We’ve asked our most frequent users what tips they would give first time travellers to Japan when it comes to using the Japan Rail Pass. Here are 10 of the best tips every JR Pass user should know!
The pass is great for transport around Japan, ride any JR train from a local train in the countryside to the superfast Shinkansen network connecting the main cities. The pass is all good for this but there's a lot more to it. That's why we asked JR Pass users who have been to Japan at least twice to give us their best tips on how to get the best value out of the Japan Rail Pass.
Table of contents:
1.) Hop-on and Hop-off
Easy one but hard to realize how much value there is on just getting on and off the train whenever you want to. For most passengers a new fare is required for each ride, whether it is the jump to the next station or crossing the city. For instance the JR Pass makes it easy to explore the Tokyo Metropolis using the Yamanote Loop line and central Chuo line. Getting on once costs about 200yen, do that 10 times in a day, and it quickly adds up. The same goes with Shinkansen travel, you may want to visit Nagoya on the route Tokyo - Osaka. This would mean having to buy separate tickets from each leg, which costs more than a single ticket, with the pass - this is not even a concern.
2.) Make seat reservations
The next tip is to make seat reservations, this applies to intercity trains and Shinkansen. Seat reservations without a rail pass can cost anywhere between 200 and 1.000 yen each, but are complimentary with the pass. Making a reservation not only saves money, it also saves time, as there's no need to queue for a seat at the station platform. You will also have the assurance that you can sit together with your fellow travellers. All reserved seats are guaranteed.
3.) Download the apps
Download the right apps before travelling to Japan, to plan your trip, manage your bookings and to keep updated on train service updates. Some go without thinking like Google Maps and Hyperdia, others are more specialized. Read our posts on JR Pass apps #1 and JR Pass apps #2 for the full rundown.
4.) Take time to enjoy the stations
Train stations in Japan are so much more than places to transit through. Depending on the station, there can be an abundance of shops and facilities. Think of buying an Eki-Bento, trying a noodle shop at the station platform or exploring some local history. Big stations often come with their own mall, restaurants and office buildings with plenty of options to enjoy yourself. In Japan there's a station ticket required to enter the part of the station behind the ticket gate, a bit inconvenient for those who want to explore the station or if you want to pass through a large station such as Tokyo station. Fortunately the JR Pass is your ticket to any JR Station in Japan and no additional ticket is required.
5.) Learn about national holidays and festivals
Learn when the Japanese have their national holidays and festivals. Trains can be busy or even fully booked during these days, and you don't want to lose time because of this. Dates to watch out for are 28 December – 6 January, 27 April – 6 May (“Golden Week”), and 11-20 August (Obon season). The same goes for festivals, like the Gion Matsuri 1 Jul - 31 Jul, Takayama festival April 14-15 and Tokushima festival 12-15 August. During these festivals, hotels often sell out well in advance and prices can be considerably higher.
6.) Make the most of onboard facilities
Similar to enjoying the station facilities, trains have a lot of going for them in Japan and will help you get the most out of your trip. Think of onboard drinks and snacks service (paid), power outlets for phone charging and laptop use, seats that can rotate 180 degrees, so you can always sit in the travel direction or sit together with 4. The Shinkansen especially are well-equipped, so take some time to explore the train too.
7.) Ride a joyful train
Japan has special trains that you ride for the experience, not to get from point A to B. These often come with wide view windows, special comfort seats, a limited section of beverages and food exclusive to that train and may also involve activities such as a mobile art gallery, local dancing or even Sake tasting. Riding a joyful train can be quite expensive and people gladly pay up to 10.000+yen for the experience. With the JR Pass most joyful trains are completely free. Examples include the Resort Shirakami train, Yufuin-No-Mori, the SAPHIR ODORIKO, a variety of steam trains and many more
8.) Learn to quickly find the right train by looking at the departure signs
One quick tip that can be a lifesaver when in a hurry is learning to find the right departure platform. There can be a lot of information on both your ticket and the departure screens, like train name, stops, type of service and much more. It also does not help that this is often displayed in Japanese only. One way to quickly find the right platform is to only look at the departure times, and only then look at anything else.
An alternative is to ask what platform your train will depart from when reserving the tickets and ask the staff to write this on your ticket.
9.)Visit Hiroshima for super value
Hiroshima is a special case when it comes to the pass. It makes for a great additional (day) trip from cities in Kansai like Kyoto and Osaka. A return ticket is about 11.000yen, which on itself is a massive cost saving. Then within Hiroshima, the Hiroshima city bus is included in the JR Pass and you can even use the JR-Ferry for free to visit the iconic Miyajima.
10.) Use it for airport transport
One lesser known fact is that the JR Pass includes transport to and from all major international airports in Japan, including Narita airport, Haneda Airport and Kansai Airport, which can cost quite a bit. For instance a single ticket Tokyo - Narita Airport on the Narita Express is about 3.000yen.
That's our top 10 of user submitted tips. Looking for more or want to share some yourself? Then join us on the JR Pass forum.