Is Japan Rail Pass worth purchasing?

Hiroshima 2

Japan is a country that I really enjoy visiting, having been to this great country numerous times for business. When I went there for business, I’d usually tag on a few vacation days at end of my trips so I could travel around the country. Our recent 2 week vacation in Japan was Mrs. T and Baby T’s first time in Japan and my first time traveling in Japan for more than a week’s time.

In my previous Japan travels, I’ve always gotten the 7 day Japan Rail (JR) Pass. Since the Japan Rail Pass allows you to ride the Narita Express and JR trains within Tokyo, I would purchase the pass to use for both business and personal travels. For our 2 week vacation, we decided to purchase the 14 day pass. We didn’t want to plan all of our train trips down to the smallest detail. We wanted to have some flexibility to allow changes in our travel itinerary.

I’ve heard in the past that for the 7 day JR Pass to worth the money, one must travel between Tokyo and Kyoto. Where do we need to go to make the 14 day JR Pass worth it? Is the Japan Rail Pass worth purchasing at all? How do we make sure that we maximize the value of the Japan Rail Pass?

Japan Rail Pass cost
29,110 Yen for 7 days ordinary
46,390 Yen for 14 days ordinary

Ordinary pass allows you to ride in all trains operated by the Japan railway Group (JR Group). You can ride the Shinkansen (bullet train), but not on Nozomi, Mizuho trains.

For our 14 day trip, we started in Tokyo. While in Tokyo we rode on the local JR trains to go back and forth between the different Tokyo tourist attractions. We also spent a lot of time on foot and avoided Tokyo subway to save some money.

Next we took Shinkansen from Tokyo to Oaska.
Tokyo (Shinagawa Station) to Shin-Osaka: Total: 13,940 Yen (Fare 8,750 + seat fee 5,190 Yen)

We stayed in Osaka because we redeemed Marriott points and the only Marriott hotel available in the area was in Osaka. Since we wanted to check out the many different Kyoto attractions, we had 3 separate day trips to visit Kyoto.
Shin-Osaka to Kyoto (one way): Total 2,610 Yen (fare 560 yen + seat fee 2,050 Yen)
3 round trips cost: 15,60 Yen.

After 5 days of stay in Osaka, we traveled south to Hiroshima. Originally we decided to stop in Himeji to check out Himeji Castle but decided that we’d do that on the way back to Tokyo to break up the long travel time. Riding on the train for 5 hours straight with an energetic Baby T was not something we want to attempt. 🙂
Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima: Total 10,030 Yen (fare 5,620 + seat fee 4,410 yen)

Since most of the attractions in Hiroshima were easily accessible by foot, we walked within the city. We did take the RJ train and RF ferry to check out Miyajima.
Hiroshima to Miyajima: Total 590 Yen
Round trip total cost: 1,180 Yen

Since we’re big into food, one night we decided to take a trip to Fukuoka from Hiroshima to check out Fukuoka’s Yatai scene (street food).
Hiroshima to Hakata (Fukuoka): Total 8,740 Yen (fare 5,080 + seat fee 3,660)
Round trip total: 17,480 Yen

Once we completed our stay in Hiroshima, we took Shinkansen to Himeji to check out the Himeji Castle before heading back to Tokyo.
Hiroshima to Himeji: Total 8,090 Yen (fare 4,430, seat fee 3,660)
Himeji to Tokyo Station: Total 15,440 Yen (Fare 9,830 + seat 5,610)

Adding everything up, if we were to purchase all the tickets separately, it would cost us more than 67,720 Yen (I didn't calculate the train tickets within Tokyo). Considering that the 14 day ordinary pass is 46,390 Yen. It was totally worth it to purchase the 14 day pass.

Generally speaking, for the 14 day pass to be worth it, you need a round trip between Tokyo and Hiroshima. For the 7 day pass to be worth it, a round trip between Tokyo and Osaka plus side trips is needed.

If you are planning to travel to Japan I’d highly recommend purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. Remember to purchase the pass before you setting your foot in Japan.

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  • Reply
    January 18, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    The JR pass was definitely good value for my trip to Japan. I was also able to use it on some JR buses that go to places where there are no trains.

    • Reply
      January 18, 2016 at 10:07 pm

      Good point on the JR buses, we didn't use any but they're certainly something to use when there are no trains.

  • Reply
    January 19, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Hi Tawcan, this is something not related with Japan but who else can I ask other than you as fellow shareholders. I know u don't care about daily price it's for long term and such but I wanna know your thoughts about buying Canadian natural resources shares to average down. It's a really good company but with surprising downturn of oil price the shares price is being slaughtered. My initial cost price was 45 dollar n average down bought more at 35 now what's your thought about averaging down more at current price. This company is not as big as exon mobile or as small as bay tex that can either survive or become bankrupt at current level of oil price . It's somewhere in between and also has large debt. Any thoughts on averaging down with current price??

    • Reply
      January 19, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      Hi Dipu,

      For us, CNQ is a long term hold and we're DRIPing to average down our cost basis. We plan to buy more CNQ when we have more funds available, if that answers your question. Considering the Canadian banks are so low right now, we probably will buy more bank stocks before we buy more energy stocks though.

  • Reply
    January 19, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Tawcan, Thanks for taking time to answer my question. I hold some suncor as well which i would average down without any hesitation with CNQ I guess I have to go slow . only time will tell if company can survive this low price . If you have more information about CNQ fundamentals please do share through your posts. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Dividend Beginner
    January 19, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Hey Tawcan,

    You go to Japan regularly? I am so jealous! I really want to go there, haven't made a plan or anything, but that's one place I really want to go to. More than likely Japan will be the place I go when I decide to travel outside the country on a real vacation.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      January 20, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Hi Dividend Beginner,

      Semi-regularly for Japan but I don't have any plans to go there this year. Japan is a great place to visit. 🙂

  • Reply
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    January 20, 2016 at 12:18 am

    I think the Japan rail pass is really worth it because it is cheaper than that of buses. That is a good advice Tawcan. I'd definitely purchase the pass before I set my foot in Japan

    • Reply
      January 20, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Japan rail passes are so worth it. It's kind of like Euro Rail pass but better deal IMO.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Based on your title, I was going to answer, but it looks like you already figured it out! I was in Japan in October and had bought my 7 day pass ahead of time. We were anticipating going from Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka to Takayama in the mountains and then back to Tokyo. Our Takayama host cancelled and we had to go somewhere completely different (Nara) at the last moment. That really eroded the value of the rail pass since Takayama is hard to reach, but it was still worth it. I have a cost analysis of our entire trip forthcoming.

    • Reply
      January 22, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      That's a bummer that your Takayama host canceled on you. Having the rail pass definitely provides more flexibility while you're in Japan.

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