Japan is a popular destination for Australian business travellers. But after you’ve worked out how low to bow and mastered the correct protocol for exchanging business cards, you’ll often find the most challenging task is getting from A to B on time.
Everyone knows how important punctuality is in Japanese business culture, so there’s little margin for error on a tight itinerary.
This lets you travel anywhere in the country on the public Japan Rail network, making it an ideal choice for business travellers who need to visit multiple cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
But even if you’re just staying put in Tokyo, a JR Pass lets you scoot around the city’s extensive Yamanote Loop plus other JR lines.
Buying a JR pass
Japan Rail Passes are available for all temporary visitors to Japan – including business and leisure travellers – who are staying for less than 90 days.
You can buy a 7, 14 or 21-day JR pass covering various regions of Japan, for Ordinary (Economy) or Green (Business) classes.
The pass has to be bought before you get to Japan, and the usage period begins when you first use the card. It’s then active for all remaining consecutive days.
7-day passes start from A$299 for Ordinary and A$399 for Green, with 14-day passes at A$476 and A$646; an Ordinary 21-day pass will set you back A$609, or $841 for Green class.
(These prices can vary as they’re highly susceptible to fluctuations in the exchange rate.)
Authorised travel agents in Australia will sell you an Exchange Order, which is a physical voucher that you swap in Japan for the JR Pass.
Keep the receipt for tax purposes and check that all of your details on the Exchange Order exactly match your passport – otherwise you can run into trouble in Japan, as JR officials are not fond of overlooking typos!
Exchange order notes are valid for thee months from the date of issue.
When you arrive in to Japan, head to to a JR Pass exchange office to swap your order for the actual pass and nominate the date you want it to become active.
Once you’ve swapped the exchange order for a rail pass you have up to one month to activate it and start booking tickets.
Japan Rail Pass vs individual rail tickets?
When is is cheaper to buy tickets as you need them compared to purchasing a JR Pass?
The rule of thumb is that a 7 day JR Pass costs about the same as a Tokyo-Kyoto return trip using individual tickets.
And yes, the JR Pass covers bullet train or shinkansen services, except for the Nozomi and Mizuho trains.
So if you plan on doing any more than that within a 7 day window then you’ll save money with the JR Pass.
Even if buying individual tickets is somewhat cheaper, the convenience of your JR Pass can be much more important than saving a few dollars.
Regional JR Passes
You can buy a JR Pass covering one of several regions.
The JR East pass covers everything east of Tokyo, but as it doesn’t include Hokkaido it’s best if you’re heading to Aomori, Tokyo and Kanazawa – an unlikely combination for most business travellers.
The JR West pass will get you pretty much everywhere the east pass doesn’t go, although it still doesn’t cover Hokkaido. This is ideal if you need to visit three of either Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kobe, Nara, Shikoku or Kyushu.
The Kansai Wide Area pass is a variant of the JR West Pass and provides great value for business travellers if you need to travel between Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Kansai Airport and Nara.
There are other passes for different regions include JR Hokkaido, JR Shikoku and JR Kyushu, but they’re more suited to the leisure traveller.
Both Green and Ordinary carriages on JR trains have reserved seats, but the Ordinary carriage also has unreserved seats.
To take an unreserved seat just show your rail pass when boarding.
To reserve a seat, go to the Green Window – or Midori no Madoguchi – at the railway station’s booking office and make your reservations there.
There’s no fee for reserving seats, although you may be charged for altering an existing reservation.
You should plan ahead and reserve seats during peak holiday times, particularly:
- New Year period: 29th December – 5th January
- Golden Week: 29th April – 5th May
- Obon: 13th – 15th August
Click here for a full list of public holidays in Japan
It’s also smart to reserve seats during rush hours of 7am to 9.30am and 5pm to 8pm.
Christian Thurston works with JTB Australia, a travel agency that specialises in travel to and within Japan.
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