So you’ve booked your flight to Japan.
Now you’ve started to do the real research into your first trip to Japan.
And you’re starting to hear a lot about this “JR pass” aka Japan rail pass.
This tourist pass is ultimately designed for foreigners to be able to get around quickly and efficiently and save some money over buying individual train tickets.
If you’re trying to cover a lot of ground in Japan on the classic Japan route over a short period of time, that’s when you’ll really want to start looking into whether or not the JR pass is worth it for you.
It’s most ideal for people who are interested in taking the super fast trains in Japan – the shinkansen bullet trains.
The shinkansen train tickets cost more than local train tickets, but you’re basically trading money for time and comfort.
The bullet trains will get you to your next destination quicker than other options, leaving you with more time to settle in to your new city or more time to get out and explore!
At what point is the JR pass worth the cost?!
VERY generally speaking…
If you’re planning on making 2 long-distance trips by taking the shinkansen bullet train, it will likely turn out that a JR pass will end up saving you money.
Depending on what the 2 routes are, the 2 train trips alone may not put you over the top.
But it’s quite likely that you’ll be able to use your JR pass locally at least a few times during that 7-day period to make it so that the pass will end up saving you money. (There are JR passes for 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days.)
Can you use the JR pass for local train travel?
The primary reason for getting a JR pass is to save money on the super fast bullet trains, aka shinkansen.
But you have the JR pass, so of course you want to maximize it when you have it!
The JR pass is not valid on ALL railway lines. It is valid on “JR” lines.
So you can use the pass to take JR trains locally. For example, in Tokyo you may consider doing most of your sightseeing by taking trains on the JR Yamanote line.
There may be some JR buses (not all) that you can use the pass for too. For example, there is a JR bus route in Kyoto.
That said, sometimes the most convenient way to get around may not always be with your JR pass, so you may opt for other ways to get around locally.
For those situations, you’ll want to highly consider getting an IC card.
These are basically recharge cash cards and make it so you don’t have to bother with buying individual train tickets or paying for the bus fare with coins. You can just swipe through with your card.
If you’re flying into Narita airport or Haneda airport and Tokyo is your first stop, the IC card that you’ll want to get will be called suica or pasmo cards. If you’re flying into Kansai airport and Kyoto or Osaka is your first stop, the IC card that you’ll get will be called an icoca card.
How to calculate whether or not the JR pass is worth it
- See the current price of the JR pass
- Check the shinkansen train ticket prices without a JR pass for your itinerary
- Compare the prices!
How much does a JR pass cost?!
Check the current price of a JR pass from an official JR vendor! (partner website)
Note the price in Japanese yen. (Because the train ticket prices you’ll look up will be in Japanese yen.)
If the price is not showing up in Japanese currency, there’s an option for you to change the currency.
Otherwise, you can google it.
For example, you can type into google “200 usd to yen” and it’ll give you the equivalent at the current exchange rate. It’ll work in the opposite direction too, for example if you type “20,000 yen to usd.”
In general, for easy calculation when you’re in Japan, you can think of 100 yen as being US$1.
How much do shinkansen train tickets cost for travel without a JR pass
One of the most convenient ways to check bullet train ticket prices on your own is by downloading the app called Japan Travel Navitime.
This is a GREAT app to have if you will be traveling Japan with a JR pass.
It is basically a public transportation app, and what makes it great is that you can filter it so that it will show you the best way to get around with a JR pass.
But for the purposes of this exercise (to help you decide whether or not the JR pass is worth it), you don’t need to use that filter.
Instead, you can just keep it on the default and search your routes.
Then, it will tell you how much it costs to get from one place to another!
What are some of the most popular routes for foreigners to take the shinkansen train?
The below screenshots were taken in early 2019. But things can change, so it’s always best to verify! USD prices are approximate.
But this can give you an idea of how close you may be to whether or not the JR pass will save you money and be worth it for your Japan trip itinerary.
Also keep in mind that these are ticket prices for a comparable train journey using the JR pass.
There could be cheaper options available for any given route if you don’t mind sacrificing some convenience, time, and comfort in the name of saving money.
For example, local trains will always be cheaper than the bullet trains, and there are also long distance buses.
How much does it cost to travel in Japan WITHOUT a JR pass?
Tokyo to Kyoto train
Cost without JR pass: US$125
Tokyo to Hiroshima train
Cost without JR pass: US$175
Kyoto to Hiroshima train
Cost without JR pass: US$105
Osaka to Hiroshima train
Cost without JR pass: US$95
Narita airport to Tokyo train
Cost without JR pass: US$30
Kansai airport to Kyoto train
Cost without JR pass: US$20
Kansai airport to Osaka train
Cost without JR pass: US$10
If you’ll be going to other places, you can look those up using the app too!
HAPPY BULLET TRAIN TRAVEL IN JAPAN!
More quick tips for planning your trip to JapanThere are affiliate links on this page that take you to partner websites.
Shoes for JapanFor summer travel, hiking sandals can be perfect for walking around cities and for many of the short day hikes! See travel sandals like these for women and these for men.
Japan is a mountain country so be sure to get in some hikes!
See trail running shoes too (for women - for men) for other solid hikes including climbing Mt Fuji.
Speaking of hiking, I love this daypack.
The super fast train in JapanIn general, 2 long-distance shinkansen train trips will likely end up making it so the JR pass will be worth it. But here's how to calculate it to be sure.
See the current price of a JR pass from an official vendor.
Natural disasters in JapanUnfortunately, Japan can be prone to natural disasters which means risk for travel delays. So be sure to look at travel insurance for natural disasters.
My travel insurance took care of my accommodation and food costs when I was forced to stay extra days in Japan because of a typhoon.
See how much insurance costs for your trip.
Best travel guides for JapanIf you're at step 1 in your planning process, have a look at this Discover Japan book.
For "books" that won't take up space in your suitcase, see the best PDF guides.
See more of the best books for Japan trip planning.
Cheap(er) flights to JapanI used this website to find the cheapest flight and to book my recent flight to Japan.
Sometimes it makes sense to book direct - my preferred way!
But this booking site will search a combination of airlines, including those who aren't partner airlines, which means that they can help you find cheaper flights by booking individual flights for you as part of one flight itinerary. This can be especially helpful if you're not flying out of a major hub with direct flights to Japan.
I've missed a flight booked through them and it was taken care of with hotel and new flight.
See more tips for finding cheap flights to Japan.