Japan Rail Pass or Shinkansen Ticket: Which One is Better?

Japan Rail Pass or Shinkansen Ticket

Traveling around Japan using the Shinkansen, or bullet train, offers a fast and convenient way to explore the country’s diverse regions. With its extensive network of high-speed rail lines, the Shinkansen allows travelers to easily access major cities and attractions across Japan. Whether you’re enjoying Tokyo’s modern skyline, exploring Kyoto’s ancient traditions, or admiring Hokkaido’s natural beauty, the Shinkansen provides a comfortable and efficient mode of transportation. With speeds reaching up to 320 km/h (200 mph), you can travel between destinations in no time, making the most of your time to discover Japan’s rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cities.

You may have heard of the famous Japan Rail Pass, and you might be wondering if it’s worth buying or if it’s better to purchase individual Shinkansen tickets. In the past, the Japan Rail Pass was one of the best purchases for travelers in Japan, and many people and blogs still hold onto that idea. But since 2023, prices have gone up, and now it’s not as cost-effective as it used to be.

When deciding between Shinkansen tickets and the Japan Rail Pass, it’s essential to consider your travel plans and preferences. Factors like the duration of your stay, the number of destinations you plan to visit, and whether you prefer the convenience of unlimited travel with the Japan Rail Pass or the flexibility of purchasing Shinkansen tickets as needed.

In that article, I’ll explain the pros and cons of both options, and when it’s worth buying the Japan Rail Pass versus purchasing individual Shinkansen tickets.

What is the Shinkansen?

The Shinkansen, also known as the “bullet train,” is a high-speed rail network in Japan operated by Japan Railways, renowned for its punctuality, comfort, and efficiency. It connects major cities across the country, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, allowing passengers to travel quickly and conveniently between destinations. The Shinkansen offers various classes of service, including standard and Green Car (first class), providing a comfortable and reliable travel experience.

▶︎ Shinkansen: A Complete Guide to the Japanese Bullet Train


Shinkansen Tickets

Shinkansen tickets are ideal for travelers with specific destinations in mind or those who prefer more flexibility in their itinerary. You can purchase tickets for individual journeys, allowing you to customize your route and travel at your own pace.

With a variety of ticket options available, including reserved and non-reserved seating, travelers can choose the option that best suits their needs and budget. Purchasing tickets is straightforward, either at the station or online, and the trains run frequently throughout the day, making it easy to plan your journey.

▶︎Book now your Shinkansen tickets!

Advantages of buying Shinkansen tickets:

  • You can reserve seats in advance, even before arriving in Japan.
  • Thanks to the above point, you don’t have to queue at the stations when you arrive in Japan. You can receive your Shinkansen tickets directly in your email.
  • You can travel at your own pace, without worrying about the pass running out.

Disadvantages of buying Shinkansen tickets:

  • It can be expensive if you take many bullet trains
  • You have to buy all the tickets separately.

Where to buy individual Shinkansen tickets?

Japan Bullet Train is a new service launched by our partner company, which offers bullet train and express train tickets in Japan for tourists. All the service is in English (and 3 other languages), including customer service. They accept payments with all major credit cards, and the process is very easy and simple, especially compared to Japanese websites.

After your purchase, once your ticket is confirmed you will receive a QR code. You simply have to scan this QR code in the vending machines available at the main stations from where the bullet train departs and you will get your physical ticket, with which you can access the platform. All from the comfort of your smartphone.

▶︎Book now your Shinkansen tickets!

What is the Japan Rail Pass?

The Japan Rail Pass, or JR Pass, is a convenient and cost-effective way for visitors to explore Japan by train. Available for tourists only, it offers unlimited travel on most JR trains, including Shinkansen (bullet trains), limited express, and local trains, for a fixed duration (7, 14, or 21 consecutive days).

▶︎ A Guide to Japan Rail Pass

Until last year, it was a must-have and a bestseller for travelers to Japan. However, since October 2023 the price of the JRPass increased by almost 70%. This means that the 7-day pass cost now 50,000 yen, instead of the 29,650 yen that it used to cost.

Price of  Japan Rail Pass Ordinary Pass (Couch Class)

Adult Child (Age6-11)
7 Days 50,000 yen 25,000 yen
14 Days 80,000 yen 40,000 yen
21 Days 100,000 yen 50,000 yen

Price of Japan Rail Pass Green Pass (Upgraded Class)

Adult Child (Age6-11)
7 Days 70,000 yen 35,000 yen
14 Days 110,000 yen 55,000 yen
21 Days 140,000 yen  70,000 yen

Advantages of buying the JR Pass:

  • You can’t reserve seats in advance, so if you’re traveling with family and friends, you might end up in separate cars or during peak season, even standing.
  • If you’re not going to make many trips, it’s not cost-effective.
  • It can only be used on JR lines but not for other companies. For example, you can’t use it on the Tokyo Metro.
  • You have to buy it BEFORE traveling to Japan, but not afterwards. And upon arriving in Japan, you’ll have to wait in long lines at the JR counters to exchange the JR pass and get your tickets.

Disadvantages of buying the JR Pass:

  • If you’re going to many places, you can save money.
  • You only need one single ticket.


Is the Japan Rail Pass worth to buy?

That depends on the duration of your trip and how many places you want to visit, as well as your travel style. If you have just a few days and want to visit places like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, a Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka/Kyoto costs around 15,000-16,000 yen. That adds up to a total of 30,000-32,000 yen for a round trip, so it’s more economical to buy individual Shinkansen tickets rather than the Japan Rail Pass.

But if your trip is going to be longer and you’re planning to go, for example, all the way to Hiroshima, traveling from Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto-Hiroshima in less than 7 days, then it can be cost-effective for you. The Shinkansen ticket from Kyoto to Hiroshima is 14,500 yen and from Hiroshima to Tokyo 22,400 yen, adding 16,000 yen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka, make a total of approx. 53,000 yen.

Considering that you can also use the JR for shorter trips within the city, such as within Tokyo and Osaka, you can potentially save around 5,000-10,000 yen (depending on how much you travel between cities). Or even if it’s not the route I mentioned above, if you are going to travel to many places in 7 days, it may also be worthwhile. Check your route and compare the price of individual tickets.

But keep in mind that one of the drawbacks of the Japan Rail Pass is that its validity period is 7 consecutive days. That forces you to rush and see everything quickly in order to make the most of the pass. If you prefer to explore places leisurely and enjoy them at your own pace, spending several days in each city, then you might prefer to pay the price difference. With the recent increase in the JR Pass price, the price difference isn’t that significant either.

Where to buy the Japan Rail Pass?

You can buy the Japan Rail Pass from authorized vendors or online retailers before your trip to Japan. But please keep in mind that you must buy it BEFORE your trip to Japan. Is not possible to buy the Japan Rail Pass in Japan, since it’s only for tourists.

▶︎Buy your Japan Rail Pass now!!

Overall: Shinkansen Tickets or Japan Rail Pass?

Shinkansen Tickets Japan Rail Pass
Reserve seats in advance ✔️
Buy inside Japan ✔️
Only need one ticket ✔️
Use it when you want ✔️ ✔️
Multiple use ✔️

Best way to go from Tokyo to popular destinations

If you are not sure which is the best option to get from Tokyo to some of the most popular cities, and want to compare different options such as train, bus, plane, or private transport, here you have a few complete guides for the most touristic destinations.

▶︎How to Get to Hakone from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Nikko from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Mt.Fuji from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Osaka from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Kyoto from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Hiroshima from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get DisneyLand and Disney Sea from Tokyo

Also how to get to Tokyo from the two main airports, Narita Airport and Haneda Airport.

▶︎How to Get from Nartita Airport to Tokyo

▶︎How to Get from Haneda Airport to Tokyo

If is your first time in Japan and don’t know where to go, this article may help! ▶︎A Comprehensive Guide to Trains in Japan: Including Shinkansen and Japan Rail Pass

▽For more Shinkansen Information▽

▶︎ Best Train Passes in Japan

▶︎ The Ultimate Guide for Transportation in Tokyo

▶︎ How to Move around Kyoto

Thanks for reading this far! I hope it has been helpful 🙂 For more tips and information about traveling in Japan, you have these articles too. And even more information in Japan Web Magazine!

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Written by

From Barcelona to Tokyo. Coffee & Adventure lover🌏☕️ 

I started to like Japan because of the anime, music and doramas, but after my first trip to the country I found what I love the most: traveling around, the culture and history. I have travelled a lot in Japan, but I still have many places to discover that I want to share with you🙋🏼‍♀️ Let’s discover Japan together!


Also, as a foreigner living in Japan for over 6 years I understand what kind of things are difficult when you move here and I want to help other people in the same situation that I have in the past.