These passes offer steeply discounted rail travel in Japan and Shikoku. But to understand this question better, you need to know something about transportation in Shikoku. Here we break it down for you, and help you to consider the options.

In addition to Japan Railways (JR), there are various small railway companies operating trains and buses. The rail network in Shikoku is primitive. There are no bullet trains (shinkansen), and much of the rail network is single track. There are no railway lines at all in the two southernmost tips of Shikoku in Kōchi Prefecture. The various rail hubs dotted around Shikoku are places where a lot of valuable time can be spent waiting. Consequently, the bus between Matsuyama and Kōchi city is much quicker than going by rail for example.

A map of railway lines in Shikoku

 

 The passes compared

  • The Japan Rail Pass covers all Japan Railways (JR) lines in Japan, including Shikoku. You have to buy it outside Japan.
    The official site is here.
  • The All Shikoku Rail Pass covers all railway lines on Shikoku, including JR. You can buy it in Japan at the places shown in the official website. It also covers the very useful bus service between Matsuyama and Kōchi, the main ferries from Honshū, and the trams in Matsuyama and Kōchi.
    The official site is here.

So which is best?

  • If you’re travelling significant distances outside of Shikoku too, get the Japan Rail Pass.
  • If you’re travelling mainly on Shikoku, get the All Shikoku Rail Pass.

Having said that, the maths for working out which is better value is a little complex and it depends on the use you might get from the national pass.

The All Shikoku Rail Pass has the following benefits not available with the Japan Rail Pass;

  • Discounted bus between Matsuyama and Kōchi (¥1,000, normally ¥3,600)
  • Trams in Matsuyama and Kōchi (about ¥160 per ride, free with the pass)
  • High-speed ferry between Matsuyama and Hiroshima (¥3,800, normally ¥7,100)
  • Ferry between Tokushima and Wakayama (¥1,400, normally ¥2,000).

Neither pass covers any other buses.

JR local train on Shikoku

 

Conclusion

If you’re up for a bit of adventure, and you’re prepared to enjoy some of the slow life of Shikoku, either of these rail passes can be a good option. They can also give you the flexibility to jump on a train at a whim. Also, if you book a tour with us, we can give you an itinerary with all the times worked out in advance, so you won’t have to worry about that. You just need to get to the station on time. If you ask us for a guide, the guide will take care of this for you.

But if all of this is too much hassle, we can also arrange a comfortable vehicle with a driver, so you won’t have to think about it all.

So whatever sort of transport and experience you want, we’ll help you with the optimal solution.

 

Alighting from an Iyotetsu tram in Dogo Onsen station, Matsuyama