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Cost of Travel: Japan Rail High Speed Rail Pass vs. Individual Ticket Cost Analysis

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In this post we walk through three scenarios related to train travel throughout Japan. We determine whether it makes sense to purchase individual high speed rail train tickets or a 7-day JR rail pass.

If you haven’t already, read A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating Japan’s High Speed Rail System.


Notes

The costs reflected in this post date to March 2020 and are based upon adult tickets and standard seats. We do not factor in seat reservations, that may carry an extra cost. Your exact costs may be different due to time of year, age of traveler, class of ticket and available discounts.

While Japan’s high speed rail is the most expeditious way to travel throughout the country, tickets carry a higher cost than standard train, bus or plane tickets.

Tickets we compare in this analysis:

  • JR High Speed Rail Individual Ticket
  • JR High Speed Rail 7-Day Pass

Case Study #1

I want to travel to Tokyo to Kyoto and Kyoto to Tokyo during a seven day period. Is it cheaper to purchase individual high speed rail tickets or a seven-day JR pass?

7-day JR pass price: JP¥29,532 / $282 USD

Individual high speed rail tickets:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto: JP¥13,600 / $129.73 USD
  • Kyoto to Tokyo: JP¥13,600 / $129.73 USD
  • SUM = $259.46 USD

7-day JR Pass $282 USD > Individual Tickets $259.46 USD.

In this scenario, it does not make sense to purchase the 7-day rail pass if your trip only includes departure and return from the same locations. If there is a chance that you add in a day trip, or take a different route home to Tokyo, purchase the 7-day JR Pass.


Case Study #2

I want to travel to the following places over a seven-day period:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto
  • Kyoto to Nara
  • Nara to Kyoto
  • Kyoto to Tokyo

Is it cheaper to purchase individual high speed rail tickets or a seven-day JR pass?

7-day JR pass price: JP¥29,532 / $282 USD

Individual high speed rail tickets:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto: JP¥13,600 / $129.73 USD
  • Kyoto to Nara: JP¥780 / $7.44 USD
  • Nara to Kyoto: JP¥780 / $7.44 USD
  • Kyoto to Tokyo: JP¥13,600 / $129.73 USD
  • SUM = $274.34 USD

7-day JR Pass $282 USD > Individual Tickets $275.34 USD.

In this scenario, it costs about the same to purchase the 7-day rail pass as it does individual tickets. If you are planning on exploring additional areas around Kyoto or want the flexibility to change your itinerary, you may consider purchasing the 7-day pass.


Case Study #3

I want to travel to the following places over a seven-day period:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto
  • Kyoto to Nara
  • Nara to Kyoto
  • Kyoto to Osaka
  • Osaka to Tokyo

Is it cheaper to purchase individual high speed rail tickets or a seven-day JR pass?

7-day JR pass price: JP¥29,532 / $282 USD

Individual high speed rail tickets:

  • Tokyo to Kyoto: JP¥13,600 / $129.73 USD
  • Kyoto to Nara: JP¥780 / $7.44 USD
  • Nara to Kyoto: JP¥780 / $7.44 USD
  • Kyoto to Osaka: JP¥1,420 / $13.53 USD
  • Osaka to Tokyo: JP¥14,920 / $142.18 USD
  • SUM = $300.32 USD

7-day JR Pass $282 USD < Individual Tickets $300.32 USD.

In this scenario, it costs less to purchase a 7-day rail pass than individual tickets.


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