A trip to Japan will not be complete without travel on the Bullet trains- Shinkansen. And one of the early decisions to take is whether a JR pass is a worthwhile option. Enough and more has been written about the Japan Rail pass that it is made to appear as a very complicated and difficult concept to understand. Not true – Some basic facts to know. Below is the cover page of the JR pass booklet.
- A JR pass is a season ticket and is valid for seven, fourteen or twenty one days for use on Japan Rail trains which includes all Shinkansen.
- Two classes of travel on Shinkansen – Standard and Green ( first class)- Green is not available on all trains and upgrades not possible.
- Valid on all Shinkansen bullet trains but restriction on using the fastest trains. No big deal – other trains take a wee bit longer.
- Shinkansen routes have names – Example Tokkaido , Sanyo etc Please see map.
- Shinkansen trains also have names – Nozomo, Hikari, Kodoma, Hayabusa
- A JR Exchange Voucher shown above is different from a JR pass and must be purchased outside Japan only by bonafide tourists. On arrival in Japan bonafides are established by a temporary visitor sticker on your passport – Do ensure at immigration. Voucher easily purchased on line and fed – exed to you within a day.
- JR vouchers must be exchanged for a JR pass at the JR counters at Narita and important JR stations. A very simple process – but carry your passport for verification of the temporary visitor sticker.
- JR pass includes reservation charges though you can travel in the unreserved coaches as well earmarked on every Shinkansen.
- Cost of a JR pass is approx equal to a return journey from Tokyo to Kyoto. You start saving money if you make any additional trips.
- JR pass is valid on the Narita express.
- JR pass is not very useful on Tokyo metro except for the Yamanoto circular line as the metro is not run by JR but by private companies.
- JR pass holders cannot use the turnstile to enter and depart- You need to flash your pass to the ticket checker by the side .
- Enough signage and instructions – You cannot get lost .
And so if your travel involves travel to major cities and therefore means Shinkansen travel the JR pass is for you. However if you are Tokyo centric it is not cost effective. Do plan your trip to make the maximum use of the validity of the JR.
In the photo below is the last page of the JR pass booklet which I obtained after exchanging my JR voucher for a JR pass at Tokyo station. Just flash the pass and walk through the gate by the side of the turnstile but not the turnstile
We traveled on a seven day JR pass on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin Osaka , and we visited Kyoto twice from Osaka. Added an Osaka – Hiroshima round trip with a Miyajima JR ferry also thrown in – Could have also done a Fujiyama trip or a trip to Shin Aomori all on a JR pass – The JR pass saved us a lot of time, gave us great flexibility and of course we saved money! But remember this is not the cheapest way to travel- There are ways of getting around other than bullet trains but none as comfortable and convenient.
Continued in my next post – Bullet trains every day