Japan Rail Pass | worth it?

Whether this is your first time planning a trip to Japan or your 100th, the inevitable question is “will the Japan Rail (JR) Pass be worth it?” If you have never heard of it, read about the JR pass from the real website – there are plenty of third-party companies also trying to sell the JR Pass but the real websites lists authorized sellers. Here are the North America locations but more are listed on the site.

The short answer to the big question is, “it depends on where you’re visiting and for how long.” This post lays out the various options so that you may decide for yourself which deal will be perfect for your trip.

Comparing costs

My upcoming trip to Japan will be 12 days, 11 nights long and I will visit A total of three cities located in three different prefectures so that will be the consistent price/itinerary example in each situation. The options will contain a cost comparison to the other passes in three and/or 11 day intervals.

Cost sources

The JR Tokyo Wide Pass, the Tokyo One Day ticket and the Tokyo Metropolitan Pass website pages, the JR pass website and the Tokyo Metro (subway) site are the sources for this page and I don’t get compensation from these sites.

JR pass & regional passes

The Japan Rail (JR) pass gets you across the entire country of Japan in basically any form of transportation available from the JR Group, which is a lot, for a great price (ticket types and prices). Not planning on seeing all of Japan this trip? The six companies that make up the big “JR Pass” have tickets available for purchase that give you transportation access to that specific region of the country for a cheaper price. See the image under the “region specific tickets” heading below.

Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail (JR) Pass is a joint offering of the six companies comprising the Japan Railways Group (JR Group) and can be the most economical means of travelling throughout ALL of Japan by rail. You need to be eligible to purchase the JR pass so make sure you qualify. Everything you need to know is on the JR pass website so no point in restating everything that’s clearly laid out on their site.

Region specific tickets

The JR pass website says they’re individual private companies but for simplicity’s sake, you can think of them all as the same company. Here are the JR regions and their websites for more information.

Airport travel

Remember you still need to get from the airport to Tokyo station – luckily there are great options for both airports. The Tokyo-area JR passes get you free access from either airport to Tokyo station (and a few other major and minor stations). 

You will likely transfer flights at the airport you land at to get to your true destination or you will need to get to Tokyo Station in order to transfer to a train that will take you to your final station destination.

Getting to Tokyo Station

  • From Narita Airport: N’EX trains
    • comes every 30 minutes 
    • Duration: about 50 minutes
    • 4,000 (~$40) round trip per person
  • From Haneda Airport: Tokyo Monorail
    • comes every 4 minutes
    • Duration: about 13 minutes
    • Costs vary (discounts available) but here are some helpful links

Tokyo prefecture or city only

If you will only be staying in Tokyo or in the general Tokyo area, then the regular JR pass isn’t worth it. Consider the 3-Day JR Tokyo Wide Pass, the Tokyo One Day ticket or the Tokyo Metropolitan Pass instead.

Tip: if your city-hopping across Japan, consider planning how many nights in Tokyo you’d like to stay based on the ticket deal options offered below.

JR Tokyo Wide Pass 

According to their site, the JR TOKYO Wide Pass is a discounted pass for unlimited rides in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto area. Valid for three days, the pass is good for unlimited rides using reserved seats on ordinary cars on Shinkansen, limited express and other trains in the valid use area. The JR TOKYO Wide Pass makes it easy to visit popular tourist destinations such as Mt. Fuji, Izu and Karuizawa, GALA Yuzawa, and more.

Get on and off trains as many times as you like, using designated or unreserved seats on the ordinary cars of Shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid and local trains in the usage area:

Cost comparison

  • “Tokyo Wide Pass” (3 days) = 10,000 YEN
    • “Tokyo wide pass” x 2 (6 days) = 20,000 YEN
  • “Tokyo Metropolitan pass” (3 days) = 2,250 YEN
    • “Tokyo Metropolitan pass” x 2 (6 days) = 4, 500 YEN
  • “Tokyo 1-Day ticket” (3 days) = 4,770 YEN
    • “Tokyo 1-Day ticket: x 6 (6 days) = 9,540 YEN
  • 7 days of normal JR Pass = 29,110 YEN

Tokyo 1-Day ticket

This ticket allows unlimited rides on local and rapid JR East trains (excluding reserved seats) within the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo as well as on the subways, the Nippori-Toneri Liner, Tokyo Toei streetcars and the Toei Bus system. More on the 1-day ticket.

Cost comparison

  • One day = 1,590 YEN
    • three days of 1-Day = 4,770 YEN
    • three days of Metropolitan pass = 2,250 YEN
    • three day JR Wide pass = 10,000 YEN
    • seven day normal JR Pass = 29,110 YEN
  • General use: Trains, buses, and subways
    • Main difference between 1-day and metropolitan is transportation options

Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass

This pass allows unlimited rides on local and rapid JR East trains (excluding reserved seats) within the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo.

Cost comparison

  • One day = 750 YEN
    • three days of Metropolitan pass = 2,250 YEN
    • three days of 1-Day = 4,770 YEN
    • three days of JR Wide pass = 10,000 YEN
    • seven days of normal JR Pass = 29,110 YEN
  • General use: Trains only
    • Main difference between 1-day and metropolitan is transportation options

Tokyo area only  |  winner

If you don’t plan on leaving Tokyo and don’t need to ride the bus, then the MIX option of pairing the Metropolitan district pass with the Metro (subway) pass is the winner of the title “best deal in Tokyo transportation.” If riding the bus is important to you, then the Tokyo 1-Day ticket is the clear winner!
  • Total number of days = 11
      • Total is 1,500 YEN/day
      • 1,500 x 11 days = 16,500 YEN or ~$152USD
    • *ALTERNATE*Tokyo 1-Day ticket: valid for one day 
      • 1,590 YEN x 11 days = 17,490 YEN or ~$161USD
    • Tokyo Wide Pass: valid for three days
      • 10,000 YEN x 4 (12 days) = 40,000 YEN or ~$369USD
    • Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass: valid for one day
      • 750 YEN x 11 days = 8,250 YEN or ~$76USD
    • JR Pass Option #1: valid for 7 days
      • TOTAL = 29,110 YEN or ~$268.22USD
    • JR Pass Option #2: valid for 14 days
      • TOTAL = 46,390 YEN or ~$427.43USD

Well maybe one day trip…   |  winner

The winning tickets, if you plan on taking even one day-trip from Tokyo, is the Tokyo Wide Pass paired with the Tokyo 1-Day ticket.

Look up the options available within the region as well as if there are any additional charges since some locations (like Nikko) travel over train tracks not owned by the JR Group so you will have to pay a little extra. 

  • Total number of days = 11 days
    • Tokyo Wide Pass = 3 days
      • 10,000 YEN
    • Tokyo 1-Day ticket = 8 days
      • 1,590 YEN x 8 = 12,720 YEN
    • *GRAND TOTAL = 22,720 YEN* 
      • Additional cost of Narita airport access via N’EX = 4,000 YEN (roundtrip)
      • Considering flying in to Haneda airport so that the cost from the airport to Tokyo station is covered with the 1-day pass.
      • Total including N’EX ticket = 26,720 YEN or ~$246USD
  • 7 DAY JR Pass = 29,110 YEN
  • 14 Day JR Pass = 46,390 YEN 

Tokyo for less than two days    |   winner

If you are in Tokyo for a very small amount of time, then the Metropolitan District pass is likely the best deal since the majority of the major popular tourist spots are located on the JR Yamanote train line and usually extra train or subway tickets cost around 150 – 250 YEN each way. Book your accommodation within walking distance from a Yamanote line station (green line / circular path show below).

Station route map – the green Yamanote line is included in Tokyo options listed

Visiting a few cities in Japan

If you’re going to three or more cities in Japan, then the JR pass will be the guaranteed best deal since shinkansen and plane tickets are easily $100/ticket for each city you visit.

My upcoming trip will involve Tokyo, Kyoto, and the southern city of Kitakyushu. I decided to go with a JR Pass rather than flying from city to city because Joe (read my “about me” page) has never been to Japan before and the train car view offers unique site-seeing opportunities. I admit I didn’t spend more than half a day evaluating if flying would be cheaper/faster than other options, and I might have been trying to buy at the wrong time, but based on what I found it seemed like my choice would at least simplify our journey.

Visiting Tokyo & Kyoto only

This was my itinerary the first time I went to Japan – this specific combo is a grey area regarding if the JR Pass is still worth it. It seems like it’s worth it initially because you’re going to another part of the country, but I discovered the hard way that Kyoto doesn’t have many JR lines. Check out this blogger’s page on special passes offered in Kyoto.

I ended up paying for a couple taxi rides and multiple bus trips and wished I had researched more into the Kyoto ticket options and how to buy them. I’m grateful I had the JR pass for my trip to Kyoto and back as well as my visit to Fushimi Inari-taisha (shrine) in Kyoto but I wish I had booked a room closer to a JR station to make better use of it and get more for my money.

If you plan on running all over Kyoto to see the major landmarks, then consider getting a SUICA card or any of the Kyoto transportation passes to get the most of your money. If you have time, I recommend researching how much it costs to get from Tokyo to Kyoto on average as well as look into the Kyoto transportation pass options to see if you can get a better deal.

Japan Rail Pass  | so it worth it?

Actually the short answer is “it still depends.” Obviously the fewer cities means less of a budget impact so knowing your bucket list items and which cities they’re in will help you see which transportation options you’ll need to access them. Here is an executive summary bullet list:

Have additional ideas or comments? Add them in the comments below!




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