Getting around for cheap with the Japan Rail Pass

Pic: AP.

PASSPORT: Check! Wallet: Check! It is a familiar routine when traveling and often has us patting our pockets every time we leave a hotel room or shuffle out of a cramped airplane. However, when you travel in Japan another vital item is added to the checklist; a Japan Rail Pass. 

Japan boasts one of the most modern and efficient public rail systems in the world. A network that consists of multiple high-speed trains that link all cities and major towns throughout the country, the JR Pass provides tourists with unlimited access to ride these rapid rails. Referred to as ‘shinkansenin’ trains in Japan, these bullet trains whip passengers along blurred countrysides at speeds of up to 320km (200 miles) an hour, reducing long distance travel to mere hours.

Although Japan is not known as a budget holiday destination, the JR pass is a notable exception in cost effective travel that leaves visitors with little excuse for not traversing the breadth of the country.

JR Pass

The JR Pass provides tourists with unlimited access to the public Japanese Railway network across the country over a set period. Passes can be bought for one, two or three week periods to accommodate different itineraries, ensuring hassle free travel and flexible schedules.

The JR pass can be used on the high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains as well as slower trains, and can even provide passengers with discount prices on overnight sleeping trains.

The advantages of the JR Pass are not just limited to train travel either as the pass allows free travel on local buses operated by Japan Rail, as well as discounts on regular rates at hotel chains connected with the rail network.

JR Rail Price

The price of a seven-day JR Pass is $355; with a 14-day pass costing $566; and a 21-day pass costing $724 (prices listed are for Ordinary/Economy Class only). Although the price of a JR Pass initially seems a costly investment, it is not until the price of everyday train journeys are taken into consideration that the true value of the pass becomes apparent. A single return ticket from Tokyo-Kyoto on a high-speed train costs around $238, so for those who plan to travel to numerous locations throughout Japan over a short period, the JR Pass is a no-brainer. Children aged 6 to 11 years old are also charged half the adult fare.

Buying a JR Pass

The JR Pass is strictly limited to tourists on short-term visas and cannot be purchased within Japan, nor can it be renewed. It must be bought prior to departure either online or through a travel agent, both of which will will provide a voucher that is then exchanged for the JR Pass at all JR stations within Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka’s airports.

Customers can decide on the exact start date that they wish to begin using the pass, which must be within one month of it being issued. Once the pass is in use, passengers can simply turn up to any station nationwide and book a seat on any public JR train to any destination within Japan. On occasion, passengers might be required to reserve seats a few hours before departure, which all JR Pass holders can do free of charge.