The Pros and Cons of a Japan Rail Pass

When Elizabeth and I were planning the trip to Japan, it originally started out as two weeks in Tokyo. Elizabeth then mentioned that she would like to see Osaka, which of course meant we would get to travel the famous 新幹線/shinkansen, aka the bullet trains that are used between cities in Japan. After looking at ticket prices to get to and from Osaka, and speaking to friends who travelled the lines, I realized that the best deal for us would be to get a Japan Rail Pass. For about the same price as the ticket to and from Osaka, we would be able to go anywhere we liked in Japan for one week on this one ticket, with only a few exceptions. Our trip to Japan went from two weeks in Tokyo to one where we would be visiting Osaka, Kyoto, Okayama, and Hiroshima in the span of three days.

I loved having the Japan Rail Pass. It wasn’t as convenient as the Suica card when we were in Tokyo, because it involved having to go through the gate at the side, instead of just using the cards we had been using before. But what it lacked in gate convenience, it made up for in everything else. Before, when I lived in Japan, I never qualified for this pass, because of my work visa, and so never really travelled beyond Tokyo, because it was expensive. This pass let me go right across the country, worry free. There was no fee for reservations, I could get on any train I liked, as long as I didn’t get on the Nozomi speed cars, and there was no trouble.

Amazingly enough, this freedom is what became a con of the Japan Rail Pass.

When we were in Osaka, it was wet, and muggy, and we were tired. We just wanted to get back to the hotel to regroup and figure out what to do, because the rain had ruined plans we had before. Since our train passes let us on all trains, including limited express trains, we didn’t worry about jumping on a reserved train, making our way over to the non-reserved car, and sitting down, expecting our train ride to be about 10 minutes long.

We really should have checked that train.

Instead of taking the short ride from Tenoji to Oji station, we ended up on the limited express to Kansai Airport. There were no stops in between at all. So instead of going back to our hotel, we got a lovely train tour of the Kansai region, and got to visit Kansai International Airport! Which seems lovely, by the way.

In retrospect (and even on the train ride, at times,) it was rather funny. But considering how much time we didn’t have in Osaka, wasting two hours on the train to the airport was frustrating, and something that might not have happened had we had to pay for the trains. Since that one train ride would have cost us well over $30 alone. Despite that though, it was one of the best purchases we made in regards to our trip. Without it, getting to see so many places in Japan wouldn’t have been possible. I highly recommend taking advantage of your tourist visa and ordering one before your vacation.