Megumi is often asked “Hey, do you think I should get the Japan Rail Pass? Is it worth it?”
When planning a trip to Japan, ad’s for the pass are everywhere you look so a lot of people wonder about. Naturally, they assume a Japanese person who loves traveling will know a lot of about it so they ask.
Well, her answer is “It depends.”
The pass is only for visitors from different countries or Japanese people who have lived outside of Japan for 10 years or more. Since Megumi is Japanese and has lived in Tokyo most of her life, she hasn’t used it.
So, she asked friends who bought the pass and actually used it what their opinion is. Then, she compared her friends’ opinions about the rail pass with the various ways that she and other Japanese people travel within Japan.
What she found is that the pass is fantastic for a very specific type of traveler, but for many others, there are much better options out there.
In this article, we’ll help you decide if the pass is right for you. If it’s not, we’ll cover many other ways to travel around Japan.
How will you travel around Japan?
As an example, let’s say you have 7 days in Japan. How do you want to spend that seven days? What will you see and do? Should you get the Japan Rail Pass?
Do you want to…
See Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima (called the“golden route”)?
-Yes, it’s worth it. Multiple trips by bullet train to these places would be very expensive.
Have a busy schedule of tourist hopping all over Japan?
-Yes, but be sure to plan in advance!
Travel by train, rather than plane or bus?
-Yes, the bullet train is fast and easy, but last minute trains are very expensive. The pass will make a big difference.
Mostly spend time around Tokyo or any other city?
-No, don’t waste your money.
Is the Japan Rail Pass the only way to lower travel costs in Japan?
-No, it’s not.
So should I buy Japan Rail Pass?
If you plan to travel all over the country, visiting many cities in a short period of time than the Japan Rail Pass is perfect for your trip! You can use JR trains in Tokyo, including the express train from the airport, and zip all over the country by bullet train.
Just go to the Japan Rail Pass website and get it.
However, if it’s not right we will show you some more options below.
Reasons why you don’t need Japan Rail Pass
#1 Japan Rail Pass doesn’t include Metro or any train company other than JR
If you will spend most of your time in one or two cities, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, or Sapporo, you should remember that you can only use Japan Rail Pass for JR trains. In Tokyo, Tokyo Metro is much more convenient for many parts of the city. They also have a day pass only for $6 (Learn more about Tokyo Metro here).
#2 LCC’s and buses go everywhere in Japan
The main reason many people buy the Japan Rail Pass is that they just don’t know about the other options because English information is outdated. Over the last few years many new, and often better, options have become available, such as Peach, Jet Star, and Vanilla airlines.
LCC (Low-Cost Carriers)
If you can get the cheapest fares, flying to Kyoto is only $28 one way (From Tokyo).
Here’s an example:
- Tokyo to Osaka from ¥2,670 (Vanilla Air), ¥3,490 (Peach) or ¥3,990 (Jet star)
- From Osaka, you can go to Kyoto by train for only ¥410.
So, if you go to both Osaka and Kyoto from Tokyo the total cost will be ¥3,080, ¥3,900 or ¥4,400 ($28 – $40)
Also, Osaka / Kyoto are not the only routes. You can fly to Sapporo or Fukuoka for less than $50, or to Okinawa for $60.
As you can imagine, going by bus is even cheaper than using an LCC. You can go to Kyoto from Tokyo from ¥2,000 ($18). The downside is it takes about 7 hours, but you can take an overnight bus and sleep on the way. Plus, that’s one less night in a hotel. Or, you can just take an early morning bus and get there at check-in time for your hotel.
Also, Willer Express has a special pass for visitors from outside Japan. Japan Bus Pass is for 3 days (from ¥10,000), 5 days (from ¥12,500), or 7 days (from ¥15,000). You can ride the bus as much as you want during this time.
#3 If you only have 7 days, it’s better to stay in one city
If it’s your first time to coming to Japan, there are a lot of things to see, eat, and do just in Tokyo. It’s also very different from most other cultures, so you won’t understand what’s going on if you try to do too much too fast (This is why many visitors come back to Japan over and over again).
You should plan to spend at least 5 to 7 days in each city to really get a feel for it.
Did you figure out if you need Japan Rail Pass or not?
While it’s heavily promoted, the Japan Rail Pass is really only for a really specific type of traveler. If you fit into that category and want to see many places and have limited time then you should definitely get the pass for your trip.
But, if you don’t fit into that category there are much better ways to get around the country.
In our case, Joshua came to Japan for three months, two separate times and traveled to different parts of Japan, but he never bought the Japan Rail Pass. Megumi also usually fly’s on ANA using flight miles or an LCC. When she travels to smaller cities or the countryside she uses the bus. She only takes the Shinkansen (bullet train) a few times a year if she needs to arrive somewhere at a specific time or has a busy trip. Otherwise, it’s just not worth the cost.