Japan Rail Pass Frequently Asked Questions


When people plan on traveling by rail long distance in Japan, they often purchase a Japan Rail Pass (or the JR Pass). This cost-effective method is used only by tourists and provides unlimited riding for one to three weeks at prices only the Japanese residents could dream about.

Why is it that the residents of this island cannot purchase a JR pass for themselves? It's because they're not sold inside the country. So, if you plan on visiting the country, you must purchase it before you get there. There are two kinds of passes - green car and the ordinary car. Green cars are considered first class cars and have seats that are more spacious than what you see with ordinary cars.

Where Can Visitors Use The Japan Rail Pass

There are several places where the Japan Rail Pass are accepted:

  • Ferry to Miyjima
  • Aomori Railway between Aomori and Hachinohe

JR Trains - The JR Pass is valid on nearly all trains that operate on the Japan Railways such as:

  • Local trains
  • Rapid trains
  • Express trains
  • Limited express trains
  • Shinkansen trains

Tokyo Monorail from/to Haneda Airport - Pass holders can access the Shimokita Peninsula and are allowed to stop on and off at the following stations only:

  • Aomori
  • Noheji
  • Hachinohe

Local JR Buses - The pass can be used on JR-operated local buses only. While not a lot of these are available, they can be useful for tourists who want to visit the following areas:

  • Kanazawa Station
  • Kenrokuen
  • Kusatsu
  • Kyoto Station - Ryoanji
  • Lake Towada
  • Onsen
  • Sapporo
  • Yamaguchi - Hagi

JR passes are generally not accepted on JR highway buses expected for the lines listed below:

  • Morioka - Hirosaki
  • Nagoya - Osaka/Kyoto
  • Nagoya - Osaka/Kyoto/Tsukuba
  • Osaka - Kasai Flower Center/Tsuyama
  • Sapporo - Otaru
  • Tokyo

A JR Pass will not be valid or demands additional fees except in the following cases:

  • Mizuho trains along the Kyushu/Sanyo Shinkansen
  • Nozomi trains along the Sanyo/Tokaido Shinkansen
  • JR trains that use non JR tracks
  • JR liner trains
  • Berth and special compartments

Some additional features visitors receive with a Japan Rail Pass include:

  • Discounts at any JR-affiliated hotel
  • Free seat reservations

Can Passes Be Upgraded To Mizuho or Nozomi?

A Japan Rail Pass may not be upgraded. Pass holders wanting to ride the Mizuho or Nozomi rails must pay the full ticket price. Thus, visitors must be aware what trains they are boarding so as not to get on these rails on accident.

What Is The Difference Between Green and Ordinary?

Green cars tend to have bigger seats, additional floor space for feet and better board service. They're also less crowded than the ordinary cars. These are generally available on the majority of the limited express and shinkansen trains and a minute number of local trains. While ordinary cars are fine for most travellers, those folks who want the extra luxury need the green car.

Are Upgrades To Green Car A Possibility?

You can get upgrades to the green car if you want. However, the ordinary rail pass covers just the base fare. Thus, additional fees - green cars and limited express or shinkansen - must be paid to have this done. And, this can add up to a lot of money.

The Difference Between 24-Hour Periods and Calendar Days

The Japan Rail Pass follows calendar days, not 24-hour periods. What this means is that if you begin using a seven-day pass at 1 p.m. for day one, it will quit working on day seven, not day eight at 1 p.m.

Pass Expires But You're Still On The Train - What Happens?

Should your pass expire while tourists are on the train, the JR pass won't expire until the journey ends (you leave the final station through the gates). If you have to transfer trains, you'll be able to do so without any issues. But, if you need to transfer to a train - express, limited express or shinkansen - the pass does not cover this train.

Can Passes Be Transferred or Shared?

The only person allowed to use the Japan Rail Pass is the person whose name has been printed on the pass. Railway staff may ask pass holders to identify themselves with their passports to ensure JR pass ownership.

Does The JR Pass Work For Night Trains?

No, the berth fee for night trains is not completely covered, which means the pass holder must pass an additional fee to have one. This can be a rather tidy sum too. Some night trains do have special compartments or seats that don't require an additional monetary amount.

How To Buy and Exchange For A Japan Rail Pass

Only tourists are allowed to buy a Japan Rail pass. And, it must be done before coming into the country. When bought, visitors will get a voucher that must be exchanged to get the actual pass inside the country and within three months of buying it.

Who Is Allowed To Use A Japan Rail Pass?

The JR pass is only eligible to short-term visitors to the country. It is not permitted for use by the residents. Japanese nationals permanently living outside the country or who have a spouse that resides outside the country will have to show proof of their overseas residence before being granted a JR pass.

Where Can JR Passes Be Bought?

A JR pass can be bought through the Internet or through any travel agent around the world.

Where Can The Voucher Be Exchanged and How Is It Exchanged?

Vouchers are exchangeable at any designated major Japan Rail station in the country including the Kansai Airport and Narita Airport JR stations. To get it done, fill the form out with your name, starting date and passport number. Hand the voucher and passport to the staff, and after a little bit of processing, visitors will get their Japan Rail pass.

How To Choose The Starting Date?

When the voucher is exchanged, the starting date doesn't have to occur that same day. In fact, the date can be within a one-month time frame. Once the pass has been issued, there can be no changes to the starting date.

How Can Japan Rail Pass Be Used?

Your JR pass is the ticket to get around Japan. You don't need any other ticket except if you've reserved a seat, which means you'll need the seat reservation ticket. These are free with the JR pass.

Automatic ticket Gates Cannot Be Used

When you use a JR pass, you cannot pass through the automatic ticket gates. Rather, you must go through the manned gates and present your rail pass to them. Every now and then, you'll be asked to present your passport has verification.

How Can You Make Seat Reservations

Any JR pass holders can get their free seat reservations by presenting the actual pass at any Japan Rail ticket office around Japan. These reservations cannot be done at ticket machines or on the train. However, some Eastern Japan trains can be reserved through the Internet.

Is It Mandatory To Have Seat Reservations?

On the majority of trains, it's optional to have seat reservations with it being impossible for local and urban trains. On long-distance trains, the majority have non-reserved seating. Still, a minute number of trains do have reserved seatings and demand reservations, and the trains affected include:

- Most night trains
- Komachi trains along Akita Shinkansen
- Hayate and Hayabuse trains along Tohoku Shinkansen
- Narita Express

Should You Get Seat Reservations?

Most trains are not overbooked. However, during the busy travel period, some trains may become booked for several days. If you're traveling in groups, it's best to have seat reservations especially if you want to be near each other. Remember, seat reservations are free for people who are pass holders.

Miss A Train That You've Got Seat Reservations For... What Happens?

This can be inconvenient to other railway passengers as well as the railway company. So, if you can avoid it, do so. However, if it does occur, cancel the reservation as soon as possible. Then, you can get on a later train in a non-reserved section or create a new reservation for another departure.

Does It Pay To Have A Japan Rail Pass?

The answer to this question depends on one thing: your itinerary. It doesn't pay if you're traveling alone in the city. However, it does pay if you plan on traveling long-distance in a short period of time. Besides saving you money, a pass is convenient and flexible.

Passes are not accepted on the Nozomi trains - a minute inconvenience when visitors travel the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen lines. Some travel agents will charge a service fee or disparaging exchange rate, which can inflate the prices of the rail pass.

When Does The Pay Off Occur?

7-day passes tend to cost the same amount as the regular shinkansen tickets for a round trip ticket from Kyoto and Tokyo. It doesn't do much for your pocketbook if you travel less.

Is the Japan Rail Pass Good For Urban Transportation?

If you're just traveling around the city, then it doesn't justify buying a JR pass. It only pays for itself if you plan on traveling around the country. A JR pass is useful in cities that are served well with the JR train lines.

Osaka and Tokyo are two of several cities where visitors can make use of their JR pass. However, in other places, buses and subways are the best. But, the Japan Rail Pass does not cover these.


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