How to use the Japan Rail Pass? Basic guide

Japan rail passes

Do you have doubts on how to use the Japan Rail Pass? Let our basic guide and video show you! The Japan Rail Pass is a multi-use all-you-can-ride discounted rail ticket. It is the most practical and economical way to travel all over Japan. It provides unlimited access to all Japan Railways National trains and also to the fast ‘Shinkansen’ bullet trains that connect most of the main cities, like Tokyo to Kyoto, in Japan and which will take you to the county’s biggest and best attractions.

In addition to the trains, you will have access to local trains and metro in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, as well as other means of transportation like the JR Buses, JR Ferry, Monorails, and airport transfers (such as Narita Express in Tokyo and Haruka Express in Kyoto).

How does the JR Pass work?

The JR Pass is available for 7, 14, and 21-day trips. Once you have purchased your Japan Rail Pass, you will receive an exchange voucher. Upon arrival in Japan, and to be able to use your JR Pass, you must validate and exchange your order for the actual pass, which must be made a maximum of 90 days after your purchase. Therefore, you should buy your Japan Rail Pass no later than 90 days before the date you intend to exchange your voucher for the Japan Rail Pass.

Once you arrive in Japan, you will need to go to a JR Exchange Office, which can be easily found at airports and main train stations. Not sure which JR Exchange office is closest? You can check the Japan Rail Pass guide that you have received along with your exchange order!

At the office, you will be required to fill out a form with your personal details and show your passport and the entry stamp. When exchanging your voucher, you will have to choose a starting date, or first day of use, for your Japan Rail Pass. The starting date does not have to be the same day as the exchange date. However, it has to be within 30 days of the date in which the exchange is made. Please keep in mind that the date cannot be altered once your JR Pass is activated.

Once it is validated you will be able to use your pass starting on the date you have chosen for the consecutive number of days for which your pass is valid.

How to use the Japan Rail Pass: Video guide

Seat reservation

With your JR Pass in hand you can start exploring Japan!  You can go to any JR ticket office (Midori-no-madoguchi), to make a seat reservation. There is no additional charge for making a seat reservation.

Once at the ticket office, you will be asked about your destination and preferred departure time, or you can also look up the train times in advance. Then one of the friendly staff members will help you find the best option for your trip.

Finally, when handed the reservation ticket you can head over to the train platform. You will be asked to show your Japan Rail Pass at the ticket gate and then you may proceed to go to your platform where there will be monitors that will guide you on where to go if you have a seat reservation (and which direction to go if you don’t.).

How to find your car and seat

Find your car number on your ticket and stand at the correct car point on the platform. Line up behind the white line and wait for your train. Enter the train and find your seat, seat numbers are indicated above the window (sit in any seat if an unreserved carriage)

Travelling in first class and other extras

Many long-distance trains also offer Green Cars (superior class). With a Green-type JR Pass you can use either the coach or the superior Green Car class cars, while with a standard JR Pass you can use only the standard coach class cars without paying an additional charge.

Inside the E5 Shinkansen Gran Class car
Inside the E5 Shinkansen Gran Class car

Also, if you wish to travel in a private compartment on a Shinkansen or a limited express train, you will be required to pay the limited express charge for the private compartment, as well as the Green Car charge if the private compartment is a Green Car accommodation. An extra charge is also required if you wish to travel in a sleeping car, a DX Green Car or Gran Class accommodation.

You can make reservations right up to train departures, although, during national holidays such as Golden Week, Obon or New Year, it is advisable to make them at least 3-4 days in advance.

Still have doubts? You can check out Frequently Asked Questions and our tutorial made by the lovely La Carmina in our YouTube channel.


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17 thoughts on “How to use the Japan Rail Pass? Basic guide”

  1. We are traveling in a grp of four adults. Arriving at Haneda Airport. Hence to Osaka 4days) Kyoto (4/5 days) then back to Tokyo for 4 days before flying back. What sort of pass shall I get? Thanks for the info n help.

  2. Hi
    I will be in Japan in mid april
    Day 1 – 5 will be in Tokyo. Will be visiting Mt Fuji and Disneyland while in Tokyo.
    Day 6 to Matsumoto and proceed from there to Takayama (overnight )
    Day 8 to Kanazawa
    Day 10 to Kyoto
    Day 11 to Nara Park
    Day 12 to Mayajima
    Day 13 -14 in Kyoto
    Day 15 to Kobe
    Day 16 to Hijemi Castle
    Day 17 Kobe
    As I understand JR pass need to be used consecutively, can you advise what pass should I get.

    1. Hi Bett!

      Yes, a Japan Rail Pass can be valid for either 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. Should you want it to be valid during all your trip you should consider to get the 21-day one. We strongly recommend you to check at Hyperdia which would the individual price of each trip be and compare it to the price of the nation-wide pass.

      Happy travels!

  3. Hi,

    I’m going to Japan for 14 days from the 2/05/18 to the 14/05/18.

    From Narita Airport, I’m staying in Tokyo for about 5 days; then I’ll be staying in Kyoto for 5 days and will be using Kyoto as a base to travel to Nara and Osaka.

    Lastly, I’ll be returning to Tokyo and returning to London via Narita Airport.

    Considering my itinerary, I’m not entirely sure which Japan Rail Pass to get.

    Any tips/ recommendations?

    1. Hi Katrina!

      Our recommendation would be to purchase a 7-day Japan Rail Pass and use it for the last 7 days of your trip, including the following trips:

      Tokyo to Kyoto.
      – Kyoto to Nara (round trip).
      – Kyoto to Osaka (round trip). Note: when in Osaka you will be entitled to make full, unlimited use of the Osaka Loop Line.
      Kyoto to Tokyo.
      – Central Tokyo to Narita Airport in the Narita Express.

      This should be the most cost effective option for your described trip.

      We hope you enjoy!

  4. Could I use my JR Rail Pass to get to Iwami/Tottori area? What line would I use, and when would I have to pay extra for non-JR related lines?

    1. Hi Zel!

      Iwami is most easily accessed from Izumo or Matsue. To get there take a JR train from Matsue or Izumo to Oda and transfer to a bus to Iwami Ginzan. The trains are covered by the Japan Rail Pass. The bus journey between Odashi Station and Iwami Ginzan takes 25 minutes, costs 630 yen one way and is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

  5. Hello JRail Pass,

    i`m going to travel in Japan for 8 days next year, can i buy 2 ticket of 4 Consecutive Days pass? since 7 Consecutive Days pass would not be enough for me and my family. We are planning to travel around Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara.
    And, is it possible for me to buy the JR Pass in Kansai International Airport?
    Thank You.

    1. Hello Khairul,

      We are afriad it is not possible to buy the Japan Rail Pass like that. The days of your Japan Rail Pass need to be consecutive. Therefore, you won’t have the option of splitting the validity period of your pass.
      Also, from a trial period starting on March 8, 2017 and running until March 31, 2018, the Japan Rail Pass is also sold at a limited number of stations in Japan. So, you will be able to buy it there but be aware though that buying the Japan Rail Pass in Japan will be more expensive than buying it online ahead on time.

      Have a nice trip 🙂


  6. Hi,

    Can I use JR pass from Haneda airport to central Tokyo?
    Actually I have doubts whether I should get JR pass. will touchdown at Haneda airport then back from Kansai. Roughly plan about 4days in Tokyo and will head to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. Total 9 nights of stays and head back on 10th day. The JR pass will only valid for 7days and I kept thinking of the other 2 days. Do you have any idea on how I should I plan on the trip?

    1. Hello lily,

      Yes, you can use the Japan Rail Pass from Haneda airport to central Tokyo using The Narita Express – also known as N’EX. It is the most convenient Tokyo city transfer from and to Narita International Airport, which hosts most of the overseas flights to Japan.

      When traveling for 10 days to Japan, our best suggestions is to stay in Tokyo for three days, and put this location at the beginning or at the end of your trip. In case of going to Tokyo at the beginning you will need to pay for the Narita Express train and a 3 days JR ticket. After that, we recommend you to active your apan rail pass.

      However, if you go to Tokyo on the final days of your travel, you will be able to active your japan rail pass as soon as you get to Japan, and buy the three days JR ticket when you arrive to Tokyo.

      Anyways, you can compare prices on Hyperdia, and then decide what is the best option for you.

      Hope it helps 🙂

    2. I would agree with the expert advice given here. We just got back from a trip to Japan today and used the JRail Pass for our trip. Not only did we save money on trips around our local faves (between Yokohama and Tokyo, mostly) but we were also able to spend a day in Kyoto with a reserved seat (nearly $200 per person round trip) and take a reserved seat Shinkansen trip to Tokyo (about $50 per person) on our last day which let us spend more time in Yokohama sightseeing rather than taking the local rail. Buying the JRail Pass and putting about 1000 yen on our PASMO cards got us through an 8 day trip easily.

  7. Dear Sir
    Do you have Senior discount for Jap RAIL Pass ?
    If i buy JPrail pass and i want to take Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and return do i have to pay extra or i just get voucher for the trip with showing my pass ?
    Do you have telephone number to call you?
    Many thanks
    Dr Dan Levy

    1. Hello Mr Levy,

      First, we don´t have any Senior discount available, although, it would be a good idea to think of.
      Second, you can indeed use the Japan Rail Pass to travel to Kyoto, the Japan Rail Pass is be valid on all JR lines throughout Japan, so if you decide to visit some other sites near Kyoto, such as Nara, your Japan Rail Pass will cover these trips as well for free
      And last but not least, if you have more douts, do not hesitate to contact us

      Have a nice trip to Japan

      Kind regards

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