JR East Pass Now for All Foreigners in Japan

Good and bad news for foreign passport holders in Japan for JR East Tohoku and JR East Nagano/Niigata area Passes.

First the good news. From April 1st JR East Rail Passes will be available to all foreign passport holders you regardless of your visa type. Previously the popular JR East pass varieties were only available to those with ‘Temporary Visitor’ status.

Hyabusa at Tokyo Station - the fastest shinkansen available with JR East Rail Pass
Our favourite, and the fastest shinkansen, the Hyabusa will take you to Hokkaido in 4.15 hours © snowaction.com.au

JR East have removed the price differential between overseas pre-purchase and in Japan purchase for the passes too.

Now passes will be a flat 20,000 yen adults, 10,000 yen children for the JR East Tohoku Pass and 18,000 / 9,000 for the Nagano/Niigata Pass.

Plus you will no longer have to show the pass for passing gates manually, or go to a JR office for seat reservations. A passport reader will be installed on Reserved Seat Ticket vending machines at some stations and customers will be able to purchase a rail pass using the machines by tapping their passport on the reader.

Stations where a passport reader will be installed from April 2021: Tokyo, Ueno, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Hamamatsucho, Yokohama, Mito, Narita Airport, Narita Airport Terminal 2·3, Sendai, Yamagata, Fukushima, Morioka, Hachinohe, Aomori, Akita, Niigata, Nagano, and Matsumoto.

Once you have the rail pass you can make reservations by inserting the rail pass into the Reserved Seat Ticket vending machines.

All of which streamlines procedures and eliminates the previous need to wait for offices to open for those on incoming flights (as we have done many times at Haneda in recent years, not a lot of fun at 5:30am!). Now you can just proceed to the machines and get going.

JR East Rail Pass can take you most places
All aboard! © Carmen Price / snowaction.com.au

But the bad news: all JR passes are now consecutive days!

This is really terrible news for Japow seekers. For years, many of us have planned our trips around the passes. You have been able to do some amazing trips that way. The 5 days in 14 days passes were ideal to easily ski multiple areas and still manage to ski every day if you wanted too.

Now it will be much more attractive to use domestic flights with ANA or JAL to do more extensive itineraries, perhaps adding a 5 day consecutive pass into the mix to link areas.

It appears JR have not thought this one through, we will certainly be making representations to them on the issue because if it stays as is for 2021-2022 when we are all hopeful of getting back to Japan they will lose a lot of business.

Their goal is good: “We are striving to provide an even higher quality service to foreign tourists visiting Japan by offering a stress-free service that allows the purchase of tickets and reservation of seats without having to wait in line at the ticket counter.”

But removing the travel period makes the passes only suited to short sightseeing trips rather than the longer snow trips most visitors favour.

We have put together some great itinerary ideas and tips for the 5 in 14 day passes .. Which JR East rail liked so much they asked us to borrow them for their own blog.

So let’s hope they realise the mistake and put this back on the agenda – it’s not as if most of the services we use on them are full! Full details and the new pricing for all JR East Passes are available on their website here.