There's a new, updated version of this article. Please read it here: JR Rail Pass - Everything you need to know
Japan Rail Pass
image courtesy of notchtravel.blogspot.com
What is the Japan Rail Pass?
For foreign visitors, there's a thing called the 'Japan Rail Pass'. With this pass, you're allowed to unlimited travel on any train in Japan except the“NOZOMI” and “MIZUHO” trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, and many JR busses and some ferries too.
The main advantage is of course, that you pay a set price for the pass. It costs 29110 yen for 7 days, 31470 for 14 days, and 59350 for 21 days (prices for ordinary tickets for adults, as of November 2014). When you travel a lot, especially longer distances, this can be quite a good deal. What's also an advantage, is that you don't have to buy tickets at the station anymore, saving you lots of time and maybe also some quarrels with your travel partner. Note: you still have to make reservations for the Shinkansen bullet trains.
Who can buy Japan Rail Passes?
Since the passes are a way of promoting and facilitating tourism in Japan, the passes are limited to short-term visitors to the country. Too bad for Japanese or foreigners living in Japan who have their friends or family over, but you'll have to pay the full price for the separate tickets. For more information, click here and here.
Where to get your Japan Rail Pass?
You have to buy your Rail Pass on beforehand since you cannot buy it inside Japan. Travel agencies and agents as well as travel websites offer the Rail Passes. Be sure to buy yours from an authorized dealer. The official list of dealers can be found here.
Riding the trains of Japan!
You've received your 'exchange order', and then?
You cannot board trains with just this exchange order. You'll first have to complete some paperwork at a Japan Rail Pass desk (takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how big your group is), found at the airports of Narita, Haneda, Kansai and New-Chitose, and many railway stations throughout Japan. See here for a comprehensive list.
After the exchange, you receive a the actual ticket, which grants you access to (almost) any train in Japan when shown to thestation staff. You cannot use the automated ticket gates, but should always pass a booth.
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