All of us who travel to Japan (from overseas) can benefit from the purchase of a JR Pass. However, the myriad of JR Pass options means some people are paying more than they need to. In order to maximise value for money, travellers need to consider the region they will be spending time in and the length of stay, before purchasing their JR Pass.
JR offers two nationwide passes that allow the holder to use their pass on JR services across all of Japan. Your choice of pass depends upon the length of your stay, 7, 14 or 21 days. If your travel includes Tokyo and Osaka and you’re in Japan for more than 10/11 days, your best option is the 14 Day Pass. The problem though is that once you begin using it, your 14 days will being counting down. Something to keep in mind when planning to get to the airport for your return flight. Fortunately, JR provides other options.
If you’re in Japan for just 5-10 days and you’re staying in the east (Tokyo, Yokohama, Narita), the JR East Pass is best for you. JR East provides a little more flexibility as travellers can use the pass on any 5 days within the span of 14 days. The major task with your 5-day pass is figuring out which days will be the most expensive travel days on your trip. Once you’ve done that you know which days to pull out the pass and which days to manually pay for your train.
There is also a host of West Japan JR Passes, that are convenient for travellers arriving in Osaka. The pick of them being the Kansai Hokuriku 7 Day Pass. It’s only 15,000 yen, and with it, you can take in all the sights of Kyoto and Osaka, plus historic Kanazawa to the north. The pass allows users to travel as far west as quaint Kurashiki, though if you don’t want to travel that far you can stop at Himeji to visit the city’s famed castle. Again the customer should put some thought into the date of the activation of his/her JR Pass.
To sum up, carefully plan the location and length of stay before making your JR Pass purchase. Activating the pass on a day that allows for your convenient return to the airport is a must, as well as considering the region/s you will be visiting. Finally, be careful of unplanned day trips when using the JR East 5 Day Pass, as finding yourself paying 9,000 yen to catch your return flight is not a pleasant experience.
NOTE: JR East Pass will be divided into JR East ‘Nagano – Niigata’ region and JR East ‘Tohoku’ region from April 2016 onward.
For more detailed information, check out the Japan Rail Pass Website