Japan Rail Pass, our experience

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Japan Rail Pass, our experience

Japan Rail Pass has made our lives really easy while travelling through this fascinating country. We have truly enjoyed the experience of travelling using this pass and there are many more pros than cons, including the convenience and the simple fact that we reached several cities from north to south during those 2 weeks that we were in the country. In fact, in the end those 2 weeks were too short …

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Even prior to our arrival in Japan, many friends told us that the best way to move around Japan was using a Japan Rail Pass. At first we thought it was a bit expensive and would exceed our budget, but looking at the whole package we then realized that the best thing we did was to purchase the passes for 14 days.

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Japan Rail Pass gave us enormous freedom to move around the country, and even gave us the option to reserve a seat for free. At the end of the trip we crunched the numbers and it was clear that we had saved a lot of money with the pass.

Heck, if we were going to Japan then we should definitely make sure we enjoy it to the maximum and visit as many places as possible. It is not every day we get the opportunity to travel for that many hours to a country with a completely different culture and traditions, where we don’t speak a single word of their language … This was unique.

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Where did we buy our passes?

We heard about the company JR Pass through some friends who came to Japan and purchased the same tickets. There are a few other companies that sell exchange orders for Japan Rail Pass and some are more expensive but, looking at the reviews, references, etc., JR Pass seemed to be the right choice.

They have a very active Facebook page (I know they also use a Twitter account, but to be honest I didn’t check that one much), with tips, articles and lots of followers leaving comments and useful information.

As soon as we purchased the tickets we started following their page through our blog account.

Trains in Japan are very comfortable and efficient

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Their website is also very complete and user-friendly, with plenty of information about trips, how to use the pass, maps and a Q&A section with other readers. If you want to purchase a Japan Rail Pass, we fully recommend getting it from JR Pass.

Our Pocket Wi-Fi rental, offered by JR Pass

Before purchasing the JR Pass, you have the option to get a bundle which includes renting a pocket Wi-Fi device for the duration of your stay.

JR Pass kindly offered us pocket Wi-Fi during our stay. They considered that, being bloggers and travelers, we would want to be connected, not only to update our blog, check on our social media, send and receive e-mails, etc., but also to stay in touch with news from around the world.

That was a big advantage. In other countries on our trip we’ve sometimes been disconnected from everything, and this has led us to delay the information on our blog and social media. When we had the chance to quickly connect in those places, we’d simply check the essentials, meaning our blog.

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We would sometimes hear important news that had an impact on us a couple of days after the fact, and that’s never good, so when we were offered the pocket Wi-Fi we accepted in a heartbeat.

The standard Wi-Fi connection in Japan is very fast. Our bundle included 3GB of usage per day, with a limited connection thereafter.

That was perfect. On our Japan Rail Pass train journeys the pocket Wi-Fi was used frequently and without issue, apart from the times we were in tunnels. And the good thing was that when we exceeded the high speed usage allowance, there was a still connection (albeit slow), and the next day we’d be back to high-speed internet all over again.

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Comparison of expenses (normal tickets vs JR Pass – excel)

As we mentioned before we were a bit concerned about the prices, and whether the tickets would be that much worth. On the other hand, we had already made plans to visit quite a few cities in Japan, and we started looking for ways to save while exploring Japan.

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Having done our research, we were certain that the JR Pass would be not only convenient for us, but would also save us a lot of money given what we intended to visit.

Below some data with our destinations using Japan Rail Pass, comparing what we would normally have spent if purchasing tickets for each individual trip vs the total spent with the company JR Pass. We used Japan Rail Pass purchased from JR Pass for the bullet trains, local trains, ferries, etc;

  • In the total below we did not consider a return trip from Tokyo to Mount Fuji (unfortunately we had to cancelled this one due to weather conditions);
  • Also did not mention the cost of ALL local trains, because we used them a lot and simply lost track of it;
  • Total trips if purchasing ticket individually (per person): JPY 98.480,00
  • Approximate cost for a 14-day JR Pass (per person): JPY 46.334,00

That means that we spent less than 1/2 of what we’d normally spent when purchasing individually. Also consider the fact that Noah, due to his age (4), does not pay the pass.

We could’ve included the full table with all details, but to avoid having a long list here, this is summarised (but in case someone is interested to have more details, please drop us a message and we will be glad to send you).

Of course if someone is coming to Japan to visit only 2 or 3 cities then the individual tickets might be sufficient, but for us this was not the case. We had just 2 weeks in Japan and 5 or 6 different destinations in our sights. In the end we even went to Kyoto twice and Tokyo 3 times.

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Steps to purchase the JR Pass

Purchasing the ticket was really easy. Of course, as we are collaborating with JR Pass, our communication was all by e-mail. But anyone buying a bundle online will have an even faster experience.

We only decided to get the tickets when we were leaving Thailand to go to Kuala Lumpur, which means just 4 days before arriving in Japan. Boy, we sure know how to cut things fine … 🙂

We did everything by email with our contact at JR Pass, but normally you need to go to their website and follow the very clear instructions.

Next you need to give an address outside of Japan, so that the exchange order can be sent to you by Fedex, or confirm that you will collect the Japan Rail Pass tickets at the airport in Japan. This second option is useful if you want to save on shipping costs (although these aren’t high), but not so useful if you want to use the JR Pass straight away to get from Narita to Tokyo Central.

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Pros and cons of using the Japan Rail Pass

We didn’t spend long thinking about the pros and cons of purchasing a JR Pass. First, we aren’t that crazy 🙂 (just kidding …), and second, with quite a few people recommending purchasing the passes we decided they couldn’t all be wrong. After that we just tried to adjust our budget to ensure we wouldn’t need to beg for food and accommodation on the streets 🙂 , and we were good to go.

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But if you insist, we can provide some bullet points with pros and cons of using a Japan Rail Pass. First the cons, as they are easier to list:

  • It seems to be expensive for a rail pass (note the word “seems”);
  • You don’t get to take clear pictures of the landscapes on your journeys (try doing that at 300 km/hour …);
  • You don’t have the option of sleeper trains. It could’ve saved us some nights of accommodation, but honestly I don’t think of this as a drawback because it optimized our time and gave us the opportunity to get to places more quickly (meaning more time to enjoy them);
  • There are some routes that are not covered by Japan Rail (for instance it was not so easy to get to Ibaraki Hitachi Seaside Park);
  • You are ONLY eligible for the pass if you are entering Japan with a temporary tourist visa with single entry for 15 or 90 days of duration (people making multiple entries are not eligible for a Japan Rail Pass).
  • Darn … I can’t think of anything else.

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Pros of purchasing the JR Pass:

  • In terms of the company, JR Pass is perhaps the one the most people recommend;
  • It gives the user the flexibility to travel whenever they want, as long as there is space on the train and it is one of the unrestricted trains (for instance they make it very clear that NOZOMI trains cannot be used);
  • It is very easy to reserve a seat at any JR office at train stations where the line stops;
  • It takes the traveler from the north to the south of the country in much less time than if going by car or bus;
  • You don’t need to read the small print before purchasing the ticket, because hey – there isn’t any. Requirements and restrictions are made very clear before you buy and even afterwards in large bold letters (for instance the visa requirements are provided on the website, at the point of purchase and even in the welcome letter you receive);
  • The Japanese rail system is one of the most modern, efficient and fast train networks in the world. The bullet trains are very comfortable and the speed they reach is remarkable;
  • Although it might have happened to other travelers, we didn’t have the unpleasant situation of waiting for a train that departed late. They take time-keeping as seriously as a Swiss clock 🙂 ;
  • Japan Rail Pass saves you a lot of money if your intention is to explore Japan. We travelled to a lot of cities, back and forth, and when comparing it with what we would have spent when purchasing normal tickets, the savings we made were crazy. Of course if you are going to 1 or 2 cities within a 7-day period it is not worth buying, but the JR Pass is for tourist travelers, and you are not coming to Japan to stay inside the hotel for 7 days, right?
  • You can use your Japan Rail Pass to go to several cities, and even take ferry trips, such as the trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima.

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Our ferry taken from Hiroshima to Miyajima, using the Japan Rail Pass purchased from JR Pass

In summary we can confirm that it was a good investment to have the JR Pass for the whole 14 days of our trip in Japan. We went places without worrying about prices and whether there was availability or not.

In fact, there were a couple of times when we cancelled our plans the same day and reserved seats to another city. That’s how flexible Japan Rail Pass was.

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Next time we come back to Japan (and it will be soon), the Japan Rail Pass will be an obvious choice.

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Thanks Daniel at JR Pass for the support and the JR Pass community for all the tips available in the forums.

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