In light of my coming journey to Japan I had to tackle the same question every foreigner has encountered when planning his/her trip (and which I managed to avoid during my previous trip): JR Pass or not JR pass?
What’s the JR Pass?
The JR Pass is a train ticket created by the Japan Railway Compagny for the non-japanese travelers, it allows its holder to use any of the JR lines (but only the JR Lines) for a prepaid amount of days. There are actually 8 different passes, one is national and is available for 7, 14 and 21 days(1) the seven others cover each a different region of Japan for 1 to 5 days(1).
How does it work?
Well first you will have to choose and buy a JR Pass coupon outside of Japan in an agency or online, coupon with which you cannot travel. Next step is to get to a JR agency in Japan to exchange your coupon for the actual pass. Be careful they are not open 24/7 and you might still have to buy a ticket from your airport: check if there are a JR agency at the airport and a JR line from the airport to Tokyo. Finally, when receiving it, you will have to declare a date of start of use (which does not have to be your arrival date). From your chosen date on your pass is valid and you can (finally) travel with it.
Okay, who said JR Pass was easy again??
For a Tokyo-Hiroshima trip a national JR Pass is the only choice possible which is: 236€ */7days, 384€ */14days, 494€* /21days. Without the pass, a round trip to Hiroshima via the Shinkansen costs 317€*.
Since I am planning on visiting only Tokyo and Hiroshima, I have looked for alternative to the JR Pass. Here are the main points on which I have based my reflection:
And I have set my decision on taking the plane. Main reason is that I am staying mostly in Tokyo and I’d rather not be hindered in my movements and be restricted only to JR lines, which could take longer, need more connections or more walk in between stations and complicate the all process of using Tokyo subway. Plus if I ever was to take a non JR line I’ll still have to buy an extra ticket. Also, my trip consists in 7 nights in Tokyo, 3 in Hiroshima, thus a 14 days Pass is already unprofitable seing the alternative transportation.
Overnight buses are cheaper but I’m getting more and more used to traveling confortably and I’d rather avoid a sleepless night on a bus seat (and the travel sickness that usually go with it) if I can afford it.
As for the plane I will be flying with ANA. The company have a special price for foreigner flying inside Japan, the ANA Experience Japan fare. You just need a valid non-japanese passport, prove you live outside of Japan, and can present a return ticket or its reservation code. SpringJapan company was cheaper but didn’t offer as much flight choices as ANA, so did JAL while being more expensive.
In conclusion the JR Pass isn’t fit for me and a single trip to Hiroshima. But it could be interesting if you intend to make several stops along the way. Otherwise you should consider the alternatives (plane, bus, car, hitchhike) depending on your budget and preferences.
In hope this article helped, have fun preparing your trip!
Notes: (1)consecutive days — (2)The JR company doesn’t run all the subway lines in Tokyo and elsewhere, each company applies its own prices — (3)each transportation company uses its own check-in rules. To which one (especially me) may add his/her own stress-relieving and security time rules.