Japan Rail Pass Mt Fuji

One of the top questions I get from family coming to Japan is whether they should get a Japan Rail Pass. The answer: NOT NECESSARILY.

It all depends on what you want to do. Based on how much time you have in Japan and what you hope to see, a smarter, more cost-effective, and flexible option may be to get the Pasmo or Suica card and travel locally.

There are many benefits to traveling by train. Although I’m a huge fan of Japan Air Lines and ANA, planes are more likely to get delayed due to weather. This is especially true during typhoon season.

Japanese trains, on the other hand, are famously on time.

Secondly, airports are typically located further away from city and require either a taxi or a local train/bus to get to the main attraction. With a train, you’re likely to be in prime city territory.

Those with children under the age of 6 will appreciate that whereas your 3 year old will pay full price for a plane seat, JR does not charge for children under 6.

Finally, 2nd class seats on a Shinkansen are much more generously sized and luxuriously spaced than economy airline seats.

To see if a JR Pass is the right fit for your travel plans, or whether it would be better to “pay as you go”, let’s look at a few scenarios.

Assumptions:

  • Flying to/from Tokyo
  • Booking a 2nd class 7-day Adult fare JR Pass
  • Are interested in seeing cities outside of Tokyo
  • **Calculations are based off a Yen: Dollar rate of roughly ¥145: $1

What is a JR Pass?

A Japan Rail Pass allows unlimited train travel on Japan Rail operated trains, ferries, and buses. Passes can be purchased for 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day sessions.

The JR Pass is ONLY valid on Japan Rail lines. Japan has several privatized rail lines, so traveling on those trains will incur additional costs. Furthermore, you can only buy the JR Pass if you are a foreigner living outside of Japan.

A standard 7-day JR Pass for 1 Adult currently goes for $219.

Let’s look at a few examples to see if a 7-day JR Pass fits your needs.

1. Tokyo + Day Trips

This scenario presumes you are using a hotel or apartment in Tokyo as a base, with local day trips to popular nearby cities.

  • Tokyo to Hakone ¥4370 x 2 = ¥8740 ($60.02)
  • Tokyo to Kamakura ¥940 x 2 = ¥1880 ($12.91)
  • Tokyo to Yokosuka ¥1100 x 2 = ¥2200 ($15.11)
  • Tokyo to Yokohama ¥480 x 2 = ¥960 ($6.59)
  • Tokyo to Tokyo Disneyland ¥220 x 2 = ¥440 ($3.02)

Total: ¥14220 ($97.84)

Since a pass cost $219, in this scenario your pass is NOT WORTH IT. You would be much better off buying individual tickets as you go. With the $121.74 you save you can get a nice massage, lunch AND dinner!

Japan Rail Pass Kyoto
Kyoto in the Autumn

2. Tokyo to Kyoto

This is a very classic combination in which you mix the urban, high-tech sophistication of Japan’s capital with a cultural excursion to Kyoto.

  • Tokyo to Kyoto ¥14400 ($98.89)
  • Kyoto to Tokyo ¥14400 ($98.89)

Total = ¥28800 ($198.79)

As you can see, simply traveling to Kyoto and back will not justify the cost of your pass. Throw in some classic day trips from Kyoto, though, and it gets more interesting. Let’s say you want to visit Nara to see the famous Buddha and feed the bowing deer, and that you also are bent on trying genuine Kobe beef in Kobe.

  • Kyoto to Nara (¥1380 round-trip) ($9.49)
  • Kyoto to Kobe (¥4580 round-trip) ($31.51)

Total with both day trips: ¥34760 ($239.16)

$239.16 (cost of travel) -$219 (cost of JR Rail Pass) =$20.16

A day trip to see the bowing deer at Nara won’t justify the pass. But a trip to Kobe to dine on Kobe beef will. If you have the time, take BOTH day trips.

3. Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima

Let’s say you do a longer day trip from Kyoto and take the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima. The journey will take approximately an hour and forty minutes each way.

  • Tokyo to Kyoto ¥14400 ($98.89)
  • Kyoto to Hiroshima ¥11620 ($79.80)
  • Hiroshima to Kyoto ¥11620 ($79.80)
  • Kyoto to Tokyo ¥14400 ($98.89)

Total = ¥52040 ($357.40)

$357.40 (cost of travel) – $219 (cost of JR Pass) = $138.4

Congratulations! With this kind of itinerary, you’ve gotten an extra $138.40 of value out of your pass.

4. Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone

Hakone is known for its fabulous beauty and views of Mt. Fuji.

If you need to fly out of Tokyo or Kyoto, please, please, please do not try to combine a climb up Mt. Fuji with a 7-day JR Pass!

Having climbed Mt. Fuji twice, I can personally assure you that the LAST thing you want to think about after coming down the mountain is which trains to take back. Be gentle with your body.

If, however, your plan is to enjoy Hakone’s natural beauty, eat the famous black eggs steamed in Owakudani’s “Hell Valley”, and admire Mt. Fuji from a distance, then the JR Pass math works great:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto ¥14400 ($98.89)
  • Kyoto to Hakone ¥17140 ($117.71)
  • Hakone to Tokyo ¥4370 ($30.01)

Total = ¥35910 ($246.62)

An important word of caution here: the JR Pass does NOT cover some of the travel in the Hakone region (cable car, ropeway). To take transportation here you will need to either purchase tickets individually or get the Hakone Pass.

5. Personal Example

A few years ago, I decided to spend three weeks traveling. Since I was living in the U.S. at the time, I was able to purchase the JR Pass. I bought a 7-day rail pass knowing I’d have 100 hours to use it. (I had a flight scheduled for the Netherlands.) Even though I’d use less than 5 days of a 7 day pass, I had done the math and realized that my itinerary justified the cost.

My goals were to see the Hiroshima peace park and museum, visit ”Rabbit Island”, take a volcanic sand bath near the ”hells” of Beppu, and see the famous bowing deer of Nara.

With only 100 hours to spend in Japan, here’s where I went:

  • Tokyo to Hiroshima ¥19440 ($133.51)
  • Hiroshima to Beppu ¥24820 ($170.46) (Roundtrip)
  • Hiroshima to Miyajima ¥1200 ($8.24) (Roundtrip, including ferry to the island)
  • Hiroshima to Nara ¥12100 ($83.10)
  • Nara to Tokyo ¥14860 ($102.05)

Total ¥72420 ($497.36)

SUCCESS!!!

$497.36 (cost of travel) – $219 (cost of JR Pass) = $278.36 of extra value

With only 100 hours on the ground, I totally ROCKED that pass.

This is a super extreme example, but I hope it highlights the sort of itinerary that will result in greatest *monetary* value. IMPORTANT CAVEAT: Every action comes with a trade off. While I had a fabulous time, I spent several hours each day either on trains or at train stations. This was fine for the way I liked to travel a few years ago…it is not how I would choose to travel now.

Conclusions

I hope these examples give you a sense as to whether a JR Pass is worth it for YOUR travel needs.

Play with Google and experiment with different itinerary combinations. Those who will get the most out of the 7-day JR Pass is a very active traveler who is comfortable going some distance. The further you travel, the greater the likelihood that the pass is worth it.

Unless you are coming from a neighboring country or share approximately the same time zone, jet lag is a beast. I don’t recommend activating the JR Pass until AFTER you’ve recovered from jet lag. Get your local sightseeing done first, and then activate.

If You Go

Be honest with yourself and your companion(s) (if you happen to be traveling with others) as to what you hope to get out of the trip.

What do you hope to see, and how far are you willing to travel?

Here’s wishing you a safe and very joyful adventure!

********

This post contains JR Pass affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you.

By Katie Cerezo

Thank you so much for visiting. 😊 I have always loved traveling, and my legs are my primary means of transportation. It's a beautiful world, and I'm eager to explore it…one step at a time.

2 thoughts on “Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It? 5 Practical Case Studies”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *