The Japan Rail Pass has served as a trusty multi-use ticket for many budget travellers and gap-year students navigating Japan by train, mostly because holders of the pass can ride the country’s extensive network an unlimited number of times at a fixed price.
But this will change later in 2023, when Japan’s railway operator intends to significantly raise the price of the passes, previously touted as the most economical way to explore the country.
The Japan Railways (JR) Group, which runs the country’s wide-reaching and famously punctual trains, including its high-speed shinkansen bullet trains, said on Friday that the new prices will be enforced in October 2023, without giving a specific date.
A single adult pass that will cover all JR lines for seven days will rise by 20,350 yen (S$202) to 50,000 yen, a 68.6 per cent increase. A 14-day pass covering all JR lines is set to rise by more than 69 per cent from 47,250 yen to 80,000 yen.
The rail pass can be bought based on the number of days the traveller intends to use it, ranging from seven to 21 days, as well as specific regions, such as Hokkaido or Kansai.
The price hikes announced by the JR Group on Friday covered only the nationwide rail passes, with no changes in regional passes for now.
The transport authority added it intends to include more “discounts” for tourists at “selected sightseeing spots”, without specifying any details.
Rides on the fastest Nozomi and Mizuho trains will also be possible with the pass “at an additional cost”, JR said, without providing details.
Since the pass was introduced in 1981, price adjustments have been made only due to changes in Japan’s consumption tax, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.
The passes, which are sold by official JR retailers and authorised foreign travel agencies, can be purchased and used by only short-term tourists to Japan. Japanese citizens who do not reside in the country are also allowed to use them.
Initial reactions to the price changes appear to be one of shock, followed by gradual acceptance.
On a Reddit message board discussing travel to Japan, one commenter said the new prices made it look like “Japan doesn’t want tourists any more”.
United States-based civil engineer Michael Hui, 28, said that while he was surprised by the magnitude of the price increase, it was justifiable from JR’s perspective, and there is still plenty of value in regional passes not affected by the price changes.
He noted that rail journeys such as the one taking travellers from capital Tokyo to another popular destination, Osaka, will be most affected, especially for tourists visiting for the first time and intending to cover many distant cities in one trip.
“It’s the only JR pass that covers that route, so it seems to me that JR wants to take advantage of tourist use along this route where demand is more inelastic than others,” he told The Straits Times.