Before we visited Tokyo, Japan, our MoVernie on the MOVE Team did some research on hotel accommodations, sightseeing landmarks and also the various mode of transportation to best experience Japan. In the past, I kept hearing my friends talking about how cool it was to travel from city to city in Japan on the high-speed railroad train, aka “Bullet Train“. So, we decided to research to learn how the Japanese railroad system works in Japan. We also try to find out the cost for the train ride and the best method to make the purchase of the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass).
In this MoVernie BLOG, we will provide you with INFO about the following:
- The general idea of how the train services work in Japan, in particular, Tokyo, Japan
- Why purchase a Japan Rail Pass (aka JR Pass)?
- Where can you purchase the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass)?
- Where can you redeem the JR Voucher with an actual JR Pass in Japan?
- Why you should consider making a purchase for the JR Pass? What are its benefits?
1) The General Layout of the Japanese Train System
Before we visited Tokyo, Japan, we thought Japan Rail was the only train line in Tokyo. However, that was just based on our own assumption. In fact, in addition to the JR Rail (which is the main and the biggest railroad company) that provides transportation to people who lives locally and among city-to-city, there are also a number of private train companies that also provide different train rides to the customers. Thus, when you use your google map or other apps on your Smartphone, you will find out there are a number of transportation options that you can use to get you to the same destination. For example, if you want to visit the famous area of Shinjuku, there maybe at least 3 different train lines that could get you there, it’s just a matter of how many different train transfers you need to make or how long is each short walk to get to the Shinjuku Station.
Nevertheless, JR Rail has the biggest railroad network and lines to get you to where you need to go. Additionally, JR Rail is also the company that offers you the “Bullet Train” to cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and other locally cities/towns within those aforementioned big cities.
2) Why Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (aka JR Pass)?
Before we visited Tokyo, Japan, we did some research and realized that despite a number of transportation methods we can travel in Tokyo, the best method is to ride the railroad system. The network of train lines in Tokyo is so robust and convenient that is the best way to travel and get to know about Japan. As we researched more, we can technically pay for every ride while we arrive in Tokyo, but further research suggests tourists to purchase the 7-day; 14-day or 21-day JR Passes. The reason? It’s so much more convenient and possibly cheaper if we are visiting a number of places. Think about it, it’s much easier to show the JR Pass where JR line can be used than trying to figure out how much we have to pay for each stop we are going. It could be too time consuming and may calculate our payment wrong if we don’t calculate it properly.
Remember, the JR Pass also allows the tourist to take the high-speed bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka, Kobe and all other cities across the country as many times as you want during the duration of your JR pass allows you. The question is…..whether you want to purchase a 7-day pass? 14-day pass or 21-day pass? Now, the price of the JR Pass depends on which JR pass you want to purchase. Obviously, the 21-day pass will be more expensive than the 7-day pass.
Based on the JR Pass website, it states “The Japan Rail Pass, also called the JR Pass, is a rail pass for overseas visitors sold by the Japan Railways Group, and is valid for travel on all major forms of transportation provided by the JR Group in Japan, with a few exceptions. The Rail Pass is designed to stimulate travel and tourism throughout the country.”
3) Where Can You Purchase a Japan Rail Pass (aka JR Pass)?
There are a number of ways to purchase the JR Pass. One way is to go to the website of Japan Rail Pass and makes a purchase and they will deliver the JR voucher to your place of residence. Another way is to visit the website of Japan National Tourism Organization, it indicates all the authorized sales outlets in Canada for the JR Pass Exchange Order. So, if you live in Vancouver, there are various authorized outlets you can visit. If you live in Quebec, there are locations in Quebec.
NOTE: The objective of the JR Pass service is to provide the tourists a great experience in visiting all parts of Japan in a more effective and convenient way. And this JR Pass is not available for Japanese residents. Thus, when you are making the purchase of the JR Pass, you have to meet this criteria. More importantly, when you are making a purchase of the JR Pass overseas, it’s only a voucher, it’s NOT the official actual JR Pass. You are being provided with a voucher which you will be required to redeem the voucher upon your arrival in Japan.
4) Where Can You Redeem the JR Voucher With an Actual JR Pass Ticket in Japan?
Whether you purchase the JR Pass directly via the Japan Rail website or a 3rd-party vendor, they will only mail you the JR voucher. Upon your arrival anywhere in Japan, you have to redeem this JR voucher for the actual JR Pass. At many Japanese airports, they should have a JR office/booth to assist you and to help you redeem your voucher.
You may possibly ask, “Why are we receiving a JR voucher and not the actual ticket?“. Reason? The objective of the JR Pass is to sell to tourists and non-Japanese residents. So to avoid anyone from abusing the system, when you redeem the JR voucher at the JR office, you have to also show them your passport (or other forms of accepted identification issued by your country). This is to ensure that you are a tourist and not a local Japanese resident or other people who didn’t qualify the criteria by the Japan Rail.
There are many JR offices located around Japan to allow you to redeem your JR voucher. In our situation, we redeemed our JR vouchers in exchange for the actual JR Pass at the JR East Travel Center which is located near the Shinjuku Station.
NOTE: You can redeem your JR Voucher the moment you have landed at the Japan Airport, however, you have to research ahead of time if the JR office at the airport is open for business. They do not open for 24 hours, so they will close after a certain time each day. That’s what happened in our situation, we landed at the Haneda International Airport in Tokyo. Our Air Canada flight landed at 6:45 pm Tokyo time. After boarding off the plane and after picking up our luggage from the baggage claim and asked the airport Information Centre for direction, the friendly staff informed us that the JR Office closes at 7:00 pm. We were 15 minutes late from the time the JR office was closed at the airport. So, it’s important that you research ahead of time if your flight arrives at a time that the JR office is still open to assist you. Otherwise, you should research if there are any other JR offices located near where you are staying. So, you can redeem your JR vouchers on the next morning or at your earliest convenience. In our case, since the JR office closed during our arrival, we paid at the ticket machine, and took the train to our accommodation. So, it’s not the end of the world, there are staff to assist you to buy the right tickets to the train lines that you need to go.
NOTE: I would like to give a transparent disclosure that the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) sponsored our JR Passes, with the assistance from the JNTO Toronto location with this kind assistance. So, I wanted to point this out. However, the opinions and our experiences with the JR Pass are our own.
5) Why you should consider making a purchase for the JR Pass? What are its benefits?
So, why should you consider purchasing for the JR Pass? Check out the official reasons provided by the JR Rail:
“The Japan Rail Pass is a multi-use all-you-can-ride discounted rail ticket. It gives you unlimited access to all Japan Rail National trains, as well as JR bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers. Enjoy to the fullest your discovery of Japan in the most economical travel option available.
To travel with your 7-day Japan Rail Pass, means to have the unique opportunity to discover the whole country at a cheaper price than a Tokyo to Kyoto return ticket, on a Shinkansen bullet train. Compared to standard Japan train tickets, the JR Pass represents the biggest discount on Japanese public transportation that you can get.”
Well, it’s my turn to break it down in point-form notes of the reasons and benefits that I personally think of why you should get a JR Pass:
– although a 7-day pass is approximately about $340 CDN, it’s not a super cheap expense but by purchasing the 7-day pass, you actually will save more than by purchasing individual rides each time you need to go somewhere with the JR lines. You have unlimited access to all Japan Rail train rides along with other services.
– Here is my suggestion: Before you decide to purchase a JR Pass, plan ahead of the major cities that you would like to visit in Japan. In my opinion, the major benefit and you save $ with a JR Pass is if you are using the JR bullet train and plan to use it to visit a number of cities. Bullet Train rides aren’t cheap and that’s where the major bulk of the cost goes towards riding the bullet trains. If you do not plan to travel any other Japan cities but just to stay in 1 spot, then you may not need a JR Pass. Remember, not all train lines are operated by the JR Group, there are other privately owned train lines that will get you from point A to point B, so if the rides that you use are not operated by the JR Group, you still have to buy extra train tickets to use those privately owned train rides, so you still have to allocate a budget for those train rides not run by the JR Group.
– If you plan to stay in one city, for example, you plan to just visit Tokyo and do not plan to use the bullet train service, then the 7-day JR Pass isn’t really make sense for you. It makes no sense for you to pay about $340 CDN just to travel locally in Tokyo when not all train lines are operated by the JR Group and the cost of riding locally is way lower than $340 CDN. That’s why you should plan your trip ahead of time and decide how many cities you want to visit during your stay and whether you need to ride the bullet train.
– If you plan to visit cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Kawasaki, Nagano, etc. you will definitely want to purchase the JR Pass. Whether you want to purchase the 7-day, 14-day or 21-day or more will depends on how long you are staying in Japan and how many cities you want to visit during your stay in Japan
Summary: MoVernie TIPS
– Plan ahead before you visit Japan.
– How many days do you plan to stay in Japan?
– How many cities do you plan to visit during your stay?
– Do you plan to visit one major city in Japan and nowhere else? For example, if you only want to visit Tokyo during your entire stay in Japan, then I don’t suggest you to purchase the 7-day JR Pass coz you are only using the train lines locally and visiting local areas. You are not even using the bullet train service to travel to another city, coz bullet train is the bulk of the train costs, it’s relatively more expensive each way
– If you plan to visit many cities in Japan that require the use of the bullet train, then I recommend you to purchase the JR Pass, you saves time making purchase for each bullet train ride and it’s a lot more cost effective if you have the JR Pass to travel on bullet train rides
– If you do plan to purchase a JR Pass, research the INFO on the official JR website for the various types and prices of the different JR pass that meet your needs. Also research to see if there are any credible 3rd party vendors in your city that you can purchase the JR voucher in person or via its website. In our case, we got our JR voucher from Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). It’s actually more convenient for me to deal with a 3rd party vendor in my city as we can call locally via the phone or email or receive the JR vouchers much quicker than via International delivery
– When you purchase the JR Pass, give yourself enough time for the JR voucher to reach to your residence. Don’t expect the JR vouchers to reach to you home in 2 days while you plan to leave for Japan in 2 days, that’s just too tight in terms of delivery time
– Research ahead of time the business hours of the JR office at the airport that you flight plan to land. The JR offices are not 24/7, so they may close upon your arrival. So, it’s important to plan ahead and see where they are located in the airport and its business hours. If not, research on the nearest JR offices near the place you plan to stay so you can redeem your JR voucher during its business hours
– Be sure to bring the JR voucher and your passport when you visit the JR office. Your passport is required in order for the JR office to redeem your JR Pass
– It is also important that your name shown on the JR voucher is the same as the name that is shown on your passport. For example, if the JR voucher shows your name as Mike Lamb and your passport is shown your name as Michael Lamb, the JR office reserves the right not to issue your JR Pass. Your name has to be exactly the same on both your passport and your JR voucher. So, when your JR voucher arrives, I suggest you to double check the spelling of your name on the voucher to ensure it is the same as shown on your passport. Don’t take your spelling lightly as that could ruin your Japan experience if they don’t issue your JR Pass coz the spelling is different. If the name of your JR voucher is different than your passport, make sure you contact the issuers immediately to re-send you a correct JR voucher
– Depending on every bullet train ride, there should be compartments that are save for “reserved passengers”. Your JR Pass allows you to reserve the exact seat for your bullet train ride. You can either book it via the JR App on your Smartphone or you can reserve your seats (free of charge) when you are redeeming your JR Pass. However, if you don’t want to reserve your seats coz you don’t know exactly when you would like to board the bullet train, it’s all good, you can go to compartments that are non-reserved and they are equally as good
– I recommend that if you do know exactly which day you plan to visit another Japan city, you know exactly what time of the bullet train ride that you would like to take, you may want to reserve your seats so you know exactly where your seats are and you can have a peace of mind. Besides, it’s free of charge anyway. However, if you want to be more freestyle and you ain’t sure when you want to leave from one city to another, you don’t have to make any reservation and you can just hop on the next bullet train ride that meets your schedule and sit in the non-reserved seating, whatever style works for your itinerary
– If you do make a reservation with the JR office for your bullet train ride, they should provide you with a separate ticket indicating the compartment number and the exact seat of your train ride. It is essential that you bring this ticket with you in case the staff asks for your ticket, then you have the proof of your reserved seat
– You should carry your JR Pass with you at all times and make sure you don’t lose it, coz that’s your only way to ride on any JR rides
– When you are at the gate of the train station, you don’t pass the gates via the normal ticket machine. Instead, you pass through the station via a booth (usually on the most left or most right of the gates) and there is always someone there to check your JR Pass and they let you get through. So…you flash the JR Pass every station you pass through to a staff. They will see when your JR Pass expire, so that’s the way to access each train station. Don’t use the machine gates coz they can’t let you go through
– Please read my other MoVernie BLOG showing you my experience when visiting the JR East Travel Service Center in Shinjuku Station and what it’s like during the entire process
For this Japan trip, our team used the Japan Rail Pass as our official mode of transportation, which these JR passes were provided by Japan National Tourism Organization (courtesy from the assistance from both Tokyo & Toronto branch locations). However, as always, the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.
I would also like to give a special thanks to Air Canada for providing the return Signature Class flights from Toronto, Canada to Tokyo, Japan. Without such hospitality and assistance by Air Canada, this Japan trip would not have been possible.
Japan Rail Pass
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) – HQ – Tokyo Location
Address: Headquarters 4-4-1 Yotsuya Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo 100-0006, Japan
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) – Toronto Location
Address: 481 University Ave, Toronto, ON M5G 2E9
Phone: (416) 366-7140
JR East Travel Service Center
Located in: Shinjuku Station
Address: 5 Chome-24-５５ Sendagaya, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0051, Japan