How the JR East Rail Pass Saved Me ¥30,000

Non-Japanese residents of Japan have long been secretly jealous of the famed JR Rail Pass that is available to tourists, but not residents. Tourists have been able to take advantage of this deal (¥44,810 for a 7 day pass, more info here) which lets pass holders travel on any JR train lines – including shinkansen (bullet train) lines across the nation.

However, this year has seen plenty of unforeseen twists and turns and the resultant drop in tourism across Japan has caused Japan Rail to broaden the eligibility of the JR East Rail Pass to include foreign residents. Although this current pass is only good on the JR East section of railway, that’s still quite a lot of ground to cover. It lasts for three days and you can use it even for shinkansen trains. Double check if the train you’re planning on taking is reserved-seating only though. You can get a reservation ticket at the JR Ticket Office (midori no madoguchi) if needed. Find all the info on this ticket on the official website here.

After purchasing the ticket online, you’ll have to trek to Ueno Station to pick up the physical ticket.

Automated ticket vendor in Ueno Station. Photo: Scott Kouchi

After scanning your passport and the ticket QR code sent to you via email, you’ll get a box with your ticket in it.

JR East Rail Pass 2020. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Using the pass is simple: it acts like a regular ticket that you insert into the JR ticket gates. Just remember to take it out of the ticket gate so you can keep it on you! There were a few shinkansen trains that we had planned on taking that were reserved-seating only, but a quick chat with the helpful staff at the JR Ticket Office (midori no madoguchi) and they were able to print out a reservation ticket with no charge.

Your destinations will vary, but my 3-day trip took me up north to Aomori, Sendai, and Matsushima. I calculated how much I would have spent on transportation (¥42,840), and subtracting the cost of the pass (¥12,000) I can safely say that this was a huge value that I hope will be open to foreign residents of Japan on a more regular basis.

Here are some photos from my recent vacation if you’re looking for ideas and destinations!

Early morning shinkansen. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Eating a delicious bento on the train while watching the scenery of Japan fly by! Photo: Scott Kouchi

First time for me to take a shinkansen so early in the morning; left at 7:00 AM to arrive at Shin-Aomori Station at 10:15. Purchased an ekiben (station bento) to enjoy on the train – one of my favorite things about shinkansen travel is eating a nice bento on the train!

Arrived at Shin-Aomori Station. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Hakkoda Ropeway (about 45 min from Aomori Station) brings you up the mountain to take in the vast scenery! Photo: Scott Kouchi

The snow had just begun to accumulate on Hakkoda Mountain. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture is another destination you can get to using the JR East Rail Pass. The coastal town is full of unique and stunning scenery. Photo: Scott Kouchi

Don’t sleep on your opportunity to use this rail pass! If you have a non-Japanese passport you should be able to purchase and use this pass! Photo: Scott Kouchi