If you’re visiting Japan as a tourist, it’ is a good idea to consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass – a very-cost effective solution for visitors that are planning to travel long distances. For travelers with disabilities, there are some extra considerations about wheelchair accessibility and discounts to keep in mind.
Designed to stimulate the travel and tourist industry within the country, the JR Pass provides foreign visitors with unlimited use of JR trains for one, two or three weeks. It comes in two types – an ordinary and Green Car pass, with the latter being valid on the Green Cars that are generally more spacious and less crowded than ordinary train cars.
The Japan Rail Pass, whether it’s ordinary or Green one, can be used on almost all JR-operated trains, including the Shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid and local trains, as well as local JR buses, the JR Ferry to Miyajima, and the Tokyo Monorail to and from Haneda airport. However, visitors should know that the JR Pass cannot be used on highway buses, JR-trains using non-JR tracks and other routes (check the official Japan Rail Pass website for full information).
The JR Pass can save you quite a lot of money if you’re planning on traveling the country during the day. However, most night trains will require you to pay a supplemental fee, as the rail pass doesn’t fully cover the railways’ costs. There are some night trains that you can use your pass on without paying extra, so make sure to check these in advance.
The JR pass can be used only by foreign tourists and is therefore not available for sale in Japan. If you’re a tourist or a short-term visitor, you’ll have to purchase your Japan Rail pass before entering the country. You can obtain it online from places like Klook or JRailpass.com, through a travel agent or from any Japan-based airline, such as All Nippon Airways or Japan Airlines. Once payment is received, you’ll receive a voucher which you can then exchange for your actual pass at the designated JR stations across Japan.
To exchange your voucher for a pass, present the voucher with your passport, fill in the application form and specify your desired first day of use. You can select any starting date, as long as it’s within a one month period, but keep in mind that once the pass has been issued, the date cannot be changed.
The JR pass can be an incredibly cost-efficient option, but will only pay off if you’re planning to travel around the country. If you’re covering some long distances within a short period (7, 14 or 21 days), the JR pass will provide you with immense convenience and flexibility, in addition to saving you money. With the pass, you can ride trains whenever you want and spontaneously make side trips, without having to pay extra. To get an idea of how much money you can save, the 7-day pass costs about the same as a regular Shinkansen ticket for a round trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. If you travel or plan to travel less than that, you’re probably better off with normal train tickets.
As the Japan Rail Pass is already heavily subsidized by the government, there are no special additional discounts for those with disabilities.
If you are a wheelchair user, it is recommended you get an ordinary JR Pass. On local and express lines, the Green Car is often a double-decked carriage and not wheelchair accessible. Additionally, not all of the Green Cars on the Shinkansen have wheelchair accessible seating and wheelchair users may need to use the regular carriage regardless of pass type.