So you've decided on visiting Japan and need to know what is the best way to get around. This all depends on the itinerary you have, whether you plan on visiting more than one city, and the amount of time you are visiting for. If you decide to follow TrekPrep's 9 days through Japan itinerary, then the Japan Rail Pass is your best bet for transportation.
What You Need To Know
What is the JR Pass? - It is a train (rail) pass that allows you to access to every JR rail line and most of the local lines available in all the major cities and tourist destinations. It can be purchased for either 7, 14, or 21 days and has the option to choose between the "ordinary" or "green" option for seating. We recommend going for the ordinary if you wish to save money, as the green represents the luxury seating option for the JR. Furthermore, it includes all transportation costs around the Hakone Loop.
How Does the JR Pass Work? - When you have a JR Pass in hand, the first thing you will need to do is activate it. This can be done at one of the select locations listed below. Once activated, you can just show your pass to the station attendant at the entrance counter and will be waived on through, if you are traveling via local city lines. For longer journeys between cities, you will have to reserve your seat on a JR rail car (at least a day before). This can be done at any of the JR ticket offices located in a majority of stations.
Where can I purchase a JR Pass? - You can purchase a JR Pass either online or at one of the following select JR rail offices: Sapporo, Sendai, Niigata, Tokyo, Shinjuku, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Takamatsu, or Hakata. For airports, the list is as follows: New Chitose Airport, Narita Airport, Haneda Airport, Kansai Airport.
We highly suggest purchasing your JR Pass online before you leave, as it will be cheaper. The picture below outlines the price breakout for 7, 14, and 21 days, as well as between the ordinary and green status for Adult and Child. (There are several different websites that you can purchase the JR pass online from. Because of this the cost range between companies fluctuates around $10. These prices are as of January 2019 for USD):
Should I choose the Green over the Ordinary Pass? - The major differences between the green cart and ordinary cart is a matter of more spacious seats and less crowded. For more people, the ordinary pass is the way to go since it is cheaper and you can afford to do a little less on luxury. On the other hand, if you have the extra funds, the green option is the way to go if you wish to travel in style but remember that you still have to reserve your seat when traveling.
I forgot to reserve my seat or there aren't reserved seats available..is there another option? - Reserving a seat is the most guaranteed way to put you on any JR train, but don't fret if you didn't make the cut. Be sure to ask if there are non-reserved carts available on your next trip, as this gives you the option to hop on and take any seat in those select cars. If all those seats are full, then your next option is to stand in the inter-car area (where the bathrooms and call rooms are located) and wait it out. While it's not the most ideal, it will still get you to the next city with no trouble!
I'm staying for 9 days, but only bought a 7 day JR Pass..How do I get around for the 2 extra days? - With the two extra days you'll have, you can purchase a Suica rail card and put money on it to get around. We recommend putting between $40-$60 on it to cover the two days without the JR Pass, as well as for local lines that do not support the JR Pass (this is important to remember, especially if you plan on taking a day trip to Nikko or have to take the bus system to get around Kyoto).
Thank you for reading are short article on what you need to know before you go on the value of purchasing a JR Pass on your next trip to Japan. If you want any ideas or need inspiration, please visit our itineraries page for more!