The Japan Rail Pass is a recommended piece of equipment for anyone visiting Japan. Not only do they provide access to Japanese rail networks but they also allow you to access bus and ferry services.

There are two main types of pass – the regional pass, which is cheaper and limited to services in one specific part of Japan and the national JR pass, which can be used on just about every service across the country.

So long as you are a foreign national and not staying longer than 90 days (i.e. you are not seeking work and just visiting) you can buy a pass. They can only be bought outside of Japan through recognised vendors. Details can be found on the JNTO website.

http://www.jnto.go.jp

The pass is not actually bought outside Japan, rather a voucher. This must be exchanged at one of several large train stations in Japan for the pass, within 3 months of you purchasing the voucher. The pass is valid for a certain number of consecutive days, unless specified.

The cost of the passes might seem high but unless you plan on doing little travelling, or will use a hire car, the savings are considerable. Plus you can budget for the passes, whereas if you buy tickets each time you travel, the cost can sneak up on you. Japan is an expensive place and it is easy to under budget. Travelling by rail is no exception! A pass ensures that you won’t have to worry about spending too much money travelling to places of interest.

Note, however, that no passes are valid for the NOZOMI shinkansen train or services on any private lines. However this is easily avoided with a little planning.

A useful tip when buying is to shop around. Many vendors will offer different exchange rates so it pays to compare prices. I was able to get a significant discount after looking at three different agents.

Passes for children (6-11) are 50% - under that age travel is free. Green passes allow use of the first-class carriages. At the time of this writing, the different types of passes available and costs were the following.

Japan Rail Pass
7-day – Y 28,300 (c.£162) Ordinary, Y 37,800 (c.£216) Green
14-day – Y 45,100 (c.£258) Ordinary, Y 61,200 (c.£350) Green
21-day – Y 57,700 (c.£330) Ordinary, Y 79,600 (c.£455) Green

JR Kyushu Rail Pass
5-day – Y 15,000 (c.£86) Ordinary
7-day – Y 20,000 (c.£114)£Ordinary

JR West – Sanyo Area Pass
4-day – Y 20,000 (c.£114) Ordinary
8-day – Y 30,000 (c.£171) Ordinary

JR West – Kansai Area Pass
1-day – Y 2,000 (c.£11) Ordinary
4-day – Y 6,000 (c.£34) Ordinary

JR East Rail Pass
5-day – Y 20,000 (c.£114) Ordinary, Y 28,000 (c.£160) Green
10-day – Y 32,000 Ordinary (c.£182), Y44,000 (c.£251) Green
4-day flexible – Y 20,000 (c.£114) Ordinary, Y 28,000 (c.£160) Green

JR East Youth Rail Pass (12-25)
5-day – Y 16,000 (c.£91) Ordinary
10-day – Y 25,000 (c.£143) Ordinary
4-day flexible – Y 16,000 (c.£91) Ordinary

Further information can be found at http://www.train-ticket.net/japan/

Souces:
JNTO website
Train-ticket.net

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