I had a lot of confusion prior to this myself. There are many aspects to the rail pass that you need to understand prior to your arrival to Japan. This pass allows you to:
~Travel all of Japan, including the highspeed Shinkansen Bullet Train and Non-Bullet JR Trains
~Free seat reservation and everything is prepaid
~Access to the Hiroshima-Miyajima Ferry
~In place of the Nozomi and Mizuho class commuter bullet trains
~Unlimited trips for the duration of your pass
If you are 100% getting a JR Rail Pass, you NEED to get one BEFORE you leave the country. DO NOT WAIT to get one until you get there-because you will not be able to. There are 4 things you need to do in order to get this pass.
1.Make sure you are eligible for a JR Rail Pass. Eligbility requires a “Temporary Visitor entry status that allows a stay in Japan of 15 days or 90 days for “sight-seeing, etc.” If you apply for a “stay for sight-seeing” when you enter Japan, entry personnel will stamp your passport as “Temporary Visitor.” *In order to receive or use JAPAN RAIL PASS, your passport must bear this stamp or sticker.” They will check your passport every single entry and exit point along with your pass, don’t try to be sneaky.
2. Establish where you may be going and how many days you will need the pass for. The JR Rail pass is better if you plan on going to 4 or more places in Japan. In my case, we did Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Fumishijua, and back to Tokyo. If we had bought individual trips for each of these it would’ve been more expensive than getting a JR Rail Pass. There are options for 7, 14 or 21 day passes, the prices may seem extreme at first but trust me-if youre going to multiple places in japan this pass will save you a ton of money.
3. Purchase your tickets prior to your arrival in Japan. There are a few websites you can purchase them from and I will list them below. They will be mailed to your house so make sure you alot a good about of time to ensure they will arrive before your departure. They also have a ordinary or green class option and adult/child passes; adult passes are for ages 12 and up and green class is more expensive but offers wider seats, more luggage space, more privacy and some amenities. If you are on a budget, I highly recommend sticking with the ordinary, I feel it was still enough space and privacy.
4. Activate your Rail Pass in Japan and bring them with you everywhere and DO NOT LOSE THEM! They do not issue a backup and you will not be allowed on the trains. It is about the size of your passport so just keep it with you at all times. To activate, find a JR Rail Station within the train station when you are going to book your first ticket. You must book a seat before you get on the train, they will give you indviual tickets and your train departure time. I recommend doing this the day before, that way you know how much time you need prior to your trains depature and you have a seat confirmed.
Here are some of the websites I recommend: