Japan Rail Pass - is it worth it?

Update July 27

JR announced a major price hike, which will be effective from October 1st 2023.

New price:

The 7 day ordinary car pass: 50,000 JPY (Currently 33,610 JPY)

The 14 day ordinary car pass: 80,000 JPY (Currently 52,960 JPY)

The 21 day ordinary car pass: 100,000 JPY (Currently 66,200 JPY)


This is a 60% increase from the current prices! While JR will start allowing pass holders to use the Nozomi trains (for an additional charge, 4,180 JPY between Tokyo and Kyoto) purchasing the pass will no longer make any sense unless you plan to do day trips on the Shinkansen almost every day.


Example: For a standard itinerary of Tokyo-Kanazawa-Kyoto-Tokyo, single ride tickets cost:

1) Tokyo-Kanazawa 14,380 JPY

2) Kanazawa-Kyoto 7,220 JPY 

3) Kyoto - Tokyo 14,370 JPY on the Nozomi

Total 35,970 JPY, far below the 7 day pass price.


From October, purchases need to be made prior to arrival (Currently there is the option to buy in Japan, for an additional fee). Also there will be no price difference purchasing from the official site  or buying them from travel agents such as JTB or HIS. 



The information below reflects the current pricing, before the rate increase comes into effect.

Rules of the pass (Until Sep 2023)


Rule 1: It's not good on the Tokyo subways/any non-JR operated line

If you plan to stay in Tokyo for most of your stay, you will be using the subways a lot more, which is not covered in the Japan Rail Pass

This rule remains the same beyond October


Rule 2: You cannot use it on the Nozomi trains

The Nozomi series that runs along the main route serving Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka-Hakata cannot be used with the rail pass. These are the most frequent and fastest trains, so if your time in Japan is limited, it might be better to buy tickets as you go.

After October, the pass will be valid on Nozomi for an additional fee


Rule 3: You need to go to a certain location for exchanging your voucher

Activating your Japan Rail Pass requires showing the passport, filling out certain personal details and receiving explanation about its rules. It's only done at designated stations so you need to know the location. During the peak travel season, the activation could take up to two hours of waiting, if you decide to do this at the airport or at a major rail station like Tokyo. Again, this will be a major waste of time if you are going to be on a tight schedule.

This requirement remains the same beyond October

Price comparison : Rail Pass vs. Buying tickets as you go (Until Sep 2023)


The one-way fare for a reserved regular class seat on the Shinkansen

Tokyo - Kyoto: 14,170 Yen

Tokyo - ShinOsaka: 14,720 Yen

Tokyo - Kanazawa: 14,380 Yen

Tokyo - Hiroshima: 19,440 Yen

Tokyo - Shin Hakodate Hokuto (northernmost stop): 23,430 Yen

Tokyo - Kagoshima Chuo (southernmost station): 31,060 Yen


Cost of the Japan Rail Pass

 7 Day version: 33,610 Yen

 14 Day version: 52,960 Yen


If your itinerary calls for you to fly in from Tokyo and out from Osaka (or vice-versa) , i.e. you are only doing one-way between Tokyo and Osaka you should not bother to purchase the rail pass. 

For a simple round-trip between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka (with a few local rides in both towns) it is still probably better to travel without the pass and have the option of using the Nozomi trains. However if you are arriving and departing from Narita Airport and have plans to use the Narita Express Train (3,070 Yen one-way), then it might be worthy of purchasing the 7 Day Rail Pass. 

Ordinary car with the 3+2 seat format
Ordinary car with the 3+2 seat format

Green Car (1st Class) or Ordinary?


Another option to consider is whether to go for  ordinary cars or the Green Car (1st Class).


On the ordinary cars, the seats look like this photo- a 3 + 2 format. There is plenty of legroom, and for an average sized person this gives enough width. The green cars come in a 2 + 2 seating arrangement, so you definitely get more elbow room and slightly more legroom.


There is no drink/meal service or departure lounges like some European train operators offer to first class passengers. The only difference is in the seat arrangements. You'll be paying about 50% more for the Green Car seats.


A question to ask yourself- are your plans fixed or do you plan to decide as you go? Riding the Green Car means you always have to get a seat assignment BEFORE you board - always going to the ticket office even when there are long queues and getting the seat designation. You cannot simply hop on board and find some empty seats if you are using first class. This might become a bit of a hassle if you want to leave your plans flexible and decide at the last minute on which trains to take.


On the other hand, if you are travelling in the peak season, you may want to make the extra investment for Green Car. Even when ordinary class seats sell out, there is a chance Green Car seats will be available as they rarely sell out.


The below period is when trains get exceptionally busy.

The "Golden Week" Holiday period - April 27 - May 6

The "Obon" summer holiday period - August 11 - August 16

The Year-End/New Year period - December 28 - January 3


In the first half of the peak travel times, trains heading out of Tokyo becomes packed; the opposite occurs towards the end when trains returning to Tokyo becomes crowded. 

About the new booking website:

On June 1st, 2020 the new JAPAN RAIL PASS Reservation site opened, run directly by JR.

For the first time, users can not only purchase the rail pass online but also book tickets prior to their arrival in Japan. This is ideal for visitors arriving during the peak travel seasons, when seats could sell out.


Be careful that you still need to go to a designated JR ticket office and pick up the rail pass before using the trains. JR doesn't have a great E-ticket system that many European rail systems have. Once you have picked up the rail pass, you can go to any JR ticket office or automated ticketing machine to claim your reservation tickets. The ticket machines are plentiful at the major stations and come with various language options - it is likely much quicker than lining up at a ticket office, unless you require assistance with finding the right trains or you have other complicated needs.