Should I Buy a Japan Rail Pass? Cheap Train Travel in Japan

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One of the first pieces of advice I give to people traveling to Japan is to get a Japan Rail Pass. I also get the question “should I buy a Japan Rail Pass?” very often. Not only is it super fun to ride the super fast bullet train, with a Japan Rail Pass it’s super convenient. It can also save you hundreds of dollars.

But you look at the price of a JR Pass and are intimidated by how much they cost. Without proper knowledge, you could easily blow your Japan travel budget.

Should I Buy a Japan Rail Pass?

Should I buy a Japan Rail Pass? Yes! JR Pass & shinkansen ticket

NIKON D5200 (35mm, f/2.5, 1/40 sec, ISO100)
JR Pass & shinkansen Ticket… on a shinkansen!

So let’s work out if you should buy a JR Pass. Prices below are in AUD (use xe.com to convert into your local currency).

Scenario 1: 7 days in Japan

Most people who are planning a week of travel in Japan will typically land in Tokyo, then travel to Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Cost of shinkansen (bullet train) travel WITHOUT a JR Pass:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto: $144
  • Kyoto to Hiroshima: $118
  • Hiroshima to Tokyo: $197
  • TOTAL: $459

Cost of the same trip with a JR Pass:

  • 7 day ordinary JR Pass: $315
  • Postage: $15
  • TOTAL: $340
7 day pass saving =
$119

This example is very conservative, i.e. a low estimate.

It’s more than likely you’ll travel to other places than just Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima.

This also totally excludes any local JR train travel, which you can use to get around Tokyo.

Scenario 2: 21 days in Japan

This scenarios follows the basic itinerary of my first ever trip to Japan. Just like the example above, this excludes local JR train travel within cities.

Cost of shinkansen travel WITHOUT a JR Pass:

  • Osaka to Kyoto: $30
  • Kyoto to Okayama: $80
  • Okayama to Takahashi (return): $18
  • Okayama to Osaka: $64
  • Osaka to Fukuoka: $160
  • Fukuoka to Okayama: $132
  • Okayama to Wakayama (via Osaka): $79
  • Wakayama to Osaka: $29
  • Osaka to Nara (return): $17
  • Osaka to Tokyo: $150
  • Tokyo to Osaka: $150
  • TOTAL: $909

Cost of the same trip with a JR Pass:

  • 7 day ordinary JR Pass: $643
  • Postage: $15
  • TOTAL: $658
7 day pass saving =
$251

Should I Buy a Japan Rail Pass? Yes, you should!

As you can see above, you’ll save a lot of cash with a JR Pass.

Not only is it convenient, it also offers a lot of freedom. You can jump on and off bullet trains in the unreserved seating cars, meaning you don’t have to go to the ticket office.

You can travel on a whim. My mate and I hadn’t even heard of Fukuoka when we first went to Japan, but went for an impromptu visit after chatting to some locals at a bar in Osaka.

Work out how much you can save!

Use the table below to figure out how much your trip would cost if you didn’t buy a JR Pass. At the time of writing, here are the ordinary JR Pass prices in Australian dollars:

  • 7 days: $315
  • 14 days: $502
  • 21 days: $643

One-way shinkansen ticket prices (JPY/AUD/USD)

Tokyo Nagoya Kyoto Osaka Himeji Okayama Hiroshima
Nagoya ¥ 10,580
Kyoto ¥ 13,220 ¥ 5,440
Osaka ¥ 13,750 ¥ 6,180 ¥ 2,730
Himeji ¥ 15,210 ¥ 8,380 ¥ 5,130 ¥ 3,640
Okayama ¥ 16,360 ¥ 10,580 ¥ 7,330 ¥ 5,860 ¥ 3,640
Hiroshima ¥ 18,050 ¥ 13,430 ¥ 10,790 ¥ 9,950 ¥ 8,070 ¥ 5,860
Fukuoka ¥ 21,720 ¥ 17,530 ¥ 15,210 ¥ 14,590 ¥ 13,430 ¥ 12,060 ¥ 8,700
Tokyo Nagoya Kyoto Osaka Himeji Okayama Hiroshima
Nagoya $116
Kyoto $144 $60
Osaka $150 $68 $30
Himeji $166 $92 $56 $40
Okayama $179 $116 $80 $64 $40
Hiroshima $197 $147 $118 $109 $88 $64
Fukuoka $237 $191 $166 $159 $147 $132 $95

1 AUD = 91.3912 JPY

Tokyo Nagoya Kyoto Osaka Himeji Okayama Hiroshima
Nagoya $103
Kyoto $129 $53
Osaka $134 $60 $27
Himeji $149 $82 $50 $36
Okayama $160 $103 $72 $57 $36
Hiroshima $177 $131 $106 $97 $79 $57
Fukuoka $212 $171 $149 $143 $131 $118 $85

1 USD = 102.256 JPY

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