Should I get a JR Pass? Three ways to decide

This is a common question from first-time visitors wanting to travel by train, as the JR Pass costs a significant amount. The national JR pass comes in three durations:

  • 7 day, costing 29,110 yen for an ordinary pass or 38,880 for a Green (first class) pass
  • 14 day, costing 46,390 yen for an ordinary pass or 62,950 yen for a Green pass
  • 21 day, costing 59,350 yen for an ordinary pass or 81,870 yen for a Green pass.

If you are doing several long-distance journeys by JR train, there may be a national or regional JR pass that would be good value. Which option is right for you depends on your itinerary, and here’s three ways to work out the best option for your circumstances.

  1. The quick and dirty

This is based on how many long-distance train trips you’re doing. Long-distance means Tokyo-Kyoto, Osaka-Hiroshima, and similar.

  • A 7 day pass is worth it if you are doing two long-distance train trips, plus a day trip outside the city, or travelling from Narita or Kansai airports into the city.
  • A 14 day pass is worth it if you are doing four long distance train trips.
  • A 21 day pass is worth it if you are doing five long-distance train trips, plus a day trip outside the city, or travelling from Narita or Kansai airports into the city.

Get the shortest duration pass possible – don’t waste rail pass days on cheap commuter fares around Tokyo or Osaka. If you’re doing four long-distance train journeys within seven days, get the 7 day pass.

  1. Easy and more accurate

There are some online calculators that do the job for you, although they don’t include all stations. The Japan Guide rail pass calculator covers the national JR Pass, calculating whether a 7, 14 or 21 day pass is worth buying

As well as calculating whether a national JR Pass is worth buying, Japan Station also does calculations for regional passes. If your travel is concentrated in a particular area these are worth considering. Potentially worthwhile regional passes include:

  • the JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass which covers train travel in an area between Kyoto and Hiroshima for five consecutive days.
  • the JR Nagano Niigata area pass which covers train travel in an area from Narita, through Tokyo, out to Nagano, Hakuba, Matsumotu, Niigata and Nikko for five days of your choice in a 14 day period.
  1. The most accurate and time-consuming

If you want to be absolutely certain, then use a calculator or spreadsheet to add up the cost of your planned train journeys. Look them up on Hyperdia, making sure to note the amount labelled Total.

If the total cost of your long-distance JR train travel adds up to more than the cost of the pass, and can be done within that number of days, then the pass is good value. If it’s less than this, it is better value buy single tickets for the journeys that you need to make.

.For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple and Amazon, with other ebook stores to come soon.