Plan your Japan Rail itinerary with this updated JR Pass guide, incl. tips for what to do when the price increases from October 2023.
First published: 21 May 2017
Train travel is one of the quintessential experiences when travelling in Japan so it’s no surprise a JR Pass might be the first thing you look to get. And you’ve probably heard — JR Pass prices have increased from 1 Oct 2023.
Other than Whole Japan JR Passes (from ~S$460 for a 7-day pass), there are regional passes which can be half the price of the Whole Japan JR Pass.
During an eight-day trip exploring the Kansai region, we travelled with the 5 Day Kansai-Hiroshima JR Pass (~S$156) and managed to cover nine cities while saving a total of ¥20,880 (~S$190) — as compared to travelling on single-trip tickets.
Unlimited rides on the Shinkansen aside, some JR passes also cover unlimited transport on the local JR Trains, JR ferries as well as JR buses.
The biggest problem though is planning your route and deciding which of the 20 over different JR passes you should get. Follow these nine steps and you’ll never have to google elsewhere for answers to your JR Pass!
JR Pass Overview
After Purchasing: How to use your JR Pass
1) Collect your JR Pass in Japan
2) Use Japan Travel by Navitime to plan your routes
3) Trains covered by JR Pass
4) Make seat reservations
5) Enter the station with your JR Pass
6) Find the right platform and seat
Click to jump to the relevant section.
Purchasing a JR Pass
1) Plan Your Japan Route
Photo credit: Japan-guide
Which cities would you like to visit? If two or more fall under Shinkansen lines that aren’t adjacent to each other, chances are, you will require a Whole Japan JR Pass.
Even with the price increase, you might still be able to save some money if you’re planning to travel across multiple regions in Japan!
Check out our JR Pass itineraries:
5-Day Kansai Hiroshima Pass: 8-Day Japan Itinerary: 9 Cities in Kansai — Osaka, Kobe, Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okunoshima, Naoshima, Kyoto, Nara
7-Day Whole Japan JR Pass: 10-Day Japan Rail Itinerary For First Timers — Tokyo, Hakone, Kamakura, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto
7-Day Whole Japan JR Pass: 8-Day Japan Winter Itinerary — Tokyo, Fox Village, Kawaguchi, Nagano Snow Monkey Park, Takayama, Shirakawago, Osaka.
2) Find out which JR Pass you need
There are over 20 different JR Passes — with varying days, time flexibility and regions covered. Most people gravitate towards the Whole Japan JR Pass — you get unlimited rides on most of the JR trains and free seat reservations. But it also comes with a hefty price tag!
Whole Japan JR Pass
(from Oct 2023)
|All of Japan
|All of Japan
If you’re planning to cover cities across different regions e.g. Tokyo in the Kanto region and Osaka in the Kansai region, the Whole Japan JR Pass is the only pass that covers this journey.
However, with the price increase, it’s no longer worth it to get the pass for a round trip from Tokyo to Osaka if you’re not going to explore other cities along the way. So you might want to consider single-trip tickets instead.
Japan is huge and perhaps the best way to really get the most out of your trip is to explore in regions. If you plan your route well and know the specific areas you’d like to cover, the regional passes are definitely more cost-effective.
Click Read More to learn more about the different types of regional JR passes.Read More
*Pro-tip: Still unsure of which JR pass to get? Use this handy tool on Klook — select the areas you’re travelling to and hit “search”, it’ll show you the various options available!
3) Purchase Your JR pass in Singapore
Plan at least two weeks ahead before your trip and order your passes online via Klook — they’re definitely cheaper than getting from Japan.
Some passes like the Whole Japan JR Pass will require a physical exchange voucher (received via mail in Singapore) while others can be collected straight in Japan by showing an electronic exchange voucher. More on collection in point (6).
After Purchasing: How to use your JR Pass
1) Collecting Your JR Pass in Japan
Whole Japan JR Pass: Prepare your passport and physical exchange voucher (mailed to your address in Singapore) and head to the nearest JR Travel Service Centre. There’s usually one at the airport and major stations like Tokyo or Shin-Osaka station. You will be asked when you’d like to activate the pass so you can collect it first and have it start later on the trip.
Regional JR Pass: You’ll need to confirm when booking but most JR West Passes don’t require a physical exchange order. If you’re ordering from Klook, it will be sent to you electronically once the booking is confirmed. After which, head to a rail service counter in Japan with your QR code ready in hand. These passes only activate on your first ride out.
Things to note:
1) Physical exchange order — Klook no longer has a pick-up option. You have to book 14 days in advance and it’ll be mailed to you.
2) Electronic exchange order — You’ll receive it via email or on the Klook app, attached with a QR code.
*Pro-tip: For a fuss-free method, you can also use the green-ticketing machines at certain train stations to redeem your regional JR Passes by scanning the QR code.
2) Use Japan Travel by Navitime to Plan Your Routes
Some trains don’t arrive frequently so failing to plan your route can result in a 1-2 hour wait at the station (which could be spent exploring instead). While Google Maps does a pretty good job when you’re on the go, it doesn’t show you which transport pass is valid for which trains.
On the other hand, Japan Travel by Navitime has a Tourist Pass option so you can plan your route according to the train pass you have. It also shows the train timetable as well as other transport options like buses, taxis, and ferries. What’s more, the service is free and comes as a website and app (available on iPhone/Android)!
*Pro-tip: Use the app instead of the website as the app shows additional details such as which train platform number and carriage to board from.
3) Trains covered by JR Pass
Nozomi trains are the fastest as they make the least stops, followed by Hikari and Kodama which stops at every station. JR Pass holders are only allowed on Hikari and Kodama trains. To get an idea, here are the stops each train makes from Tokyo to Osaka.
Nozomi (2.5hrs): Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka
Hikari (3hrs): Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Nagoya, Gifu-Hashima, Maibara, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka
Kodama (4hrs): Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Odawara, Atami, Mishima, Shinfuji, Shizuoka, Kakegawa, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi, Mikawa-Anjo, Nagoya, Gifu-Hashima, Maibara, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka
4) Making Seat Reservations
Seat reservations can only be made when you have collected your JR pass and are free for Whole Japan JR pass holders. Regional JR pass holders might need to pay a top-up fee for reservations, depending on the type of pass.
To reserve, just head to any “Travel Services”, “Train Reservation”, or green ticketing machines at any major JR station with your start/end station and time.
If you have a change of plans, changes/cancellations to the reservation are free for Whole Japan JR pass holders.
5) Entering the Station With Your JR Pass
You no longer need to show your JR pass to the ticketing officer to enter the station (for both Whole Japan and Regional JR pass holders). Now, simply insert your ticket into the gantry machine and walk in!
Note that JR Stations are separate from the local metros so if you’re travelling on a metro, you’ll need to exit and locate a separate JR Station gantry.
6) Finding the Right Platform and Seat
At the entrance gantry, look out for the large overhanging electronic board. This will tell you what platform your train is at.
Once you’re on the right platform, the electronic boards here will tell you which “cars” are for non-reserved ticket holders. Always check the time of departure because there are always multiple trains departing from the same platform.
If you have reserved tickets, check the car number on the floor. This could be different for different trains (e.g. Hikari or Kodama).
If you arrive early and would like to queue up for non-reserved seats, there are usually at least two separate queues. Check the edge of the platform to make sure you’re in the right queue.
Frequently Asked Questions About JR Pass
1) Osaka Station Vs Shin-Osaka Station
You might realise some of the stations have “Shin” in front such as Shin-Osaka and Shin-Kobe, which are in fact different stations from Osaka and Kobe Station.
Local lines can bring you to the Shin-xxx stations but the Shinkansen will leave from the Shin-xxx station. When you arrive at Shin-Osaka via a local train, you will need to enter a separate gantry for the Shinkansen platform.
Dotonbori, Osaka – A Gastronomic’s heaven
2) Ordinary Car Vs Green Car
Green Car basically means more premium and spacious seats, which are usually available on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and Tokkyū (limited express) trains. Kind of like first-class seats on flights!
Honestly, the Ordinary cars are already quite spacious and comfy but if you’re holding on to an Ordinary Car Japan Rail Pass and would like to experience the Green Car, you can pay a top-up fee at the JR counters for a single upgrade too.
3) I’m travelling from Tokyo – Osaka/Kyoto – Tokyo and nothing else in between. Is it still worth getting a Whole Japan JR Pass?
And if you’re looking to explore within the cities, opt for a Regional pass — it’s still cheaper than the Whole Japan pass and you can use it on local JR trains and buses too. Check out our 8-day Kansai itinerary for more ideas! 🙂
4) Does the JR Pass cover the ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station/Kansai Airport to Osaka station?
Yes to both! From Narita (NRT), you can take the JR Narita Express (NEX) and reach Tokyo station in 53 minutes for free. However, if you plan to activate your JR pass later in the trip, a cheaper (and faster) alternative is the Keisei Skyliner (~S$21) which takes 41 minutes to Tokyo Main Station.
From Kansai (KIX), both the Kansai Airport Rapid Service (65 minutes to Osaka Station) and the Limited Express Haruka (50 minutes to Shin-Osaka) are covered by the JR Pass. If you’re travelling to/from the airport without your JR pass, pre-book the Nankai Line Airport Express instead. It only takes 35 minutes from Namba station and costs ~S$12 on Klook.
5) Should I begin my trip from Tokyo or Osaka?
For me, the biggest deciding factor was whether I’m there for USJ in Osaka or the Tokyo Disney Parks. Since these parks take up an entire day and you won’t be using the JR Pass that day, it makes sense to activate the pass later when you’re leaving the city because these train rides will cost more.
Can’t decide which theme park to check out? Read our extensive theme park guides to find out more!
Universal Studios Japan: The Ultimate USJ Guide And Tips To Planning A Magical Experience — Universal Studios Japan
Tokyo Disney Parks: The Ultimate Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea Guide — 11 Tips & Tricks to Maximising your Tokyo Disney day
Fuji Q Highland: The Best Roller Coasters in Japan Most Tourists Miss — Fuji Q Highland Guide
We hope you found this JR Pass Guide useful, especially for those residing in Singapore!
Let us know in the comments sections below if we missed anything you’d like to know about travelling with Japan Rail Passes. That way we can keep the guide up to date! 🙂
This post was brought to you by Klook.