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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47 thoughts on “How to use the Japan Rail Pass? Basic guide”
  1. Hi Guys,

    A couple of quick questions
    1. We will be arriving in Osaka on October 19th (we are travelling to China first) is it possible to have our pass mailed to our hotel in Japan as it wont arrive in Australia before we depart?
    2. We only need the JR pass to travel between Osaka, Kyoto and Nara then have one single trip to Tokyo. Can you book a single fare for say, Kyoto to Tokyo the day before you travel?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Levi! Should you purchase your Japan Rail Pass at jrailpass.com you will be able to send your order to your temporary address in China. You can select whether they wish to have their order sent to their home or temporary address during the check-out process. Happy travels!

  2. Hi,
    We’ll arrive to Haneda airport fairly late (21:30) in October. We plan to buy a 14 day JR pass and would like to use it from the airport to the city as well (we’ll stay 14 days in Japan). But the Service center at Haneda airport will be closed by the time we leave the transit zone. Does that mean we have to buy tickets for the airport transfer although it is prepaid by the JR pass? Or is there another way to get the physical ticket?
    Thanks for your time!

    1. Hi, you can buy a one way ticket from Haneda to central Tokyo for 810 yen per person. This is cheap. You will just need cash to buy the ticket.

    1. Hi Ida! Booking your seats is only required when you travel with a Green Pass (first class). Should you travel with the standard Japan Rail Pass, you can choose to reserve your seats or travel in an unreserved compartment. Japan Rail Pass holders are entitled to book a seat on all Japan Railways trains free of charge.

  3. Hey guys. Can you please find out if one has to book tickets for the Thunderbird Express from Kanazawa to Kyoto if one already has a Japan Rail Pass, or if one can simply get on the train at the time that it’s leaving.

  4. Good Day,

    My husband and I will be travelling Japan soon. We plan on getting the 7day pass. I’m a bit confuse if whether Suica or JR pass is our best bet forthis upcoming vacation. Below is our itenerary a,d would love to hear your advice to save us money and time.

    Aug 30 Narita to Kyoto
    Aug 31 to Sep1 Kyoto and Osaka
    Sep 2 Osaka to Sendai
    Sep 5 Sendai to Tokyo

    Thank you in advance!!

    Warm Regards,
    Jem

  5. HI…JR,
    I bought the JR Pass ticket already from my country and will be change it in Narita airport on 6 june
    actually on 7 june , i would like to see the mount fuji, could you please give me suggestion what time i should go and what Train can i use with my JR PASS?
    is there any train (use JR Pass) to bring me to fuji mount and back to tokyo on one day?
    on 8, i would like to go to osaka – kyoto use my JR and back to tokyo on one day only (is it available)? my kids actually just want to use the train arround japan.
    on 9 , i would like to stay in tokyo and round2 tokyo only.. what train name or bus name that can i use with my JR pass (oh ya i bought ordinary 7 days Pass)

  6. Hi!
    I am planning on coming to Japan in June to visit friends in a few cities. I am flying into Tokyo (Narita) and spending a few days there. From there, I will be traveling to Osaka for a few days and then Kyoto. Which trains would be best to get between those cities?

  7. Hello,
    We’ll be flying into & out of Osaka (Kansai) airport from 22 Oct – 7 Nov 2018, mostly travelling through the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara). Can you please advise:
    1. best train/bus/travel options?
    2. does the JR regional pass use the shinkansen?
    Thank you,
    Catina

  8. Aloha!
    I will be traveling with my husband, daughter and her 2 children ages 8 & 10. We arrive in Narita Airport on 6/24/18 at 1:30pm and plan to take the Narita Express directly to Yokohama for a 8-day cruise. We get off the ship on 7/3/18 and plan to go directly to Ueno Station and spend 3-days in the area. Then we plan to go to Narita Station on 7/6/18 and stay in the area until our flight home on 7/7/18. Is a JR pass advisable?
    Thank you!

  9. Hi, I’ll be arriving in Tokyo on 3rd May and planning to travel around the whole japan for a month. I’d like to purchase the JR pass online but aware that it might not get to mail it to me on time. Just wondering can you mail it to my friend’s address in tokyo? If i purchase the pass tomorrow, how long would the pass arrive a tokyo address?
    Can i use JR pass in Sapporo? Thank you!

    1. Hi Xiaoqian!

      Yes, travel to Sapporo by train is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Your JR Pass is valid also on the JR Buses in Hokkaido. Three local subway lines and a tram line are also available. The three lines all connect with JR Sapporo Station.

      We hope you enjoy your trip!

  10. Hi
    My family of 4 adult will arrived Haneda airport on July 3, 2018 , and going to Osaka with Shinkansen Bullet train at the same time and stay 10 days in Osaka, Osaka Castle, Kyoto and Kobe then heading back to Tokyo and stay 10 days. Please advise what kind of pass should we get.
    Thanks,
    Sarah

  11. HI,

    Can you please recommend which pass is better, the 7 or 14 day JR pass based on the following itinerary?

    Day 1-4: Tokyo
    Day 5-6: Kyoto
    Day 6-7: Osaka & Kobe
    Day 8-9: Hiroshima & Miyajima
    Day 10-13: either Tagayama,Shirakawago & Kanazawa OR Fukuoka and Nagasaki
    Day 14 : Kyoto
    Day 15: Tokyo

    Thank you

    1. Hi Vincent!

      Given your itinerary we would recommend you to travel with a 14-day Japan Rail Pass since it would be the most cost-effective option given the prices of each trip individually:

      Narita Airport → Tokyo 1,000-3,000 yen
      Tokyo → Kyoto 13,000-13,500 yen
      Kyoto → Osaka 500 yen
      Osaka → Kobe 400 yen
      Kobe → Kyoto 1,000 yen
      Kyoto → Hiroshima 10,500-11,000 yen
      Hiroshima → Miyajima 600 yen
      Miyajima → Takayama (through Kyoto or Osaka) 16,600-17,600 yen
      Takayama → Kyoto 9,000-9,500 yen
      Kyoto → Tokyo 13,000-13,500 yen
      Tokyo → Narita Airport 1,000-3,000 yen

      Total 66,600-73,600 yen
      14-day Japan Rail Pass 46,390 yen

      Besides covering all your mentiones trips, you would also have full access to some local lines in main cities:

      – In Tokyo the JR Pass affords access to five different local railway lines: the Yamanote Line, the Keihin-Tohoku Line, the Rapid Chuo Line, the local Chuo-Sobu line and other metropolitan lines that circulate on the outskirts of the city such as the JR Keiyo, Musashi, Nambu and Yokohama lines.
      – In Osaka you will be able to travel unlimitedly in the Osaka Loop Line.
      – In Kyoto you would be able to make full use of JR Sagano and JR Nara lines, as well as a local bus line.

      Happy travels!

  12. Dear Sir,

    I will arrive at Kansai on the evening of May 4. On Saturday May 5, I will travel to Kyoto. Therefore, I will not be able to reserve a seat 3-4 days in advance and it is Golden Week.
    I have purchased a JR Green Pass because I think it might help me to reserve a seat (two seats together). If I reserve two seats for May 5 on the evening of May 4, do you think I will be able to get seats on the train by mid-day?
    Thank you so much in advance for your guidance.

    Kind regards,
    Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa!

      Buying the Green Pass is ideal for the busy months in Japan! Since less people travels in 1st class, you chances of reserving your desired seats are higher. Golden Week means more Japanese people travelling – but don’t panic! If you follow our tips you should be fine: make all reservations as early as you can, allow extra time for travel and enjoy what’s local. Don’t stress, but consider it an adventure! 😉

      Enjoy your stay in Japan!

  13. Hi,
    My family of 5, including an elderly (age 76) and two full-time students (age 22 and 23), planned visiting Osaka and Kyoto in May 2018. Following is our planned itinerary:

    Day 0: International flight to Osaka
    Day 1: Osaka Kansai Airport (6am) -> Ayashirama
    Day 2: Ayashirama to Central Kyoto
    Day 3: Central Kyoto -> Osaka Namba station
    Day 4: Osaka and surroundings
    Day 5: Osaka Namba station -> Nara station -> Explore Nara Park with Bus -> Nara station -> Osaka Namba Station
    (May swop day 4 and 5)
    Day 6: Osaka Namba station -> Osaka Kansai Airport (by 7.30am)

    May I know what type of JR Pass should i purchase that will fully cover above-mentioned, and the name of the trains/bus that i should book for each of the day please.

    Thank you very much for the help

    Regards
    Gary

    1. Hi Gary! The Japan Rail Pass would allow you to make your itinerary, however since you are staying in the same area it might be adviceable to check other pass options since some other may be more cost-effective for you.

  14. Hi there,

    Can you please advise most cost effective option for a couple with itinerary below.

    Arrival to Tokyo Narita on 28 April – planning to mainly stay in Tokyo with maybe a day trip to nearby area such as Mt Fuji (8 nights)

    Travel to Kyoto on 06 May and stay till 11th with plan to do day trips to Hiroshima and Osaka (5 nights)

    Return to Tokyo on 11th for 2 more nights and then fly back via Narita airport on 13 May.

    Should we get 7 day and activate from day of travel to Kyoto?

    1. Hi Noushin!

      Given that itinerary even a 14-day Japan Rail Pass would pay off! Please see below the individual costs of each trip:

      Narita Airport → Tokyo 1,000-3,000 yen
      Tokyo → Hakone 1,500-3,500 yen
      Hakone → Tokyo 1,500-3,500 yen
      Tokyo → Kyoto 13,000-13,500 yen
      Kyoto → Hiroshima 10,500-11,000 yen
      Hiroshima → Kyoto 10,500-11,000 yen
      Kyoto → Osaka 500 yen
      Osaka → Kyoto 500 yen
      Kyoto → Tokyo 13,000-13,500 yen
      Tokyo → Narita Airport 1,000-3,000 yen

      In total that would be between 53,000-63,000 yen, and a 14-day Japan Rail Pass would be just 46,390 yen. Also please keep in mind that it would also allow you to travel locally in Tokyo (included lines: Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Rapid Chuo Line, local Chuo-Sobu line and other metropolitan lines that circulate on the outskirts of the city such as the JR Keiyo, Musashi, Nambu and Yokohama lines), Kyoto (Sagano Line and Nara Line) and Osaka (Osaka Loop Line) at no additional cost!

      Very happy travels!

  15. We are planning our trip in November and was wondering… We are arriving from Tokyo Haneda International and going to spend 3 nights in Tokyo, then 1 night in Hakone, and then 2 nights in Kyoto. Then from Kyoto we are hoping to take the Shinkansen back to Haneda International Airport. Will we need to purchase any other transportation or will we be able to use our JR Rail (Green passes) for all travel in these areas, buses, shuttles, ferries, etc…?

    1. Hi Jody!

      The JR Pass gives you unlimited access to transportation all around Japan including:

      – All Japan Rail bullet (Shinkansen) trains, except for Nozomi and Mizuho classes.
      – Rapid and Local JR trains.
      JR bus services.
      – Selected ferry services.

      It also grants access to some local transportation but may not cover the whole web, specially it will not cover transportation from other companies than JR Group. We recomment you to check what includes the Japan Rail Pass to make the best choice.

      Happy travels!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.
    Bett

    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!

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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 🙂

      Regards

  21. 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.

  22. 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 https://www.jrailpass.com/contact-us

      Have a nice trip to Japan

      Kind regards

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