How to Maximize Your Japan Rail Pass

Travel in Japan can be affordable, but the country’s costly transportation will still gobble up the bulk of your budget. So you’ve worked hard and saved up enough for a long vacation and, after careful deliberation, will be purchasing a Japan Rail Pass, which is a smart investment for lengthy visits because it allows you to take unlimited rides on the extensive railway system – including the shinkansen bullet trains – within a specific time frame. Available in 7-day, 14-day and 21-day durations, JR Passes also cover ordinary trains, JR buses and the JR West Miyajima Ferry. Check my previous blog post to find out how you can purchase one at the lowest price.

These rail pass definitely don’t come cheap, so you might as well make the most of it. They start at a regular price of JPY 29,110 (PHP 13,450) for a 7-Day Ordinary Car Whole Japan Pass.  Having traveled recently with one, I’d like to share some tips on how to maximize it. With my pass, I was able to visit 12 cities from Kagoshima to Tokyo. Among the popular destinations I visited were Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka and Naoshima (via Okayama). Within one week, I rode bullet trains and other forms of transportation covered by the pass, which would have cost me a total of PHP 24,000. Now, that’s a savings of more than PHP 10,000!

Scroll down the end of this post to see the complete list of rides and the computation.

1. Plan your trips online.

Use the website HyperDia to plot your route so you won’t waste time figuring it out at train stations and getting lost along the way. Find out which train to ride and from what platform. This online service is particularly useful when your trip requires taking transfers. In the search options, make sure you uncheck “NOZOMI / MIZUHO / HAYABUSA (SHINKANSEN)” and “Private Railway” to filter out any trains not covered by Japan Rail Passes from the search results.

2. Claim your pass in advance.

Your Exchange Order must be presented with your passport to claim your pass at JR stations and major airports, which are often very busy during peak hours. Avoid long queues by claiming your pass very early in the morning or late at night.

3. Choose the activation date wisely.

When you claim your pass, you can choose the date when it will be activated. You may explore your point of entry and nearby attractions for a few days, before using your pass to continue on to the next leg of your trip. For example, if you’re flying into Osaka, it would be practical to postpone the activation of your JR Pass and first explore the city and nearby destinations like Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Koyasan using a regional pass like the 2-day or 3-day Kansai Thru Pass, before using the JR Pass to travel to a farther destination like Tokyo, Hiroshima or Fukuoka (Hakata). Note that the activation date for your JR pass cannot be changed, so plan your trip well.

4. Ride bullet trains frequently.

Of course, the shinkansen or bullet train is the most expensive means of transportation that you can take with your JR Pass. A return trip by shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto, for example, would already cost JPY 26,160 – that’s almost as much as a 7-day JR Pass! So while the JR Pass may cover other forms of transportation (eg. ordinary trains and selected buses), it’s best utilized for taking the lightning-fast shinkansen from one city to another over long distances.

5. Take the first and last trains.

As much as possible, maximize your pass by taking the earliest and latest rides. By doing so, you can even base yourself out of one city and visit distant destinations as day trips. For example, on my 6th day using the pass, I took a day trip to Tokyo from Osaka via shinkansen to visit a college friend. The distance between these two cities is around 500 km, about the same distance between Manila and Legazpi, which takes 10 hours to travel by bus. Zooming at speeds of up to 300 kph, bullet trains, on the other hand, can travel the same distance for only 2.5 hours!

A JR Pass expires within the specified number of days after activation. A 7-day pass activated on January 15, for instance, will expire on January 21 (ie. before midnight of January 22). On the last day of validity, you can use the pass until midnight, as long as the departure time of your last train is before 12 AM.

Breakdown & Computation

Here is the complete list of trips I made on my 7-day JR Pass and how much money I ultimately saved:

Route

Type

Fare in JPY

Fare in PHP

DAY 1 Hakata – Kagoshimachuo Shinkansen

9,930

4,567.8

Kagoshimachuo – Hakata Shinkansen

9,930

4,567.8

DAY 2 Hakata – Kumamoto Shinkansen

4,610

2,120.6

Kumamoto – Hakata Shinkansen

4,610

2,120.6

Hakata – Nagasaki Express Train

4,190

1,927.4

DAY 3 Nagasaki – Hakata Express Train

4,190

1,927.4

Hakata – Hiroshima Shinkansen

8,420

3,873.2

DAY 4 Atomic Dome – Hiroshima Sightseeing Bus

200

92

Hiroshima – Miyajimaguchi Local Train

410

188.6

Miyajimaguchi – Miyajima Miyajima Ferry

180

82.8

Miyajima – Miyajimaguchi Miyajima Ferry

180

82.8

Miyajimaguchi – Hiroshima Local Train

410

188.6

DAY 5 Hiroshima – Okayama Shinkansen

5,500

2,530

Okayama – Uno Local Train

580

266.8

Uno – Okayama Local Train

580

266.8

Okayama – Osaka Local Train

3,020

1,389.2

Osaka – Tamatsukuri City Train

180

82.8

DAY 6 Tamatsukuri – Osaka City Train

180

82.8

Osaka – Shin Osaka Local Train

160

73.6

Shin Osaka – Tokyo Shinkansen

13,620

6,265.2

Tokyo – Ueno City Train

160

73.6

Tokyo – Shin Osaka Shinkansen

13,620

6,265.2

Shin Osaka – Osaka Local Train

160

73.6

Osaka – Tamatsukuri City Train

180

82.8

DAY 7 Tamatsukuri – Osaka City Train

180

82.8

Shin Osaka -Himeji Shinkansen

3,220

1,481.2

Himeji – Kobe Express Train

970

446.2

Kobe – Osaka Express Train

410

188.6

TOTAL:

52520

24,159.2

JR PASS

(KLOOK PRICE)

13,051

SAVINGS:

PHP 11,108.20

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to my website! I’m travel writer, photographer and online influencer Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap from the Philippines. Join me as I hike, dive, fly, eat and do pretty much anything in between across 7,641 islands and beyond. Need to reach me? Please write me an email.

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