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We have a quick answer to this commonly asked question. The Japan Rail Pass is not cheap, so it’s an important question to ask, but it certainly has merits if you can pay it off.

For the most part, you need to ask yourself one simple question:

Are you going to use the bullet train at least twice?

If the answer is YES, I will be using the bullet train at least twice then buy the JR Pass.

You will more or less pay it off at this rate, and will almost certainly pay it off when you consider use of inner-city transport. In Tokyo, each short train trip will cost you about $1.50, minimum. If you’re busy, you’ll be taking at least five trains a day within the city.

If the answer is NO, I will not be using the bullet train at least twice, then do NOT buy the JR Pass. You’ll likely use the bullet train only once if you are, for example, flying INTO Tokyo and then flying OUT of Osaka, without using the bullet train to any other areas. You will definitely not pay off the JR pass if you’re using the trains within a city alone and only one trip on the bullet train.

Some unusual cases where it’s a “maybe”…

So, we’ve established:

  • Bullet train at least twice? Buy it.
  • Bullet train once or less? Don’t buy it.
The only time I will pitch a maybe to you, is if you are staying on the outskirts of the city and frequently travelling in.
For example, you are visiting a family member or friend who is on the JET Programme, and they’re living in a prefecture like Gunma or Ibaraki. Daily, you commute into Tokyo. This is likely going to be worthwhile, but you’ll need to use one of those online calculators for it. So if this is you, the answer is not as simple.

Everyone else. Use the guideline above. Simple as that!

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