What is the JR Pass?

The JR Pass is a train ticket available exclusively to people who live outside Japan. These passes are a joint effort between most of the different railway companies here, which means that buying the pass gives passengers near-unlimited access to the Japanese railway system.

The pass is slightly cheaper when ordered before you reach Japan. Sold in tiers, the type of pass mainly depends on how long you want to use it for, with options being one, two or three weeks. Once the pass is validated, the countdown begins.

There are few restrictions with the passes themselves, although a couple of stations and the odd train line does not accept them, so it’s best to do your research and plan a little. The new price hikes may seem steep, but the passes can still be used to save a lot of money.

Tips to Use the JR Pass

In order to make the most out of the new pass, it’s a good idea to make trips to far-away places. For instance, if you have a one week pass, head to Hiroshima for okonomiyaki, then up to Fukuoka to experience the food stalls and city. After that, you can visit Nagano for some mountain air, then back again. Instead of flying or renting a car, trains have the upside of being more environmentally friendly, so no guilty conscience there. Plus, you get to enjoy lots of different parts of Japan.

For the two- or three- week pass, it’s worth exploring by area, like doing one long journey to Kyushu. Visit the sights of the region, then head up to Osaka. You could also visit Tohoku or Hokkaido. In other words, the further, the better.

Example Itinerary for a One Week JR Pass

We pulled together this itinerary to show how much you can save with your new pass. The price for the one week pass is from October 1. The train prices are current, though are approximate as they can vary depending on the route. They are also set to rise, making your potential savings even bigger.

Culture Vulture Trip Itinerary: The Best of Japanese Culture, Thanks to the JR Pass

This itinerary considers Tokyo as a base. Imagine you’re visiting Japan for the first time, you been around the art galleries in Tokyo and the shrines in Kyoto. But you’ve heard about the other super cool art museums and Edo period places, like Hirosaki Art Museum, Towada Art Museum and the city of Kanazawa, with its tiny galleries and historic Higashi Chaya region.

One week pass: ¥50,000
Total Cost of Trip: ¥77,080
Savings: ¥27,080

Day One: Tokyo to Hirosaki

Price: ¥17,800
Length of Journey: 4 hours, 10 minutes
Head up to Shin-Aomori, via the Hayabusa Tohoku Bullet Train. Get a local train to Hirosaki, check into lodgings and wander down to Hirosaki Art Museum. Check out the impressive Hirosaki Castle on the way back.

Day Two: Hirosaki to Morioka, via Aomori

Price: ¥6,710
Length of Journey: 2 hours, split
Head to Morioka on the second day, via a local train to Shin-Aomori. While there you can stop off at the Aomori Museum of Art. Then head to Morioka via the bullet train, where you can leave your bags and pop out to explore for the evening.

Day Three: Towada

Price: ¥10,280 (round trip)
Length of Journey: 1 hour, 45 mins (one way)
Day three is time to visit Towada Art Museum. From Morioka, catch the Hayabusa Shinkansen to Hachinohe. From there, you need a local train and bus to get to the city of Towada.

Photo by Shaun in Japan via Shutterstock

Day Four: Morioka to Kanazawa

Price: ¥24,390
Length of Journey: 4 hours, 5 minutes
Once you’ve been to Towada, it makes a lot of sense to head to Japan’s underrated art capital, Kanazawa. Jump on the bullet train at Morioka, change at Omiya for Kanawaza and the four hours will fly by. Arrive in Kanazawa, freshen up and explore the town.

Day Five: Kanazawa

Grab an art pass and venture around the galleries and visit Higashi Chaya. You can use the local buses for free with your pass. Read Tokyo Weekender’s 48 hours Kanazawa itinerary for more ideas.

Day Six: Kanazawa to Kaga Onsen

Price: ¥3,720 (round trip)
Length of Journey: 25 mins  (one way)
After all that traveling, you’ll be in need of a hot spring to relax and refresh. Luckily, Kaga Onsen is only a 25 minute journey.

Day Seven: Kanazawa to Tokyo

Price: ¥14,180
Length of Journey: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Grab an eki-ben and jump on the train, straight back to the city of dreams.