So, you're planning to go to Japan? Well, you made a great choice, because Japan is one of my most favorite countries to visit!
There's a lot of things to see in Japan and to reach beyond the capital, there are things you have to know. The first thing to know: traveling around Japan is relatively pricey. Therefore, getting a rail pass that covers most areas in Japan is one of the best things you can do to save some money while exploring throughout the country.
But, before you purchase one, it's best to know whether the pass is really for your budget and goes well with your itinerary. Because, just so you know, Japanese public transportation is a wide variety facility. They even have lots of line—from trains, subways, to monorails—with different range of cost. Hence, it's important to first know the important things about JR Pass and railway transportation in Japan, then find out whether buying JR Pass is the right thing to do.
Understanding JR Pass
Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is a multi-use ticket with a special fare, issued jointly by six companies of Japan Railways Group (JR Group). It is valid for all JR Group trains, buses, and ferry boats throughout the nation. The only restrictions to use the pass are if you're going to travel with Nozomi and Mizuho bullet trains on Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Line. JR Pass even covers Tokyo Monorail line from and to Haneda Airport, plus Narita Express train from and to Narita Airport.
There are a lot of public transportation offered in Japan, but trains and subways are the most recommended to travel across the country (preference might vary for regional exploration). While subway services varied throughout the country, trains in Japan are mostly operated by JR Group. So, when you have a JR Pass, it means that what you pay for that already includes almost all trains in Japan. This would really be a budget saver if you're going to (a) visit more than one prefectures, (b) do a multiple visit to some areas, and (c) travel without tour guides or travel agency.
Choosing the Right JR Pass
Finally decided to buy JR Pass? Alright, let's continue.
Before placing a purchase, make sure that you choose the right type of JR Pass first. There are two types of them: Ordinary (for access to economy cars) and Green (for access to premium cars). Each of them is available as 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day pass. Each type of pass also available for adults and children. The price for the pass is varied for each type and duration. Obviously, the green pass costs less cheaper than the ordinary. Also, prices for children pass are lower than prices for adults. Always check for the official rate on JR Pass official website (all in JPY).
However, if you're planning to visit just a certain city or perfecture in Japan, there are some JR Pass that only cover railways in the certain city or area. For example, the 3-day JR Tokyo Wide Pass (only valid for rides in Tokyo), Tokyo 1-Day Ticket, JR East Pass, JR West Rail Pass, etc (details are available on the JR Pass official website).
So, choose the right JR Pass that fits your need, particularly your travel itinerary. The last time I visited the country, I decided to go with the ordinary 7-day JR Pass since I was planning to go to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka for my 7-day trip. The general JR Pass allowed me to flexibly hopped on JR trains across the areas. If you're planning to visit Tokyo for a day, pick the Tokyo 1-Day Ticket for more economical means of travelling throughout the city by rail. For a planned trip, I suggest you to set your period of travel to the validity period of the pass offered.
Getting JR Pass
There is a requirement that you have to meet before getting a JR Pass. This is important, because you absolutely don't want any failure in receiving the pass or issuing an Exchange Order. A friendly reminder, to receive a pass, you have to purchase an Exchange Order, a document issued to be exchanged with the pass. The Exchange Order (one per person) is what you will get from the travel agent where you purchase JR Pass.
The actual physical pass can be received then when you arrived in Japan, only if you are a foreign tourist visiting Japan from abroad, legally allowed to stay in Japan under the entry status 'Temporary Visitor'. This will be represented by a special stamp or sticker in your passport (if you pass the immigration entry in Japan, usually the officer will give your passport this, but always check your passport before exchanging your order just to be sure).
Beli JR Pass di Indonesia
Sudah banyak agen perjalanan yang menyediakan jasa untuk menangani perjalanan di Jepang, termasuk menyediakan JR Pass. Namun, membeli JR Pass nggak bisa di sembarang agen. Soalnya JR Pass hanya diizinkan untuk dijual oleh agen-agen lokal yang sudah terdaftar oleh JR Group.
Menurut situs resmi JR Pass, yang resmi itu Panorama Tour (JTB), HIS Travel, PanTravel, Asian Links, Jabato Wisata, Apple Vacations, Travelgare, Adventure Travel, Mega Wisata, Wi2FLY, Sankei Travel, Jalan Tour, dan Wendy Tour. Tapi, kalau cek di Google, bakal muncul juga nama agen-agen lain. Kemungkinan karena agen-agen resmi itu menjual lagi ke retailer lain (CMIIW). Ada Bobobobo, Dwidaya Tour, atau Kenikura Travel. Meski nggak terdaftar, belum tentu mereka agen palsu. Asal teliti saja sebelum membeli, seperti selalu cek review pembeli dan bandingkan harga dengan agen-agen resmi.
Saya dulu beli di Kenikura Travel, karena harganya lebih murah dari agen-agen perjalanan lain, yaitu Rp 3,2 jutaan (rata-rata yang lain sampai Rp 3,5 jutaan). Yang saya senang dari Kenikura Travel, mereka juga menyediakan banyak perintilan untuk trip ke Jepang: mulai dari kartu ponsel (sim card), sampai kostum kimono. Tips beli JR Pass di agen lokal: kalau beli banyak, apalagi plus perintilan lain, jangan sungkan tawar atau minta diskon!
To get the pass, you have to visit a JR Exchange Office and turn in the Exchange Order. If you're arriving in Haneda Airport, just head to the JR Office next to the Tokyo Monorail Haneda International Terminal gate. I exchanged my order at that office on my last visit and luckily I arrived the second the office opened its door in the morning (the JR Office at Haneda International Terminal often had long queues). But you can exchange your order at any JR Exchange Office (usually it's in big interchange stations like Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, or listed stations).
Using JR Pass
One important thing you must remember: secure your JR Pass. You might always bring it with you, but keep it securely. Once a pass is issued, it cannot be reissued for whatever reason. Only the Exchange Order that can be returned to the travel agent from which you purchased it and get a refund for that (check the JR Pass site for further information). But once the order is exchanged with a pass, it cannot be taken back. So, again, don't lost your pass.
To use the pass for regular train hopping is as simple as waving it to the train station staff. You still have to go through the gate, but look for the non-automated one or the one near the JR station office. The staffs basically need to check the expiry date of the pass, so always show them that part (it's usually on the back side of the pass). To reserve a shinkansen seat, you just have to go to a JR Office and give the pass to the staff after consulting your plan of destination(s) and the preferred time of departure. You will get a ticket with your seat number on it.
As I mentioned before, JR Pass can be used nation-wide. Whenever you see a railway station with JR brand, your pass is absolutely valid for the ride.
Recommending JR Pass - Is It Worth It?
The answer to this actually depends on your planning or travel itinerary. But for my last 7-day visit to Japan, JR Pass is really worth the money. It gave me the flexibility to go anywhere and do multiple train-hopping. I didn't have to worry much if I got off at the wrong station or got on the wrong shinkansen, because I don't have to pay extra to ride back on the right train or get off on the right station.
The only downside is that not all JR stations really reach some places that I went to. In fact, most of them require minutes of walk to tourist destinations. In Tokyo, private railways reach most of the touristy spots specifically, and in Kyoto, it's mostly the public bus. But, spending more time to walk isn't the worst thing, and you should do it anyway since it's very enjoyable to explore and experience Japan on foot.
Again, like what I've mentioned before, JR Pass is really recommended for travelers who want to visit more than one areas in Japan, do multiple visits to some areas, and travel independently or without tour guides/agency. To be more sure about whether purchasing JR Pass is really necessary for your trip to Japan, just consult it to travel agencies that handle Japan trips or to any JR Pass retailers. So, are you ready to purchase your JR Pass?
Photos by Ruth Vania Christine