ICOCA, JR WEST PASS, OSAKA AMAZING PASS, and KANSAI THRU PASS? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? Which is the best for you? In this post, we break down all these options to help you figure out which is the one that you need for your travel!
If I tally all the inquiries we get about traveling around Japan’s Kansai Region, I’m positive that one question will be getting the highest score: What should I get: Kansai Thru Pass, JR Pass, Osaka Amazing Pass, or ICOCA card?
I hate answering questions with “It depends,” but in this case, the answer really is, well, it depends. Seriously, it depends on your itinerary.
The great thing about taking the public transportation in Japan is that you have A LOT of options to make your journey comfortable. The bad thing about it: there are A LOT of options that it’s easy to get lost and confused. Ever heard of choice overload? Well, let us break it down for you so you’ll be confused no more.
Again, it depends on your itinerary. The key is to understand where you can use these options, and what each can do and cannot do for you. But before that, let’s define some terms so we know we’re on the same page.
- Osaka. This may refer to Osaka City or Osaka Prefecture. A prefecture is an administrative division. Think of it as a “province.”
- Kansai. The name of the region. A region is a cluster of prefectures. Kansai Region is composed of seven prefectures: Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Wakayama, Mie, Shiga, and Hyogo (where Kobe is located).
- JR West. JR stands for Japan Railways, which is composed of seven companies that operate many train systems all around Japan. One of them is JR West, which controls the JR lines in Kansai region and Chugoku region (Hiroshima and friends).
- Non-JR Trains. Not all train lines in Kansai are operated by the JR Group. Some are operated by Hankyu Railway/Hanshin Railway, Keihan Railway, Kintetsu, and Nankai Railway.
- Metro. Osaka’s subways are not JR-operated either. They are connected to the JR lines as part of a greater railway system, but they’re owned and managed by a separate company.
- Pass. For the purpose of this article, let’s define “pass” as a ticket that would give you unlimited use of certain transportation lines within a specific period of time and specific area. The keyword there is UNLIMITED. Some passes can also be used to score discounts for some attractions.
- IC Card. These are stored-value, rechargeable cards that you can use to conveniently pass through the gates. ICOCA, PASMO and SUICA are all IC cards. They’re NOT unlimited. You’re still charged every time you use it, but you just bypass falling in line or purchasing tickets each time. It’s similar to Hong Kong’s Octopus card, Singapore’s EZ Card, and to some extent Manila’s Beep card. Some IC cards are also accepted at convenience stores and designated establishments.
I’ll provide a detailed description of each option, but before that, here’s a brief summary so you easily see the difference:
You can use a combination of these cards and passes. For example, you can use Osaka Amazing Pass + JR West Kansai Rail Pass. You can also use JR West Kansai Rail Pass (for JR lines) + ICOCA (for non-JR lines).
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
OSAKA AMAZING PASS
I strongly recommend this!
The ultimate all-inclusive Osaka sightseeing pass, available in 1-day and 2-day versions! The 2-day variant must be used consecutively. It gives the holder unlimited use of the subway, tramway, and bus systems in Osaka. It also gives FREE access to certain attractions including the following:
- Osaka Castle Main Tower
- Umeda Building’s Floating Garden Observatory
- HEP FIVE Ferris Wheel
- Natural Hot Spring Naniwa no Yu
- Tombori River Cruise
- Dotombori Tour
You can reserve one via Klook. However, know that there are two types on Klook, depending on where you wish to pick it up. Make sure you book the one that is more convenient for you.
✅ If you want to pick up the pass at Kansai Airport, RESERVE HERE.
✅ If you want to pick it up at Kuromon Market in Namba, RESERVE HERE.
JR WEST KANSAI RAIL PASS
This pass offers unlimited rail and bus rides to and in many cities in Kansai Region including Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara. You can also use this to travel from Kansai Airport to Osaka or Kyoto and back. Available in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-day validity variants.
Note that this pass is only accepted on JR Trains. This won’t work on Nankai lines or subway lines.
Do you need this pass?
- If you plan on staying within Osaka and not visiting other cities, this is not for you. Get the Amazing Osaka Pass instead.
- If you plan to visit Kyoto, Nara, Kobe or other cities in Kansai, this could be great for you.
The JR West Kansai Rail Pass can be used for the following:
- Non-reserved seats on Kansai Airport Express HARUKA
- Local trains, rapid service trains, and special rapid service trains on JR-WEST regular lines
This CANNOT be used for the following:
- Reserved seats on Kansai Airport Express HARUKA
- Reserved and Non-reserved seats on EXPRESS Trains excluding Kansai-airport Express HARUKA
- Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)
IMPORTANT! Best to purchase this pass ONLINE. This pass is meant for foreign nationals traveling as a temporary visitor (tourist) in Japan. Thankfully, there’s Klook. You can book below:
✅ 1-Day Pass. RESERVE HERE!
✅ 2-Day Pass. RESERVE HERE!
✅ 3-Day Pass. RESERVE HERE!
✅ 4-Day Pass. RESERVE HERE!
How does it work? How do you use it? Oh, easy, easy.
- Book a ticket with Klook.
- When the transaction is complete, you will be emailed a mobile voucher. You can print it out or save it on your phone.
- On the day of your trip, upon arrival at Kansai Airport, find the HIS Counter at the Arrival Hall. There is usually a small KLOOK logo displayed in front of the counter. Show your mobile voucher to the staff. You will be given a physical voucher.
- You don’t have to use it immediately. The count will begin on the day you first use it. For example, if you purchase a 2-day pass and you claim it on Monday, it doesn’t mean that you have to use it on Monday and Tuesday. You may choose to use it any day before expiration. If you use it for the first time on Thursday, you can use it on that day and Friday.
- When you use it for the first time, approach the staff at the counter at any of the station and he will stamp the final date you may use the pass.
- For succeeding uses, simply show the stamp on the pass at the staff at every JR station.
You can use it together with Osaka Amazing Pass too! On my last trip, I used an Osaka Amazing Pass when roaming within the city and then used my JR Kansai Pass on days when I traveled to Kyoto and Kobe.
KANSAI THRU PASS
Offers unlimited rail and bus rides in many cities in Kansai Region including Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara. You can also use this to travel from Kansai Airport to Osaka or Kyoto. JR Lines are not covered, though.
Available in 2- and 3-day validity variants. Unlike the JR West Kansai Pass, the Kansai Thru Pass doesn’t require consecutive days, making it much more flexible.
So which is better: Kansai Thru Pass or JR West Kansai Pass? Only you can answer that because it depends on your itinerary. If most of your stops are along JR lines, then the latter makes more sense. But if your destinations are far apart and closer to non-JR lines, then get the Kansai Thru Pass. Also consider your schedule. Kansai Thru Pass’s “non-consecutive” feature will allow you to maximize it better.
The ICOCA Card isn’t a pass. It’s a prepaid IC card. It’s sort of Kansai’s version of Tokyo’s SUICA or PASMO Card.
When you use an ICOCA card, you still pay for every trip. (Again, it’s NOT a pass.) You can also use it to snag some discounts, but the real convenience is that you don’t need to get a ticket each time you’re using the train. You just need to quickly hover the card over the reader and you’re through. It functions like an MRT stored-value ticket (because that’s exactly what it is, a stored-value ticket).
You can also use it not just on trains but also on buses, lockers, vending machines, and even convenience stores. Yep, lockers. The ICOCA card works on lockers at train stations!
Although ICOCA is a product of JR West and is the primary IC card for Kansai and Chugoku region, you can use it in other places in Japan that has an IC card reader: in Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka, or even as far as Sapporo. However, you can’t use it to travel between regions. The entry station and exit station both have to be within the same region. Yes, you can use it WITHIN Osaka. Yes, you can use it to travel from Osaka to Kyoto or Nara. BUT you CAN’T use it to travel from Osaka to Tokyo or Osaka to Nagoya, because Osaka, Tokyo, and Nagoya are not in the same region.
To get one, you just need to approach one of the ICOCA machines at the station. There’s no use for me to enumerate the steps here because it’s so easy. Just choose ENGLISH on the welcome screen and follow the instructions.
But if you want a discount, you can get an ICOCA card from Klook, which is already preloaded with ¥1500 + the deposit of ¥500. You can get the deposit when you return the card.
If you’re visiting Osaka, Nara and Kyoto ONLY, you don’t need a JR Pass. It’s only for those who will make multiple long-distance journeys. If you’re staying within the Kansai Region, get a JR KANSAI RAIL PASS INSTEAD.
When is it wise to purchase a JR Pass? If you’re visiting multiple cities in Japan and you’re staying for at least 7 days. If your itinerary is more like that, purchase a pass before your trip. Klook offers the cheapest JR Passes available. If you live in the Philippines, the pass will be delivered to you in 7 days.
WHICH IS THE BEST?
In summary, supposing you’ll be taking lots of train rides, here’s what you should consider.
- If you’re sightseeing in Osaka for a day or 2, get the OSAKA AMAZING PASS.
- If you’re staying in Osaka or Kyoto and visiting other Kansai cities over NON-CONSECUTIVE days, get a KANSAI THRU PASS.
- If you’re staying in Osaka or Kyoto and visiting other Kansai cities over CONSECUTIVE days, get a JR WEST KANSAI RAIL PASS.
- If you’re sightseeing in Osaka for 1 or 2 days and you’re also visiting other Kansai cities on other days, get an OSAKA AMAZING PASS + either KANSAI THRU PASS or JR WEST KANSAI RAIL PASS.
- If you’re visiting Kansai as part of a bigger Japan trip, get a JR PASS.
- If none of the above apply to you, just get an ICOCA Card or none at all.
Note that the ICOCA Card is flexible and can complement the other passes, so I always have it even if I have Osaka Amazing Pass or another pass.
If you don’t have an itinerary yet, check out our sample itineraries! We also indicate the passes that you should get per itinerary.
That’s it! Hope this helps.