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JR Pass Guide 2024: How Does It Work, And When Does It Give You The Best Value

Alevin Chan

Alevin Chan

Last updated 01 December, 2023

The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is much more costly now after a recent price adjustment. Is the JR Pass still worth getting, and are there any new perks that come with the higher price?

You may have heard that the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is a “must-have” for anyone taking a holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

The JR Pass is certainly convenient, being an all-in-one pass that gives you unlimited rides not only on Japan Rail services (including the world-renowned Shinkansen) across the country, but also useful services such as the Tokyo monorail to and from Haneda Airport, and some bus routes. 

But it is expensive, especially so after the recent price hike. So is the JR Pass still worth getting? And how can you get the best value out of it? 


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Table of contents

Overview of JR Pass – What are the latest changes?


Change 1: JR Pass 70% price increase 

Firstly (and most heartbreakingly), the JR Pass underwent a price hike on 1 October 2023 – by a massive 70%. Here are the latest prices for JR Pass. 

Note that SGD amounts are approximate and included for convenience, and are subject to forex rate fluctuations.

JR Pass type

Current price 

Previous price

Regular 7 days

50,000 yen


S$450

29,650 yen


S$267

Regular 14 days

80,000 yen


S$720

47,259 yen


S$425

Regular 21 days

100,000 yen


S$900

60,450 yen


S$544

Green 7 days

70,000 yen


S$630

39,600 yen


S$356

Green 14 days

111,000 yen


S$1,000

64,120 yen


S$580

Green 21 days

140,000 yen


S$1,260

83,390 yen


S$804

The JR Pass can now cost as much as two sets of PlayStation PS5s; ouch! But at least children aged 6 to 11 are still entitled to a 50% discount. 

We’ll discuss the implications of such a massive price change for users of the JR Pass later on, but for now, let’s move on to other changes and updates.

 

Change 2: access the fastest train services (Nozomi/Mizuho) with an additional fee

The Nozomi and Mizuho are the names of the fastest Shinkansen service on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, and the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, respectively. 

The old JR Pass does not include travel on these lines, but the new JR Pass does. However, you’ll need to purchase a supplement ticket to avail yourself of the fastest train journeys in Japan. 

The price for these supplement tickets depend on the distance travelled, but otherwise cost the same for non-reserved seats, reserved seats and the premium Green Car seats – accessible only if you spring for the more expensive JR Green Pass. 

For popular routes, you can expect to pay anywhere from 4,170 yen (S$38) to 8,140 yen (S$74) more.


Change 3: channels for purchasing JR Pass

Since 1 October 2023, JR Pass is no longer purchasable within Japan. That means you can only order your JR Pass from the official website, online travel agents, or brick-and-mortar travel offices.

You should order and pay for your JR Pass prior to the start of your trip. 

Purchasing JR Pass via the official website

If you choose this method, you can set your JR Pass start date maximum of one month from the date of purchase. You can also choose your seats at the same time, which will be reserved for you.

When you arrive in Japan, simply proceed to a JR Pass exchange office to pick up your pass. There are numerous pickup locations, including Narita and Haneda airports.

Note that you will need to bring your actual passport along, as the staff will need to verify your immigration stamp. 

Purchasing JP Pass via travel agents 

If you opt to buy a JR pass via a travel agent, you will be issued with an exchange voucher. You will need to present this exchange voucher with you, along with your passport, to pick up your JR Pass in Japan. 

Note that you won’t be able to pick your reserved seats via this route, but you can always reserve your seats at ticket machines or ticket offices across Japan once you’ve received your JR Pass. 


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Change 4: discounts

Pass holders can enjoy special offers and discounts at certain attractions, which you can view here.


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What does the JR Pass include?

The JR Pass encompasses a significant portion of the entire Japanese train system, which can be a mind-boggling sprawl of stations and lines to the uninitiated (and maybe even the initiated!).

Here’s everything that’s included under the JR Pass.

Item

Notes

Japan Railways (JR) trains

Almost all JR train routes nationwide, including shinkansen, limited express, rapid and local lines.  

Tokyo Monorail to/from Haneda Airport

n/a

JR Ferry to Miyajima

Does not include visitor tax of 100 yen (S$0.90)

Non-JR trains with access to isolated JR lines

- Aoimori Railway between Aomori, Noheji and Hachinohe: for access to JR Ominato Line (to the Shimokita Peninsula)


- IR Ishikawa Railway between Kanazawa and Tsubata: for access to JR Nanao Line (to the Noto Peninsula)


- Ainokaze Toyama Railway between Toyama and Takaoka: for access to the JR Himi Line and JR Johana Line.

Local JR buses (highway buses not included)

- Yamaguchi - Hagi

- Kyoto Station - Ryoanji - Takao

- Kanazawa Station - Kenrokuen

- Tokyo Station - Tokyo Big Sight

- JR buses to Lake Towada

- JR tourist loop bus in Hiroshima

- JR city buses around Sapporo

- JR local bus to Kusatsu Onsen

Free seat reservations

Reserve your seats when booking via the official JR pass website, or at ticket machines and ticket offices in Japan. 


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JR Pass – Other things to note

  • Your JR Pass is non-transferable and cannot be used by another person. 
  • You can set your JR Pass start date to within one month of your purchase date. Hence, your JR Pass’ validity will only begin once you’re ready to start using it, and not immediately upon picking it up. 
  • JR Pass validity periods follow calendar days, not 24-hour blocks. So for  instance, if you started using your 7-day JR Pass at 4pm on a Sunday, your pass will expire at midnight the following Sunday.
  • The JR Green Pass gives you access to Green cars, which offer a higher level of luxury. Given the generally high standards of Japanese public transit, splurging for the Green pass is less of a necessity and more of an indulgence. Having said that, note that there is no way to upgrade your JR Pass to a Green Pass – you’ll have to pay separate top-up fares for access to Green cars, which can prove expensive.

Is the JR Pass still worth getting?

Now, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. With the massive price increase, is the JR Pass still worth getting? Let’s explore some scenarios. 

JR Pass for long distance journeys or multiple trips

If you are planning to visit several different cities that would entail a long distance within a relatively short span of time, then it may be worth your while to get the JR Pass. 

For instance, if you’re planning to cover Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa and then back to Tokyo within 10, then the 14-day pass might be worth considering. However, such an itinerary may be too rushed for your liking, as it amounts to spending just two or three days at each stop.

JR Pass for convenience and flexibility

If you’d rather not deal with the complexities of the Japanese train system, or like the idea of being able to hop on (almost) any train on a whim, you may find paying the JR Pass to be a worthwhile purchase. 

Still, for the price, the JR Pass’ validity is woefully short, maxing out at just three weeks. But to squeeze the most value out of it, choose the 21-day pass, as it costs just twice of the 7-day pass.
 

JR Pass for urban transport between cities

If you’re simply looking for one-way transit onwards to one or two cities during your holiday, it is almost certain that you’ll find cheaper alternatives with regular train tickets or domestic flights. This means the JR Pass would not be worth the price.

You can use an online JR Pass calculator to help determine if it would pay off for your particular holiday itinerary.

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Read these next:

Best Travel Insurance For Japan
Japan Travel Guide: 13 Things to Note Before Heading to the Land of the Rising Sun
Japan Travel Package Tours: Itineraries, Where to Book, Prices
Cheapest Flights from Singapore to Popular Travel Destinations (Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Etc.)

An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.

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