Is the JR Pass worth it?
The inevitable question every traveler planning a trip to Japan will ask. 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 is, “it depends on where you’re visiting and for how long.” For example, if you’re only traveling in the general Tokyo city area, then the JR pass isn’t worth it. If your city-hopping across Japan, then it is most likely worth it to just get a JR pass, mainly for the convenience it provides while traveling.
This post assumes Tokyo will be the main city to visit and compares the Japan Rail (JR) Pass, the 3-Day JR Tokyo Wide Pass, the Tokyo One Day ticket, the Tokyo Metro subway pass, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Pass (no Toei subway info) so that you may decide for yourself which deal will be perfect for your Japan trip.
First I’ll give an overview of all the various pass options, go into the price break down, then wrap up with advice for those traveling to more than just Tokyo.
Overview of 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 “About the JR region specific tickets” heading below.
About the Japan Rail (JR) Pass
The 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.
- JR Pass types and prices
- Scope of validity (which transportation lines are eligible for use)
- JR train accommodations
If you’re going to three or more cities in Japan, then the JR pass will be the guaranteed best deal since shinkansen (bullet trains) and plane tickets are easily over $100/ticket for each city you visit. Even two cities it may be worth it but if those two cities are Tokyo and Kyoto, read the heading section “Visiting Tokyo & Kyoto only” way below.
About the JR 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.
About the JR Tokyo Wide Pass
Within the JR East group there is a pass called the “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:
About the Tokyo 1-Day Ticket
Also within the JR East group is the Tokyo 1-Day Ticket, which 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. The price changes so read more on the 1-day ticket.
Main difference between Tokyo 1-day Ticket and Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass is transportation options. Tickets provide access to certain trains, buses, and subways.
About the Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass
The last option within the JR East group’s Tokyo only discount travel options is the Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass. This pass allows unlimited rides on local and rapid JR East trains only (excluding reserved seats) within the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass is valid for one day and works on the routes shown in the image below.
About the Tokyo Metro Subway Pass
I never used the subways so I’ll include a link to Tokyo Metro’s website and paste in the description of the difference between Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway:
“Of the 13 subway lines in Tokyo, Tokyo Metro operates 9 ? Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line, Hibiya Line, Tozai Line, Chiyoda Line, Yurakucho Line, Hanzomon Line, Namboku Line, and Fukutoshin Line ? while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (Toei Subway) operates 4 ? Asakusa Line, Mita Line, Shinjuku Line, and Oedo Line. Please note that the fare structure differs between Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway. Discount fares are applied when using a PASMO or other IC card or connecting ticket to travel on Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. We also offer Tokyo Subway Ticket, etc. that can be used on lines operated by both companies. “
Tokyo only travel cost comparison
This list compares the Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass (1 day for 760 YEN), Tokyo Metro subway pass (24-hours 800 YEN), Tokyo 1-Day Ticket (1,600 YEN), Tokyo Wide Pass (3 days for 10,180 YEN), and the standard 7-day JR Pass (29,650 YEN).
Each pass/ticket is restricted on what mode of transportation you can take so double check using the links above:
- three days of Tokyo Metro subway = 1,500 YEN
- The subway tickets options are 24-hours, 48-hours, and 72-hours
- three days of Tokyo Metropolitan pass = 2,280 YEN
- three days of 1-Day Ticket (covers almost everything) = 4,800 YEN
- three day JR Wide pass (everything & surrounding area) = 10,180 YEN
- five days of Tokyo Metro subway = 2,700 YEN
- five days of Tokyo Metropolitan pass = 3,800 YEN
- five days of Tokyo 1-Day = 8,000 YEN
- five days – JR Wide pass and Tokyo Metro pass = 11,700 YEN
- five days – JR Wide pass and Tokyo 1-Day(x2) = 13,380 YEN
- seven days – Tokyo Metro Pass = 5,320 YEN
- seven days – Tokyo 1-Day (x7) = 11,200 YEN
- seven days – JR Wide Pass and Tokyo 1-day (x5) = 18,180
- seven days – JR wide pass (x2) and Tokyo 1-Day = 21,960
- seven days all Japan JR Pass = 29,650 YEN
Cost winner for traveling to Tokyo only
If for whatever reason you don’t plan on leaving Tokyo and don’t need to ride the bus, then the purchasing both the Metropolitan district pass and the Metro (subway) pass would be the cheapest; for three days of travel these tickets total to 3,780 YEN (1,020 YEN cheaper than Tokyo 1-Day Ticket).
But if having more transportation options (like the bus) is important to you, then the Tokyo 1-Day ticket is the clear winner!
Cost winner for visiting a few cities in Japan
If you plan on taking day trips around the greater Tokyo area then the JR Tokyo Wide Pass would be best. 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.
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.
My top choices:
My choices are based on a combination of convenience and cost. I also wouldn’t fly all the way to Japan and just see Tokyo so I’m narrowing it down to my realistic choices:
- Visiting Tokyo & Kyoto only: JR pass for either 14, or 21 days paired with one or multiple Kyoto transportation passes
- Visiting a few cities in Japan: JR pass for either 7, 14, or 21 days
Bonus tip on Tokyo airport travel
Remember you still need to get to and from the airport to Tokyo station (even if you’re not staying in Tokyo you’ll likely need to catch a connecting train there). Luckily there are great options for both airports.
Travelers should know that all JR passes get you free access from either airport to Tokyo station (and a few other major and minor stations). Non-JR Pass holders will need to pay for their ticket; prices listed below.
Getting to Tokyo Station
- From Narita Airport: N’EX trains
- comes every 30 minutes
- Duration: about 50 minutes
- 4,000 Yen (<$40 USD) round trip per person
- From Haneda Airport: Tokyo Monorail
- comes every 4 minutes
- Duration: about 13 minutes
Have additional ideas or comments? Add them in the comments below!