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Travelling in Japan, no doubt, can cost you a fortune no matter where you’re coming from. Although you can expect some nice and cheap foods, accommodation and transportation can still be pretty pricey and eat through your travel budget. When I decided to spend three weeks in Japan a year ago, I came to know about the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) – a deal which could save you from paying a big chunk on transportation in Japan.
To save your time from searching for more information about this golden ticket, here are some of the basic things you should know about the JR Pass.
Please note that the JR Pass might not be a good option for those planning only to visit one or two cities in Japan. It is a better deal for those who plan for multiple cross-region visits.
You can choose the 7, 14 or 21 days pass
Depending on your needs, the JR Pass is available for 7, 14 or 21 days. Once you have activated your pass, you can use it for the next consecutive days depending on the length of your pass. Please keep in mind that the pass is valid only on successive days, so even if you do not use the pass on daily basis, you will not get any additional days.
The prices for the JR Pass on the official website are listed as USD $239 for the 7-day pass, USD $379 for the 14-day pass and USD $487 for the 21-day pass. However, some of the official dealers might have a small additional service charge. Likewise, if you are lucky like I was, you might get a small discount during their promotion period. So, do keep track and check for the best prices. (Note: All the prices are pretty much the same, but some could save you few dollars – not much, but why not).
JR Pass is not eligible for everyone
This is one of the most important things you should know about the JR Pass – it is not for everyone. The pass is designed specifically for foreign visitors with “Temporary Visitor” entry status – in short, if you are a tourist. If you are an exchange student with a student visa (some exchange students, such as those who come during the summer, can still be on a temporary visitor visa, so check what yours is) or on a working holiday visa, then sorry folks, you are not eligible to use the JR Pass.
Also, since the JR Pass is meant for tourists, Japanese nationals are not entitled to use the pass as well. However, Japanese nationals who can prove that they are living permanently overseas are eligible to use the pass.
You can only purchase the JR Pass outside Japan
Although the JR Pass seems like a good deal, many people might not have the full travel details before traveling to Japan. Hence, many of you might want to get the pass once you arrive in Japan. But you cannot buy the JR Pass in Japan. Since the pass is designed specifically for foreign travelers, it can only be purchased by official dealers in your home country. So, if you want to save up some money, then you just have to work out your travel plans earlier.
You will only receive your actual pass in JapanGeoff Stearns/Flickr
Although you have to purchase the pass overseas, you will only get the actual pass when you have arrived in Japan. Once you completed your purchase via the overseas dealer, you will receive something called the “Exchange Order”. You will need to bring along your passport (only your actual passport is accepted, a photocopy is not acceptable) and the Exchange Order to specific offices to receive your actual pass. You can do this in most of the major train stations in Japan.
With JR Pass, you basically can travel everywhere in Japan. The pass allows you to use trains (city and fast trains), buses and ferries operated by the Japan Railway Group. However, there are some exceptions:
JR Pass is not valid for the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen lines, whether on reserved or non-reserved seats.
JR Pass is not valid for travel on express buses.
Except for the JR-West Miyajima ferry, all other ferries operated by the company including the hydrofoil ferry between Hakata and Pusan, Korea are not covered.
It is possible to get a refund for an unused JR Pass
In case you change your mind last minute and do not want to use the JR Pass when travelling in Japan, you can ask for a refund for the JR Pass you have exchanged upon your arrival. Please note that you can only do a refund before your intended starting date to use the pass and a 10 per cent handling fee will be charged.
For those who were told that they are not eligible to use the pass upon their arrival in Japan you can refund by sending your Exchange Order back to the office you purchased it from. You can do so within a year and a certain fee will be charged (usually between 10 to 15 per cent).
JR Pass is not replaceable
Please take a very good care of your pass. The railway company will not replace it for another pass if your pass is damaged, stolen or lost. So, make sure you treat your JR Pass like your passport when traveling. If you lose the pass, you will have to fork out extra money for your future transportation.
Official Page of Japan Rail Pass: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/index.html