Travel with regional JR Passes

The national JR Pass can be a great money saving tool when used correctly, but for those visitors on a tight budget, it can seem really expensive. If you want to see a bit of Japan outside major cities without spending too much, then a regional JR Pass may be the way to go. These can get you away from the big cities to some really interesting places such as Himeji castle, pictured above.

JR (Japan Rail) is actually a group of regional companies, each of which offers passes covering its own area of service. You can see the passes available from each company at the links below:

JR East

JR West

JR Kyushu

JR Central

JR Hokkaido

JR Shikoku

How to use regional JR passes

Carefully look at the conditions of use and the area of coverage before buying one, to be certain that it will cover the places you want to see. Use Hyperdia to check the travel times and the fares. You’ll want to be certain that the pass is indeed cheaper for your proposed itinerary.

While some regional passes can be bought inside Japan, this is more expensive. It’s better to buy before you arrive.

Here’s a couple of examples of what you can do with regional JR passes.

Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass

Cost: 13,000 yen for 5 consecutive days travel

This pass would be most useful for visitors flying into Kansai Airport and staying in Osaka. A possible itinerary using this pass is:

Day1: Osaka to Hiroshima, stopping at Himeji to see the castle, sightseeing in Hiroshima

Day 2: day trip to Miyajima

Day 3: Hiroshima to Okayama, afternoon trip to Kurashiki

Day 4: day trip to Naoshima

Day 5: sightseeing in Okayama, then Okayama to Osaka

Train fares for this itinerary would cost over 20,000 yen without the pass.

JR Nagano-Niigata Pass

Cost: 17,000 yen for any 5 days within a 14 day period

This pass would be most useful for visitors flying into Tokyo. A possible itinerary using this pass is:

Day 1: Narita Airport to Nagano (day 1 of pass)

Day 2: day trip to snow monkeys (by bus)

Day 3: day trip to Matsumoto (day 2 of pass)

Day 4: explore Nagano

Day 5: Nagano to Tokyo. Optional stops along the way could include Karuizawa (outlet mall) or Omiya (railway museum) (day 3 of pass)

Days 6-8 Tokyo

Day 9: – a day trip to either Nikko, Mito (to see Kairakuen), or Ashikaga Flower Park (day 4 of pass)

Days 10-13: Tokyo

Day 14: Tokyo to Narita (day 5 of pass)

Train fares for this itinerary would cost over 25,000 yen without the pass.

I hope this has given you some inspiration, particularly if you were going to limit your travel to just Tokyo or Osaka because of budget constraints.

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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, Amazon and Kobo, with other ebook stores to come soon.