ICYMI, the JR Pass has increased prices by around 60%, from ¥29,650 to ¥50,000 (~S$270 to ~S$460). Fortunately, there are cheaper options.
It’s no secret that we love Japan — we’ve actually been there more than 20 times! And on many occasions, using the Japan Rail (JR) Pass has been really cost-effective for us. On a previous trip, we saved S$100 with the 7-day Whole JR Pass 😎
But now that the cost of the JR Passes has increased, travellers might find it harder to maximise the value of the JR Pass.
Thankfully, there are more budget-friendly alternatives to getting around Japan!
Changes to the Japan Rail Pass
For the unfamiliar, the Japan Rail Pass comes in the form of 7, 14, and 21-day passes — covering the whole of Japan from the Hokkaido (northern) to Kyushu (southern) region.
From October 2023, these are the changes in prices:
The price hike aside, there are some added perks like:
– being able to board the Mizuho and Nozomi Shinkansen (previously you needed a separate ticket)
– additional discounted prices for selected tourist attractions (to be announced)
*Note: To ride the Mizuho and Nozomi Shinkansen trains, you’ll still need to upgrade your ticket at an additional cost. Here is the detailed price breakdown as of Oct 2023:
|Tokyo – Nagoya||¥4,180 (~S$38)|
|Tokyo – Kyoto||¥4,960 (~S$45)|
|Tokyo – Shin Osaka||¥4,960 (~S$45)|
|Tokyo – Shin Kobe||¥4,960 (~S$45)|
|Tokyo – Himeji||¥5,390 (~S$49)|
|Tokyo – Okayama||¥5,930 (~S$49)|
|Tokyo – Hiroshima||¥6,500 (~S$59)|
|Tokyo – Hakata||¥8,140 (~S$74)|
What then, is the JR Pass alternative?
In short — Regional Passes.
Unlike the Japan Rail Pass which covers the whole of Japan, regional passes only cover a certain well.. region. This refers to specific areas in Japan like Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and more.
The upside is that they’re all under S$300 (vs. JR Passes which start from S$460). If the route is planned well, you can definitely maximise it for a lot more savings.
Unfortunately, selected regional passes have also increased in price from 1 October 2023. Here’s a quick update:
Which is the right Pass for me?
The passes are split into regions — JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Kyushu, JR Shikoku — and vary in days and areas covered. We’ve rounded up the passes for each in an easy table so you can decide which best suits your Japan itinerary!
1) JR Hokkaido
Hokkaido is one of Japan’s most famous regions ― known for its volcanoes, hot springs and ski resorts! There are plenty of adventurous activities here like hiking up Mount Asahidake (Hokkaido’s highest mountain at 2,290m) or snowboarding at Niseko Ski Resort.
As Japan’s second largest island (after Honshu), there are also many things to do in the cities. Some of our favourites include visiting the iconic Sapporo TV Tower, hopping on a boat ride along the Otaru Canal, and feasting on Asahikawa’s soy-based ramen (the noodles are chewier than Sapporo ramen)!
While Hokkaido is better explored by car, the Hokkaido Rail Pass is a useful alternative for non-drivers to visit popular cities like Sapporo, Otaru, Asahikawa, Furano and Niseko. With the pass, you’ll be entitled to reserved seats too so you don’t have to fight for seats in the non-reserved areas!
There are also a couple of passes to consider for touring Hokkaido and beyond:
|Sapporo-Noboribetsu Area Pass||~S$82||Sapporo, Otaru, Shiraoi, Noboribetsu||4 days|
|Hokkaido Sapporo-Furano Area Pass||~S$92||Sapporo, Otaru, Asahikawa, Furano||4 days|
|Hokkaido Rail Pass||From ~S$183||Sapporo, Otaru, Asahikawa, Furano, Niseko, Hakodate, Nemuro, Abashiri||5, 7 or 10 days (consecutive)|
|Tohoku-South Hokkaido Rail Pass||~S$275||Sapporo, Akita, Morioka, Yamagata, Karuizawa, Tokyo||6 days|
|JR East Area & South Hokkaido Rail Pass||~S$320||Sapporo, Hirosaki, Yamagata, Nikko, Tokyo||6 days|
Suggested itineraries and guides:
– Hokkaido Budget Guide: 11 Tips to Save on Transport, Accommodation, Food and Activities
– 6D5N First Timer’s Hokkaido Itinerary — A Relaxing Getaway for S$1.2k
– 6D Hokkaido Itinerary for Under S$1k — Must-Eat, See and Dos in Sapporo, Otaru, Asahikawa and Biei
– Hokkaido Food Guide — 9 Must-Eats on Your Next Japan Itinerary
– The Ultimate Sapporo City Guide: 18 Things To Do-See-Eat In The Gateway To Hokkaido
2) JR East
Popular cities: Tokyo, Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Aomori, Akita, Niigata, Nagano
Highlights: Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea, Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo, Nagano Snow Monkey Park, Genbikei Gorge, Lake Tazawa
Recommended pass: Tokyo Wide Pass
In case you didn’t already know, Japan’s capital city Tokyo is in the Kanto region! Most people would head here on their first trip to Japan. After all, it’s known for popular landmarks like the Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing and of course, Tokyo Disneyland.
On the other hand, the Tohoku region is filled with scenic landscapes and unique festivals. Check out the Daito-Ohara Water Throwing Festival in February — where men in loincloths run along the streets while passersby splash them with ice-cold water.
Photo credit: Tohoku Tourism
For first-timers to the Land of the Rising Sun, get the Tokyo Wide Pass to see what Japan’s main city has to offer. Plus, it also gives you access to tourist locations such as Mt. Fuji, Izu, Nikko, Karuizawa, or GALA Yuzawa ski resort!
But for those who prefer less touristy areas like Tohoku, Niigata, Nagano and Hokuriku, check out these other Japan Rail passes:
|Tokyo Wide Pass||~S$137||Tokyo, Shinjuku, Kamakura, Akihabara, Mt. Fuji, Karuizawa, Kusatsu, Nikko, Yokohama and more||3 days|
|Hokuriku Arch Pass||~S$225||Osaka, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Fukui, Hokuriku, Nagano, Tokyo||7 days|
|Nagano/Niigata Area Pass||~S$247||Nagano, Niigata, Karuizawa, Tokyo||5 days|
|Tohoku Area Pass||~S$275||Tokyo, Fukushima, Yamagata, Sendai, Akita, Morioka, Hachinohe, Aomori||5 days|
Suggested itineraries and guides:
– 7D6N Japan Itinerary Under S$1.5k — Road Trip from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji and Beyond
– 10-Day Japan Itinerary For First Timers Under S$900 — Tokyo to Osaka
– 5D4N Japan Itinerary — A First Timer’s Experience in Niigata and the Remote Sado Island
– Iwate Prefecture: 9 One-of-a-kind Experiences to Try in Japan’s Tohoku Region
– 6D5N Nagano Itinerary — The Romantic Getaway 3 Hours from Tokyo (Kamikochi, Norikura and Matsumoto)
3) JR Central
Popular cities: Nagoya, Takayama, Kanazawa, Mt Fuji, Shizuoka, Hokuriku, Shirakawa-go
Highlights: Mt Fuji, FujiQ Highland, Shirakawa Village, Toyama Port Observation Tower
Recommended pass: Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini OR Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass
One of the must-visit places in the JR Central region is undoubtedly Shizuoka, where you’ll find the elusive Mt Fuji — Japan’s highest mountain at 3,776m! We previously did a road trip from Tokyo to Mt Fuji but for non-drivers, the Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini includes various transportation routes to easily get around the area too.
*Pro-tip: Check the 24/7 Mt Fuji live stream before going as the weather can be unpredictable.
Or if you’ve already checked Fuji-san off your list, go for the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass! The pass covers transport to Shirakawa-go, known for its unique gassho-zukuri (thatched roof) traditional villages, as well as the underrated Hokuriku area — drop by Toyama Port Observation Tower to catch panoramic views of the Japan Alps.
|Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini||~S$60||Mt Fuji, Fujinomiya, Shizuoka||3 days (consecutive)||–|
|Osaka – Nagoya ‘Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Pass||~S$151||Ise, Kumano, Wakayama||5 days (consecutive)||– Free Ekirin bike rentals at Wakayama, Kii-Tanabe, Shirahama stations|
– 4 reserved rides on JR lines (incl. Wide View Nanki, Kuroshio, Mie Express)
|Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass||~S$181||Kanazawa, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Gero, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Fukui, Toyama||5 days (consecutive)||– 4 reserved rides on Limited Express Wide View Hida, Limited Express Thunderbird|
|Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Pass||~S$194||Takayama, Matsumoto, Gero, Nagoya, Kiso Fukushima, Toyama, Shinano Omachi||5 days (consecutive)||–|
Suggested itineraries and guides:
– Day Trips from Nagoya — Gateway to the Hidden Gems of Mie and Gifu Prefectures
– 13 Reasons To Visit Nagano Even When It’s Not Winter Ski Season — Scenic Gems in Kamikochi and Norikura
– 17 Things to Do in Hokuriku, Japan — First Timer’s Guide to Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama
– 13 Unforgettable Things to do in Central Japan with the Takayama-Hokuriku Area JR Tourist Pass
4) JR West
Popular cities: Himeji, Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Okayama, Hiroshima, Miyajima
Highlights: Kiyomizudera Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Nara Park, Dotonbori, Okayama Castle
Recommended pass: Kansai WIDE Area Pass
Iconic attractions include Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine (a temple with over 1,000 torii gates), Osaka’s Dotonbori Street (delicious street food and the famous Glico running man sign), as well as Nara’s Deer Park (adorable wild deers)!
Alternatively, choose the JR West All Area Pass to not only explore familiar favourites in the Kansai region but also lesser-known gems in the Hokuriku, Sanyo and San’in areas!
|Kansai Pass||From ~S$26||Osaka, Kyoto, Himeji, Kobe, Nara and more||1, 2, 3 or 4 days (consecutive)||–|
|San’in Okayama Area Pass||~S$42||San’in, Okayama||4 days (consecutive)||–|
|Hokuriku Area Pass||~S$47||Fukui, Komatsu, Kanazawa, Toyama||4 days (consecutive)||–|
|Kansai WIDE Area Pass||From ~S$110||Osaka, Kyoto, Himeji, Kobe, Nara and more||5 days (consecutive)||– Hello Kitty Shinkansen|
– Reserved seats on Express Trains (Haruka, Kuroshio, Thunderbird, Kounotori, Super Hakuto, Super Inaba)
|Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass||~S$137||Hiroshima, Miyajima, Onomichi, Hagi, Yamaguchi||5 days (consecutive)||– Hello Kitty Shinkansen|
|Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass||~S$156||Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Himeji, Wakayama, Okayama, Miyajima, Hiroshima||5 days (consecutive)||–|
|Okayama-Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Rail Pass||~S$156||Okayama, Hiroshima, Kurashiki, Yamaguchi||5 days (consecutive)||– Free Ekirin bike rentals|
– Hello Kitty Shinkansen
|Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass||~S$156||Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Himeji, Wakayama, Kanazawa, Joetsu-Myoko||7 days (consecutive)||–|
Setouchi Area Pass
|~S$202||Hakata, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Takamatsu, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara||7 days (consecutive)||– Hello Kitty Shinkansen|
|Sanyo-San’in Area Pass||~S$211||Hiroshima, Takamtsu, Tottori, Himeji, Osaka||7 days (consecutive)||–|
|JR West All Area Pass||~S$238||Kansai, Hokuriku, Sanyo, San’in, Hakata||7 days (consecutive)||– Hello Kitty Shinkansen|
Suggested itineraries and guides:
– 8-Day Japan Itinerary: 9 Cities in Kansai for Under S$900
– 7D Japan Itinerary Under S$1.3k — Osaka and Other Epic Cities in the Kansai Region
– 6D5N Kyoto-Based Japan Itinerary — Things to do Beyond Fushimi Inari Shrine and Nara Deer Park
– 13 Best Things to Do in Osaka — New and Must-visit Attractions in 2022
– Osaka Transport Guide — Maximising Your Transport Passes for Travelling In And Around Osaka
5) JR Kyushu
Besides volcanoes, Kyushu is also famous for its hot springs! Visit Beppu City in the North for its Jigoku Meguri tour or Hells of Beppu — featuring eight unique hot springs. Some include Chinoike Jigoku (blood red pond) and even Oniyama Jigoku (where crocodiles are kept) 😱
With the Kyushu Rail Pass, you can choose between getting the South, North or All Kyushu option depending on which cities you want to visit.
Thinking of travelling from Kyushu to explore other regions? Then opt for the Sanyo-San’in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass, it’ll cover hidden gems like the Tottori Sand Dunes and the Akiyoshido Cave (made of limestones).
|South Kyushu Rail Pass||From ~S$92||Southern Kyushu areas and Kumamoto, Misumi, Hitoyoshi, Kirishima-onsen, Kirishima-jingū, Kagoshima, Ibusuki, Nishi-Ōyama, Miyazaki, Obi, Nangō, Nobeoka||3 days|
|North Kyushu Rail Pass||From ~S$110||Shimonoseki, Mojikō, Kokura, Hakata, Yufuin, Beppu, Oita, Kumamoto, Aso, Saga, Nagasaki, Huis Ten Bosch, and Sasebo||3 or 5 days|
|All Kyushu Rail Pass||From ~S$183||Northern Kyushu areas and Misumi, Hitoyoshi, Yoshimatsu, Kagoshima-Chuo, Kirishima, Ibusuki, Miyazaki, Miyazaki Airport||3, 5 or 7 days|
|Sanyo-San’in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass||~S$238||Tottori, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and more||7 days|
|– Free Ekirin bike rentals|
Suggested itineraries and guides:
– 6-Day Kyushu Itinerary — Chasing Autumn in a Quieter Side of Japan (Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Beppu)
– Oita Prefecture: 9 Unique Experiences in one of Japan’s Most Famous Onsen Towns
– 11 Things to Do in San’in and Sanyo — Japan’s Hidden Gems For Road Trippers
6) JR Shikoku
Shikoku is made up of four prefectures — Ehime, Kagawa, Tokushima and Kochi — each with its own charm. For example, Ehime is home to Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest bathhouses in Japan (since 1894). While Miyoshi boasts a magical sea of clouds from various viewpoints in the city!
For those up for a challenge (and self-reflection along the way), try the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. It’s a 1,200km route which circles Shikoku island with 88 temples in between. It’s said to have been established by Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
Photo credit: Visit Kochi Japan via Facebook
Whether you’re here to sightsee or go on a temple pilgrimage, we recommend getting the All Shikoku Rail Pass. It’s one of the most convenient ways to travel around Shikoku, covering all four prefectures for up to seven days — more than enough time to discover this lesser-known island!
|All Shikoku Rail Pass||From ~S$110||Ehime, Kochi, Kagawa, Tokushima Prefectures||3, 4, 5 or 7 days|
|– Discounts on JR Shikoku bus, Nankai ferry and other attractions|
Photo credit: Klook
Japan has a very complex transport system with many railway lines operated by different companies. So non-JR passes can be used to travel on other lines apart from the Japan Railways Group, such as the Tokyo or Osaka Metro. But take note that different passes only cover certain train lines (stated in the table below).
Some of these passes might even be a better option than JR passes, in terms of convenience! For instance, the Kintetsu Rail Pass is great for getting around Nara’s top attractions as the Kintetsu-Nara Station is only a 5-minute walk to Nara Park. Whereas if you drop off at JR Nara Line, you’ll still need to take a 15-minute bus ride to Nara Park.
Plus, certain passes also come with perks like exclusive offers and deals — the Kansai Thru Pass has a 20% discount for entry to Sakai City Museum. So be sure to do some research and check out other alternatives to the Japan Rail passes too!
|Hanshin Tourist Pass||~S$5||Osaka, Kobe||1 day||– Free WiFi access at all Hanshin Electric Railway stations|
– Exclusive discounts for some restaurants and attractions
|Hankyu Tourist Pass||From ~S$6||Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe||1 or 2 days (non-consecutive)||– Exclusive discounts for some restaurants and attractions|
|Tokyu Line 1-Day Pass||~S$7||Tokyo, Kanagawa||1 day||–|
|Kintetsu Rail Pass||From ~S$14||Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Mie, Nagoya||1, 2, 5 or 5 days plus (consecutive)||–|
|Kansai Thru Pass||From ~S$40||Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and more||2 or 3 days (non-consecutive)||– Discounts at certain shops and attractions|
|Nankai Tokushima Free Pass||~S$82||Tokushima||5 days|
|– Nankai Electric Railway passes (valid for 2 non-consecutive days within the period)|
Choosing the right travel pass for getting around Japan
While the Japan Rail Pass can be useful for travelling across different regions and cities, is it worth ¥50,000 (~S$460)?
For us, we prefer to dig deeper in a location as the best gems are found when you give yourself the time to explore beyond the usual tourist path.
However, if you’re planning to visit two far-away cities on the same trip (i.e. Tokyo and Osaka, Hokkaido and Tokyo, or even Shikoku and Tokyo), then the JR Pass could still be something worth considering.
*Pro-tip: Use online tools like Jorudan to help calculate the costs of your trips.
Tips for Getting Around Japan
1) Check the train schedule beforehand. Trains in Japan are super punctual so download the Japan Travel by Navitime app to check the train timings and avoid missing your ride! If you’re unfamiliar with the station, allow yourself some buffer to locate the right platform. The last thing you want is to catch the wrong train!
2) Pre-book your seat reservation. Trains can be pretty packed during peak hours or at popular stations like Tokyo and Kyoto. Secure your seats by reserving them at least a day in advance from the automated machines or service counters.
3) Purchase Suica/ICOCA cards. Local metro and buses are not covered by the JR/regional passes. The best way to pay for rides is via the IC cards (each prefecture has its own but can be used all around Japan). These are rechargeable transport cards (similar to our EZ-link cards).
Know of any other useful JR pass alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!