Monday, June 20, 2011

JR (Japan Railway) Pass

We ordered and received our JR Exchange Orders at the beginning of May, and I did a blog post with full pictures here.

Although we were in Japan for 3 weeks (2 weeks with family, 1 week traveling on our own), we decided to get a 1-week JR Pass. We used the train a lot during the 2 weeks we were with family, but it would've been a waste of money to get a 3-week pass, considering travel within/near Tokyo is relatively cheap.

Note: Make sure to buy your JR Passes before you leave for your trip. It is intended for foreigners and must be purchased overseas outside of Japan, and you won't be able to purchase it when you get there.

I learned everything I needed to know about JR Passes here, but I'm included some common questions and clarifications below. Hopefully they will be useful to you (as they were useful to us)!

What is the Japan Rail Pass?
The JAPAN RAIL PASS is the most convenient, efficient, and economical to travel throughout Japan. A regular round-trip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka costs around ¥30,000. You can purchase a 7-day JR pass for less.

Who can buy a Japan Rail Pass?
The JAPAN RAIL PASS is a special ticket that is available only to travelers visiting Japan from foreign countries for sight-seeing. 

How do I obtain a Japan Rail Pass?
This is where the terminology can get confusing. When you order your JR Pass, what you actually get is the JR Pass Exchange Order; not the actual JR Pass itself. You take the completed (instructions below) JR Exchange Order with you to Japan, and you need to go to one of the JR Offices at a train station to exchange your Exchange Order for the actual JR Pass itself.

1. Order online or through an authorized sales agent- You can order your JR Pass online <a href="" target=_blank>here</a>, or from an authorized sales agent. If you order it online, it will cost ~$12-$15 to have it shipped to you (mails FedEx). Since we had a JTB USA office near us in Cincinnati, we called and ordered it via telelphone, and then picked it up within the week- this saved us $12 in shipping!
2. Complete the JR Exchange Order Application form (top half only)- We got our application form with our JR Exchange Orders, but you can also download it here.
3. Bring  the "packet" to a JR Office  to exchange it for the actual JR Pass- Look for the Ticket Offices with a  green seat icon called “Midori no madoguchi”. You must bring (3) things: Passport, completed Application form, and JR Pass Exchange Order.

Tip: Once you get your actual JR Pass, you need to show your pass to a manned ticket gate; not the automatic gates. All we did was flash open the JR Pass to the ticket agent- all he checked was to make sure the dates being used were matched the dates in the JR Pass. 

Are JR Passes valid on every transportation?
No, but they are valid on many. Here is a list of the validity of JR Pass, but below is a quick cheat sheet (but not conclusive):
Covered under JR Pass:
  • Any JR train (indicated by JR xxxxx line)- Green-colored trains in Hyperdia
  • Most Shinkansen lines (with exception of nozomi lines)- Shinkansen icons in Hyperdia
  • JR Ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima

Not covered under JR Pass:
  • Shinkansen Nozomi (fastest type of all the shinkansen trains)
  • Metro lines- Pink-colored trains in Hyperdia
Note: Most train lines in Tokyo aren't going to be covered under the JR Pass, and it's relatively cheap to travel within Tokyo area. Thus, don't waste your money on a JR Pass.

Tip: Since the shinkansen nozomi isn't covered under the JR Pass, when you are searching for train times and fare on Hyperdia, make sure to uncheck the "Nozomi" box under "Search Details" so it doesn't include this in your Hyperdia schedule. If you aren't restricted by the JR Pass, then you can ride any subway or shinkanesen  so you won't need to uncheck anything- just hit the "Search" button.

How do I know if the JR Pass is worth it for me?
The quick rule of thumb is this- if you're planning to do long-distance traveling, the JR Pass is the way to go. If you're planning to do a lot of traveling within Tokyo, it is not worth it. An easy way to determine if the JR Pass is for you is to look at the train prices at Hyperdia

For example:
A 7-day Ordinary (not Green car= "first class") JR Pass is ¥28,300. 
If you plan to go from Shinjuku station (in Tokyo) to Kyoto, the cost is ¥13,200 (for a reserved seat). Thus, for a round trip, it will cost you ¥26,400. 
If you're only planning on traveling to Kyoto, then it's not worth it to get the JR Pass. 
We used ours to go from Shinjuku to Kyoto, to Hiroshima, to Miyajima, to Gamagori, and then back to Shinjuku- as you can imagine, it was definitely a money-saver for us to get the 7-day JR Pass. AND- if you get the JR Pass, you can reserve your seats FOR FREE! 

Our experience:
We weren't planning to use our JR Passes until our 2nd week in Japan. However, since we were planning to leave early Sunday morning to go to Kyoto, I wanted to turn in our Exchange Orders for the actual JR Pass, order our train tickets, and reserve our seats for the shinkansen train. (Keep in mind that most JR Offices are open at 9am, and we knew we wanted to leave at 7am Sunday morning, so we knew we needed to get our tickets before our trip.)

Thus, during our first week, we headed to the nearest JR Office (your JR Pass Exchange Order booklet will tell you which train stations have JR Offices, and their hours of operation). We turned in our Exchange Orders to get the actual JR Passes, let them know which dates we'd be traveling, and then proceeded to order our tickets for the shinkansen trains. We just let her know which train station we were departing from and what time we wanted to arrive at the arrival train station.... then she checked her book, and booked our tickets. I also let her know that we wanted reserved seats and non-smoking. Since it was fairly empty, we decided to just book the rest of the tickets for our 7-day pass (Kyoto to Hiroshima, Hiroshima to Gamagori, Gamagori to Tokyo)... so glad I did this as it gave me a sense of relief that we: a) had reserved seats, and b) we didn't need to do this at every train station. I only did this, though, since it was a fairly big JR office with a fair number of ticket agents- if it were busy, it would've been rude for me to monopolize all their time. 

Note: When we turned in our Exchange Orders for the actual JR Passes, they asked us what day we wanted the JR Passes to be active on. She wrote down the dates for our 7-day Pass, and that was it. It was easy, and took no more than 15 minutes total (including reserving all of our shinkansen tickets.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you - this whole Rail pass thing is confusing!!