Travel Tips

Find the best train pass for your travel plan and budget

Travelling affordably is something most travelers value. Japan Railways and many other public transport companies in Japan offer a variety of discounted tickets for different areas and length of use. Find one that works best for your travel plans, or make your itinerary based around the one of the passes' valid areas to explore many places while keeping to your travel budget.

BY Karolina Höglind

train pass route finder JR
When travelling by train in Japan you can often find discounted tickets or affordable train passes. The most famous one is the Japan Rail Pass, which you can use to ride JR trains and Shinkansen all over Japan.

The variety of affordable tickets and train passes available in Japan will help you make the most of your limited time while keeping travel costs low. Utilize these discounts to combine your sports experience with exploration of areas near the venue. Or use the train passes to travel to many places in a short time, without worrying about spending all of your budget on train tickets.

Things to keep in mind when planning your travels in Japan

The large selection of discounted tickets available, it can feel overwhelming to know what information to look for. These are some things to keep in mind when planning your train travel in Japan!

  1. Who can buy the ticket/pass? – Some tickets can be purchased by anybody, but the most discounted tickets are often only available to tourists. Keep in mind that buying tourist-only discount tickets , often requires showing your passport upon purchase!
  2. When and where to buy it? – Most tickets can be purchased in Japan and the place the ticket is sold varies depending on the company. Often major train stations have a ticket office or a tourist information center selling tickets offered by the railway company/area. For many JR Passes you can often get a discount if you buy them online before coming to Japan. Don’t forget to plan for how and where to get your ticket/pass.
  3. Where can you use it? – A pass allowing you to ride a train or subway as much as you want for a specific amount of time can be extremely beneficial. There are many passes available for traveling in regions across Japan, and some passes have areas that overlap. Having your itinerary planned out will help you find the pass that allows you to go where you want, without paying for access to places you are not planning to visit. Remember that there might also be several companies operating in the same area. A train pass is often restricted to the company issuing the pass, so make sure that your pass is valid on the train you are planning to use!

Travel around Japan by JR

Japan Rail Pass – The affordable ticket for Shinkansen travel across Japan

Undeniably, the most value-for-money ticket you can get is the Japan Rail Pass. One regular fare round-trip between Kyoto and Tokyo by Shinkansen costs almost the same as the 7-day Japan Rail Pass. Available for tourists only, this pass will let you ride JR trains all over Japan, including Shinkansen*, freely within the designated time period. This is the best deal if you are planning to travel a lot across Japan.

Until March 31, 2021, you can buy the Japan Rail Pass within Japan. However, it is only available at a limited number of locations and is sold at a higher price than if you buy it before you arrive. After purchasing it abroad, just bring your exchange voucher to Japan and exchange it for the pass at a JR Travel Service Center. For detailed information about how to buy and use it, visit the Japan Rail Pass official site.

(*The pass cannot be used to make a reservation on some of the faster Shinkansen trains such as Nozomi and Mizuho.)

train pass shinkansen luggage

Check that your bags are within the new baggage size-regulations that will go into effect in May 2020 for the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen. For any larger suitcase, you will need to make a reservation for your luggage, free of charge, in advance. Note that only one piece of larger sized luggage is allowed per passenger, and if you fail to make a reservation you will be charged 1,000 yen.

JR regional passes – When traveling in east Japan

If you are looking to explore what Japan has to offer outside Tokyo but plan to keep to the eastern parts of Japan, the JR East Pass is the perfect answer.

JR East offers a number of passes covering various areas of eastern Japan. Similar to the Japan Rail Pass, many of these cheaper regional train passes are available for foreign tourists only and cheaper to buy before your trip. One example is their JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass. This pass lets you travel from Tokyo all the way to Sapporo. You can also use it to travel around Tokyo on train lines operated by JR such as the popular Yamanote Line and Chuo Line.

jr warppingtrain doors

Don’t miss the JR East’s Olympic and Paralympic design trains. You can see them around Tokyo on some of the local JR train lines and Shinkansen.

There are train passes by JR East that are not limited to foreign tourists, such as the JR Tokyo Wide Pass which is available for anyone with a foreign passport. The JR Seishun 18 Ticket, a set of five 1-day tickets valid on all local and rapid JR trains across Japan, can be used by anyone but is only available during a few weeks in spring, summer, and autumn.

Find all the information about JR East’s passes and tickets at JR East’s website. If your travels will be mainly in other parts of Japan, please refer to each local JR company’s website for information about passes available in the respective region.

train pass midorinomadoguchi

At the JR ticket office known as the Midori no madoguchi (みどりの窓口) you can find information about JR trains and reserve train tickets.

Explore the local train passes for travel outside of Tokyo

When moving outside of Tokyo there is no lack of affordable train passes or discounted roundtrip tickets. Many are tailored for exploring one destination such as Nikko Pass . The pass is sold in Japan to foreign tourists only and is valid for four days. Use it for the roundtrip between Tokyo and Nikko, as well as on trains in the Nikko area during your stay. These types of discount tickets are great for a short escape from Tokyo and often come with additional benefits and discounts in the destination area. When you want to explore places away from Tokyo but don’t know where to go, try to look for good deals on train tickets to guide you to an exciting adventure!

train pass shinkansen entrance

The Japanese train system is very convenient. Not only fast and punctual, you can go almost anywhere you want in the country by train.

Discounts tickets for greater Tokyo and the airports

If you plan on staying within the Greater Tokyo Area, there are still plenty of discount tickets to be found. The Tokyo 1-Day Ticket will let you ride major train lines and buses from various companies, such as JR and Tokyo Metro, in the Tokyo metropolitan area for JPY 1,600 yen per day. With the Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass by JR East, you can ride all regular JR train lines in Tokyo for JPY 760 per day.

Tokyo Metro operates subways in Tokyo as well as some trains to the city’s outskirts. For days involving many rides on the subway, get one of the Tokyo Metro passes. The passes come in variations of 24, 48, or 72 hours of unlimited travel on the Tokyo Subway lines. The passes are also available as a set with tickets to and from Narita or Haneda Airport. Find more information about the various tickets and how to buy them at Tokyo Metro website.

If you fly to Japan through Narita Airport and your return flight is within 14 days, JR East’s N’EX TOKYO Round Trip Ticket is a great deal. The ticket gives you a big discount on a round trip on the Narita Express, one of the fastest and most convenient ways to go between Tokyo and Narita airport. Find more information about it on the JR East website.

The handy IC Cards for tourists

They might not be discount train tickets per-say, but these 28-days, rechargeable IC cards come with a myriad of perks and are definitely worth consideration. With the many public transportation companies in operation, having a single train-card for all the trains and subway lines all over Japan is extremely convenient. Having an IC card allows you to avoid purchasing a ticket every time you use transportation not covered by your pass. Note: if you have a one-day metro pass, don’t use your IC card as well. IC cards can also be used for purchases inside stations, at some shops near stations and at most convenience stores. The two biggest IC cards in Tokyo, Suica and Pasmo both have a beautiful design that will make you want to bring it back home as a memento.

train pass WELCOME SUICA

These are only a handful of all the train passes and tickets Japan has to offer. It is safe to assume that wherever you are traveling in Japan, there is probably a discounted ticket for going there, getting around in the area, or something that covers both. Use it to your advantage, see the many sides of Japan and make your trip into something you will never forget!

Karolina Höglind
Swedish 7 years living in Tokyo

Sweden born and bred Tokyoite. She started her journey to Japan as many others, through watching Sailor Moon on TV from a young age. Now her interest stretches out to culture, food and social issues. While studying at a Japanese university, she worked as an editor for a Tokyo-based culture magazine and as a radio host. She now spends her time as an office worker by day and Tokyo explorer by night.

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