So you just picked up a Japan Rail Pass and now you are wondering how to use it and its limitations?  Let’s first discuss what a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is, define when and where you can use it as well as what it gives access to.

The Japan Rail Pass allows you the opportunity to travel freely around Japan with unlimited use, and at no extra cost (some runs will have an extra charge), provided you stay on the JR lines.  They also allow you to use the JR Bus and JR Ferry lines as well.  Although it is a pretty hefty cost for a 7 day pass ($255 USD at the time of this writing), it costs about the same as a Tokyo – Kyoto round trip on the Shinkansen (bullet train).  This is why it is such a widely used train pass for foreigners who visit Japan.  Japanese nationals and locals are not eligible for the JR Pass as it was created by Japan Railways for tourists only.

There are 7, 14, and 21 day versions of this pass (prices as of 8/7/18)

7 Day Pass

$$255per Adult
  • Standard Class

14 Day Pass

$$406per Adult
  • Standard Class

21 Day Pass

$519per Adult
  • Standard Class
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Activate Pass

Valid immediately

Pass Valid Pass Valid Pass Valid Pass Valid Pass Valid Pass Valid

Until 11:59PM

Do I need to use the JR Pass immediately after I exchange my voucher?

The common misconception with the JR Pass is that you need to use it immediately once you have exchanged it at either the airport or one of the locations around Japan.  This is not true as you can set an activation date within 30 days of exchanging the pass.  This means that you can arrive at Narita Airport on July 1st, exchange your voucher for a JR Pass, and set an activation date of anytime within 30 days.

In May 2018, I went to Japan for 10 days.  Because I wanted to have the JR Pass valid for the tail end of my trip, when I arrived in Osaka, I exchanged my voucher for the JR Pass, but set an activation date for 3 days later.  This way, it expired right on my last day in Japan.

The JR Pass does not fit in the ticket turnstiles, how can I enter the boarding area?

You will never insert your JR Pass into the ticket turnstyles, those are only used for the single, multi-day or monthly passes.  Instead, there is always a guard at the sides of the entrance where you will flash your JR Pass along with your Passport and he will allow you to enter.  You will do the same when you exit the train station.  Note that there is only one way in and out of the train station and you will always present the pass at the manned ticket gates.

Do I need seat reservations or can I sit in the non-reserved seats of a train?

Seat reservations are not always necessary as most JR trains will have reserved and non-reserved train cars.  Seat reservations are advised during the peak travel seasons or if you will be traveling on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line (bullet train that connects Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka).

Most other trains that you will be traveling on will be inner-city subways in which there are no reserved seats at all (first come first serve).

Some trains, such as the Narita Express (N’EX) that connects from Narita Airport to Tokyo will require seat reservations.

You can make seat reservations at any JR Pass ticket station or Nippon Travel Agencies located inside the train station.

Which trains can I use the JR Pass on?

General rule of thumb for the types of trains you can use the JR Pass on:

  • Train station name starts with JR (ex. JR Namba)
  • Train line name starts with JR (ex. JR Yamanote Line or JR Chuo-Sobu Line)
  • All Shinkansen (except the ‘Nozomi’ and ‘Mizuho’ lines)
  • Tokyo Monorail (to Haneda Airport)
  • Narita Express (N’EX – to Narita Airport)

You can’t use the JR Pass on:

  • Private rail lines such as (Tokyo Metro, Toei Subways, Tsukuba Express, Tobu Railway, etc…)
    • Just keep in mind that if it does not say JR in front, you won’t be able to use the JR Pass.

Get a Japan Travel App for Train Timetables – Don’t rely on Google Maps!!!

If you have a Travel SIM or a Travel WiFi device, you can install the Japan Official Travel App or Hyperdia to get the most up to date train timetables and routes.  It was extremely helpful for me since I was able to travel anywhere on any train system in Japan with the Japan Official Travel App.  The app even allows you to prioritize JR Pass routes to minimize your costs.  I found Google Maps always routed me incorrectly or the train routes were outright wrong.  Trust me, don’t use Google Maps and stick with one of the two suggestions above.