Finally, An Article To Explain Everything About The Japan Rail (JR) Pass

The Japan Rail network is ridiculously confusing. We know. So to make things easier for you, we’ve studied the A-to-Zs of Japan’s most popular railway, and compiled everything about the JR Pass here. P.S. We’ve even sorted the most confusing stuff into nifty infographics, so be sure to screenshot them!

It’s going to be a long lesson, are you ready?
Ok, let’s go!

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The Japan shinkansen is world famous—reaching speeds of almost 600 km/h, these bullet trains get their commuters around cities and across prefectures in the shortest time possible.

#1 What is a JR Pass?

The Japan Rail (JR) Pass is a train ticket that allows you to take unlimited rides on the JR network for a fixed duration. There are different variations of passes, ranging from 7-day to 21-day passes and more. The extensive railway connects all the prefectures, and short of taking domestic flights, is the most efficient way of traversing across Japan.

The JR Pass is for tourists only, and can only be purchased outside of Japan, but you will need to collect the actual physical pass from the station in Japan. Children below 5 years old can travel for free, but will not be entitled a seat. If you want a seat for your child, you must purchase the Child Pass (which is also for those age 6 to 11).

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The ordinary cabin shinkansen seats.

UPDATE: From March 2017 to March 2018, the JR Pass will be available for purchase within Japan, but at selected stations only. Do note, however, that if you decide to buy it when you’re there, you will be charged a premium. It is retailing at around 15% more expensive.

#2 What is the JR Network?

The JR Network connects the whole of Japan. It is a private railway, and the trains, buses, and ferries are denoted by a “JR” logo. Popular destinations with JR stations include Maihaima (Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea) and Universal-City (Universal Studios Japan) stations. Some lines also lead to the Narita Airport.

#3 What JR Passes should I buy?

Alright, here’s where it gets tricky. There are over 10 JR Passes in total, each covering a different specific area. Get the right one, and not only will you save costs, but you’ll be zipping from city to city in the shortest time possible. Here are 8 of them which cover the most popular regions of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hokkaido.

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#4 What is the right JR Pass for my holiday?

Now that you’ve sorted out the right pass for the regions you’re visiting, it’s time to figure out which pass option you’ll be needing. The duration of use for the passes differ, and the options depend on which pass you’ve selected.

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#5 What trains can I take?

Ready to buy? Not yet. To make full use of your pass, make sure you know what modes of transport it entitles you to. Contrary to popular belief, the JR pass will allow you to take not just JR trains, but buses and ferries as well! In terms of trains, there are only two JR trains you cannot take, the ‘super express’ Nozomi and Mizuho. You can take all other shinkansen bullets trains.

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#6 Am I guaranteed a seat on the train?

No, but you’ll find that most times, the trains are reasonably empty and you should be able to get a seat without much trouble.

That said, you can reserve seats on the shinkansen (bullet trains) if you like. Seat reservation is recommended during peak travel seasons (like cherry blossom blooming months) and for those travelling in large groups. Some people just like the security of having a fixed seat, and that’s cool too.

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You will be given a slip of paper with your seat (席), row (番), and carriage (号車) numbers. Please keep this slip, as you will need to present it to the train inspector.

Seat reservation can only be done once your JR Pass is activated, and at the ticket offices at the stations. It can be done any time before your ride. We recommend up to four days in advance for peak seasons and popular trains.

… and you’re all set!

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Check out Keep Calm & Stay Warm: How to Dress for Winter 101, 5 Ways to Score the Cheapest Airfares during Peak Holiday Season, and 5 Fascinating Places To Visit With A Japan Rail Pass!

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