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I've been told by a colleague that you can only buy a Japanese Rail Pass outside of the coutry as a tourist. Is this accurate, or is it possible to purchase say, a 2-3 week one in Tokyo?

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Downvoter care to comment? – Mark Mayo Apr 27 '14 at 12:53
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I didn't downvote but this is pretty much the first thing you read the first time you look for information about the jrp. – Geeo Apr 27 '14 at 13:50
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It might be the first thing you read, but the fourth or fifth thing you read might offer some trick for getting around the official policy. And that is why one might post this question on Travel SE. – Kenny LJ Jun 25 '14 at 11:48
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Your colleague is correct. According to the official Website:

A JAPAN RAIL PASS cannot be purchased inside Japan. You must purchase an Exchange Order from an authorized sales office or agent before you come to Japan.

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You need two things to get a JR pass: the Exchange Order, only available outside Japan, and a passport with a Tourist visa in it. Anyone can buy the Exchange Order - the actual pass is produced when you are in Japan. One train pass per passport.

You need to take at least 3 long-haul Shinkansen trips per week for the pass to pay for itself. While you can use it on JR routes in any city those trips are typically under $2 to start with. You can't use it on non-JR lines.

You need to choose the duration of the pass before you buy it, but you can choose any start date you want. Write it clearly on a note and hand it to the counter staff with the note on top, or they will process it starting today before you have finished saying Hello.

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Not sure how you're defining "long-haul" there, but the rule of thumb is that a 7-day JR Pass pays for itself if you travel Narita-Tokyo-Kyoto and back, and becomes well worth it if you venture beyond Osaka. – jpatokal Apr 27 '14 at 22:30
    
Inter-city, but not just the next stop. 7-day JR pass is 29,110, Tokyo-Kyoto/Osaka is 14,600. One more inter-city trip and you're ahead (not just break-even) – Paul Apr 28 '14 at 5:00
    
The key part there is "and back": Tokyo-Osaka return is 29,200. Add in two N'EX at 3,000 yen each to get to Narita and back, and the JR pass is a winner. – jpatokal Apr 28 '14 at 5:06
    
and you can use the pass on the yamanote and chuo line, pretty useful inside tokyo. – Geeo Apr 28 '14 at 11:50
    
Not as much as you'd think. While the Yamanote does go many places, you still need the subway lines. Asakusa, Odaiba etc. And certainly not worth getting a JR pass just for in-city travel. – Paul Apr 28 '14 at 14:59

It depends what exactly you mean by "outside of Japan". The intent of the policy is that you should buy it in your home country before leaving for Japan, but the policy was put in place before the advent of this wonderful (?) thing called the Internet.

So in effect the policy is that you must buy the exchange order from a seller which is based in a country other than Japan. However, many sellers now operate online: you order the exchange order from their website, and they ship it to you through the mail. And there is nothing stopping them from shipping it to an address in Japan, which most if not all of them do, so it is possible to purchase a JR Pass exchange order while being physically in Japan. (Of course, you must allow a couple days for shipping.)

Incidentally, the JR Pass was sold in Japan (by physical sellers) during the 2002 World Cup; and earlier this year JR East announced plans to sell it at Narita and Haneda airports on a trial basis, but nothing has come out o it yet.

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Is the "trial basis" you mention the press release about selling it in 2016? If such, it was not limited to the airports but some major Train Stations as well. – The Wandering Coder 2 days ago
    
@TheWanderingCoder Right, the details are not very important right now since there was no further announcement about this (for all we know, the project may very well be dropped). I have never seen an actual press release about this, by the way, only newspaper articles. – fkraiem 2 days ago
    
I had assumed that newspapers were given a release from JR (not sure which one it would have been - East maybe?) I have managed to find 3 separate newspapers in Japanese and one in English that seem to state that JR will start selling it in Japan in 2016 but none of them seem to have any reference to and official release either. – The Wandering Coder 2 days ago
    
@TheWanderingCoder Yes they were probably told this by JR in one way or another, but all we know for sure if that there are (or at least were) plans to start selling it at some unspecified locations sometime in 2016. I am actually quite puzzled that JR decided to tell the press but not publish an actual press release themselves, that makes it sound as if they didn't want to commit themselves too much. – fkraiem 2 days ago
    
It also seemed to only appear in small border columns in all the results I found. Maybe it was briefly announced at a shareholders meeting or some kind of interview to do with the Olympics (That was the main reason they wanted to pursue selling them here after all) – The Wandering Coder 2 days ago

It is important to know however that you have to have a tourist visa or come from one of the countries and regions for visa exceptions: http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/novisa.html. It's almost 70 countries now, including USA, Australia and most European ones, so by presenting one of these passports you should have no problem.

For the rest of the countries, Japanese Immigration Laws have a strict policy, which regards the Temporary Visitor visa as the only valid one to receive and use the Japan Rail Pass. Be aware as there are other types of visas, allowing for a short-term entry but are not eligible for the Pass. There is more about eligibility here.

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Instead of just linking, please quote or summarise the relevant sections about eligibility. If the link changes or expires (or is even temporarily down) we lose the useful information :( For more information on answering, please see the help center. – Mark Mayo Jun 28 at 8:56

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