Japan Rail Pass vs Point to Point Train Tickets
Japan is an incredibly unique and diverse country, from its bustling cities to its awe-inspiring mountains and tranquil temples. If you haven't planned the places you want to see, here is a suggested 7 day Japan itinerary which features all the main highlights of the land of the rising sun.
The best way to travel through Japan is by rail
Some travellers leave rail travel until the last minute and decide to simply buy point to point individual train tickets when they arrive at Japanese stations. However, this option can end up becoming quite expensive, not to mention rather inconvenient. Fumbling for yen in a foreign country and storing many train tickets can get tedious, especially if you don't speak Japanese. If you wish to travel across several of Japan's regions, the Japan Rail Pass is really the only way to see Japan by rail. It gives tourists both flexibility and peace of mind. In this simple guide, we compare the Japan Rail Pass with JR train tickets and reveal why travelling by train in the land of the rising sun is such a rewarding experience.
Point to point Japan Rail tickets
Regular point to point JR train tickets simply get you from A to B. There are no cheap fares available for advance-purchase or off-peak fares.
Travellers can choose between two classes: ordinary and green. Most long-distance Japanese trains have a Green Car, which is the equivalent to First or Superior Class train travel. Green Cars are labelled as such with green clover symbols on the carriages, which keeps things simple and stress-free. The Green carriage is less crowded and offers more spacious seats, and are normally 30% - 50% more expensive than ordinary cars. Green class provide greater comfort and style and is ideal for long-distance train travel, say from Tokyo to Kyoto. There is ample luggage storage and footrests, so you can really stretch out and soak up the sublime views of Mount Fuji from your spacious seat.
Most Shinkansen and limited express trains contain both non-reserved and reserved seats, while a few trains carry reserved seats only. On most local, rapid and express trains seats cannot be reserved. Seat reservations cost roughly 300 to 700 yen, but are free with the Japan Rail Pass.
How much can you save with a Japan Rail Pass?
Let's consider a typical Japan itinerary including 5 of Japan's best cities to see the Cherry blossoms during spring.
Japan Rail Point to Point Fares
- Narita airport to Tokyo on Narita Express: 3,020 yen
- Tokyo to Kyoto on Shinkansen (bullet train): 13,910 yen
- Kyoto to Osaka on ordinary trains: 560 yen
- Osaka to Nara on ordinary trains: 800 yen
- Nara to Hiroshima on ordinary trains/Shinkansen (bullet train): 11,880 yen
- Hiroshima to Tokyo on Shinkansen (bullet train): 19,080 yen
Total Fare with JR point to point tickets: 49,250 yen* = approx. $567
7 days consecutive adult JR Pass = $355 (Standard Class with Rail Plus)
The above comparison demonstrates that in this case, Australian travellers would stand to save over $200 by investing in a Japan Rail Pass.
*please note: fares may vary, depending on the train and whether or not you include seat reservations. Seats can only be reserved on only JR Shinkansen (bullet trains), Tokkyu (limited express trains) and some special trains like overnight sleeper trains.
If you are visiting from Australia or New Zealand, a Japan Rail Pass often works out to be the most economical way to travel. In some cases, even if you are only planning to make one return trip you will still save money with a Japan Rail Pass.
For example, if you are planning a return trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima you will save around $83 by purchasing a 7 days consecutive adult Rail Plus JR Ordinary Pass compared to purchasing a standard point to point train ticket.
What about convenience and flexibility?
Another major advantage the JR pass offers over purchasing point to point train tickets is that you don't have to worry about buying tickets at the station each time you take a trip. Unless you need to make a seat reservation on the day, you can simply show your pass to the train attendant and then board the next available train.
The Japan Rail Pass allows you to travel on all JR trains across Japans extensive rail network, including the 300km/h Shinkansen (high-speed bullet trains). Japan Rail Pass holders are able to explore Tokyo for free on the circular Yamanote line, which connects Tokyo's major hubs and attractions. Otherwise, you will need to preload yen on a Suica Card (to access Tokyo Metro)
A JR pass also connects you to all of Japan's other major cities including Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and many more. The pass also gives you access to some of Japan's most popular attractions such as the magnificent Mount Fuji and the Gero Hot Springs. For more inspiration on what to see in Japan, here are 5 life-changing experiences you should consider adding to your itinerary.
Imagine zooming past gleaming skyscrapers one minute, rice fields the next and then being faced by a postcard-like view of Mount Fuji as you travel on one of the fastest, cleanest and most efficient trains in the world. This is just a small taste of the unique experience that awaits you when you purchase a Japan Rail Pass.
Japan Rail Pass includes more than just rail
What's more, a Japan Rail pass is also valid on select JR bus and ferry lines so you can voyage to the beautiful island of Miyajima, or journey through the Japanese countryside by road at whim.
The JR Pass offers travellers truly flexible, convenient travel and has been described by Rail Plus customers as the "easiest and most comfortable way to get around Japan" (Graham, Adelaide) and "absolutely essential" (Georgina, Auckland).
Please note: the Japan Rail Pass does not cover the Nozomi (the super-high-speed Shinkansen trains) on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, or the Mizuho Shinkansen running between Osaka and Kagoshima.
You should book your pass before the departure (travellers must be in possession of a valid Japanese tourist visa). Passes are harder to obtain locally and cost more. Conversely, the Japan Rail point to point tickets are only available for purchase within Japan. This means you can't purchase tickets from Australia or New Zealand before you leave the country.
Travelling by rail in Japan is a thrilling experience which immerses you in an important part of the country's culture. The first Shinkansen was waved away by Emperor Hirohito as it left Tokyo and journeyed toward Osaka at 210 km/h in 1964. The design of this train created a blueprint for railway travel around the globe.
There's no better way to travel through Japan than with a Japan Rail Pass. Not only can you save money, you will also enjoy the benefits of convenient,hassle-free train travel, so you can spend more time enjoying Japan's best attractions and rich cultural history.