JR Rail Pass - do you need an actual visa? or just the normal tourist waiver visa?

Hi, I’m traveling From the US to Japan with my wife for 10 days in June. I think I want to spend 2-3 days in Tokyo, and then head to Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. I lived in Hiroshima about 25 years ago, so I want to spend a few days there with heiwa koen, Miyajima, bunny island, etc.

From what I’ve read, I will likely pay basic bus/train fares the first couple of days, and then activate the 7-day JR Pass for heading to Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima.

So I have a couple of questions, I’ve never been to Tokyo, so I’m thinking of staying in the Shinjuku area, where there are lots of places to see that are close by. Would this be recommended by those that know Tokyo? I did find in another post the beginners guide to Tokyo, so I will be reading that over the next day or so.

Second, I’m going to buy a JR Pass, but the site says I need to have a tourist visa. Do I need to have a visa to buy the JR Pass? I was planning on coming “visa free” with a passport and a return flight documented.


Yeah, the passport is fine for the JR Pass, they stamp it when you come in and they’ll check for that at the JR counter when you hand over the exchange form.

Perfect, that’s what I needed to know. thanks.

Personally, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stay in the Shinjuku area, other than the fact that it has a lot of cheapish hotels. It has very little to recommend it, in my book, and you’ve almost certainly got to go elsewhere to see anything interesting. For a place with great value, extremely helpful English-speaking staff and a first class location (3/4 minutes walk from Hiroo Station and the very handy Hibiya Line, one stop to Ebisu, for JR etc) I would thoroughly recommend Azabu Court. It’s a serviced apartment place, but has excellent wifi, BBC/CNN/Discovery Channel etc, room-cleaning once a week, towel-changing twice. But that’s just my personal opinion!


in tokyo, maybe anywhere near a metro/subway or JR station is ok. Especially if you get a 2 or 3 day subway pass you can hop around anywhere.

Shinjuku is one of the big busy central districts, has great transport connections and it’s good if you like a blade runner experience.
However, I usually suggest the outskirts of the Shibuya area (say within a 40min walk of Shibuya station), which could include Ebisu, Yoyogi, Nakameguro, Aoyama, Harajuku. It’s in the same general part of town as Shinjuku, but a more pleasant area all round. Shibuya itself is quite busy, though definitely more pleasant than Shinjuku.

Thank you Tokyogreen, q10, and mrkirkland, all good recommendations. As I don’t know Tokyo, I’m very open to suggestions. When I lived in Japan 27 or so years ago, Hiroshima was the biggest city I lived in, but most of the time I was in quiet places like Matsue, Kochi, Takamatsu, Ube, etc. So I think I will take the advice and stay outside of the Shinjuku area just a bit. May be interesting to check out one day, but not necessarily stay there each night.

q10, I like the idea of getting a 2-3 day subway pass. As i am not buying the JR Rail pass until I start my adventure to Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, I was just planning on paying for busses to different destinations, but a subway pass sounds like the way to go, and probably faster than the busses up on the streets.

I’ll be honest, I’m a bit nervous, but excited at the same time. My Japenese is virtually shot, but hopefully some of it will come back to me while there.

I checked out Azabu Court, and while it sounds great, it’s for the long term stay, where I will only be in Tokyo for a few days. But I like the idea of being near the subway, so I can get to various places and back with less walking.

I have stayed at Azabu Court many times, and I have friends who have stayed
there for only one night (and just today I booked in a friend for 4 nights

  • I can get a small discount)! The longer you stay the cheaper it gets, but
    it’s still very reasonable even for a couple of nights. I also have a
    friend who stayed at an APA Hotel last week and got a TINY room (there was
    no room for anything other than a bed, and no space for storage) for a
    higher cost.

I’ve stayed at Azabu Court too and it’s great, but I now always stay in Azabu Juban and book places on Airbnb. There are always lots available and usually much cheaper than staying in a hotel. Azabu Juban is not far from Hiroo and also close to many embassies, so lots of English spoken in and around the area. It’s also on two subway lines with easy connection to the tourist’s best friend - the Yamanote JR line, so you’re never far from anywhere. Shinjuku is probably my least favourite area in Tokyo - super busy during the day and super sleazy at night.

TokyoGreen, good to know it’s not just for the long stay, I will take a second look at it. Also, Wendy M, thank you for the addional pointer on. Azabu Juban. It sounds like you’ve had good success with the AirBNB as well. I’ve been looking at tons of those, and many seem like a good deal, just not sure I can get a good night’s sleep on a double bed with my wife. I better look for something with two twins or something. I always struggle with hotel/AirBNB as I stress too much over being in the right place and price, that it gets me all stressed out, but I’m sure I will figure it out.
I think I’ve changed my plan a bit and will only be in Tokyo a couple of days, and add a couple of days for Kyoto and Hiroshima.


Hi Wendy, so it sounds like I’m not really interested in Shinjuku, as I’m more interested in the beauty of Japan and the countryside more than the mass of people. So I will hit the Palace and some gardens, and then head to Kyoto and Hiroshima/Miyajima. Just curious though, you’ve stayed in Shibuya, but now prefer Azabu Juban. Is this primarily for the Subway/JR proximity, or cost of hotel/AirBNB, or both, or are there other reasons as well?

Hi John, I must admit I am rather connected to Azabu Juban, having lived there for 3.5 years in the late 90’s. I would always stay with friends in the area when I’d go back to visit but once they had moved on I tried a few other places i.e. Prince Park Tower in Shiba-koen and also Azabu Court, but primarily for the fact that there was not a lot on offer in the Juban at the time. A whole new world of opportunities opened up with the introduction of Airbnb. Azabu Juban is a bit more like a small village in the middle of a metropolis and its proximity to the subway lines make it an ideal base - but basically anywhere in that general area close to the Yamanote line will be convenient and foreigner friendly (Ebisu, Meguro, Minami Azabu, Hiroo etc).
The palace is a bit of a disappointment though as it takes a bit of effort to get to it and you have to jostle with hundreds of tourists to get a slightly obscured photo of it in the distance (you can’t get very close to it). If I only had two days in Tokyo I would do Shibuya/Meiji Shrine (Yoyogi Park)/Harajuku/Omotosando one day and Asakusa (the nearby Skytree is also good on a clear day)/Yanaka/Nezu Shrine/Ueno Park/and maybe Akihabara, for the sensory experience, on the other day - those areas should give you a good taste of Tokyo.
As a bit of a JR pass tip, you may find it easier / more convenient to catch the shinkansen from Shinagawa station, rather than Tokyo, as it’s considerably smaller and easier to navigate - and closer to the Shibuya area. Happy travels!

Hi Wendy, thank you for the reply and I really appreciate the tips on the palace and other places around Tokyo, as well as the Shinkansen recommendation. Quieter is always better when it comes to train stations, in my opinion, and it’s also the right direction, so i’m not backtracking to Tokyo, and then heading to Kyoto/Hiroshima, assuming I end up in the Azubu Juban area or near by.


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