Do I need a JR Pass, or Suica?

With all the options available for transport in Japan, and different methods of paying for them, first-time visitors can be confused about what products they should buy. A frequent question that comes up in the TripAdvisor Japan forum is “should I get a JR Pass or a Suica?” These are two very different products for different uses, and it’s not a case of either/or.

What are JR Pass and Suica?

JR Pass is a fixed priced product that will give you unlimited travel on JR trains for 7, 14, or 21 days, depending on which option you choose. If you are doing a lot of long-distance travel, it can be a real saving. No matter how travel you do within the pass time period, it will be covered by the fixed price. On the other hand, if you’re not doing much long-distance travel, the pass won’t be worth it. Check out how to decide if a JR Pass is worthwhile.

Suica is a reloadable IC (integrated circuit) card that allows you to pay for public transport fares electronically. It saves you time spent in buying tickets each time you travel, and there’s often a slight discount on the fare too. When you hold the card over the reader at the train or subway station, the fare for the journey is calculated, and then deducted at the end of the journey. Suica is sold by JR in Tokyo and is designed for journeys around town. It’s not useful for journeys between cities.

Suica can be used within other cities, such as Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sapporo, and others. There are also other IC cards such as Icoca or Pasmo which are interchangeable with Suica. If you arrive in Japan through Osaka, you would buy an Icoca card instead of a Suica card. The IC cards can be used on JR trains, other trains, subways and buses. so they are very useful as a supplement to the JR Pass, or on their own.

Can’t I use the JR Pass to travel around Tokyo or Kyoto?

You can use the JR Pass to travel on JR lines in those cities, but they won’t take you everywhere you want to go. You will a Suica or other IC card to cover other transport options.

Also consider the costs. As I said earlier, the JR Pass is designed for long-distance journeys. The cheapest pass covering 7 days costs 29,110 yen. Compare that with some sample costs for journeys around Tokyo.

Shinjuku to Shibuya 160 yen

Shibuya to Tokyo 200 yen

Shinjuku to Yokohama 550yen

No amount of travelling in and around Tokyo will add up to the cost of a JR Pass. If you have a day or two left on the pass after doing some long-distance travel, by all means use it on JR lines in the city, but be aware that you may still need to use non-JR lines.

Summary

  1. JR Pass is for long distance, inter-city journeys by JR train.
  2. Suica is for short commuter trips around the city.
  3. There are other brands of IC card (Icoca, Pasmo) that work just like Suica, so buy the most convenient one.

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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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, and other stores.