Let’s get to it. Right off the bat, I’m going to tell you that there is an easy way and a more authentic way to buying a Japan Rail Pass (JRP), and I’m going to give you the easy way first. To start things off, here are the 3 most important resources you’ll need for researching and purchasing a JRP.
BOOM! You just bookmarked those pages, right? Good, let’s move on.
What It Is
A JRP allows you to travel conveniently and comfortably throughout Japan via an extensive system of long-distance bullet trains, buses, and ferries. The pass gives you unlimited access to said transportation systems for either 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days.
IMPORTANT NOTE: JRPs must be purchased BEFORE you arrive in Japan. Once you’re in the country, you won’t be able to get your hands on one and will have to buy individual train tickets instead.
The Easy Way
After you’ve done your research, you can simply purchase your JRPs online at JRPass.com (the second website listed above). They will ship it to you via FedEx within 2-3 business days. If you’re on a tight schedule, whether at work or traveling, this will be the most convenient option for you. Easy, right? The website even has a forum and videos to help you figure stuff out like how to look up train timetables, which JRP option is right for your trip, and a lot more. Any question you could ever have about buying and using JRPs is answered on this website. On the off chance that it’s not, like I said, there are forums where you can get answers usually within 24 hours.
The Authentic Way
Much like trying to get a Russian visa, the authentic way of buying a Japan Rail Pass can be a bit of a headache because it’ll sit on your to-do list forever, never moving up in priority. First, you will have to get what is known as an Exchange Order (XO). To find out where XOs are sold, see here. Click on your continent and find a location nearest you. You’ll have to go into the office, fill out some paperwork, and hand over the cash. When all is said and done, hang on to your XO because you will need to turn it in for the actual JRP when you get to Japan. Seems simple enough but can be time consuming to accomplish with a busy schedule.
The Price to Pay
Hope you’re in good health because the bad news is that a Japan Rail Pass will cost an arm, a leg, and one of your kidneys. However, you’ll be selling all of your organs on the black market, if you buy individual tickets in the country. JRPs are actually the money-saving option. Here is the breakdown:
For the different types of passes (green vs. ordinary), think of it as you would on a flight. Green is for business class and ordinary is for economy class. Given that the current exchange rate is $1 USD = 80 YEN (for other currency exchange rates to the YEN, use xe.com), the prices in USD for an adult pass in ordinary class are $356 (7-day), $568 (14-day), and a whopping $725 (21-day). Start saving that cash money now!
Once you have your XO, you must turn it in for the actual JRP within 3 months from the date it was issued. After you’ve got the JRP, you can specify the date you want to start using it, and it must be within one month of receiving it. The pass then becomes valid for use for the 7, 14, or 21 days following the date stamped on it. Be aware that once your pass is marked with a date, it cannot be changed.
With a JRP, you’ll be able to walk onto any car with non-reserved seats. It’s first come, first served. If you want a reserved seat, you can get one free of charge at the travel center at the train station. During high season and holidays, it would be best to reserve seats days to weeks in advance as trains can fill up quickly.
There are luggage racks above the seats and enough legroom in each row for backpacks or carry on sized suitcases. If you put your bags by your feet, just make sure you’re being respectful of the person next to you by not crowding their space. Enjoy your luggage fee free ride!