The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) has long been a go-to option for cost-effective train travel for tourists visiting Japan. In July 2023, the Japan Rail Company announced a dramatic price increase, leaving many wondering if the JR Pass is still worth the investment. In this article, we'll offer insights into when the JR Pass remains a great choice and share alternative options that may better suit your trip.
How Much Is the JR Pass?
As of October 1, 2023, the JR Pass prices have surged by a substantial 70%. Here's a breakdown of the old and new prices for the 7-, 14- and 21-day ordinary reserved seat JR Pass, courtesy of the Japan Rail Pass official website.
New prices: Adult | Child (6–11 years old)
- 7-day pass: ¥50,000 | ¥25,000
- 14-day pass ¥80,000 | ¥40,000
- 21-day pass ¥100,000 | ¥50,000
Old prices: Adult | Child (6–11 years old)
- 7-day pass ¥29,650 | ¥14,820
- 14-day pass ¥47,250 | ¥23,620
- 21-day pass ¥60,450 | ¥30,220
Which JR Pass is Right For You?
With these new prices in mind, it's worth doing additional research and calculations to determine whether the JR Pass is worth your pretty penny and, if so, which one will serve you best.
Due to a vested interest in the topic, we've put together some scenarios for you courtesy of the trusty JR Pass Fare Calculator (worth bookmarking).
7-Day JR Pass Sample Itinerary
Imagine you're visiting Japan for a week, aiming to explore different cities while minimizing your time in Tokyo. Here's a sample itinerary:
Day 1: Narita → Tokyo
Day 2: Tokyo → Kanazawa
Day 3: Kanazawa → Osaka
Day 4: Osaka
Day 5: Osaka → Nara → Kyoto
Day 6: Kyoto → Tokyo
Day 7: Tokyo → Narita
This Golden Route-adjacent itinerary includes popular destinations for first-time travelers in Japan who have a short trip duration, except there's a lot of moving around.
Total Distance: 1,462 km
Total Time: 11h 28min (nonstop)
Your Itinerary: ¥40,210
This type of itinerary also falls short of the ¥50,000 pricetag of the 7-day JR Pass.
Now, let's consider a scenario with fewer destinations but covering wider ground:
Day 1: Narita → Tokyo
Day 2: Tokyo → Osaka
Day 3: Osaka
Day 4: Osaka → Fukuoka
Day 5: Fukuoka
Day 6: Fukuoka → Tokyo
Day 7: Tokyo → Narita
This food-lovers itinerary includes fewer destinations than the previous one but allows more time at every city and has indeed paid for itself.
Total Distance: 2,489 km
Total Time: 12h 17min (nonstop)
Your Itinerary: ¥56,050
Your Savings: ¥6,050
Is seven days in Japan enough? In our (biased) opinion, the limit does not exist when it comes to time spent in Japan. Making the 7-day JR Pass worth the investment depends on how far you're willing to travel. The key might be to make your destinations further apart and each ride a little longer.
14-Day JR Pass Sample Itinerary
The 14-day and 21-day passes can offer even greater value for travelers with longer stays or more extensive itineraries. We recommend considering the areas you plan to visit, the frequency of travel, and the cost of individual train tickets.
Day 1: Narita → Tokyo
Day 2: Tokyo (Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku)
Day 3: Tokyo (with a day trip to Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture)
Day 4: Tokyo → Kanazawa
Day 5: Kanazawa → Nagoya
Day 6: Nagoya → Hiroshima
Day 7: Hiroshima (with a day trip to Miyajima Island)
Day 8: Hiroshima → Hakata
Day 8: Hakata → Osaka
Day 9: Osaka
Day 10: Osaka → Nara
Day 11: Nara → Kyoto
Day 12: Kyoto
Day 13: Kyoto → Tokyo
Day 14: Tokyo → Narita
This sample 14-day itinerary covers a whopping 3,262 kilometers of train travel alone, includes key Golden Route stops, a mix of modern and traditional Japan, and some day trips for good measure.
Total Distance: 3,262 km
Total Time: 23h 24min (nonstop)
Your Itinerary: ¥92,860
Your Savings: ¥12,860
Oh, and it pays for itself!
21-Day JR Pass Sample Itinerary
Our idea of heaven? A 21-day trip to Japan! With so much time in Japan, it'd be rude not to cover as much ground as possible. This sample itinerary covers major cities, northern and southern Japan, modern and traditional regions, key Golden Route destinations and beyond.
Day 1: Narita → Tokyo (Shibuya, Harajuku)
Day 2: Tokyo (Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ueno)
Day 3: Tokyo (Asakusa) and a day trip to Yokohama
Day 4: Tokyo → Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto
Day 6: Kyoto (Arashiyama)
Day 7: Kyoto → Fukuoka
Day 8: Fukuoka
Day 8: Fukuoka → Kagoshima
Day 9: Kagoshima
Day 10: Kagoshima → Hiroshima
Day 11: Hiroshima
Day 12: Hiroshima → Osaka
Day 13: Osaka → Takayama
Day 14: Takayama
Day 15: Takayama
Day 16: Takayama → Sendai
Day 17: Sendai →Hakodate
Day 18: Hakodate → Sapporo
Day 19: Sapporo
Day 20: Sapporo → Tokyo
Day 21: Tokyo → Narita
If we were giving out cost performance awards, we'd be handing the gold place medal to this itinerary.
Total Distance: 7,073 km
Total Time: 48h 58min (nonstop)
Your Itinerary: ¥173,690
Your Savings: ¥73,690
It's all relative, and variables come into play, but this type of itinerary saves you a handsome ¥73,690 with the 21-day JR Pass.
Is the JR Pass Still Worth It?
Before the price hike, we'd answer with a resounding yes. With the increased prices, it's worth doing extra research and calculations to determine whether the JR Pass will serve you well. If you plan to travel long-distance and visit several cities in Japan, the JR Pass is still worth it. On top of long-distance travel savings, it provides additional perks like discounts for selected tourist sites, free seat reservations on JR trains, convenience for first-time travelers in Japan, and more.
Yes, if you…
- Plan on long-distance travel
- Want to visit several cities in Japan
- Have a short trip duration
- Are a first-time traveler in Japan
- Don't mind paying extra for convenience and flexibility
If your itinerary is more focused or you're spending significant time in Tokyo (and surrounds), the JR Pass might not provide the same level of savings; single-journey Shinkansen tickets, the JR Tokyo Wide Pass, or other regional passes may be better suited.
No, if you…
- Plan to stay in or adjacent to Tokyo
- Only plan to visit two (or so) places in Japan
- Don't plan on extensive long-distance travel
- Are staying in Japan for an extended period of time
- Are familiar with and comfortable using public transport in Japan
Japan Train Passes For Regional Travel
If what you envisioned for your Japan trip doesn't make the JR Pass a worthy investment, there are other Japan train passes that may still give you the chance to save some yen.
If You're Staying in Tokyo: JR Tokyo Wide Pass
If your Japan itinerary revolves around the almighty capital, the Tokyo Wide Pass is your ideal choice. This pass provides three consecutive days of unlimited travel on trains and Shinkansen in the areas covered.
Add the Tokyo Wide Pass to your basket if any of the below apply to you or sound appealing:
- Basing yourself in Tokyo and taking day trips to Lake Kawaguchiko and Nikko
- Visiting hot springs and staying at resorts in places like Karuizawa (for any of you Terrace House fans out there), Kusatsu, or Izu
- Traveling in and around Tokyo (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara) and surrounding areas (Kamakura)
Check out the JR East Tokyo Wide Pass web page for detailed information.
For Day-Trippers: Hakone Free Pass and Mount Fuji Pass
Been there, done that when it comes to Japan? Keen on living like a Tokyoite but taking day trips to adjacent spots like Hakone and Mt. Fuji? Have a more focused itinerary but want to include some short-haul day trips? The Hakone Free Pass or Mount Fuji Pass, of course.
Hakone Free Pass
This pass is valid for two days from Shinjuku Station, includes unlimited rides on eight modes of transportation (including the ropeway and cable car), discounted round-trip tickets from Shinjuku, and provides discounts at over 70 facilities (tourist spots, hot springs, museums, etc.) in Hakone.
Mount Fuji Pass
With 1-, 2- or 3-day options available, the Mount Fuji Pass allows you to see Japan's tallest peak from all its best angles. It includes unlimited rides on buses and trains around the Mt. Fuji area, plus entry tickets and special deals for popular amusement facilities, including FujiQ Highland, Lake Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Boat and the Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway.
The JR Pass remains a valuable resource for travelers exploring Japan, but its worth varies based on your Itinerary and travel habits. To determine if it's worth it after the 2023 price increase, carefully plan your trip, calculate potential train costs, and compare them to the price of the JR Pass. Doing so can ensure you're making a well-informed decision for your Japanese adventure. Is the JR Pass worth it if you stay in Tokyo? We're leaning towards no for this one, but ultimately, this one's on you and will naturally differ depending on the circumstances.