The Ins and Outs of the JR Regional Rail Pass
The nationwide JR Rail Pass is a godsend to many Japan-bound visitors, but in some cases it can in fact work out more expensive than opting for one of the many JR Regional Rail Passes! Here we introduce some of the JR Regional Rail Passes on offer and some key points to be aware of!
The JR Rail Pass
Japan's vast public transport network makes for a rather daunting prospect for many first time visitors, so it's no surprise that the nationwide JR Rail Pass has almost become synonymous with travelling about the country.
The coveted JR Rail Pass - available for either 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days - can be used on all JR train lines, including the iconic Shinkansen bullet trains (bar the Nozomi Super Express), as well as a number of JR-operated buses, monorails and ferries, making it the go-to for those looking to travel long distances in a short space of time. To get a better idea of just how useful the JR Rail Pass can be in exploring all that Japan has to offer, check out Seb Ramsay's article for the Manchester Evening News!
That being said, the JR Rail Pass is not the best option for everyone! One main disadvantage of the pass is its non-compatibility in areas predominantly serviced by other smaller, private operators, such as in the Hakone area where Odakyu Railways reigns king: in cases such as this you'll have to pay the fare. Another is the JR Rail Pass' poor value for money in the event that your itinerary is centred largely around just one region - here, the JR Rail Pass may in fact work out to be the very opposite of cost-effective!
"But how exactly am I supposed to work out the cost-effectiveness of the JR Rail Pass for my trip?", we hear you ask. Meet Hyperdia, a fare calculating-timetable showing-route finding masterpiece that is available both online and as a free app. Hyperia is not initially configured for Japan Rail Pass holders and also displays airlines, private rail companies and non-valid Nozomi and Mizuho class bullet trains, so make sure to deselect "Airplane", "Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa (Shinkansen)" (Hayabusa trains however are JR Rail Pass-valid so keep this box checked if applicable to your intinerary) and "Private Railway" under “Search Details” before clicking search!
The JR Regional Rail Pass
As we've discussed above, the nationwide JR Rail Pass has the potential to be amazing value for money; if your itinerary centres around one region in particular however, it can turn out to be quite the opposite. But that's okay, because there are a ton of other rail passes out there just for the situation: behold the JR Regional Rail Pass!
This lesser-known alternative is available in 23 different varieties, each catering to - you guessed it - a different region of the country, as well as a variety of validity periods and in some cases - 3 to be precise - a flexi option allowing for travel on non-consecutive days within a certain time frame. The JR Hokkaido Pass, for example, is available as a consecutive 3-day, 5-day or 7-day pass, as well as a Flexible 4-day pass; no more guesstimating on would-be train fares - you can pick the pass that's right for you, and appropriately priced too! And speaking of price, whilst you can purchase the majority of JR Regional Rail Passes within Japan (yes, you heard that right!), many are cheaper when purchased overseas before the start of your trip. If you choose to purchase your pass in advance be aware that you'll have to bring your exchange voucher (mailed to you upon purchase of the pass) with you to Japan in order to receive the physical vouchers, as is the case with the nationwide equivalent; the only exception to this is the JR East Pass (Tohoku Area) which is sold in the form of an "e-ticket" which you can store and access on your smartphone (if you don't have a smartphone then printing the e-ticket is fine!).
Some JR Regional Rail Passes also allow for extra perks not included within the nationwide JR Rail Pass, whilst others exclude perks enjoyed with the JR Rail Pass. It's all about reading the fine print to make sure you get what you're looking for! Head over to JTB or Toptour Europe where you can choose the area(s) of Japan of interest to you, see details and prices of the JR Regional Rail Passes and even buy them online, ready for your adventure Japan-side!To stay up to date with all the latest happenings in Japan follow us on Facebook or Twitter.