I always recommend for travelers coming to Japan to get the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). But recently I’ve been getting questions if it is actually worth the cost - around $300 USD for a 7-day and $460 for a 14-day (ordinary, not green).
While I had a feeling it was more economical to use the pass, I wanted to double check. I picked four itineraries that I’ve made for previous clients and compared the prices for reserved-seat tickets, non-reserved tickets and JR pass holders*.
Bottom line: For anyone traveling by Shinkansen to a handful of destinations around Japan (2+), the JR Pass is DEFINITELY worth the cost.
Let’s take a look at a few different itineraries below:
Laura and Mike - Tokyo + Kyoto + Naoshima + Hiroshima + Yakushima
Laura and Mike are really avid hikers. They’ve been around the world on trails and spend most weekends, back at home in California, in the forest. For them, doing the Kumano Kodo and visiting Yakushima were huge priorities. They saved over $400 USD by getting the JR Pass.
Kathy - Hiroshima + Naoshima + Kyoto + Hakone + Tokyo
Kathy was starting in Hiroshima and working her way to Tokyo over the course of 7 days. Even though Kathy wasn’t buying a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Hiroshima the JR Pass was still worth it. By using the JR Pass Kathy was able to save around $70 USD.
Erin and Brendan - Tokyo + Kyoto + Nara + Hiroshima
Erin and Brendan had basically planned out their trip by the time we got in touch. They were really interested in history and wanted to visit Kyoto and Hiroshima along with a little bit of time in Tokyo. For them getting the Pass saved them about $170 USD.
Kendra - Tokyo + Kanazawa + Yokohama
Kendra was coming to Tokyo for work and just looking to escape the city and see a different side of Japan. For her I recommended a long weekend in Kanazawa and a quick ½ day trip to Yokohama. With the pass she saved $58 USD. Even if Kendra chose not to go down to Yokohama, I can still imagine that the Pass would be worth it to cover the cost of her trips on the JR trains within Tokyo.
When the Pass isn't Worth it
The scenarios above all justify the cost of the JR Pass. But, I can think of situations where I wouldn’t recommend someone purchase it. For example:
- Just visiting one destination during your trip (Kyoto for example)
- Taking overnight buses/trains instead of Shinkansen
- Traveling to a place like Okinawa or Hokkaido with the discounted airfare for foreign passport holders. Here is a list of carriers/discounts
- Visiting places like Hakone from Tokyo - where there are other pass options (2-Day Odakyu Pass)
The scenarios are endless. If you are on the fence about whether or not to get the pass, take a quick look at the links below and example itineraries above and you'll be able to get a rough estimate if it is worth it or not.
Resources for Train Schedules, Prices, etc.
Google Maps - it's coverage of Japan is very extensive and you can explore the schedule to find trains leaving/arriving at certain times
JR Fare Calculator - Doesn't cover all stations, but gives you a good idea for major stations
Shinkansen Fare Calculator from TokyoCheapo - all fares originate in Tokyo
Tokyo Metro Fare Calculator - The Metro lines are not covered by the JR pass, so this can give you a better idea of what you may spend
*To make the price comparison I used prices from JR Websites, Google Maps and TokyoCheapo. Because the JR Pass does not cover travel on Nozomi trains, I only used Hikari and Kodoma trains for price comparison. Fares can change by day and time, so the stated prices above may be different then what you pay.