Previously, I wrote about my experience riding the Japan’s High Speed Bullet Train, the Shinkasen. I purchased the Japan Rail Pass. The process hadn’t changed much. If you are wondering what the process is like, read on!
Purchase the Japan Rail Pass BEFORE You Travel to Japan
Generally speaking, you need to order your Japan Rail Pass BEFORE you travel to Japan.
[As an aside, Japan Rail (JR) is running a sales trial period in which you can buy the Japan Rail Pass while in Japan, during 3/8/2018-3/31/2018 period]
There are qualification requirements for the pass, but broadly speaking, you would qualify if you are a US citizen traveling to Japan on a tourist visa. “You are a foreign tourist visiting Japan from abroad for sight-seeing, under the entry status of “temporary visitor.”
When to Buy the Tickets
I purchased my Japan Rail Pass online, and got a 7 day (ordinary) rail pass. You can buy passes in increments of 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days.
I thought the pass was expensive at a whopping $257 each. However, if you plan to use the Japan rail system, it’s worth looking into the pass because it can provide a good value. In our case, we wanted to take the train from Tokyo to Kyoto. We crunched the numbers and it was a better deal to get the Japan Rail Pass. It would cost us as much if we were to buy the tickets separately. With the JR pass, we were able to save by using it on other routes too.
After you place the order, you’ll get the “exchange vouchers” in the mail. The vouchers are valid for 3 months. In other words, don’t put in the order more than 3 months before you’re scheduled to travel.
Exchange Your Voucher for the Japan Rail Pass in Japan
You’d need to exchange your voucher at designated JR offices in Japan during open office hours. The easiest option is to exchange it at the airport. We didn’t exchange it at the airport due to a late arrival into Japan. We ended up making our way to the JR office in Shinjuku to exchange our vouchers.
Once we got to the office, the (English) speaking Japanese staff was fantastic. She helped us to exchange our vouchers. Be sure to bring your passport. The staff will need to verify and document it before granting you the pass.
How the Japan Rail Pass Works
Unlike regular passengers, you don’t actually use the ticketing system at the stations. When you travel, you’d take this pass and show it to the person manning the ticket counter. The opposite side of the pass shows the your name/passport number and validity dates of your pass.
In my experience, the ticketing staff at the stations usually just glance through the pass and then wave you through.
Reserving Your Seats
When we were at the exchange station, the staff helpfully asked if we needed to make any reservations. Reserved seating is not required, though seats are not guaranteed during busy periods if you don’t have a reservation. It’s basically a first-come, first served at the non-reserved section. If you know you need to be somewhere, it’s a good idea to book a reservation. Making a reservation is free.
We needed to get to Kyoto on certain dates, so we made a reservation. It was an easy process and we got our “reserved seat” tickets before we left the office.
A Word About The JR System
I’ve always been a bit on the directionally-challenged side, so maps have never been my strong suit. I was so proud when I figured out the London tube system.
However, when I got the “complete rail and subway map” of the Tokyo area, my eyes widened.
As a first timer looking to navigate through the system, it was a wee much:
If you are one of those who love to explore maps, then all the more power to you. However, if you are like me and want a cleaner way of navigating through the system, be sure to download a few train apps from the app store before your trip.
What has been your experience like using the JR pass in Japan?