JR Central’s “tourist passes” are a little different from other Japan Rail passes. Rather than covering the whole country, like the classic JR Pass, or part of the country, like the regional rail passes from JR East and JR West (and all the other JRs), JR Central’s passes cover transit (both trains and buses) for specific itineraries.

These passes don’t cover much ground but do hit some major destinations and sights, including: Mt Fuji, the Kiso Valley, Matsumoto, the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Kanazawa, Takayama, Shirakawa-gō, Ise, and the Kii Peninsula.

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Overview of JR Central passes

JR Central’s passes cover destinations in the region between Kantō and Kansai. Notably, a few passes cover transport around Japan’s Alpine region (in Nagano and Gifu prefectures).

JR Central tourist passes at a glance:

Pass Key destinations Shinkansen Eligibility Validity period Price (purchased in Japan) Price (purchased outside of Japan) Booking link (overseas price)
Takayama–Hokuriku Area Gero Onsen, Takayama, Shirakawa-gō, Kanazawa, Kyoto & Osaka Hokuriku Shinkansen between Toyama & Kanazawa Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 5 consecutive days ¥15,280 ¥14,260 Reserve online
Alpine–Takayama–Matsumoto Area Pass Gero Onsen, Takayama, Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Kiso Valley & Matsumoto Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 5 consecutive days ¥19,600 ¥18,600 Reserve online
Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Ise, Kii Peninsula, Nara & Osaka Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 5 consecutive days ¥12,220 ¥11,210 Reserve online
Mt Fuji–Shizuoka Area Pass Atami, Numazu, Gotemba Premium Outlets & Fuji Five Lakes Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 3 consecutive days ¥5,080 ¥4,570 Reserve online

The biggest city and major transport hub in these parts is Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city (after Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka).

Note that while Nagoya is a stop on the Tokaidō Shinkansen, none of these passes cover travel on the Tokaidō Shinkansen (the Shinkansen that connects Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka). The only rail pass that covers travel on the Tokaidō Shinkansen is the national JR Pass. However, if you want to take your time sightseeing on the way from Tokyo to Kansai, one of these passes might be for you.

Takayama–Hokuriku Area Pass

shirakawago gifu japan
A traditional gasshō-zukuri farmhouse in Shirakawa-gō | Photo by iStock.com/LeeYiuTung

The Takayama–Hokuriku Area Pass covers travel between Nagoya and Kansai — but in a roundabout way via Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast. It is a bit like the Hokuriku Arch Pass; except instead of traveling from Tokyo to Kanazawa via Nagano on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, you travel from Nagoya via Takayama on the JR Takayama line. (This goes all the way to Toyama, where you can pick up the Hokuriku Shinkasen to make the short journey to Kanazawa, which is covered by the pass).

There is also an option to travel from Takayama to Kanazawa by bus, via the the World Heritage sites of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama. Also included in this pass is travel to/from Kansai International Airport.

Sample itinerary using the Takayama–Hokuriku Area Pass:

  • Day 1: Travel from Nagoya to Gero Onsen (2 hrs on the limited express Hida train) and spend the night in one of Japan’s famous hot spring resorts.
  • Day 2: From Gero, travel to Takayama (45 minutes on the limited express Hida train), a well-preserved post town known for its traditional architecture and craftsmanship.
  • Day 3: En route to Kanazawa from Takayama (a bus journey that takes 2 hours 15 minutes), stop off to explore the picturesque rural hamlets of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama.
  • Day 4: Spend the day in Kanazawa, a city rich in culture and history.
  • Day 5: Get another half-day of sightseeing, eating, and shopping in Kanazawa in before continuing on to Kyoto (2.5 hrs on the limited express Thunderbird train).

Without the pass, transport costs for this itinerary would amount to ¥16,910. Considering the Takayama–Hokuriku Area Pass costs ¥14,260 (or ¥15,280 purchased in Japan), that’s a savings of ¥2,650 (or ¥1,630 if you bought your pass in Japan).

**Sample itinerary costs are calculated based on the cost of unreserved seats.

Alpine–Takayama–Matsumoto Area Pass

Kurobe river
The Kurobe River in Toyama prefecture | Photo by Chris Kirkland

The Alpine–Takayama–Matsumoto Area Pass covers travel along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route — a stretch of spectacular alpine scenery traversed via a series of cable cars, ropeways, and buses — as well as round-trip travel to/from the route and Nagoya.

The pass allows you to do the whole thing as a loop, so there is no backtracking. Like with the Takayama–Hokuriku Area Pass, you’ll travel from Nagoya to Toyama via Gero and Takayama. After completing the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, you can return to Nagoya via Matsumoto and the Kiso Valley.

Important! The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is only open April 15th through November (because snow). Many people like to visit in April and May because that’s when you can experience the region’s famous snow wall. Other popular times to visit (in other words when crowds are likely) include Golden Week and Obon and early October when the leaves change color.

Sample itinerary using the Alpine–Takayama–Matsumoto Area Pass:

  • Day 1: Travel from Nagoya to Takayama (2 hrs 45 mins on the limited express Hida train), with a stop off at Gero Onsen if you like.
  • Day 2: From Takayama (don’t miss the morning market) make your way to Toyama via Hida Furukawa (90 minutes on the limited express Hida train).
  • Day 3: Get an early start for the all day adventure that is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which finishes at Shinano Omachi, around which there are numerous onsen.
  • Day 4: Continue on to Matsumoto (1 hr on the JR Oito line), nestled in the Alps and home to a stunning black castle.
  • Day 5: From Matsumoto travel to Nagoya (2 hrs 15 min on the limited express Shinano train) by way of the Kiso Valley, stopping in one of the historical towns, like Narai-juku. (Or if you’re very ambitious, you can hike the Nakasendo between Tsumago and Magome; note that the pass does not cover local buses in this area).

Without the pass, transport costs for this itinerary would amount to ¥26,710. Considering the Alpine–Takayama–Matsumoto Area Pass costs ¥18,600 (or ¥19,600 purchased in Japan), that’s a savings of ¥8,110 (or ¥7,110 if you bought your pass in Japan).

The significant savings from this pass are largely due to the price of traveling the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which costs ¥11,920 to complete. But really no one pays full price to do the route: JR Central has a few different transport passes, which anyone can use (regardless of passport or visa status), that make the whole thing more affordable. (None of them are as cheap as this pass for foreign tourists, though).

Coming from Tokyo, this highway bus package might be a better deal. Also lots of people do the route (or parts of it) through an organized tour.

Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass

Daimonzaka slope on Kumano Kodo
A stretch of the Kumano Kodō pilgrim trail in Kii | Photo by Roger Shitaki

The Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass covers travel around the Kii Peninsula from Nagoya and Kansai, with a stop over in Ise, home of Ise Shrine — the most important shrine in all of Japan. Also included in this pass is travel to/from Kansai International Airport.

While several JR West passes include travel from Kansai to Kii, the Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass is the only one to cover select non-JR bus routes that allow you to get into the interior of the peninsula — where the onsen and pilgrim trails of the Kumado Kodō are located. (You can’t, however, use the pass to visit the mountain monastery Kōya-san). The pass also covers the local buses you need to get around Ise and other nearby sights.

Sample itinerary using the Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass from Nagoya:

  • Day 1: Travel from Nagoya to Ise (105 minutes on the limited express Rapid Mie train). In addition to visiting the shrine, you can venture to the coast to meet Ama shellfish divers (and have a super-fresh seafood lunch).
  • Day 2: From Ise head down the coast of the Kii Peninsula to Shingū (4 hours on the fastest trains), home to one of the three great shrines of Kumano.
  • Day 3: Journey from Shingū into the heart of Kii (one hour on a bus), visiting Hongū, which has another of the great shrines and a fascinating museum on the culture of Kumano, and Yunomine Onsen.
  • Day 4: Head back to the coast and down to Nachi, to see the final shrine and Nachi Falls — a highlight of the region.
  • Day 5: On your final day, make the long trip from Nachi to Osaka (4 hours on the fastest trains). On the way, stop off at Shirahama, which has both hot springs and a white sand beach.

Without the pass, transport costs for this itinerary would amount to ¥16,920. Considering the Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass costs ¥11,210 (or ¥12,220 purchased in Japan), that’s a savings of ¥5,710 (or ¥4,700 if you bought your pass in Japan).

Sample itinerary using the Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass from Osaka:

  • Day 1: Travel from Osaka’s Tennōji Station via Kii Tanabe to Chikatsu-yu, one of the settlements along the Kumano Kodō. (Travel time: 2 hrs on the limited express Kuroshio train plus a 75 minute bus ride).
  • Day 2: A full day of hiking from Chikatsu-yu to Hongū along the Nakahechi trail of the Kumano Kodō.
  • Day 3: Spend the morning sightseeing in Hongū or soaking in Yunomine Onsen, then continue on to Shingū either by bus or via river cruise (extra cost).
  • Day 4: Sightsee in Shingū and Nachi, then take the train to Ise in the late afternoon.
  • Day 5: Get in a full day of Ise area sights before heading back to Nagoya.

Unlike the first itinerary, this one includes a full day of hiking the most popular/accessible part of the Kumano Kodō, plus the option to take a boat ride down the Kumano River (part of the traditional pilgrim route). The cost of the boat ride (¥4,300) and the bus between Kii-Tanabe Station and Chikatsu-yu (where you’ll begin your hike; ¥1,410) are not covered by the pass.

The total cost of this itinerary, including the boat ride, comes to ¥18,720. After subtracting the cost of the boat ride and the additional bus journey, that’s a savings of ¥1,800 (or ¥790 if you bought your pass in Japan).

Mt Fuji–Shizuoka Area Pass

Fuji Five Lakes is one of the best areas for Fuji-spotting | Photo by iStock.com/kokoroyuki

The Mt Fuji–Shizuoka Area Pass is a little different than the other three JR Central passes. For one, it’s not centered around travel from Nagoya. You’ve also only got three days to work with, meaning you have to be extra choose-y about where to visit and what to do.

What the pass covers is travel along the JR Tokaidō Main Line between Izu Peninsula onsen destination Atami and Toyohashi, and the JR Gotemba line between Matsuda and Numazu. (There’s nothing particularly special about Toyohashi; this is just the section of track overseen by JR Central).

Plus side excursions — either by rail or by bus (or a combination of the two) — to Shuzenji, an onsen town in central Izu; the Mishima Sky Walk; Fuji Five Lakes; Shimobe Onsen in Yamanashi prefecture; FujiQ Highland; and the Gotemba Premium outlets. Among others: there are a whole host of minor attractions you can visit with this pass. It also covers a ferry between Izu and Shimizu.

Sample itinerary using the Mt Fuji–Shizuoka Area Pass from Matsuda:

  • Day 1: Travel to Shizuoka port city Numazu, where you can get a seafood lunch; then Mishima for the Mishima Sky Walk (with a bonus view of Mt Fuji); spend the night (and get some onsen in) at either Atami, Izu Nagaoka, or Shūzenji Onsen — all in Izu.
  • Day 2: Travel to Fuji Five Lakes (by bus, either from Gotemba or Shin-Fuji station) for hiking and Fuji-spotting.
  • Day 3: More sightseeing around Fuji Five Lakes, or a trip to Fuji Q Highland or the Gotemba Premium Outlets, and then back to Matsuda (and Tokyo).

Without a pass, this itinerary would cost something like ¥7,500 or more, depending on exactly where you go (those bus rides add up!). You’re definitely saving money here, but there are also other travel passes that compete with this one, including JR’s Tokyo Wide Pass, the Izu-Hakone Rail and Bus Pass, and Odakyu’s Fuji–Hakone Free Pass.

There are also plenty of tours from Tokyo that visit similar spots and are possibly better value (while also saving you the hassle of working out local transport schedules).

Since this pass also doesn’t cover travel to or from a hub city — like Tokyo, Nagoya, or Osaka — you are also (likely) on the hook for getting to this part of the country. Coming from Tokyo, you want to get to Matsuda, which is 90 minutes from Shinjuku on the Odakyu line (¥790). Coming the other direction, take a JR Tokaidō line train from Nagoya to Toyohashi (one hour; ¥1,340).

JR Central passes FAQs

Who can use JR Central passes?

Normally, only foreign passport holders visiting Japan on a tourist visa. However, through September 4, 2022, foreign passport holders on any visa can purchase these passes.

Where can I buy JR Central passes?

Passes are cheaper when purchased outside of Japan, which you can do online.

In Japan, passes can be purchased in Tokyo at the JR Central ticket office or branches of Tokai Tours at Tokyo and Shinagawa stations. They can also be purchased at major stations covered by the passes including Nagoya, Kyoto, and Shin-Osaka. Foreign residents should buy their passes in Japan.

Can I use a JR Central pass on the Shinkansen?

Only one of the JR Central passes (Takayama–Hokuriku Area Pass) covers any Shinkansen travel, and that is only a small section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Toyama and Kanazawa.

If you want to zip around on the Shikansen, the classic JR Pass is probably the best pass for you.

Can I travel from Tokyo using a JR Central pass?

No. The Mt Fuji–Shizuoka Area Pass covers travel from Matsuda, which is only 90 minutes from Shinjuku on the Odakyu line. All of the other passes require you to travel as far as Nagoya. From Tokyo Station, the Tokaidō Shinkasen travels to Nagoya in 90 minutes (on the Nozomi), two hours (Hikari), or 2.5 hours (Kodama) and costs ¥11,090.

A Platto Kodama ticket from Tokyo Station to Nagoya costs ¥8,600 to ¥9,800 (in peak season). Platto Kodama tickets must be purchased at least one day before departure, from either Tokai Tours or JTB.

Can I travel from Kansai using a JR Central pass?

Two of the passes, the Takayama–Hokuriku Area and the Ise–Kumano–Wakayama Area Pass, include travel from Kansai (including travel to/from Kyoto, Osaka, and Kansai International Airport).

The Alpine–Takayama–Matsumoto Area Pass requires travelers in Kansai to first travel to Nagoya. The fare from Shin-Osaka to Nagoya is ¥6,470; from Kyoto it is ¥5,700.

A Platto Kodama ticket from Shin-Osaka to Nagoya costs ¥4,600 (or ¥5,400 during peak season); from Kyoto the cost is ¥4,500 (¥5,100 during peak season). The ride takes 50 minutes from Shin-Osaka or 35 minutes from Kyoto on Nozomi/Hikari trains and 75 minutes/one hour on Kodama trains.

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