Using a Japan Rail Pass

Having bought our JR Pass before we left the UK, we had to exchange our vouchers for the actual passes once we’d arrived in Japan. You have 3 months from the date of issue on the voucher to exchange for your pass.

On our way to the underground for our self-guided tour of Tokyo, we stopped by the JR Rail Office in Shinjuku Station to pick up our passes. After much deliberation, we went with the Green Class (1st Class) pass as it was only around £40.00 more than standard class and, yes, it was totally worth the extra money.

Green Class is a 2-2 seat configuration with tons of leg room and decent recline. There’s a fold down table from the seat in front of you and most trains have a table in the armrest, much like you’d get on an aircraft. There’s also an adjustable footrest. Standard class is 3-2 seat configuration and altogether busier. Business people and tourists mostly used Green Class when we travelled and it was rarely full, even when standard class was. Although you don’t get food or drinks in Green Class like you would in European 1st Class, the extra space and quiet justifies the cost in my opinion.

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The guy in the JR office at Shinjuku was really helpful in making seat reservations – which are mandatory in Green Class – for all our journeys. Fortunately, the office was quiet and we were some of the only people in there. If it was busy, they’re unlikely to make reams of seat reservations for you. Whilst seat reservations are mandatory in Green Class, you can book a seat up to a few minutes before the train departs at the JR office at the station. All the staff that helped us spoke English.

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Planning the services and connections in advance of our arrival in to Japan took hours of work, but it was made easy by using the Hyperdia website. Their app is actually better than the website and we used the app a lot whilst in Japan. We made a couple of amendments to our plans and it was easy to see which trains we could use the pass on and then ask station staff to make us seat reservations. Japanese trains rarely have Wi-Fi so either be prepared to pay for data usage or buy a pocket hotspot.

Date From To Departure Time Arrival Time Class
24th November Shinjuku Shinagawa 08:02 08:18 Green
24th November Shinagawa Odawara 08:34 09:01 Green
24th November Odawara Shinjuku 18:00 19:23 Green
24th November Odawara Shinjuku 17:37 19:09 Not included in JR Pass
25th November Shinjuku Shinagawa 10:08 10:22 Green
25th November Shinagawa Kyoto 10:40 13:11 Green
26th November Kyoto Osaka JR 09:00 09:28 Green
26th November Osaka JR Kyoto 20:30 20:59 Green
28th November Kyoto Hiroshima 08:23 10:35 Green
28th November Hiroshima Shin-Osaka 17:22 18:48 Green
28th November Shin-Osaka Kyoto 18:53 19:07 Green
30th November Kyoto Shinagawa 14:32 17:03 Green
30th November Shinagawa Narita Airport T2 17:20 18:24 Green

Even if you buy the Green Class pass, you can travel in standard class without a seat reservation, which we did for our trip from Kyoto to Osaka.

The Shinkansen trains are so exciting to travel on. They look so damn cool pulling in to the station, with their futuristic duck face! Considering these trains have been around since the 1960s, they’re still world renowned for their speed and efficiency. The average delay on a Shinkansen is 54 seconds. Can you imagine that in the UK?? The train moves so fast, you can watch the little blue dot speed across the screen on your phone using Google maps!

Navigating around Japanese stations is really easy. All announcements are in English both in the station and on the train. Signage is really clear, to the point of telling you exactly where to stand on the platform. You’ll notice in the pictures that the big screen has a symbol like a Δ or a Ο. That same symbol is then on the platform as well as hanging from the ceiling, telling you were to stand.

Boarding the train is also very civilised, unlike the videos you might have seen on YouTube with passengers being stuffed in to carriages!

Date of trip: November 2017

Price paid: £283.00 pp for Green Class pass

Points earned: 1698 Virgin Flying Club points for paying with Virgin Black American Express

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