Start Planning for your Japan Trip – Japan Rail Pass and Various Region Pass

Now that Japan has reopened its border to independent travellers and it looks a lot like the new normal. This is what you need to know:

  1. Following Japan’s decision last month to drop pre-departure testing, the Japanese government is now allowing travellers to visit Japan without booking a guided tour or using a travel agency from October 11, 2022.
  2. In the latest border rules update released by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, foreign nationals from 68 countries and regions who wish to enter Japan for a short-term visit (up to 90 days) no longer need to apply for a visa and Indonesia is one of them, Yay!
  3. No pre-arrival PCR tests for triple-vaccinated travellers. Non-vaccinated travellers will be required to submit a negative PCR test 72 hours before departing for Japan.
  4. Travellers are still urged to download the MySOS app. While quarantine is no longer required of most travellers, both Japanese citizens and foreign nationals are urged to download the MySOS app before coming to Japan. Through the app’s Fast Track system, you’ll be able to digitally register your Covid-19 vaccine certificate or negative test certificate and fill out the necessary forms prior to your arrival. This will help speed things along on arrival at the airport as you make your way through immigration. It can take a few hours for your documents to be reviewed, so you should download the app and register your information at least six hours before your flight. Once you’ve entered all the necessary information, the screen on your app will appear red. When your documents have successfully been reviewed, the colour of the screen changes to blue or green. To download the MySOS app (iOS and Android), visit here.
  5. Japan is also expanding its list of valid Covid-19 vaccinations to be in line with those approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation. So on top of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Bharat Biotech and Novavax vaccines, Japan will accept Sinopharm, Sinovac and Convidecia vaccines.

Now that you start planning for your Japan trip, the first thing come to mind is “Should I buy Japan Rail Pass“? The Japan Rail Pass (also commonly called JR Pass) is a very cost effective rail pass for long distance train travel in Japan.

The pass can be used only by foreign tourists and offers unlimited rides on JR trains for one, two or three weeks at a cost that residents of Japan can only dream of.

It comes in two types: ordinary and green car. The latter is valid on green cars (first class cars) that offer more spacious seats than ordinary cars.

JR Pass is basically valid on almost all trains operated on the nationwide network of Japan Railways, including shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid and local trains. There is exception to this. They cannot be used for Nozomi and Mizuho Trains. It is also valid for Monorail to and from Haneda Airport, JR Ferry to Miyajima and small number of local JR Bus.

Important features to know about JR Pass

  1. JR Pass is a strictly personal pass and can be used only by the person whose name is printed in the pass. Pass holders may be asked by railway staff to produce their passports in order to confirm ownership of the pass.
  2. The validity period is based on calendar days (midnight to midnight) rather than 24 hour periods. If you happen to be on board of a train at midnight, the Pass remains valid until the end of your journey, i.e. until you leave your final station through the ticket gates. This is true even if you transfer trains after midnight. However, if you transfer to a Shinkansen, limited express or express train after midnight, the pass will not cover the express supplement for that train anymore.
  3. You can buy JR Pass before you come to Japan from authorized travel agent in your country such as HIS Travel in Indonesia, other authorized website such as Klook and recently thru JR Website. The price from JR Website are roughly 10 to 13% more expensive but they have advantages of the ability to make online seat reservations after purchase and that you only need your passport (and no voucher) to pick up your pass in Japan.
  4. If you buy from Agents, you will receive a voucher which you will need to exchange at major JR Stations. Note that you do not need to start using the pass from the same date. You can select any date within a one month period as your starting date. However, once the actual pass is issued, the starting date cannot be changed anymore. Those who purchase their pass through the official JR website select the starting date of their pass at the time of purchase and cannot change it later.
  5. Pass holders can make seat reservations for free at ticket machines or ticket offices across Japan after exchanging their voucher to the actual pass. Reservations cannot be made on board of trains.

Does the Japan Rail Pass pay off?

This is where you have to the math and I put on my CFO hat. It depends on your itinerary! It won’t pay off for urban travel alone. But if you cover some long distances within a relatively short time period, the pass is likely to pay off. I use this JR Pass Calculator to calculate if it is worth to buy the pass based on my itinerary. It can also be used to calculate other Region Pass which I will cover below.

Furthermore, the pass offer convenience that you won’t need to buy tickets whenever you ride trains.

This is the JR Pass Price taken from JR Website. Child definition is from 6 to 11 years old.

Other Regional Pass

I just mentioned above that there is also other Regional JR Pass which is more ideal if you wish to explore certain regions of Japan, from the snow covered mountains of Hokkaido to the lively coast lines of Kyushu. Here’s example of the available Pass:

  • Hokkaido rail Pass
  • Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass
  • Mt Fuji-Shizuoka area tourist pass mini
  • Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass
  • Kansai Area Pass and Wide area Pass
  • Southern Kyusu Pass
  • Sanyo-San’in Northern Kyushu Pass
  • Sanyo-San’in Area Pass
  • Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass
  • Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass
  • Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass
  • Hokuriku Area Pass
  • San’in Okayama Area Pass
  • Takayama-Hokuriku Area Pass

When we traveled to Osaka for the Cherry Blossom season, we purchased the 7 days Kansai- Hokuriku Pass which allow us to travel from Osaka to Shirakawago, Shirakawago to Kyoto and Osaka to Kansai Airport.

As a rule of thumb, these Regional passes are usually valid for 4 to 7 days so you need to do your itinerary right to maximize the passes benefit. If you travel more than 2 regions you can look at JR Pass. The 7-day pass costs about the same as regular Shinkansen tickets for a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto.

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