JR Kyūshū passes cover rail travel in — you guessed it — Kyūshū. If you’re keen to explore this fascinating, onsen-y island, these rail passes — covering all of Kyūshū or just the northern or southern half — can save you money. Read on to find out how, and how much.

Overview of JR Kyūshū passes

JR Kyūshū offers three different rail passes: one for all of Kyūshū, one for the northern half of the island, and another for the southern half of the island.

JR Kyūshū passes at a glance:

Pass Key destinations Eligibility Validity period Price Booking link
All Kyūshū Pass Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Yufuin, Beppu, Kumamoto, Miyazaki & Kagoshima Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 3, 5, or 7 consecutive days ¥17,000 (3-day pass) / ¥18,500 (5-day pass) / ¥20,000 (7-day pass) Reserve online
Northern Kyūshū Pass Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Yufuin, Beppu & Kumamoto, Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 3 or 5 consecutive days ¥10,000 (3-day pass) / ¥14,000 (5-day pass) Reserve online
Southern Kyūshū Pass Kumamoto, Miyazaki & Kagoshima Foreign passport holders with a temporary (tourist) visa 3 consecutive days ¥8,000 Reserve online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

Good news! While the JR Kyūshū passes are normally only available for foreign travelers on a tourist visa, for a limited time — until September 30, 2022 — foreign passport holders on any visa can purchase and use them.

What is covered by JR Kyūshū passes?

JR Kyūshū passes give you unlimited travel on the Kyūshū Shinkansen, limited express trains, and regular JR trains within the scope of the pass. So with the All Kyūshū Pass you can ride the length of the Kyūshū Shinkansen, from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Kagoshima. With the Northern Kyūshū Pass you can ride the Shinkansen between Hakata and Kumamoto and with the Southern Kyūshū Pass you can ride it between Kumamoto and Kagoshima.

Pro tip: If you have a lot of luggage, or even one huge bag, consider sending it on ahead with a luggage delivery service. New Shinkansen luggage rules from May 2020 dictate that luggage with dimensions of over 160cm but under 250cm will require special reservations (at no extra cost), and bags over 250cm won’t be allowed onboard the bullet train at all. These new rules are not applicable to the West Kyushu Shinkansen.

What is NOT covered by JR Kyūshū passes?

Unlike some other regional rail passes, JR Kyūshū’s passes don’t cover any private railway lines, buses (JR or otherwise) or ferries. But you do get some discounts at some places here and there with the pass.

You also can’t ride the little bit of Shinkansen north of Hakata because that is technically the Sanyō Shinkansen, not the Kyūshū Shinkansen. Also off-limits is the fancy Aru Ressha excursion train and the stupidly expensive Seven Stars resort sleeper train.

Riding the limited express train 36+3 with a JR Kyūshū rail pass

36+3 (pronounced “san-ju-roku plus san”) is a sightseeing train that does a week-long loop of the island. You book for certain segments of the journey (say Miyazaki to Beppu, which happens on Saturdays), and then commit to that whole segment. It’s a very nice train, with Japanese-y interior design (the window shades look like shōji, for example), a lounge car, and a bar car. Pass holders can ride this train but it requires a hefty surcharge and special reservations.

Beppu, Japan Onsens
Beppu is one of Japan’s most famous onsen resorts | Photo by iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Where can I travel with a JR Kyūshū pass?

Fortunately, you can do a lot by rail in Kyūshū. Sure, there are hiking trails, remote religious sites, and onsen that you really need your own wheels to reach (especially in Oita and Miyazaki prefectures). But trains can take you many places, while the Shinkansen and limited express trains make fast work of traversing Japan’s third largest island.

Kyūshū highlights include:

  • Fukuoka, Kyūshū’s biggest city, compact and with a cosmopolitan vibe.
  • Port city Nagasaki, which has made history twice: as a site for international trade during Japan’s era of seclusion and as the recipient of the second atomic bomb during WWII.
  • Castle town Kumamoto (still recovering from a devastating earthquake) and nearby Mt Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano (which is sometimes closed off for, well, being active).
  • Oita prefecture onsen resorts Beppu and Yufuin.
  • Southern city Kagoshima with its smoking volcano, Sakurajima.
  • The hot sand “baths” of Ibusuki, at the southern tip of the Satsuma Peninsula.

Where can I buy a JR Kyūshū Pass?

Online or in Japan — the price is the same. If you purchase online directly from JR Kyūshū you unlock the ability to reserve Shinkansen seats online as well. However, there is a very un-Cheapo-friendly ¥1,000 (half-price for children) charge per seat reservation! It is free for pass holders to make Shinkansen seat reservations in person at any JR Kyūshū ticket counter.

If you purchase online, you’ll need to pick up the actual pass from aJR Kyūshū ticket office.

Making seat reservations with a JR Kyūshū Pass

Regional rail passes differ as to whether they cover reserved seats or just unreserved seats on Shinkansen and limited express trains. JR Kyūshū’s passes do cover reserved seats: All Kyūshū Pass holders can make unlimited seat reservations at no extra charge while Northern Kyūshū Pass and Southern Kyūshū Pass holders can make up to six seat reservation at no extra charge (additonal reservations require a surcharge).

This is important because many of JR Kyūshū’s limited express trains only have reserved seating! You can make seat reservations at any JR Kyūshū ticket office or from reserved seat ticket vending machines at select stations. Major stations should have the reserved seat ticket vending machines, but you can check here. JR Kyūshū has a handy (and very detailed) tutorial on working the ticket machines. Seat reservations can be made up to one month in advance.

Heavy smoke bursting out from active volcano crater of Aso in Kyushu, Japan
The volcano, Mt Aso, on a particularly active day | Photo by iStock.com/Evgeniya Khomyakova

Are JR Kyūshū passes a good deal?

Like all of JR’s rail passes, these Kyūshū passes pay off if you make one long-haul round-trip Shikansen journey. For example, the round-trip fare between Hakata/Fukuoka and Kagoshima (¥20,880) more than covers the cost of even the longest (7-day) All Kyūshū Pass.

Sample Kyūshū Shinkansen fares:

Departure point Destination Fare Travel Time
Hakata (Fukuoka) Kumamoto ¥5,030 35 min
Hakata (Fukuoka) Kagoshima-chūō (Kagoshima) ¥10,440 90 min
Kumamoto Kagoshima-chūō (Kagoshima) ¥6,870 55 min

Limited express trains — which you’ll want to ride to visit some popular destinations like Nagasaki, Yufuin, and Beppu — can also add up.

Sample limited express train fares:

Departure point Destination Fare Travel Time Train name
Hakata (Fukuoka) Nagasaki ¥5,990 2 hrs Kamome
Hakata (Fukuoka) Sasebo/Huis Ten Bosch ¥4,500 1 hr 45 min Midori/Huis Ten Bosch
Hakata (Fukuoka) Beppu ¥6,470 2 hrs Sonic
Hakata (Fukuoka) Yufuin ¥5,190 2 hrs 15 min Yufu
Kumamoto Beppu ¥6,030 3 hrs 10 min Kyushu Odan
Beppu Miyazaki ¥7,000 3 hrs 15 min Nichiren Sea Gaia
Kagoshima Miyazaki ¥4,860 2 hrs Kirishima
Kagoshima Ibusuki ¥2,300 50 min Ibusuki-No-Tamatebako

Just traveling round-trip between Fukuoka and Nagasaki is enough to pay off a 3-day Northern Kyūshū Pass!

JR Kyūshū has a very excellent booklet in English with timetables all of the limited express trains. It also notes which ones require seat reservations.

Getting to Kyūshū

The other thing you need to take into account is the cost of getting to Kyūshū. Fukuoka is the main entry point and Fukuoka Airport is serviced by LCCs like Skymark (for Tokyo) and Peach (for Kansai), as well as international flights.

A flight from either Narita or Kansai airports to Fukuoka on a low cost carrier starts at around ¥5,000 each way. Much higher and it starts getting cheaper to purchase a countrywide Japan Rail Pass and ride the Shinkansen down to Kyūshū. Though on the other hand, it’s a good six hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakata/Fukuoka (three hours from Shin-Osaka).

Some JR West regional rail passes cover rail travel along the full extent of the Sanyō Shinkansen — all the way to Hakata (Fukuoka). So there is the possibility of stacking passes. You might also want to consider the the Sanyō-San’in Northern Kyūshū Pass, which covers travel from Kansai west to Kyūshū and, in Kyūshū, as far as Kumamoto.

Note that the Southern Kyūshū Pass does not include Fukuoka, so you’re looking possibly at a flight to a minor regional airport like Kumamoto, Kagoshima, or Miyazaki. There’s also no reason why you can’t stack the northern and southern Kyūshū rail passes. In fact, a 3-day Northern Kyūshū Pass and a 3-day Southern Kyūshū Pass, together, gives you six days of travel for ¥18,000, which is slightly less than the 5-day All Kyūshū Pass.

Traditional Chinese gate at the entrance to Nagasaki Chinatown
Nagasaki has a historic Chinatown | Photo by iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

JR Kyūshū Pass FAQs

Who can buy JR Kyūshū passes?

Usually onlly foreign passport holders entering Japan on a temporary (“tourist”) visa can purchase JR Kyūshū passes. Howevr, for a limited time — through September 2022 — foreign passport holders on any visa can purchase these passes.

Can I ride the Shinkansen with a JR Kyūshū Pass?

Yes, JR Kyūshū pass holders can ride the Kyūshū Shinkansen, which travels north to south from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Kagoshima-chūō (Kagoshima).

Can I ride the subway with a JR Kyūshū Pass?

No. In Kyūshū, only Fukuoka has a subway network. It’s operated by the city, not JR Kyūshū, so pass holders will have to buy tickets to ride the subway in Fukuoka. No municiple travel (including local buses) is covered by the passes.

Can I travel from Tokyo to Kyūshū with a JR Kyūshū Pass?

Nope! The only rail pass that covers travel from Tokyo to Kyūshū is the classic, countrywide Japan Rail Pass.

Can I travel from Osaka to Kyūshū with a JR Kyūshū Pass?

Nope. In addition to the national Japan Rail Pass, some JR West regional rail passes cover rail travel between Osaka and Hakata (Fukuoka).

Can I use JR Kyūshū passes to travel to or from Fukuoka Airport?

No — Fukuoka Airport is best accessed via the subway (it’s only a couple of stops away from downtown) and the subway is not covered by JR Kyūshū passes.

While we strive to make sure all details are correct, information is subject to change.

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