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 for foreigners visiting the country. It is the most practical way to travel all over Japan.

It provides unlimited access to all major 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 Shinkansen, 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. It is only available for foreigners visiting Japan with a “Temporary Visitor” stamp (or Japanese nationals who have lived abroad for 10 years or more).

Once you have purchased your Japan Rail Pass, you will receive an exchange voucher by mail. You can receive the voucher at your home address or, alternatively, we can mail it to your hotel or most accommodation in Japan.

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 done a maximum of 90 days after your purchase. Therefore, you should buy your Japan Rail Pass a maximum of 90 days before you exchange your order for the actual 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 on the Shinkansen and extensive rail system!  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)

Traveling 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.

Please note that if you are intending to travel in a Green Car, you must reserve a seat for a specific departure time in advance (although this can be done on the same day as travel).

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 as early as you can.

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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