The JR Pass is exclusively available to foreigners arriving on a visitor's visa to Japan. Using the JR network, you could literally travel to any part in Japan by train or some buses.
There are several train companies in Japan, but the Japan Railway (JR) company is the primary rail company in Japan and owns the major railway lines. JR has several types of routes: local trains, express trains, and the state-of-the-art Shinkansen or bullet trains.
The good thing about this pass is that it includes the Shinkansen, but there are some restrictions. You cannot use the Nozomi express train that travels along the root line of Japan, the Tokaido Line, but you can travel on the other services, including Hikari. Be sure to check the restrictions before buying the pass.
These passes start at ¥29,650 for 7 days and the best way to purchase it is online. After ordering the Exchange Order (for the pass) online, you have it activate it at a major JR station like Tokyo station, Shinjuku station etc. After submitting the Exchange Order, you need to specify the start date and you will then get the official pass.
Let's talk about its cost effectiveness. A Shinkansen to Kyoto from Tokyo costs about ¥14,000 each way. So it costs ¥28,000 to go to Kyoto and return to Tokyo. The benefit of this pass is that you can make unlimited travels within the validity period of your pass. So you could not only go to Kyoto, but also make a half-day stop at Yokohama, and other surrounding places.
There are so many areas you can cover in 7 days with this pass. Even the local stations within a city can be used with this pass, and you will be shocked by the amount of money you would save.
If I were to calculate individual train tickets with the 7 days of my pass validity, I would have spent at least ¥80,000. I first went to Nakatsu, then took a day trip to Oita City, then went to Kyoto, Yokohama and Tokyo.
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These passes also make traveling very easy. All you have to do is show your pass at the JR station entrance. Instead of all the headache of scheduling your journeys and buying tickets, you can simply go to a station and catch the earliest train - this is obviously another benefit and worthwhile considering how much freedom the pass gives you.
Google Maps is a useful resources for checking schedules but remember you won't be able to take Nozomi services. However, the most useful resource you have is JR Information Desks. Many travelers don't like to ask too many questions while traveling, and even I try to avoid getting into awkward situations. But these information desks are really very effective and tourist friendly. My advice is to ask all your questions and have all your routes planned out when you go to activate the pass itself.