By far the best option for visitors who plan to do a lot of travelling is the Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on almost all JR Trains, including the Shinkansen, for a fixed period of 7, 14 or 21 days.
Whereas a single round trip from Tokyo to Osaka costs almost ¥29,000, the 7-day Rail Pass in Ordinary Class is ¥29,110.
The 14-day and 21-day ordinary pass is ¥46,390 and ¥59,350, respectively.
Green Car Rail Passes cost ¥38,880, ¥62,950 and ¥81,870 for 7, 14 and 21 days, respectively, and include unlimited travel in Green Car seating. "See Green Cars Below". "Prices: As of April 2016".
You should also note that there are other passes for particular regions, so if you are only or primarily interested in a certain area, you may want to consider a local or regional pass.
The Pass Can Only Be Purchased Outside of Japan from Specific Vendors listed on the official website which includes Japanese Airlines JAL and ANA if you are travelling with them. Additionally there are many vendors who will purchase one for you for a markup or fee. Although the price is in Japanese Yen, you will generally pay in your local currency with the local price altered usually monthly or weekly depending on the exchange rate and the vendor.
The reservations are free, so even if you are not entirely settled with your plans, you can reserve everything at the start and make changes later at no cost. Also, many trains fill up far in advance, particularly around holidays, and also many special excursion trains can sell out well in advance, and you can only make advance reservations after receiving your pass, and even if the route is sold out, attempting to reserve your seats early will also allow you time make any changes to your plans that may be needed.
You should also note that you can start your pass up to one month from the date you turn in the exchange order, but you can make reservations as soon as you receive the pass, so even if you want to, for example, spend a week in Tokyo before travelling to further locations, you should exchange for your pass and make reservations as early as possible.
JR Ferry to Miyajima
Japan Rail Pass Exceptions
- You are not allowed to travel on Nozomi or Mizuho services on the Tokaido, San'yo, or Kyushu Shinkansen lines "the full fare has to be paid".
- You must pay extra for "GranClass", a premium first class cabin on some JR East Shinkansen trains. You must pay the limited express fare and GranClass fare "for example, about ¥17,000 between Tokyo and Aomori".
- You must also pay extra surcharges for beds on overnight trains "though some also offer some regular seating which are covered".
- Some JR trains travel partially on non-JR track, so there is a small surcharge for these sections on some routes.
Regional JR Companies also sell their own passes that cover only parts of the country. They are generally poorer value overall because the journeys are shorter, but they often also cover private lines in the covered area, so if you are spending several days in a particular area, it may pay to consider a regional pass. Unlike the main Rail Pass, most of these can be purchased in the country "at any major JR station", but they're still mostly limited to individuals with visitor visa.
When you make any rail journey "even if you obtained a ticket using your Rail Pass", you will need to show the Rail Pass at the manned ticket barrier. This is inconvenient if there is a queue, but it is usually acceptable to flash your pass at the ticket-taker as you slip past the other customers transacting business with JR. Occasionally, there is no window, and you’ll have to jump the gate and show the pass to the security guard, if they stop you.
Special Services at JR Affiliated Hotels
Japan Rail Pass holders can take advantage of special accommodation plans and discount rates.
The main catches are that tickets are only valid on Local and Rapid JR Trains and that, tickets are valid only during school holidays "March-April, & July-September & December-January", so you need good timing and plenty of time on your hands to use it. The price for the Seishun 18 is the same for adults and children.
The unlimited rides also include use of the JR Miyajima Ferry for travel from the mainland to the island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima.
Many travelers find the size and foot room of ordinary seats sufficient, but those who wish to have additional luxury, should go for the green car.
Train Accommodations - Depending on where you travel in Japan, Green Cars do have some little perks. If you travel in the Green Car on JR East bullet trains north of Tokyo, for example, you are entitled to a free drink once you are on board.
Tokaido and San'yo Shinkansen Green Cars have softer lighting with access to six channels of in-cabin audio - mostly in Japanese, with the occasional English language lesson included. If travelling on the Hikari or Nozomi you will receive hot towel service.
Only on the premium Nozomi will you will be greeted by a female attendant who will bow to you as you enter the train and check your tickets in place of the train conductor.