No doubt you’ve heard of the famous All Japan Rail Pass. JR West rail passes are a similar deal, but are designed specifically for travel around Kansai and the western half of Honshū (Japan’s main island). They’re cheaper than the national rail pass, which means they could potentially save you even more money — depending on where you plan to go.

Jump to:

Overview of JR West passes

JR West covers the western half of Honshū: from Kansai to Shimonoseki (at the tip of Yamaguchi prefecture and right across the strait from Kyūshū). This includes popular destintions like Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Himeji, Hiroshima, and Miyajima.

The key Shinkansen route here is the Sanyō Shinkansen, which connects Osaka (Shin-Osaka Station) with Kobe (Shin-Kobe Station), Himeji, Okayama, and Hiroshima. A few of the passes also include Shinkansen travel all the way to Hakata (Fukuoka), the main entry point to Kyūshū.

Suggested Activity
Save with the Klook Pass Osaka
Get up to 43% off your tickets to Osaka’s popular attractions, including the Harukas 300 Observatory, Legoland, teamLab Botanical Garden and more. ...

So if you’re thinking to focus on this part of the country, JR West has A LOT of options for you. Like, ±10 options.

tl;dr If you’re just interested in visiting the major Kansai cities and tourist destinations of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, you’re best off with a Kansai Area Pass. However, if you’re looking to travel within Kansai and then dip out to other major destinations, consider some of the other passes (like the Kansai–Hiroshima Area Pass), or even purchasing two passes (like the Kansai WIDE Area Pass + the San’in–Okayama Area Pass).

Unlike the country-wide JR Pass, JR West passes can be used on the fastest Nozomi and Mizuho trains on the Sanyō Shinkansen. Passes that include Miyajima cover the ride on the JR Miyajima ferry.

Important! Only foreign passport holders entering on a temporary visitor visa are eligible for JR West passes.

Shinkansen train pulling into a station
The Sanyō Shinkansen travels between Osaka and Fukuoka via Himeji (among other stops). | Photo by iStock.com/tapanuth

Kansai Area Pass

The Kansai Area Pass covers travel on regular JR lines between the major cities of the Kansai region, which are also major tourist destinations: Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kobe. It also covers travel to/from Kansai International Airport (on the limited express Haruka train), Universal Studios Japan, castle town Himeji, and points around Lake Biwa; travel on the Osaka Loop line and JR West buses in Kyoto (which travel from Kyoto Station to Takao). It does not cover any Shinkansen travel.

Kansai Area Pass at a glance:

Validity periodPriceBooking link
1 day¥2,800Reserve online
2 days¥4,800Reserve online
3 days¥5,800Reserve online
4 days¥7,000Reserve online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

The Kansai Area Pass — the most popular of the JR West passes — is a bit different to other regional passes. Since the cities and attractions in Kansai tend to be a bit more spread out than in the greater Tokyo area, the pass actually makes more sense for daily travel than major intercity travel.

Included with the pass is an additional 1-day pass that is good for unlimited rides on the Kyoto subway and Kyoto area Hankyū and Keihin line trains. It must be used within the validity period of the Kansai Area Pass.

The pass can currently be bought online in advance or from certain travel agents in Japan.

The Kansai Area Pass is an excellent deal if you game it right. The cost of a one-way reserved seat ride on the Haruka limited express train from Kansai International Airport to Osaka costs ¥2,400 — almost as much as the one-day Kansai Area Pass. A one-way trip from Osaka to Himeji is ¥1,520, and the pass makes you eligible for a 20% admission discount at Himeji Castle. So if you plan on doing one or both of these trips, the pass will definitely save you money.

Otherwise you might want to punch in your planned trips into a fare calculator like Jorudan or Hyperdia. For example, the one-way fare between Osaka and Kyoto is only ¥570 on JR lines (and only ¥400 on the Hankyū line). There are also other Kansai area transport/discount passes that aren’t JR, like the Kansai Thru Pass, to consider.

Himeji Castle with a weeping cherry tree in the foreground
Visit Himeji Castle with the Kansai Area Pass. | Photo by iStock.com/toshimitu

Kansai WIDE Area Pass

The Kansai WIDE Area Pass covers everything that the Kansai Area Pass does, plus some other key destinations.

Kansai WIDE Area Pass at a glance:

PassRegions coveredKey destinationsShinkansenValidity periodPriceBooking link
Kansai WIDE Area PassKansai west to Okayama + TakamatsuKinosaki Onsen, Kii Peninsula, Tottori, Okayama, Kurashiki & TakamatsuSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Okayama5 consecutive days¥12,000Reserve Online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

Notably, it includes travel to Kansai’s most popular hot spring town, Kinosaki Onsen; Tottori, which is known for its sand dunes; the Kii Peninsula, where the Kumano Kodō pilgrim trails are located; Okayama, which has a famous garden and is also the jumping off point for exploring Naoshima and other islands in the Seto Inland Sea; pretty canal town Kurashiki; and Takamatsu, which is across the strait on the island of Shikoku.

Round-trip travel between Kyoto and Kinosaki Onsen costs ¥9,860 on the Kinosaki limited express train — so this one excursion is three-quarters of the pass by itself. (Travel to Kinosaki Onsen on regular trains costs only ¥2,640 one-way but the journey takes over 5 hours — compared to 2.5 on the direct limited express train — and requires several transfers).

Kumano Kodo pilgrim trail through the Kii Peninsula
One of the Kumano Kodō trails through the Kii Peninsula. | Photo by iStock.com/Sean Pavone

JR West All Area Pass

The JR West All Area Pass is the most comprehensive of the JR West passes. It covers travel around Kansai and the Kii peninsula; journeys on the Sanyō Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hakata (Fukuoka) via Okayama and Hiroshima; and limited express trains to Kinosaki Onsen and Kanazawa.

JR West All Area Pass at a glance:

PassRegions coveredShinkansenValidity periodPriceBooking link
JR West All Area PassHokuriku, Kansai & the rest of Honshū to the west + FukuokaSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka & Hakata (Fukuoka); Hokuriku Shinkansen between Kanazawa & Jōetsu Myōkō7 consecutive days¥26,000Reserve online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

The pass also includes travel to the often overlooked destinations in the San’in region of western Honshū, including: castle town Matsue; Izumo, with its ancient grand shrine; and the well-preserved historical town Hagi.

The JR West All Area Pass is good value if you are traveling extensively around this side of Japan. If you are focusing more on certain regions, one of JR West’s regional passes might make more economical sense (more on those below).

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.

Japan sand dunes
Yes, this is Japan (the sand dunes in Tottori). | Photo by iStock.com/deko

Sanyō-San’in Northern Kyūshū Pass

The Sanyō-San’in Northern Kyushu Pass is a joint pass between JR West and JR Kyūshū. It covers Kansai and all of western Honshū — basically everything that the JR West All Area Pass covers except Hokuriku (i.e. Kanazawa) — plus the northern half of Kyūshū (the same area covered by the Northern Kyūshū Pass). You can ride the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka all the way to Kumamoto, which would normally cost ¥19,200 one-way!

Sanyō-San’in Northern Kyushu Pass at a glance:

PassRegions coveredShinkansenValidity periodPriceBooking link
Sanyō–San’in Northern Kyūshū PassKansai & the rest of Honshū to the west; Fukuoka to Kumamoto in Kyūshū; Takamatsu in ShikokuSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka & Hakata (Fukuoka); Kyūshū Shinkasen between Hakata and Kumamoto7 consecutive days¥26,000Reserve Online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

What is worth seeing in the northern half of Kyūshū? A lot! The cosmopolitan and compact city of Fukuoka; the fascinating and moving historical sites of Nagasaki; castle town Kumamoto; volcanic hot spot Mt. Aso; and the onsen resorts of Beppu and Yufuin.

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

Setouchi Area Pass

The Setouchi Area Pass, a joint pass between JR West and JR Shikoku, covers travel between the major cities of Kansai, western Honshū’s Sanyō coast (the southern stretch that runs along the Seto Inland Sea, including Okayama and Hiroshima), and both Takamatsu and Matsuyama in Shikoku.

It is an interesting pass as it also covers travel on select ferries that cross the Seto Inland Sea — the only pass to do so. You can travel by ferry from Okayama to Takamatsu, via the island of Shodōshima, and from Matsuyama to Hiroshima. The pass also covers travel on the JR Miyajima Ferry to Miyajima and select local buses in Okayama and Hiroshima (including travel to the ferry ports).

Setouchi Area Pass at a glance:

PassShinkansenFerriesEligibilityValidity periodPriceBooking link
Setouchi Area PassSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka & Hakata (Fukuoka)Okayama–Shodōshima; Shodōshima–Takamatsu; Hiroshima–MatsuyamaForeign passport holders on a temporary visa7 consecutive days¥22,000Reserve online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

Unfortunately, the Setouchi Area Pass does not cover all ferries to islands in the Seto Inland Sea. For example, you cannot use this pass to visit Naoshima. It also does not cover as wide an area of Kansai as many other JR West passes. The pass not cover travel to the Kii Peninsula or Kinosaki Onsen.

But you can use it to travel on the Sanyō Shinkansen to Himeji, Hiroshima, and Hakata (Fukuoka). And with the addition of Matsuyama, you can visit one of Japan’s most famous hot springs, Dōgo Onsen. In sum it’s a pass for a very specific itinerary — one that takes you to some major sights but also to some more off-the-beaten-track ones.

Kankakei is a valley in Shodoshima Island in Kagawa Prefecture, Japan. Nation designated scenic spot and overlooking the Great Valley and the sea.
Pretty Shōdoshima and the Seto Inland Sea. | Photo by iStock.com/okimo

JR West regional passes that include Kansai

With JR West’s extensive menu of regional passes, you can ideally find one that covers all the places you want to go (and none of the places you don’t want to go).

The following passes cover the same destinations/regions as the Kansai Area Pass (including travel to/from Kansai Airport) — and then some.

PassRegions coveredKey destinationsShinkansenValidity periodPriceBooking link
Kansai–Hiroshima Area PassKansai west to Hiroshima + TakamatsuKinosaki Onsen, Kii Peninsula, Okayama, Kurashiki, Takamatsu, Hiroshima & MiyajimaSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima5 consecutive days¥17,000Reserve Online
Kansai–Hokuriku Area PassHokuriku & Kansai west to OkayamaKanazawa, Noto Peninsula, Kinosaki Onsen, Kii Peninsula, Okayama & KurashikiSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka & Okayama; Hokuriku Shinkansen between Kanazawa & Jōetsu Myōkō7 consecutive days¥19,000 within Japan/ ¥17,000 outside of JapanReserve Online
Sanyō–San’in Area PassKansai & the rest of Honshū to the west + FukuokaKinosaki Onsen, Okayama, Kurashiki, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Matsue, Izumo, Hagi & FukuokaSanyō Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka & Hakata (Fukuoka) 7 consecutive days¥23,000Reserve Online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

Note that for whatever reason the Sanyō–San’in Area Pass does not cover JR trains on the Kii Peninsula, while the Kansai–Hiroshima Area Pass and the Kansai–Hokuriku Area Pass do.

Kagawa, Japan - July 22, 2016: A wooden bridge - Engetsukyo in Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu city, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Some JR West passes include travel to Takamatsu, which has a famous garden. | Photo by iStock.com/MrNovel

JR West regional passes that DO NOT include Kansai

JR West also offers several passes that do not include transit around the Kansai area. These do cover some major destinations (like Hiroshima and Miyajima) but are mostly intended for travelers who want to do a deep dive of the less traveled areas of the country (like Shimane and Yamaguchi Prefectures).

These passes don’t cover the cost of getting to these regions from major Kansai-area hubs. So bear in mind you’ll still be on the hook for a flight to a regional airport or train or bus fare. You can also consider stacking one of the passes below that includes Okayama with the Kansai Wide Area Pass (which covers travel as far west as Okayama).

PassRegions coveredKey destinationsShinkansenValidity periodPriceBooking link
Hokuriku Area PassHokurikuKanazawa, Noto PeninsulaHokuriku Shinkansen between Kanazawa & Kurobe Unazaki Onsen4 consecutive days¥5,600 within Japan/ ¥5,090 outside of Japan Reserve online
Okayama–Hiroshima–Yamaguchi Area PassOkayama, Hiroshima & Yamaguchi + Takamatsu & FukuokaOkayama, Kurashiki, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Hagi & FukuokaSanyō Shinkansen between Okayama & Hakata (Fukuoka)5 consecutive days¥17,000Reserve online
San'in–Okayama Area PassOkayama, Tottori & ShimaneOkayama, Kurashiki, Matsue, Izumo & Hagi4 consecutive days¥5,600 within Japan/ ¥4,580 outside of JapanReserve online
Hiroshima–Yamaguchi Area PassHiroshima & Yamaguchi + Hakata (Fukuoka)Hiroshima, Miyajima, Hagi & FukuokaSanyō Shinkansen between Hiroshima Airport Station and Hakata (Fukuoka)5 consecutive days¥15,000Reserve online

*Passes for children 6–11 are half-price

izumo taisha shimane
Izumo Taisha is one of Japan’s most important shrines. | Photo by iStock.com/sneil375

Sample train fares

Just some handy reference tables so you can work out how much you’d save (or not) by using a JR West pass.

Sanyō Shinkansen fares from Shin-Osaka Station:

DestinationFareTravel Time
Himeji¥4,02040 min
Okayama¥6,35045 min
Shin-Onomichi¥8,4402 hrs
Hiroshima¥10,6301.5 hrs
Shin-Yamaguchi¥13,1702 hrs
Hakata¥15,6002.5 hrs

*Fares for children 6–11 are half-price

Note that only Kodama and Hikara trains stop at Himeji and only Kodama trains stop at Shin-Onomichi. Check other routes and destinations with our handy Shinkansen fare calculator.

JR West limited express trains connect the Kansai region with destinations on the Kii Peninsula, in Hokuriku, and along the San’in Coast.

Limited express train fares:

Departure pointDestinationFareTravel timeTrain nameVia (select stops)
Shin-OsakaShingū¥7,3504 hrs 15 minKuroshioTennōji, Kii-Tanabe, Shirahama
OsakaKanazawa¥7,7902 hrs 45 minThunderbirdShin-Osaka, Kyoto, Kaga Onsen
KyotoKinosaki Onsen¥4,9302.5 hrsKōnotori 
KyotoTottori¥8,3203 hrsSuper HakutoShin-Osaka, Osaka, Sannomiya (Kobe), Himeji
OkayamaIzumo-shi¥6,6903 hrs 15 minYakumoKurashiki, Matsue
OkayamaTottori¥5,1002 hrsSuper Inaba 

*Fares for children 6–11 are half-price

Hello Kitty Shinkansen bullet train, service on Sanyo Shinkansen line
Use your JR West rail pass to ride the pink Hello Kitty Shinkansen. | Photo by iStock.com/CHENG FENG CHIANG

JR West passes FAQs

Who can use JR West passes?

Only foreign passport holders entering Japan on a temporary (tourist) visa are eligible for JR West passes.

Where can I buy JR West passes?

The JR West All Area Pass can only be purchased from an overseas travel agency (this can be done online) or from the JR West Online Train Reservation portal. It cannot be purchased within Japan. Other passes can be bought through an overseas travel agency, the JR West portal, or certain Japanese travel agencies. In all cases, purchasing the pass through an overseas agency (which can be done online) gets you the best price.

What is included in JR West passes?

JR West passes cover travel on pretty much all JR trains within the regions covered by the pass. This may include travel on the Sanyō Shinkansen and sections of the Hokuriku Shinkansen. What no JR West passes include is travel on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, which is the one that travels between Tokyo and Osaka — via Kyoto. So you cannot use any of the JR West passes to travel between Osaka and Kyoto on the Shinkansen (you can use it to travel on regular trains between the two, which takes only 30 minutes).

Passes are also good for rides on local (but not intercity) JR West and JR Chugoku buses and for free bicycle rentals from JR West Ekirin rent-a-cycle shops within the scope of the pass.

Passes that include Miyajima cover the ride on the JR Miyajima ferry. The only JR West pass that includes additional ferries is the Setouchi Area Pass.

JR West passes do not cover travel on the privately operated Hanshin, Hankyū, and Keihin rail lines in the Kansai area.

Do JR West passes cover the subway?

No. Munciple subway networks, like those in Osaka and Kyoto, are not covered by any JR passes. Only the JR Osaka Loop Line is covered, which connects Osaka Station with Namba (via Imamiya) and Tennōji stations (but generally isn’t the best way to get around Osaka).

The Kansai Area Pass comes with an additional 1-day travel pass for Kyoto that covers travel on the Kyoto subway.

Can I use JR West passes to travel to or from Kansai International Airport?

Yes! All JR West passes that cover Kansai area travel cover the journey between Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Osaka or Kyoto on the limited express Haruka train, a ¥1,200¥1,800 value one-way.

Can I use a JR West pass to travel from Tokyo to Osaka or Kyoto?

Unfortunately, no. This is the big downside to these passes. The only JR passes that cover travel between Kantō (Tokyo) and Kansai are the country-wide Japan Rail Pass and the JR East-West Hokuriku Arch Pass. The country-wide JR Pass covers travel on the Tokaidō Shinkansen — the only pass to do so. The Hokuriku Arch Pass covers travel between the two regions via Kanazawa.

Get the lowdown on all the different ways to travel between Tokyo and Osaka and between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Are JR West passes a good deal?

If you plan to travel a fair amount around western Japan — but are skipping eastern Japan — then these passes are a good deal. The price for a one-way Shinkansen journey between Shin-Osaka and Hakata (Fukuoka), for example, is ¥15,280, so a round-trip journey more than covers the cost of, say, the Sanyō–San’in Area Pass.

JR West passes work best if you are flying into Kansai International Airport (KIX). Unfortunately, there are often fewer flight options to Kansai compared to Narita — though it depends on your departure point. So if you can find a significantly cheaper flight to Narita, then a country-wide rail pass might work out to be a better deal.

While we strive to make sure all details are correct, information is subject to change. This post was first published in November 2016. Last updated in October 2023.

Get the best Japan Cheapo hacks direct to your inbox