Should I Buy A JR Pass If I'm Travelling To Tokyo, Kyoto And Osaka?


Faruq Senin •  Oct 07, 2019

Besides yummy Japanese cuisine, amazing culture and picturesque natural scenery, one thing that Japan is famous for is its efficient public transportation.

Credit: Giphy

But as efficient as it might be, the multiple train lines and train passes can be confusing for travellers. It's no doubt that one of the most popular routes for travellers to Japan is the Golden Route of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Here's one question we get a lot from readers - "Should I get a JR Pass when travelling to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka?" Well, we're here to help you break it down ?

What is JR Pass?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the JR Pass (or Japan Rail Pass), it's actually a train pass that offers unlimited travel across the major JR lines and certain local buses and ferries across Japan for a period of 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. There are two types of passes you can get - ordinary and green car. Green cars are first-class seats which are more spacious and offer more comfort. Here's a breakdown of prices for the JR Pass:

  • 7 days (Ordinary): JPY29650 (RM1163/SGD383/Rp. 3.9m)
  • 7 days (Green Car): JPY39600 (RM1553/SGD512/Rp. 5.2m)
  • 14 days (Ordinary): JPY47250 (RM1853/SGD610/Rp. 6.3m)
  • 14 days (Green Car): JPY64120 (RM2514/SGD828/Rp. 8.5m)
  • 21 days (Ordinary): JPY60450 (RM2370/SGD780/Rp. 8m)
  • 21 days (Green Car): JPY83390 (RM3270/SGD1077/Rp. 11m)

As many travellers will be spending at least a week or more in Japan, most of them will be contemplating if they should get the 7-day JR Pass. Because of this, we'll only be focusing on the 7-day pass (ordinary) for the rest of this article.

#HHWT Tip: As the pass is only sold to tourists, you'll need to purchase your pass before you leave for Japan and an exchange order will be delivered to you. Once in Japan, you'll need to redeem the exchange order at JR offices of main train stations and airports. You can get your JR Pass on Klook!

With the JR Pass, you can reserve your seats on JR trains without any additional cost. One of the things to note is that you can hop on all Shinkansen (high-speed trains) which can be used to travel between cities except the fastest trains, Nozomi and Mizuho.

JR Pass - to buy or not to buy?

Now that you roughly know what the JR Pass entails, the main thing that you'll be asking yourself is whether you should even purchase it in the first place. We recommend you to do ample research before your trip.

The most important thing you have to do is to decide on the length of your trip and plan out your route before purchasing the JR Pass. It's also essential to ask yourself these questions - do you prefer travelling at a fast pace (possibly 1-2 days in each city)? Or do you prefer to take it slow and spend at least 3-4 days in a city?

Once you map out your route and decide the number of days for your trip, you should know if the pass will be suitable for you. Here are some questions that we frequently get from our readers:

1. Should I get the JR Pass if I'm travelling to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka?

Credit: Chris Mcintyre on Facebook

As mentioned earlier, the Golden Route is very popular. One-way tickets (with reserved seats) from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station cost from JPY13850 (not Mizuho or Nozomi trains) and the journey will take from 2h 38min with the Hikari Shinkansen, and 3h 42min with the Kodama Shinkansen.

Meanwhile, do note that if you're travelling from Tokyo to Osaka via the Shinkansen, the station that you should alight at in Osaka is Shin-Osaka Station and not Osaka Station.  One-way tickets (with reserved seats) from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka Station cost from JPY14400 (not Mizuho or Nozomi trains) and the journey will take from 2h 53min with the Hikari Shinkansen, and 3h 57min with the Kodama Shinkansen.

Kyoto and Osaka are located not far from each other and the journey between both cities takes from 15-30 minutes depending on the type of train you take. Train tickets between both cities range from around JPY570 to JPY3070. Assuming that you're travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto then Osaka, the cheapest you'll be spending is around JPY14420 (without the JR Pass).

So, the JR Pass is only worth it if:

  • a) You'll be making a round trip back to Tokyo from either Osaka or Kyoto or vice-versa
  • b) The total duration of your trip from Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka is within 7 days

That's exactly what we did on our 7D6N Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka trip but do note that you'll only have 2-3 days in each city. To make the pass even more worth it, you can use your JR Pass on the Narita Express to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo and vice-versa (worth from JPY3070 one-way).

While in Tokyo and its surrounds, you can also rely on the JR lines to get around. The JR Yamanote Line serves most of the main tourist areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ueno and Tokyo Station. However, do note that you'll most likely have to use the local train lines to get around in Kyoto and Osaka.

Cost (without pass): from JPY31910 (round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka and Narita Express)

Cost (with pass): from JPY29650

Cost savings: from JPY2260

If your trip is more than 7 days...

If your trip is more than 7 days (eg. 8-10 days), we'd still recommend the JR Pass as long as you're not travelling long distances to other cities after the 7-day period.

Credit: @katanamart on Instagram

What we'd recommend you to do is to slot in a day trip or two to nearby towns and cities. For example, from Osaka or Kyoto, why not make a stop at Nara to see the adorable deers or Kobe to discover Japan's oldest mosque and savour yummy Kobe beef?

Similarly, from Tokyo, you can take a trip to Kamakura to explore Japan's historical temples and shrines or perhaps you'd want to soak in the relaxing atmosphere of Yokohama. Both cities are only about 30 min-1h away from Tokyo. If you have more time to spare, we recommend travelling about 2-3 hours to the scenic mountain town of Nikko which is known for its World Heritage shrines and picturesque natural sights.

These places mentioned above are also accessible with JR lines so you can even add them into your 7-day itinerary if you'd like!

2. Should I get the JR Pass if I'm travelling beyond Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka?

If you're a little more adventurous and want to cover more cities on your trip, then you need to do a little bit more research and compare the cost of travelling with and without the JR Pass.

One website that we find really useful is Hyperdia. All you have to do is input your start and endpoint, and you'll be able to see how much a one-way trip costs.

Credit: @uminonakamichiseasidepark on Instagram

Usually, the JR Pass is only worth it if you're travelling over long distances. For example, if you're heading from Tokyo to Osaka and then south to Fukuoka, the total cost without a pass would be around JPY29680. Similarly, if you're making a trip from Tokyo up north to Sapporo in Hokkaido, it'll cost JPY29410. The cost of both trips already exceeds the cost of the JR Pass and that's when it'll be cheaper to get a JR Pass.

Of course, the more long-distance trips and stops you make during your vacay, your JR Pass becomes more worth it. For those of you who want to make full use of your JR Pass, check out our guide to conquering Japan's 7 best cities in 7 days with the JR Pass!

#HHWT Tip: Be sure to refer to this nationwide JR Pass route map for a better idea of where you can use your JR Pass.

3. Should I get the JR Pass if I'm heading to Tokyo and visiting Mt Fuji and/or Hakone?

Besides the 3 main cities, many travellers are also interested in visiting Mt Fuji and/or Hakone. Both areas are full of beautiful natural scenery which makes for a refreshing respite from Tokyo ?

Credit: Visit Mt.Fuji - The Top of Japan on Facebook

If you're only visiting Tokyo and Mt Fuji and/or Hakone during your trip, we won't recommend getting the JR Pass as you won't be able to use it in both areas. However, what's great is that both areas have their own travel pass which makes it really easy to get around!

Mt Fuji Pass

With the Mt Fuji Pass, you can travel around Mt Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes area conveniently with unlimited rides on the Omni sightseeing buses and Fujikyu railway lines. Plus, you can also gain free entry to several attractions in the area ? You can get 1, 2 or 3-day passes and prices start from SGD69/RM209/Rp. 708k on Klook.

Hakone Free Pass

Similar to Mt Fuji, you can also travel around Hakone using the Hakone Free Pass. The pass covers unlimited travels on 8 different types of transportation in Hakone and you can use it for 2 or 3 days. Not only will you get a round-trip on the Odakyu Railway from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto Station, but you’d also be able to ride the Hakone Tozan Train, Hakone Tozan Bus, Hakone Ropeway and even a sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi. Furthermore, you’d be able to get a discount at over 50 places (including hot spring resorts and souvenir shops) when you use the pass ? Prices start from SGD72.75/RM221/Rp. 747k on Klook.

With these useful tips, we hope you're now more informed about the pros and cons of purchasing the JR Pass if you're planning to visit Japan's main cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The most important thing is to plan out your route and decide on the length of your trip before buying your JR Pass! Do remember to SHARE this with your friends who are planning their Japan trip and let us know what other concerns you have about travelling by public transport in Japan ?