japan regional rail pass

There are many different types of trip you can take in Japan using the country’s extensive and world-class train network. While some visitors choose to take great long trips right around Japan, others prefer to focus on one specific region in the country and get to know that area more intimately. If you’re that kind of traveller, you’ll definitely want to look into the great variety of regional rail passes on JR Pass.com that are available to see if they’ll suit you and your next Japan trip.

What Are Regional Rail Passes?

Travelling by train in Japan is a rite of passage for so many international visitors. The country is home to a fantastic, extensive and efficient rail network that makes exploring not only lots of fun but easy too.

Part of what makes train travel in Japan so easy is the value you can get from rail passes there. Rail passes allow a passenger to travel as much as they like within the time-frame and zone included in the pass. Compared to purchasing single or return trip tickets, passes can provide convenience and savings for those taking multiple train journeys within a specific window of time.

In Japan the most common type of rail pass is the JR Pass that offers national coverage of trains operated by the six networks of the Japan Railways (JR) Group, including regional, intercity and Shinkansen services. The next most common group of rail passes though are regional rail passes, which are designed to cover specific geographic areas.

There are over 30 different regional passes available in Japan, and they generally fall into three different types:

  1. Single Network: These regional passes are simply valid for just one area, like the Hokkaido Rail Pass which solely covers JR Hokkaido train travel on the island of Hokkaido.
  2. Single Region: Rather than covering all trains on a particular JR Group network, these passes include just a single area within that network, like the JR Kansai Pass, which is only valid for the Kansai region on the JR West network.
  3. Linked Regions: Because passengers often travel along specific routes that go from one network to another, some regional passes are designed to cover both regions on the journey. A common example is the JR East – South Hokkaido Rail Pass which is valid for travel from Tokyo up through the Tohoku region to Sapporo in southern Hokkaido.

Because a regional pass is more particular in what it includes, it can often provide even better savings for the right kind of trip. For example, the Osaka-Tokyo Hokuriku Arch Pass can actually be cheaper for a return trip from Tokyo to Kyoto than individual one-way tickets or the JR Pass. The only downside is that you’re locked into the specific region included in your rail pass.

Who Is Eligible to Use Regional Passes?

To understand whether buying a regional rail pass is right for you, it’s important to know whether you’re actually eligible to use the pass. Much like the JR Pass, there are specific conditions for who can travel on a regional pass in Japan, and you’ll want to check them before making a purchase.

The essential thing to understand about these rail passes is that they’re only available for non-Japanese nationals on short tourism visits or Japanese nationals who live outside Japan and meet certain conditions. To travel with a regional pass, you must enter Japan on a temporary (sightseeing) visitor visa of 15 or 90 days duration, either single or multi entry.

For instance, people on a student visa, long term visa or permanent residency visa are not eligible. Make sure to check the JR Pass eligibility rules carefully to understand whether you are eligible.

Who Are Regional Passes Meant For?

Now that you know whether you can travel on a JR regional pass, let’s look at whether you should. Those wanting a rail pass to help them travel in Japan by train have a choice between a regional rail pass and the JR Pass, each with their own strengths for certain scenarios.

Most of the time, the JR Pass is the best option for international visitors to Japan due to its value, breadth and simplicity. But there are specific instances where a regional rail pass can be a more appropriate and affordable option, such as:

  • Visiting a single Region: If you’re only travelling to one specific corner of Japan rather than multiple regions, you may only require the coverage of a regional pass rather than the comprehensive, wide-reaching coverage of a JR Pass.
  • Budget travel: While the JR Pass provides great value, it can be a significant investment. Regional passes start at considerable lower prices and are easier to access because of it.
  • A Short Trip: Unlike the JR Pass which has 7, 14 and 21 day durations, regional passes often cover fewer days, with some as short as just 2 or 3 days. That makes them ideally suited to day trips or weekend trips.
  • Seasoned Travellers to Japan: Those who regularly visit Japan and know their way around Japan’s rail network should know exactly what they require and whether a regional pass will cover it.
  • As a companion to the JR Pass: This is handy for people who may stay in Japan longer than the duration of their normal JR Pass. It is common to use a 7-day JR Pass to travel across Japan, then using a regional pass of shorter duration for the remaining days of the trip to get around area’s like Kanto (Tokyo and Yokohama) and Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Kobe).

Is A Regional Pass Right For My Itinerary?

The most important stage in travelling with a regional pass is making sure it will actually work with your planned itinerary. There are plenty of different regional passes to choose from, many of which overlap in different ways.

A good place to start is with the Japan Rail Pass Map and the JR Pass list of regional passes to see which will be the right fit for your trip plans. On the regional pass page, you can see what is included in each pass, the different durations of each regional pass and a map of the routes in the region. As for the finer details of planning your trip such as timetables and routes, it’s best to use the popular app/website Hyperdia.

Other services available from JR Pass.com include: