NIPPONIA No. 43 December 15, 2007


Buy a Pass and Get the Most Out of Rail Travel in Japan

Japanese railways sell more than just ordinary tickets for a one-way journey—they also offer some discount fares, and rail passes that let you ride as often as you want within a specified period, subject to certain restrictions. Below you will find some money-saving tips on the most common rail passes.

Written by Harada Kosuke

 Passes for foreign travelers

Japan Rail Pass

· Conditions

Generally for a foreigner entering Japan as a “temporary visitor” for tourism purposes.

· How to buy

Cannot be bought in Japan. Purchase a Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order at a JR authorized sales office or agent outside Japan. Then, after you arrive in Japan, exchange it for a pass at an exchange office.

· Cost

Depends on the type of pass, the duration, and the seat class. There are six options for travelers aged 12 and older, including:
- The cheapest, a 7-day pass for ordinary coach travel, costs 28,300 yen
- The most expensive, a 21-day pass for superior-class Green car and ordinary coach travel, costs 79,600 yen.

· Validity

Valid for all JR lines and trains within the entire JR Group rail network (except Nozomi trains on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen “bullet train” lines and some other special trains). Also valid for JR local bus routes, some JR highway bus services, and the JR Miyajima ferry.
For trains that have only reserved seating, you must obtain a reserved seat ticket.

· Travel classes

You can buy a pass that is valid only for ordinary coach travel, or a pass valid for both coach class and superior-class Green cars.

Hokkaido Rail Pass

Valid for JR Hokkaido Railway Company services (rail and some bus routes) on the island of Hokkaido. There are 3-day and 5-day passes. Cost varies from 14,000 to 25,000 yen for an adult. Similar to the Japan Rail Pass in most other respects.

JR East Pass

Valid for services offered by JR East Railway Company (Greater Tokyo, Nagano area and northern Honshu). The 5-day and 10-day passes are valid for 5 or 10 consecutive days, respectively, while the Flexible 4-day Pass can be used for four consecutive or non-consecutive days within one month after issue. Prices for an adult vary from 20,000 to 44,800 yen, depending on duration and travel class. Also available: passes for children and, in the ordinary coach class category, for youths (ages 12 to 25). Similar to the Japan Rail Pass in most other respects.

JR-West Rail Pass

You have two choices:

- Kansai Area Pass for the Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe area. Good for one to four days (prices for one adult, 2,000 to 6,000 yen); not good for Shinkansen travel.

- San’yo Area Pass for the Osaka area and western Honshu, including the San’yo Shinkansen “bullet train” line between Shin-Osaka and Hakata, the San’yo Main Line between Kobe and Shimonoseki, and part of the Hanwa Line. A 4-day pass for one adult costs 20,000 yen, an 8-day pass, 30,000 yen.

JR-Kyushu Rail Pass

Valid for services offered by JR Kyushu Railway Company (on the island of Kyushu). The 3-day and 5-day passes cost 13,000 and 16,000 yen, respectively, for an adult. Cannot be used on superior-class Green cars, sleepers, or the San’yo Shinkansen train between Kokura and Hakata. Similar to the Japan Rail Pass in most other respects.

Visit the railway companies’ official websites (see links at right) for more information on these passes.


“Seishun Juhachi Kippu” tickets

A seasonally available ticket for people who want to explore Japan the slow way (not valid on express trains or the Shinkansen “bullet train” network). You can ride as often and as far as you want on the nationwide JR network during a limited period. No age restrictions. Many users are students; many others are railway fans who are middle aged or older.

The passes go on sale three times a year, coinciding with the spring, summer and winter school holidays (exact dates vary a little year by year). A single pass is good for five days of travel during a period of validity that lasts about a month to a month and a half. One pass can be used by one person for five days, or five people traveling together, or any combination between these two options. Seishun Juhachi Kippu tickets can be purchased at most JR stations, “Midori-no-madoguchi” reservation counters, travel service centers, JR authorized sales offices, and travel agents handling JR ticket sales. Price: 11,500 yen.

 Visit the following railway companies’ official websites to learn more about restrictions and other information for these rail passes

Japan Rail Pass: (Chinese, English, French, German, Korean)

JR Hokkaido Railway Company: (Chinese, English, Korean)

JR East Railway Company: (Chinese, English, Korean)

Central Japan Railway Company: (English)

West Japan Railway Company: (English, Chinese)

Shikoku Railway Company: (Japanese only)

Kyushu Railway Company: (English, Korean)

The Railway Museum (information on the past and present of rail transport in Japan): (Japanese-language only)