Saturday, January 27, 2018

JR Pass- Is It Worth It?

       I’ve tested the JR Ordinary Pass over a period of 7 days trying out various modes of transportations nationwide. During my travels, my new Japanese friends all looked at my pass with awe follow with a sigh,
"only foreigners get all these great discounts". 
I was like HOW is this possible!? Then I found out that Japan citizens are only eligible to buy these passes if only they are living abroad for more than 10 years.
JR pass

       So, if you are a foreigner visiting Japan for a vacation, consider taking up the offer! Now, let’s discuss a frequently asked question:

Does the Japan Rail Pass pay off under any circumstances?

       Honestly, the answer is no. Not always, but it is a valuable purchase if you plan your itinerary accordingly. I’ll break things down for you:

It WILL pay off if: 

touring Japan with JR pass

You are a fan of train travels. 
It's an excellent way to see vast areas of the country

You are going to cover long distances in a short period
This is what I call the backpacker’s way: Going from cities to cities in a short period of time, staying only a night or two in each.
You are landing in Osaka, working your way up to Kyoto, Nara, Hakone, Tokyo, and then flying out from Tokyo.

You want to experience a Shinkansen round trip.
The 7-day pass costs about the same as a Tokyo-Kyoto shinkansen roundtrip ticket.
If you’re going to travel by the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, do some day trips out from Kyoto (eg: Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima), and then return to Tokyo in 7 days, this pass will bring you the best value.

You are basing yourself in a city, doing as much day trips as possible.
Shinkansen (bullet train) make previously impossible day-trips possible. This way, you won’t have to move your luggage every other day to a new location.
You can easily reach Kyoto from Tokyo in 3 hours with Hikari bullet train, so if you start your day early, you can arrive at 9.16 am, spend 10+ hours exploring the sights and then get on the 8.53 pm Hikari train back to Tokyo.

It WILL NOT pay off if: 

osaka amazing pass

You are only doing urban travel
Most cities aren’t well served by the JR lines, but there are also cities that do, for example: the loop trains in Tokyo and Osaka. However, in my opinion, the Tokyo Subway pass and Osaka Amazing Pass bring much more value than the JR pass.

You prefer slow travel
You are interested to see everything in a place, immersing in the culture, joining a cooking class, taking a long stroll in the park… If you fall into this category, maybe a regional pass or city pass with flexible travel dates would benefit you instead of a wide country pass.

You are only visiting nearby cities. 
A regional pass is more useful.
You are basing yourself in Tokyo, visiting Kawagoe, Nikko, Kamakura, Kawaguchiko and Hakone.

You are traveling on a shoe-string budget. 
You are only visiting major cities and you have time to spare.
If you’re on a very tight budget, JR pass may not be for you since it is not exactly “cheap” in the first place.
First and foremost, you have to understand your own priorities. Are you willing to trade off time and comfort? If the answer is yes, Highway buses is a much cheaper way to go that distance. Not to mention getting to save a night accommodation!

How to check if you need a rail pass or not? 

Step 1: List out your key destinations 
- Your bucket list! what do you want to see on this trip?
Step 2: Plan out your route 
- You can search Japan Experience for ideas. or Click here for suggestions!
Japan rail map
Step 3: write down the train journeys you are taking.
Step 4: Go to the Hyperdia website
- Find out the travel time needed, transfers and regular ticket prices of each journey.
- Always refer to the total price from the top ( which usually comprise of the train fare and seat price.)
Step 5: Add them up and compare the cost with the JR pass.

The advantage of having a JR wide country pass:  

Japan bullet train
🚄Wide coverage 
- With more than 20,000 kilometers of track, the majority of the country's most iconic landmarks are easily accessible via rails.

🚄Travel long distances within a short time
- on Shinkansen, saving you a heap of time.  

🚄Cost efficient 
- if you are taking a lot of train journeys.
- Flat-fee!

🚄hassle free 
- You won't need to buy tickets separately.

🚄Be as spontaneous as you want
- make side trips anytime at no extra cost.

🚄You can make seat reservations for free, staying away from the crowd.
- normally this is an additional cost but it’s an included service with the pass.

The disadvantage of having a JR wide country pass:  

Honestly, I can’t think of any.

How many days do you need it for? 

Japan train
       Visiting Japan for 3 weeks doesn't mean you should buy a 21-day rail pass.
       When I was on a 3 weeks trip to Japan, I only needed a 7-day rail pass for the most expensive leg of journeys (I grouped them together to maximize the pass). So other days, I could travel slowly, visit 1 or 2 theme parks, explore the cities throughout and breathe in the culture.
       However, if travel exhaustion is not something you would worry about and you would like to see as much as you could in a faster pace, a 2 or even 3 weeks pass would make sense for the incremental cost get cheaper for each additional week.
       Remember, there is no right or wrong way of traveling. So don’t get pressured into doing what everyone else is doing.

The verdict: 

       For most of the time, the pass is worth having.
JR pass spring 2018
       Now that you've decided to get one, take a look at Japan Experience and choose your desired pass: There are ordinary (standard) and Green (premium) car to choose from, as well as the valid period (7/14/21 days)!
Japan Experience

To learn more about the pass, read: Everything you have to know about JR Pass
To get itineraries, read: 

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Thank You for Reading! 
This post is made possible by Japan Experience. 
As always, it is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience.

1 comment:

Kichijoji said...

Very nice article:) I enjoy reading your blogs and you have some great photos!
I agree with all your points, but I would have to say the pass does pay off in most circumstances.
Of course it depends on the travelers plans and itinerary.
Before I moved to Japan for work, I bought a 7 day pass and was able to see Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Fukuoka all on JR.
It probably would have been 4x the cost of the pass if I paid as I went. I completely agree that the 7 day is the best way to go in most situations.
Thanks for the great work and good luck in your travels^^/