yokohama Train Station

    • Haneda Airport

    • Kansai Airport

    • Narita Airport

    • New Chitose Airport

    If you’ve already purchased your JR pass online, go to the designated JR exchange pickup offices, on this list on the office JR Rail pass site

    Where is the Japan Rail Pass valid?

    The JR Pass is valid on all Japan Rail lines throughout Japan, which run primarily between cities, the Shinkansen Bullet trains, and the JR loop trains that run through many major cities in Japan.

    What is the difference between an ordinary pass and a Green pass

    The ordinary pass allows free access to all JR lines and the Shinkansen bullet train lines excluding the Nizomo and Mizuho trains. The Green pass includes reserved and first class trains on all lines which include plush and wider seats, a more spacious seating arrangement, and complementary drinks.

    When will the new Japan rail pass price begin?

    October 2023 is when the new Japan Rail pass prices will begin.

    What is the new JR Pass price in 2023

    The new JR Pass prices as of October 2023 are

    • 7 Day Regular Pass – 50,000 yen

    • 14 Day Regular Pass – 80,000 yen

    • 21 Day Regular Pass – 100,000 yen

    • 7 Day Green Pass – 70,000 yen

    • 14 Day Green Pass – 111,000 yen

    • 21 Day Green Pass – 140,000 yen

    Is the JR Pass Worth it - New JR Pass Prices
    Can the Japan Rail Pass be used at local stations?

    No, the JR Pass can not be used at local stations. The JR pass can only be used on JR and national rail lines

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      About A Brother Abroad


      Carlos is a nomad, slow traveler, and writer dedicated to helping others live abroad and travel better by using his 7+ years of experience living abroad and background as a management consultant and financial advisor to help other nomad and expats plot better paths for an international lifestyle. Click here to learn more about Carlos's story.