In our new series, Ask A Trip Designer, we field questions from travelers and pass them along to our trip designers for answers. This week, Journy's Japan expert (Sarah) answers the question: where do I buy a JR pass?
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Bullet trains, or shinkansen, are by far the fastest and most convenient way to travel between cities in Japan. Many of Japan's small towns are also reachable by bullet train, though there are limited cases in which a bus might be necessary. Unless you're traveling far north to Hokkaido or far south to Okinawa, we don't recommend flying between cities.
If you're visiting multiple cities in Japan, a JR Rail Pass may be a smart choice for convenience (with the exception of the Nozomi trains, you can take any train without an advance booking, so there are no issues if you ever miss a train—you can just hop on the next one). You can also make seat reservations at no extra cost if you like having a specific train time scheduled for peace of mind. As a general rule of thumb, if you'll be traveling round-trip between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka within a week period, the seven-day JR Pass is worth it.
The JR Pass is only available to foreigners traveling in Japan. If you're a Journy LITE traveler, you can purchase the pass at jrpass.com, and if you're a Journy FULL traveler, your trip designer will take care of it for you and make sure the pass gets to you before your trip starts. You should order it at least 10 days before you leave for Japan, as they ship a voucher to your international address. While you can get one in Japan, it's harder and more expensive to do so.
You will need to activate your pass once you arrive in Japan at Tokyo Station or at another exchange point in the city. Pay attention to which day you'd like your pass to start—for example, if you're traveling in Japan for 10 days but will only be traveling by train for seven days, you'll want your pass to become active on the day of your first train trip.
If the JR Pass doesn't make economical sense for your itinerary, you can purchase individual bullet train tickets upon arrival. Outside of major holiday periods (Golden Week in May; Obon Week in August; New Years), there's no need to reserve these tickets in advance. Trains run very often (several times an hour between Tokyo and Kyoto, for instance), so there's rarely a risk that you won't be able to travel on your desired day and time.
Journy's Japan Trip Designer
Sarah is a Pacific Northwest transplant on the East Coast. She honed her trip planning skills on a year-long adventure around the world that took her to 21 countries across Asia, Southern Africa and Europe. Prior to that, she covered art, culture, food and festivals as a journalist in Las Vegas after graduating from college in LA. When she’s not planning trips for Journy, she’s probably planning her own, or reading at the coffee shop around the corner.
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