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The Japan Rail Pass — JR Rail Pass for short — has long been known as the best-value way to see Japan for most standard itineraries. Up till now, the ordinary 7-day pass has cost about the same as a round-trip Shinkansen ticket between Tokyo and Osaka. The pass allows for unlimited use of most of the country's high-speed Shinkansen train network during its validity.
The value of the Japan Rail Pass may soon change, though, because the prices are set to raise across the board on March 31st, 2024. This doesn't necessarily mean you can't get a better price for train travel during a future trip to Japan through the pass, but it does mean that you'll want to do a bit more math to ensure that your planned itinerary can't be traveled for less by purchasing individual tickets. Read on for the details!
While practically any Japan itinerary of four days to a month with more than one major city involved has almost guaranteed that the JR Pass is a great deal, that may change. While the pass is set to raise its prices as much as 77% from current rates next March, so far there's been no news of Shinkansen fares increasing.
The shortest-length and lowest-priced pass is the ordinary 7-day pass, which gives you unlimited rides around the country in what is basically the equivalent to 2nd (think economy) class. Its current price is 29,650 Japanese Yen (about $208) when purchased outside of Japan, which will increase to 50,000 Yen (about $350) in March, 2024.
Currently, a round-trip Shinkansen ticket between Tokyo and Osaka starts at 27,240 Yen, so until the increase next March you'll easily cover the cost of the ticket. However, with the new cost of 50,000 you'd need to take the same route twice to cover the cost. Still, if you're planning to add a few more stops to your trip — say Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Kyoto for a bit of city hopping — then it should still be cheaper to purchase the pass in most cases.
The planned increases are as follows:
Ordinary 7-day passes to increase from 29,650 to 50,000 Yen
Ordinary 14-day passes to increase from 47,250 to 80,000 Yen
Ordinary 21-day passes to increase from 60,450 to 100,000 Yen
Green (1st class) 7-day passes from 39,600 to 70,000 Yen
Green 14-day passes from 64,120 to 110,000 Yen
Green 21-day passes from 83,390 to 140,000 Yen
Essentially, the bottom is line is that you'll want to make sure to compare estimated costs of individual train tickets against the new pass prices. Since up till recently, these passes weren't even available for purchase within Japan, many travelers are already used to the early planning needed to make use of them. Still, given the wider price gap between many popular high-speed train routes, a little extra planning will go a long way in making the right purchase(s).
Jrailpass.com offers a pretty straightforward way of buying them (just not in Japan), but there are also agents in most cities selling them. Once in Japan, you have to exchange it at a designated station for the actual pass document.
Though this price hike was originally set for this October, it's been extended to March, 2024 that you can buy passes at the lower price, and you can likely use them as late as June 2023. From my point of view, this is yet another reason to get yourself (back) to Japan sooner rather than later!
Did we mention there's some great fares to get you to Japan right now?!
Source: Japan Today
All photos in this post were taken by David Greer.