Exploring a country as otherworldly and fascinating as Japan will surely conjure up feelings of excitement, anticipation, and often, a little trepidation about how one will get around the vast unknown landscape.
Exploring a foreign country will always amount to fond memories of new experiences. However, most of the time, it does come with its fair share of headaches when it comes to the logistics side of things.
When you hear about the incredibly exciting stories of travellers in Japan, you rarely hear about transportation hiccups. Why is that?
Japan is renowned around the world for having one of, if not the, most efficient and reliable train systems. Its conductors train and work hard to get their railways to run precisely down to the minute, so delays and network interferences are few and (very) far between. It’s one of the reasons why so many people enjoy traveling around in and around the country!
For foreign residents and overseas tourists, it gets even better.
What Is The JR EAST PASS?
The JR EAST PASS is an exclusive pass that allows unlimited travel around the East Japan for a full five days straight. Yes, you heard that right! Unlimited travel!
For a one-off fee, travellers will be able to use their JR EAST PASS to hop on multiple Shinkansen trains, any JR trains, certain local bus routes including the Bus Rapid Transit, and even some private railways to get around Eastern Japan.
There are two types of JR EAST PASS: there is one for the Tohoku area, which encompasses prefectures such as Aomori, Akita, Sendai, and more; and one for the Nagano, Niigata Area, which encompasses the area from Tokyo to Nagano and Niigata.
It’s a fantastic, cost-effective, and efficient way to explore Japan, and many travellers opt for this pass during their travels.
However, this pass does have some limitations, and it’s quite purposeful so it may not be the right pass for everyone coming to Japan. Read on for more information on the JR EAST PASS and work out if it’s the right pass for you.
How Do JR EAST PASS Work?
JR EAST PASS work exactly like a train ticket, whereby you can either flash it at the station guard before passing through the open gates or insert it at the automated ticket gates to head in and out of the station.
Note that for some stations, you may need to present your passport along with your JR EAST PASS.
Once you make your purchase online, you will receive an e-voucher within 72 hours. Once you arrive in Japan, head to one of the JR East Travel Service Centres and exchange your e-voucher for a physical pass. These service centres are located in and around major train stations and airports.
Your pass cannot be re-issued if it is lost or stolen so take extra care with it!
Are Shinkansen Trains Included In The Passes?
The short answer is: yes, Shinkansen trains are most definitely included in the JR EAST PASS. However, not all Shinkansen trains are accessible!
One of the most popular Shinkansen trains, the Tokaido Shinkansen, which heads south from Tokyo, is owned by another private company and thus cannot be boarded using this JR EAST PASS.
All other Shinkansen trains are included in the pass.
Who Is Eligible To Use Them?
The eligibility criteria for the JR EAST PASS states that only overseas tourists and foreign nationals with a non-Japanese passport, including foreign residents of Japan, may purchase and use the JR EAST PASS.
An original and valid passport belonging to the ticket holder must be kept on you at all times, because authorities may request to view it.
Once your name is on the JR EAST PASS, no one else may use the pass.
Are JR EAST PASS Worth It?
This is the most cost-effective and efficient method to get around for those looking to explore East Japan without being rooted in Tokyo.
Not only does it save you the time and money of booking multiple one-way tickets from city to city, but it also includes unlimited travel on many of the other modes of transport in and around the cities as well! It’s a win-win.
For example, if your itinerary includes the onsens of Yamagata, the castles of Akita, and the festivals of Aomori, and you can fit them into 5 days of traveling, this is the perfect option for you to seamlessly get from one spot to the other.
One thing to note is that the JR EAST PASS was created to provide big savings for long-distance travel over a short period of 5 days. If your itinerary includes many nights in one area, or you’re only using urban transport within the city, this might not be the right pass for your purposes.
The Best Places To Visit In Tohoku
The Tohoku region is an underrated region of stunning natural landscapes, a breathtaking snowfall, fascinating cultural festivities throughout the year, and of course, unique local cuisine that will blow you away.
It features some of Japan’s most popular destinations and events. They include:
- Yamagata’s Yama-Dera Mountain Temple, a scenic temple located atop the mountains in the city, where the breathtaking views at the top make the 1000 steps up worth it.
- Aomori’s Nebuta Festival, a summer festival where locals perform traditional dances and pull giant floats representing warriors and Gods around the city.
- Fukushima’s Ouchi-juku, a historic Japanese post-town that still maintains the retro-style homes, shop fronts, ambiance, and atmosphere today.
- Yamagata’s Zao Onsen, one of the most popular ski destinations across Japan, is known for its powder-soft snow and long runs as well as unique ‘snow monsters’ along some of the routes.
- Yamagata’s Ginzan Onsen, arguably the prettiest onsen town in Japan, with picture-perfect photo opportunities during all hours of the day.
The Best Places To Visit In Nagano / Niigata
Japan’s Nagano and Niigata regions are known for their beautiful winter season, which lasts longer than other regions and also presents some absolutely awe-inspiring natural experiences to witness.
However, during all seasons of the year, the beauty of Nagano and Niigata shines through its unique collection of landscapes, historical structures, and unique cities.
Some of the most popular destinations of the Nagano-Niigata region include:
- Niigata’s Takada Castle Park. During the cherry blossom season, crowds flock to this beautiful historic castle surrounded by flowers for the most astonishing display of nature. During peak season, around 3000 lanterns light up the park, earning Takada Castle Park a spot on the list of ‘Top 3 Night Cherry Blossom Illuminations’.
- Nagano’s Matsumoto Castle is considered a Japanese National Treasure, and is a wonderful way to explore more about Japan’s history. It’s a black and white castle that stands tall against the background of rolling Japanese alps, which makes for a beautiful picture opportunity.
- Niigata’s GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is one of the most convenient and popular ski destinations, considering its proximity to Tokyo. It’s also the only ski resort with its own Shinkansen station.
- Nagano’s Jigokudani Monkey Park made waves on social media when people around the world discovered this attraction that allowed them to witness adorable red-faced macaque monkeys soaking in natural onsen baths during winter.
- Niigata’s Tsunan Snow Festival is a stunning festival of beautiful snowy scenes, traditional food stalls and games, and even a sky lantern event! It’s normally held in March, and even though that’s the start of spring in Japan, the snow season is still prevalent in Niigata!
Where To Buy JR EAST PASS?
The easiest way to buy the JR EAST PASS would be to purchase it online. You can do this before arriving in Japan or whilst you’re in Japan. However, from the date of issue, you will have 3 months to use the ticket.
We’ve linked the best website to purchase the JR EAST PASS below. The website makes the entire process seamless, from selecting your dates, the start time of the first train ride access, and finally how many passes you want to get.
- Buy It Here: JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)
- Buy It Here: JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)
Two children aged up to 5 can travel free of charge, provided that they are accompanied by an adult and don’t require a seat. Children from 6-11 will require a child rail pass, and anyone above the age of 11 will require an adult pass.
Once you make your purchase, you will receive your e-voucher in your email within 72 hours. Head to one of the JR East Travel Service Centres and exchange your e-voucher for a physical pass. These centres are available in and around major train stations and airports.
Important Information To Know
- The pass can only be used within its validity period, which cannot be changed after the purchase
- The pass cannot be exchanged for any other pass or ticket
- The pass cannot be reissued in the event of loss or theft
- The pass is valid on five consecutive calendar days (midnight to midnight)
- JR EAST PASS cannot guarantee a seat if you’re traveling during peak times without a reservation. Seat reservations can be made for free at the ticket office of a JR East station or a JR East Reserved Seat Ticket Vending Machine. Certain trains require additional charges.
- Most Shinkansen trains offer trolley service, but you can also purchase tasty sushi boxes at the station platforms before hopping on – it’s a quintessential part of the Shinkansen experience
- When purchasing your pass online, the date you select on the calendar is the preferred date to exchange the e-voucher for a physical pass. However, you have a period of 90 days to exchange the voucher from the date of issue.
There is a reason why thousands of visitors flock to purchase the JR EAST PASS for their travels through eastern Japan. It represents value, efficiency, and convenience all rolled up into a single unassuming train pass that will cut down hours of your logistics planning.
If you’re still on the fence about it, think about this: the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) is a one-off payment for unlimited travel in the region for five days, and it costs roughly the same as a single round trip between Tokyo and Niigata.
On the other hand, the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) is already cheaper than regular tickets for a single round-trip between Tokyo and Sendai.
We hope that puts things into perspective – it’s quite an affordable option to travel!
If you have any more questions, please refer to the links to purchase the passes above, as they will outline more basic information regarding the passes.