Dale on a Japanese Train - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

While traveling there are some boring but necessary things that need to be done apart from having fun and enjoying as much as we can our time.

We wish we could just do whatever we want to without thinking at the financial side of it, unfortunately we haven’t won the lottery yet (not that we give it a try anyway) so we must keep an eye on our expenses and budget the trips trying to make the most of them by saving when possible.

Japan Rail Passes - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

When we decided to go to Japan we knew it was going to be an expensive trip compared to some other destinations, especially in regard to the transportation. So we did our research, we read as much as we could and we decided to buy a Japan Rail Pass with the promise to maximize it as much as possible once in Japan to make it worth the money we’d pay for it.

JR logo - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

Where To Start?

To make sure you actually need a Japan Rail Pass you need to decide your itinerary and the length of your stay. There is a very useful website Hyperdia that we used every day while in Japan, almost religiously. It can give you an idea on train prices and can definitely help you plan your trip (bear in mind that on this site you can only check trains and flights, and you cannot check the buses and boats that can be taken with the pass too).
Based on a very rough estimation we realized we would have needed the Japan Rail Pass for the amount of places we wanted to visit in the short period of time we were going to be in Japan and that it would have saved us some money for sure.

Dale holding JR pass - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

Must Buy the Japan Rail Pass Beforehand

We made sure we were eligible to buy a Japan Rail Pass then realized that it cannot be purchased once we’d arrive in Japan. We were in Kiev at that time, we didn’t find a place that sold it so we ordered it online from an agency in London and had it delivered just in time before our flight to Tokyo. Phew, literally just in time!

We received just the Exchange Order that we exchanged for the actual Rail Pass once in Japan, (it can be done at any JR station with a Japan Rail Pass Exchange Office and you’ll need to show your passport with the “Temporary Visitor” stamp which is issued by immigration to tourists on arrival to Japan).
It is a very easy thing to do and everybody helped us and put us in the right direction even if they didn’t speak any English or just very little one.
Hands up who can argue the impeccable Japanese customer service!

Inside a JR train in Japan - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict
Franca in a train in Japan - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict
Dale reading on the JR train - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

Ordinary or Green Seats?

We went for the 21 days – ordinary pass that hopefully would have gave us plenty of time to go where we wanted to, and it did!

Going back we would have bought the ordinary one again without a doubt. In fact there isn’t much difference between these seats and the green ones that are considered superior class.
The ordinary seats on the high speed trains are very comfortable, have plenty of legroom which made Dale very happy, a reasonable luggage storage on top of the seats big enough to fit our backpacks.

When we saw the seats turning depending on which direction the train was going we couldn’t believe to our eyes, such a clever thing! We also witnessed what we still believe was the fastest and more efficient train cleaning session: in fact in only few minutes the cleaners made the train sparkling (not that it was that bad in the first place), they also changed the little cloth where the head leans on for each seat and even polished the windows and doors glasses.
We were simply speechless, what a service!

Japanese Fast Trains - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict
JR Fast Train in Japan - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

Let’s Do Some Math Then

We started our Japanese trip in Tokyo and, if you are in the same situation, as a little tip, we would recommend to activate your pass only the day before leaving the Capital as we did.

This was our Itinerary for the 21 days Japan Rail Pass:

Tokyo to Yamadera
Yamadera to Utsunomiya
Utsunomiya to Nikko
Nikko to Kyoto
Kyoto to Nara
Nara to Kobe
Kobe to Osaka and back to Kobe again
Kobe to Naoshima
Naoshima to Hiroshima
Hiroshima to Miyajima and back to Hiroshima again
Hiroshima to Nagasaki
Nagasaki to Fukuoka

Plus we used JR local trains when we could instead of metro or other public transport, to move internally in the cities which saved us from buying extra tickets.

local JR train in Japan - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict
JR boat in Japan - Purchase or Pass? Our Japan Rail Pass Verdict

The pass costed us 57,700 Yen each (approx $715, €560, £450) and, based on our very busy schedule, if we didn’t have the JR Pass we would have spent approximately 84,000 Yen each (approx $1040, €815, £655).
If the math isn’t an opinion, we saved approximately 26,300 Yen each (approx $325, €255, £205). Result!

The Japanese Rail Pass was definitely worth it for us and helped us save some money for sure, but when buying one you should really consider different factors like how long your trip is going to last and how many places you are willing to go to.
As you can see, our route was very intense, we traveled a lot in such short time therefore it made sense to have the JR Pass.

When planning and making a decision on buying the JR Pass, remember that the JR Pass allows unlimited rides (on the entitled trains, buses and boats) for a pre-selected period of time which you choose (check the Japanese Rail Pass website for more accurate info)

The JR Pass made our travelling in Japan very easy, almost stress free and most importantly saved us a consider amount of money for a two budget backpackers.

Are you planning a trip to Japan? Where would you go?

Please note that this article and the opinions included are entirely of our own making and are in no way affiliated to any agreement between the Japan Rail Agency & ourselves. We purchased the passes without discount & review them to benefit anyone considering a future purchase.