NEW! Regional Japan Rail Passes: 5 Best Value Passes

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Rob Dyer The Real Japan

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When it comes to rail travel in Japan most people will instantly think of the country's famous Japan Rail Pass. But it isn't always the best solution. 

Japan Rail also offer a number of excellent value Regional Japan Rail Passes that, if you're not already familiar with, you really should know about.

In this guest post from Japan rail expert Stephen Turner, we introduce Regional Japan Rail Passes, including recommendations for 5 of the Best Value Passes currently available, complete with booking links.

FREE Download: Regional Japan Rail Passes Quick Guide

Regional Japan Rail Pass 5 Best Value passes The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Regional Japan Rail Pass: 5 Best Value Passes
by Stephen Turner


What this post covers

The Real Japan has an excellent Japan Rail Pass: The Ultimate Guide which explains in general how the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) works and in particular those available to foreigners visiting Japan on tourist visas.

In this article I'll explain about the Regional JR Rail Passes (Regional Passes), which are available to tourists visiting Japan and also offer excellent value for money.


What are the Regional Japan Rail Passes and what areas do they cover? 

These passes are available for foreign tourists to Japan (with a small number available to foreign residents – see below) and are designed for travel in particular regions or groups of regions.  

All the regional JR companies have their selection of Regional Passes and all areas of the country (except Okinawa) are covered by at least one pass. They all cover fairly wide areas, often wider than the ticket name implies. With all the passes, with some planning, it is easy to save money compared to buying individual or multiple tickets.

We have compiled a JR Rail Pass Guide which lists and gives details of each pass (including booking links) and can be downloaded from here:

FREE Download: Regional Japan Rail Passes Quick Guide


Why should I consider using a Regional Japan Rail Pass?

The well-known Japan Rail Pass is excellent value particularly if you plan to travel widely and in different parts of the country. 

If however you are planning to spend time exploring a particular region or regions, or your stay in Japan extends beyond the validity period of your JR Pass, a Regional Pass may be a better alternative to buying a (or a second) JR Pass or paying the regular fare.

Japan regional rail pass Okayama Castle Korakuen TSJR

Korakoen Garden, Okayama Prefecture  |   Photo: © TSJR

The Regional Passes are, of course, cheaper than the JR Pass. Some Regional Passes also allow travel on selected private railways and even some regular bus routes and ferries. So again, if you plan to explore a particular area or region a Regional Pass could well be more convenient. 

A good Japan travel planner should be able to advise what are the best options for your trip.


Apart from covering specific areas, are there any other differences?

The regional JR Rail Passes operate in a similar way to the JR Pass in that they allow unlimited travel for a fixed period in their respective areas. 

Most Regional Passes include travel on Shinkansen (bullet train) and Limited Express services. However, depending on the particular pass, there may be restrictions on which services you can use, and on whether free reserved seats are available. For example, in some cases only unreserved seats can be used or only a limited number of reserved seat journeys can be made, after which a reservation fee is payable.

All the tickets can be used on JR-operated local and non-reserved rapid services in the area covered by the ticket without restriction.

As mentioned above, some regional tickets include travel on selected private (non-JR) railways.

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Can I purchase Regional Passes the same way as the JR Pass?

Yes, and it is recommended that you purchase them overseas through an appointed agent, as in most cases it is cheaper than buying them in Japan or through the JR Rail Companies online sites.

The big exception is JR East issued passes which are the same price wherever they are purchased, as are the JR West Kansai Pass and the JR Shikoku Kagawa Pass.

See Also: Japan Rail Pass: The Ultimate Guide


In most cases it is cheaper to buy online in advance outside Japan


Travellers should be aware that you must exchange the Exchange Voucher at a ticket office that issues JR Rail Passes of the JR Company that is the issuer of your ticket. For example, a JR East Rail Pass can only be obtained at a JR East ticket office or a JR Shikoku designated station for a JR Shikoku Pass. (Read more on this process in our Japan Rail Pass Ultimate Guide post.)

When you purchase your pass overseas, the agent should provide you with details on how and where you can exchange the exchange order for your pass(es). The information is also available on the relevant JR company’s website.

Japan regional rail pass Takayama-Karakuri Museum TSJR

Takayama-Karakuri Museum, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture   |   Photo: © TSJR

Some of the Regional Passes can also be used going through the automated ticket gates (JR East in particular). When you purchase your ticket you should get full information on how to use it, and the JR company web sites also have lots of detailed information.


Are any Regional Japan Rail Passes available to foreign residents living in Japan?

Yes. In recent times some passes have been made available to foreign residents living in Japan.

The eligibility section of the relevant JR web site page will show whether the ticket is available to foreign residents. It should also be noted that foreign residents should obtain their passes in Japan and in some cases may need to be purchased through designated travel agents. The Real Japan can advise on these details.

It should be noted that there are also many domestically available passes which may be more appropriate (and easier to purchase), the JR Rail Passes add to the options available.


Regional Japan Rail Passes: 5 best value passes

That is a very difficult question to answer in a general guide such as this, as there are many places to visit in Japan. It also depends on what your interests are and the places you want to visit. However, I have chosen the following 5 passes as I think they provide some memorable journeys, impressive places to visit and offer good value. 


PASS 1 - Tokyo Wide Pass

Area:  Greater Tokyo area
Best For:  Mt. Fuji / Day trips to explore Greater Tokyo region

Japan regional rail pass Mt. Fuji TSJR

View of Lake Kawaguchi and Mt. Fuji   |  Photo: © TSJR

This pass allows travel in a very wide area including unlimited travel on shinkansen and Limited Express trains, both reserved and non-reserved, within the ticket area

As well as travel in the Greater Tokyo area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, & Gunma prefectures), the Tokyo Wide Pass also enables access to an extensive area outside of Greater Tokyo.

The pass allows travel to Izu Peninsular (using JR and Izukyu services), Nikko (via JR and joint JR-Tobu services), Mt Fuji using JR & Fujikyu services to Kawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture, the Karuizawa and Yatsugatake areas of Nagano Prefecture and the Yuzawa area of Niigata Prefecture.

Mt. Fuji Private Custom Tour

Mt Fuji Private customize tour with English speaking Driver

Japan regional rail pass Nagatoro Valley Saitama JNTO

Nagatoro Valley, Saitama Prefecture  |  Photo: © JNTO

We would suggest for those who will base their visit in Tokyo, this ticket could be used for day trips to explore contrasting areas away from the metropolis. There are of course other options depending on your interests.

Ticket Details: Tokyo Wide Area

Days Valid

3 Consecutive Days

Company

JR East

Shinkansen / Limited Express Services

Unlimited travel in reserved and non-reserved cars on all JR East operated Shinkansen and Limited Express services in the pass area.

Private Railways, Buses, etc.

Tokyo Monorail, Izu Kyuko Line, Fujikyu Railway Lines, Joshin Dentetsu Line, Saitama New Urban Transit, Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit Line (Rinkai Line). Also valid on services jointly operated by JR East and Tobu to / from Nikko and Kinugawa (train must start or end journey at a JR East Station).

Price

¥10,180 (same price wherever purchased).

Notes

It should be noted that except for Tokyo Monorail and The Rinkai Line this ticket is not valid on other private railways, including subway in the Tokyo area.

Where To Buy

JR East  BOOK HERE


PASS 2 - Kansai Wide Area Pass

Area:  West Kansai and Chugoku Region
Best For:  Extensive exploration of a broad area from Otsu and Osaka in the east, to Kurashiki and Takamatsu in the west.

Japan regional rail pass Amanohashidate sandbar TSJR

Amanohashidate sandbar, Kyoto  |  Photo: © TSJR

The Kansai Wide pass, like the Tokyo Wide Pass, stretches the definition of “wide”, allowing travel to Okayama and Kurashiki and to Tottori, Kyoto Tango Area (including Kyoto Tango Railway) and the Kii Peninsula. It is, however, valid for 5 consecutive days, allowing for both day trips or a longer trip.

This ticket allows up to 6 journeys on Limited Express or Sanyo Shinkansen reserved cars (unlimited non-reserved). This is in addition to Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Osaka, the pass allows the holder to visit a wide variety of scenic and cultural places in this region. 

Japan regional rail pass Kurashiki Bikanchiku JNTO

The charming Bikanchiku canal district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture  |  © JNTO

It is ideal for anyone who will be based in the Kansai area on their trip and wants to see something different, like the famous Tottori Sand Dunes, The Kyoto Tango area, Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden, and the Nachi Waterfall and shrines in the Kumano area of Wakayama Prefecture. 

Ticket Details: Kansai Wide Area

Days Valid

5 Consecutive Days

Company

JR West

Shinkansen / Limited Express Services

Up to 6 journeys on Limited Express and Sanyo Shinkansen reserved cars and unlimited in non-reserved cars in the pass area.

Private Railways, Buses, etc.

Chizu Express, Kyoto Tango Railway, Wakayama Electric Railway.

Price

¥10,000 (if purchased outside Japan via agent) ¥10,800 (if purchased online) ¥11,000 (if purchased in Japan at JR West ticket office).

Notes

It should be noted that except as listed above, and particularly in the central Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe areas this ticket is not valid on private railways including subways.

Where To Buy

JR Pass BOOK HERE


PASS 3 - Hokkaido Rail Pass

Area:  Hokkaido Island
Best For:  Return trips from Tokyo / Visiting more than one area

Japan regional rail pass Lake Toya JNTO

Lake Toya, Hokkaido  |  © JNTO

We have chosen the JR East–South Hokkaido Rail Pass as it includes all of the JR East operating area (Kanto, Koshinetsu, & Tohoku) as well as the southern part of Hokkaido (allowing travel to the major cities of Sapporo and Hakodate).

Discover Things To Do in Kanto

Private sightseeing, Custom tours, Walking tours, Local guides

As it covers such a wide area there are far too many places to mention, but it is a good ticket if you are starting & ending your trip in Tokyo and you want to spend time visiting places out of the Greater Tokyo area in Eastern and Northern Japan.

It is particularly ideal if you want to visit more than one area, or for example travel the Japan Sea side of Tohoku and visit Hakodate in Hokkaido.

Japan regional rail pass Resort Shirakami TSJR

The Resort Shirakami tourist train  |  Photo: © TSJR

This pass allows travel on a number of private railway lines, providing an extra level of convenience.

These include the joint JR-Tobu services from Shinjuku and Omiya to Tobu Nikko and Kinugawa and JR-Izukyu services to Izu. It also allows travel in reserved seats on JR East operated Shinkansen, Limited Express Trains and tourist trains, which JR East operates a number over some very scenic routes.

In Hokkaido, which can be reached by the Hokkaido Shinkansen, pass holders can travel to Hakodate and Sapporo, visiting Lake Toya and Muroran along the way.

There are a number of ways this ticket can be used. A long trip around Tohoku and Southern Hokkaido, or several one or two day trips covering parts of Tohoku and Koshinetsu (Yamanashi, Nagano & Niigata Prefectures) as examples.

Ticket Details: Hokkaido

Days Valid

6 Consecutive Days

Company

JR East (also valid on JR Hokkaido services)

Shinkansen / Limited Express Services

Unlimited travel in reserved and non-reserved cars on all JR East operated Shinkansen and Limited Express services and on Hokkaido Shinkansen and JR Hokkaido Limited Express services in the pass area.

Private Railways, Buses, etc.

Valid for travel on Izu Kyuko Line, Tokyo Monorail, Aoimori Railway Line, Iwate Galaxy Railway (IGR) Line, Sendai Airport Transit Line services. Also valid on services jointly operated by JR East and Tobu to / from Nikko and Kinugawa (train must start or end journey at a JR East Station).

Price

¥27,000 (same price wherever purchased).

Notes

It should be noted that except as listed above, and particularly in the central Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe areas this ticket is not valid on private railways including subways.

Where To Buy

JR Pass  BOOK HERE


PASS 4 - Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass

Area:  Central Honshu
Best For:  The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route

regional japan rail pass Matsumoto castle yuika takamura unsplash

Matsumoto Castle is Japan's oldest remaining five-tiered, six-storey castle tower  |  Photo: Yuika Takamura on Unsplash

With this pass you can travel through some of the most amazing alpine scenery in Japan as you travel through Gifu, Toyama and Nagano Prefectures including along the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route. This area is very popular with Japanese tourists.

The pass allows travel to / from Nagoya in a circle by express or local trains via Takayama, Toyama and Matsumoto.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route takes you through the Japan Alps using various modes of transport including private railway, bus, cable car, ropeway and trolley bus. Most of the Alpine route was built when the Kurobe Dam was constructed so as well as the scenery you will also be seeing some remarkable feats of engineering.

regional Japan rail pass Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route JNTO

Kurobeko funicular cable car station, part of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route  |  © JNTO

The ticket is valid for 5 consecutive days so I would recommend spending time in Takayama, Matsumoto and / or Toyama and taking 1 or 2 days to cover the Alpine route itself. 

Takayama is an old city in Gifu and is famous for its traditional old town area with its sake breweries. Matsumoto is famous for its castle and the Kamikochi mountain area amongst other things and is a good place to try buckwheat noodles (soba). Toyama is on the northern Japan Sea Coast and is famous for its seafood.

See Also: An Expert Online Tour of Takayama’s Merchant Quarter

Ticket Details: Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto

Days Valid

5 Consecutive Days

Company

JR Tokai

Shinkansen / Limited Express Services

Not valid on shinkansen. Unlimited travel on Limited Express non reserved cars, between Nagano~Takayama~Toyama and between Shinano Omachi~Matsumoto~Nagano.

Private Railways, Buses, etc.

Valid for one time travel on all parts of the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route (Toyama~Shianano-Omachi) including non-reserved seats on the Toyama Chiho Railway.

Price

¥18,600 if purchased outside Japan, ¥19,600 online and inside Japan.

Notes

The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is closed during the winter months.

Where To Buy

JR Pass BOOK HERE


PASS 5 - Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass

Area:  Pacific Coastline, Honshu
Best For:  Historical/Scenic Routes

Japan regional rail pass Kumano Nachi Taisha Taki TSJR

Kumano Nachi Shrine & Waterfall  |  Photo: © TSJR

Japan regional rail pass Kishi Station Master TSJR

Station Master cat, Kishi Station, Wakayama Electric Railway  |  Photo: © TSJR

Our Next choice is also from JR Tokai and again covers an area popular with Japanese tourists but not so well known amongst foreign visitors. 

This pass covers the Kii Peninsula and includes travel to and from Nagoya and Osaka on limited express (up to 4 times using reserved cars, unlimited in non-reserved cars) rapid and local services. 

It also includes travel on some local bus services, allowing access to some of the sacred and very scenic spots in the area. These include the Ise Shrine, the Kumano / Nachi areas with the famous Nachi Waterfall and various important shrines. The Toba area is famous for Mikimoto Pearls and great sea views. The city of Wakayama, and the private railway, Wakayama Electric Railway, is also included. The Wakayama Electric Railway is famous for its “Station Master Cats”.  

The pass area also includes Nara (by JR services) and the Osaka City area. (See also: Hand Feeding Wild Deer in Nara Park.)

The pass is valid for 5 consecutive days. We would recommend spending time, including overnight stays in the Ise / Toba area and in the Kumano / Nachi areas. The Kii Peninsula is famous for its onsen spas and in the Toba area there are hotels with very good sea views. Osaka and Nara are also well worth exploring.

Ticket Details: Ise-Kumano-Wakayama

Days Valid

5 Consecutive Days

Company

JR Tokai

Shinkansen / Limited Express Services

Not valid on shinkansen.

Unlimited travel in non-reserved cars on JR Limited Expresses (in the pass area) including to / from Osaka and Nagoya.

Private Railways, Buses, etc.

Travel on Wakayama Electric Railway and Ise Railway allowed (including on JR Limited Express trains). Selected bus lines operated by Mie Kotsu Bus and Kumano Gobo Nankai Bus.

Price

¥11,210 if purchased outside Japan, ¥12,220 online and inside Japan.

Where To Buy

JR Pass  BOOK HERE


Where can I get a complete guide to Regional Japan Rail Passes?

We have compiled a summary of all the JR Rail Passes with all the essential information and links to the English websites of the JR Companies issuing these tickets. The guide can be downloaded here:


FREE Download: Regional Japan Rail Passes Quick Guide


Where can I get further advice?

It can sound complicated, but it isn’t really, and there is good information in English on the various JR companies’ websites.

A good travel planner (like The Real Japan) with knowledge on travel in Japan and access to all the travel information should also be able to identify all the options and recommend the best for your trip (including passes available domestically in Japan).

Check out The Real Japan's Travel Planning Services and Japan Travel Store for more Japan travel guides.

Stephen Turner TS Japan The Real Japan


About the Author

Stephen Turner has lived in Japan for more than 30 years and is the founder of TS Japan Rail, a travel advisor and planner specializing in rail travel in Japan for both tourists and rail fans.

Resources

Japan Rail Travel Planning Services

Have questions about planning your rail travel in Japan? Want help planning a Japan itinerary? The Real Japan offers some services that you might like to take a look at.

My Travel Planning Calls are ideal if you have a few unanswered questions about a trip you are planning, or would like feedback and suggestions on an itinerary you are building.  Learn More HERE.

If you'd rather hand over all the hard work for planning an entire trip then my Travel Planning Service is tailor-made for you. Learn More HERE.

Further Japan travel guides, books and checklists are available in The Real Japan Travel Store.

If you have very specific rail travel requirements that are beyond my expertise then I partner with Stephen Turner of TS Japan Rail (author of this post) to assist you.

FREE Download: Regional Japan Rail Passes Quick Guide

Click To Download


Where to Buy the 5 Recommended Passes

Tokyo Wide Area Pass
Hokkaido Rail Pass
Kansai Wide Area Pass
Alpine Takayama Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass
Ise Kumano Wakayama Area Tourist Pass


My List of Recommended Japan Travel Resources

Resources


More Planning Resources

Planning Travel Hub


VISIT: The Real Japan Travel Store


 

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Regional Japan Rail Pass 5 Best Value passes The Real Japan Rob Dyer

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  • Is foreigner working in Japan entitle these passes?

    • Thank you for your question AG.

      The answer is Yes, quite a few JR Rail Passes are available to foreign residents in Japan, although most for a limited period only. The passes and availability are:-

      #JR East (available indefinitely)#
      JR TOKYO Wide Pass
      JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
      JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)

      #JR Tokai (availability: 1st June~4th September 2022)#
      JR Tokai Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass
      JR Tokai Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass
      JR Tokai Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass
      JR Tokai Mt. Fuji-Shizuoka Area Tourist Pass Mini

      #JR West (availability: until 31st March 2023 and only thru selected travel agents such as Klook and Rakuten)#
      JR West Kansai WIDE Area Pass (3 day ticket only-this technically is a special version of the pass available to visiting foreign tourists)

      #JR Hokkaido (availability: 1st April~30th September 2022)#
      Sapporo-Noboribetsu Area Pass
      Sapporo-Furano Area Pass

      #JR Shikoku (availability: 11th April~28th September 2022)#
      JR Shikoku ALL SHIKOKU Rail Pass – 3 day pass only

      #JR Kyushu (availability: 1st April~30th September 2022)#
      JR Kyushu Rail Pass
      JR Kyushu Southern Kyushu Area Pass
      JR Kyushu Northern Kyushu Area Pass

      In all cases they must be purchased in Japan and a non-Japanese passport must be presented when purchased and on request.

      These passes provide extra options for foreign residents in Japan. We would recommend when planning a trip that they be considered together with passes that are available locally and other discounts. Of course, The Real Japan when planning a Japan trip will research and recommend the best tickets; or if you want to make the most of your pass suggest places to visit and trains / routes to take.
      (please note that the above information can change, but The Real Japan can provide updated information for when you travel. Availability denotes when available for travel, the last purchase date may be earlier)

      Stephen Turner – TS Japan Rail

  • Jill Allen says:

    Great information, giving lots of different ideas and help with forward planning.

    I think this information is invaluable to people hoping to see Japan at its finest.

    The country is beautiful and cannot be seen all at once so I suggest to concentrate on one or two areas.

    The railways are amazing, always on time and spotlessly clean.

    If you are planning a visit then enjoy, immerse yourself in the culture and the traditions, you will have a fabulous experience.

    • Glad you found Stephen’s post so helpful Jill. Planning a trip can sometimes feel overwhelming, so great articles like this (and the free download) can really make that process easier and more enjoyable.

    • Thanks Jill, To your point, in Japan there are around 70 trains specifically for tourists, which are a very good way to experience, depending on the train, scenery, local cuisine, culture and life in Japan generally. I am biased, but fully recommend using the train (and not just the Shinkansen) to explore Japan; after all the locals do!

  • Thank you for your article, really helpful! For my last travel (but was canceled), I was planning to buy the Setouchi area pass as I wanted to visit Shodoshima, west coast of Shikoku, before a road trip on Kyushu.

    • Thanks Aurore. I travelled from Himeji down to Kyushu by train earlier this year. There is a lot to see (and the Sanyo Main Line travels closer to the coast line or around the mountains so you see more than you would on the shinkansen or on the expressway). I also have a friend who lives and works on Shodoshima and is involved in tourism on the island, so I know they are doing a lot to high light the different aspects of the island. Hope you can make your visit soon!

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