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Japan by Rail

Japan by Rail

Excerpt:
Rail Passes


Contents | Introduction | Routes and costs; When to go | Rail Passes | Sample route guide: Tokyo to Nagoya by shinkansen | Side trip to Miyajima | Off the beaten track sightseeing


 

Rail passes

 

The original and still the best-value pass available to visitors is the Japan Rail Pass; this covers all four main islands and permits travel on most shinkansen services; for further details see below. See box p31 for details of the only other JR pass valid for the whole country.

       Apart from JR Central (JR Tokai; see box p32) all companies in the Japan Rail (JR) Group offer their own range of passes. These are available for a range of periods, generally not more than a week, and are useful if you’re intending to focus on a specific area; for details  of these regional passes see pp31-6.

       Several of the private rail companies also have passes but these are all for regional areas; details are given where relevant in the text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE JAPAN RAIL PASS

 

The Japan Rail Pass is truly the bargain of the century, assuming you plan to use several shinkansen (bullet train) services. It entitles the pass-holder to travel freely on: almost all JR services including shinkansen, other than the Nozomi (Tokyo to Hakata) and Mizuho (Hakata to Kagoshima-chuo); the ferry service to Miyajima (see p309) operated by JR; and some of JR’s bus services, though not their highway bus services. JR has a dedicated website (www.japanrailpass.net) which provides up-to-date information about the Japan Rail Pass and all regional passes.

 

Who can use the pass?

The pass can be used by any non-Japanese tourist visiting Japan under ‘temporary visitor’ status and by some Japanese nationals not residing in Japan. It cannot be used by anybody arriving in Japan for employment.

 

Buying the pass

At the time of writing the most important rule concerning use of the pass is that it cannot be purchased in Japan. It is sold, in the form of an Exchange Order, through authorised agents (see pp36-9) outside Japan. However, for a trial period sometime in 2016 it will be available in Japan. For further information visit the Japan Rail Pass website (see above).

       First you need to decide whether you would like a 7-day, 14-day or 21-day pass (see box opposite). The pass runs on consecutive days from the date you start to use it but there is no limit to the number of passes you can buy.

       The next step is to choose which class you’d like to travel in. There are two types of rail pass: the Ordinary Pass is valid for standard-class rail travel, which is likely to be more than adequate for most people. Seats in Ordinary Class are very comfortable and have ample legroom; on some trains they are as good as first-class rail travel elsewhere in the world. The Green Pass is for those wishing to travel in more style. Green-class carriages (known as ‘Green Cars’) offer wider seats and even more legroom; they also often include extras such as slippers, personal TVs and laptop power points as well as free tea/coffee. However, there are no Green Cars on most services on the Sanyo shinkansen line (Shin-Osaka to Hakata), or on Tsubame shinkansen (Hakata to Kagoshima-chuo) in Kyushu. Most limited express services have Green Cars but local/rapid trains generally only have Ordinary Class.

 

Japan Rail Pass     Green Class                                Ordinary Class

       7-day                     ¥38,800 (£243/$342)                    ¥29,110 (£182/US$256)

       14-day                   ¥62,950 (£393/$554)                    ¥46,390 (£290/US$408)

       21-day                   ¥81,870 (£511/$721)                    ¥59,350 (£371/US$523)

 

Notes

• Apart from the Japan Rail Pass all passes are available for Ordinary Class only

• Children aged 5 and under travel free providing they do not occupy a seat; those aged 6-11 pay half the adult rate.

• Prices are fixed in yen, but the charge is payable in local currency. The prices in brackets are for guidance only. The dollar ($) rates are US dollars.

 

REGIONAL JR RAIL PASSES

 

Note: The text below is a sample of the main regional rail passes; for more details look at the book, the Japan by Rail website, or the actual rail company’s website.

 

The main features of the many regional JR passes are outlined on pp32-6. These can either be purchased before arrival through agents (see pp36-9), or in some cases online through the company’s website, or for a slightly higher cost in Japan at the main airports and some stations in the relevant region and occasionally in other regions. As for the Japan Rail Pass you need to have ‘temporary visitor’ status, though Japanese who live abroad are eligible for the JR Kyushu passes.

       If you know you want to travel in a limited area only the regional passes can be better value than a Japan Rail Pass; one or more can also be combined quite easily which would widen the area you can discover. However, the huge range of passes makes it much harder to work out what will be best value for your itinerary. If in Japan for 14 days the difference between a 7-day and a 14-day Ordinary Class Japan Rail Pass is ¥17,280 so it wouldn’t make sense to spend more than that on a regional pass for up to 7 days. Also many of the regional passes don’t include free seat reservations, though if not travelling in peak periods that may not be a concern. Every now and then the companies introduce special promotional passes/tickets so it is always worth checking their websites.

 

JR East rail passes

The JR East network covers the Tokyo metropolitan area and extends north and east of Tokyo including the route around Tohoku (see pp318-53) as far as the northern tip of Honshu; it does not include Hokkaido. The main passes include travel on the Narita Express (N’EX) from Narita airport and the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda airport. They are also valid on Tobu Railway’s Limited Express services to Nikko. Some of JR East’s passes are also valid to places covered in the Central Honshu section such as Matsumoto, Atami and Odawara (though for the latter not using the Tokaido shinkansen), and on some private lines such as the Izu-kyuko line to Izukyu-Shimoda (for Shimoda).

       A seasonal option (Apr-Nov) available with any JR East pass is the Tateyama Kurobe Option Ticket (see p184).

       For full details of all the passes see www.jreast.co.jp. JR East also offers passes in conjunction with other JR companies; see opposite.

JR East Pass (Tohoku area) (See box p30)  In addition to the network area outlined above the two main other lines this pass is valid on are the Iwate Galaxy Railway and Aoimori Railway. It is also valid for reserved seats in the Hayabusa and Komachi shinkansen – and of course all the other shinkansen in the region. Note that this pass is not valid on the Hokuriku/Nagano shinkansen beyond Sakudaira, nor is it valid on any JR buses. For an itinerary suggestion see pp44-5.

• JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area) (See box p30)  This pass is valid on the routes outlined opposite but for the Tohoku shinkansen only to Utsunomiya, the Hokuriku/Nagano shinkansen only to Joetsu-Myoko and the Niigata shinkansen to Niigata. In the ski season months it is also valid between Echigo-Yuzawa and Gala Yuzawa (see box p352).

       For an itinerary suggestion see p45.

• Tokyo Wide Pass (See box p30)  This permits unlimited travel in the Tokyo metropolitan area as well as Ordinary Class travel on JR East’s shinkansen (except the Hayabusa and Komachi services) from Tokyo to: Sakudaira (Nagano shinkansen), Echigo-Yuzawa (Niigata); and to Nasu-Shiobara (Tohoku). It is also valid on some private lines. In effect this pass covers everywhere shown on the Around Tokyo map, other than the Hakone region. The designated area includes: Nikko (JR or Tobu services); the Kawaguchi-ko area; Kawagoe; to Odawara (for Hakone) but not on the Tokaido shinkansen; to Izukyu-Shimoda (for Shimoda); Kamakura; Yokohama; Narita and Haneda airports; the New Shuttle line (to the Railway Museum). In the ski season it is also valid between Echigo-Yuzawa and Gala Yuzawa (see box p352); pass-holders are entitled to some discounts at the resort.

       If this pass is used on shinkansen services on one day at least and you don’t mind doing day trips rather than staying over this pass provides excellent value, It means you can be based in Tokyo for several days but do a lot of sightseeing and then possibly only need a 7-day Japan Rail Pass for a 14-day holiday.

 

JR East

       5 days (in 14)       Tohoku Area Pass                          ¥19,000 (£119/$167)

       5 days (in 14)       Niigata, Nagano Pass                       ¥18,000* (£112/$158)

       3-day                     Tokyo Wide Pass                           ¥10,000 (£62/$88)

 

Notes

* The pass costs an additional ¥1000 if bought in Japan;

• Apart from the Japan Rail Pass all passes are available for Ordinary Class only

• Children aged 5 and under travel free providing they do not occupy a seat; those aged 6-11 pay half the adult rate.

• Prices are fixed in yen, but the charge is payable in local currency. The prices in brackets are for guidance only. The dollar ($) rates are US dollars.

 

 

JR West rail passes

• Sanyo Sanin Area Pass (See box p30)  This pass includes travel on the shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Hakata (with reserved seats) as well as on limited express services in the designated area, which is most of Western Honshu and some of Kansai.

      For a 14-day holiday in Japan this pass combined with the Hokuriku Arch Pass (see p33) would cost about ¥3000 less than a 14-day Japan Rail Pass. However, the downside would be that you can’t see Kyushu beyond Hakata, nor can you spontaneously head off to Shikoku, both of which you could with a Japan Rail Pass. For itinerary suggestions see pp45-6.

Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass (See box p30)  Valid on Sanyo shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Okayama, services to Shingu (inc Kansai Airport) from Osaka, Kyoto or Nara as well as services on the Thunderbird LEX up to Kanazawa and from there on the Hokuriku shinkansen (excluding Kagayaki services) east to Joetsu-Myoko. The pass is also valid on some non JR lines as long as the pass-holder only stops at the stations that link with the JR lines.

       It is important to note that services to Takayama are not included; nor is the reserved seat fee for any shinkansen service; nor is the pass valid for the Tokaido shinkansen between Kyoto/Maibara and Shin-Osaka. For itinerary suggestions see p46.

       For more details on all these passes, see www.westjr.co.jp

 

JR West

       7-day                     Sanyo San’in Area Pass          ¥19,000* (£119/$167)

       7-day                     Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass    ¥15,000* (£94/$132)

Notes

The pass costs an additional ¥1000 if bought in Japan;

• Apart from the Japan Rail Pass all passes are available for Ordinary Class only

• Children aged 5 and under travel free providing they do not occupy a seat; those aged 6-11 pay half the adult rate.

• Prices are fixed in yen, but the charge is payable in local currency. The prices in brackets are for guidance only. The dollar ($) rates are US dollars.

 

JR Hokkaido rail passes

(See box p30)  The passes are valid on all JR Hokkaido trains (inc with reserved seats) but not on the Hokkaido shinkansen and therefore not for the journey from Honshu to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto (for Hokkaido). The Hokkaido Rail Pass is available as a 3-, 5- and 7-day pass, or a flexible 4-day pass that can be used on any 4 days in a 10-day period from the date of issue. All can be bought in Hokkaido or at JR East Travel Service Centers.

       JR Hokkaido also sells a 7-day Hokkaido Round Tour Pass (Hokkaido Furii Passu), which costs ¥26,230 (£164/US$231). The ticket – which, unlike the other rail passes, can be purchased by anyone – offers 7-day unlimited rides in the Ordinary Car unreserved carriages of express/limited express services as well as on some JR Hokkaido buses. You can make up to six seat reservations for free during the validity of the pass. However, the pass cannot be used during peak holiday seasons: Golden Week (29th April-5th May), Obon (mid August), and New Year.

       See also www.jrhokkaido.co.jp and for itinerary suggestions see p46.

 

JR Hokkaido                Hokkaido Rail Pass

       3-day                     ¥16,500 (£103/$145)       5-day    ¥22,000 (£137/$194)

       4-day (flexible)     ¥22,000 (£137/$194)       7-day    ¥24,000 (£150/$211)

Notes

• Apart from the Japan Rail Pass all passes are available for Ordinary Class only

• Children aged 5 and under travel free providing they do not occupy a seat; those aged 6-11 pay half the adult rate.

• Prices are fixed in yen, but the charge is payable in local currency. The prices in brackets are for guidance only. The dollar ($) rates are US dollars.

 

 

JR Kyushu rail passes

(See also box p30)  JR Kyushu has two main pass options: one is valid for the northern part of the island only (including Nagasaki and Kumamoto on the west side and to Oita on the east coast); the other covers the whole island. Both can be used for travel on Mizuho services, which the Japan Rail Pass does not permit. However, neither can be used on shinkansen services north from Hakata (Fukuoka) as they are operated by JR West. Up to 10/16 free seat reservations can be made for the 3-day/5-day passes.

       Non-Japanese tourists as well as Japanese who have permanent residency in another country can use these passes and they can be bought in Japan.

       For more details see www.jrkyushu.co.jp; for itinerary suggestions see p46.

 

JR Kyushu

       3-day/5-day  Northern Kyushu Pass   ¥8500 (£53/$75) / ¥10,000 (£62/$88)

       3-day/5-day  All Kyushu Area Pass    ¥15,000 (£94/$132) / ¥18,000 (£112/$158)

 

Notes

• Apart from the Japan Rail Pass all passes are available for Ordinary Class only

• Children aged 5 and under travel free providing they do not occupy a seat; those aged 6-11 pay half the adult rate.

• Prices are fixed in yen, but the charge is payable in local currency. The prices in brackets are for guidance only. The dollar ($) rates are US dollars.

 

 

JR Shikoku rail pass

(See also box p30) The All Shikoku Rail Pass permits unlimited travel (2-5 consecutive days) on all JR Shikoku services (up to Kojima station on Honshu) as well as those provided by private rail companies (Kotoden, Iyotetsu, Tosaden, Tosa Kuroshio and Asato). The pass can be bought in Japan.

       See also shikoku-railwaytrip.com and for itinerary suggestions see p47.

 

JR Shikoku                  All Shikoku Rail Pass

          2-day  ¥6300 (£39/$55)                               4-day   ¥7900 (£49/$70)

          3-day  ¥7200 (£45/$63)                               5-day   ¥9700 (£61/$85)

 

• Apart from the Japan Rail Pass all passes are available for Ordinary Class only

• Children aged 5 and under travel free providing they do not occupy a seat; those aged 6-11 pay half the adult rate.

• Prices are fixed in yen, but the charge is payable in local currency. The prices in brackets are for guidance only. The dollar ($) rates are US dollars.

 

Japan by Rail

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