The new Japan Rail Pass is far better than the old, pre-COVID booklet that Japan Rail (JR) used to issue to tourists. It’s easier to store and carry, and it makes it much faster to reach your train.
The Old Japan Rail Pass
Anyone who visited Japan, and used a JR Rail Pass, before 2020 will remember the bi-fold booklet with a green train ticket meticulously taped to it on the inside. It was great to have the ability to ride all the trains, but it had some significant drawbacks.
Two Old Japan Rail Passes and a Reserved Seat Ticket
This is a Wicket (Ticket Gate).
The New Japan Rail Pass
The new Japan Rail Pass is straightforward to use. It’s the size of a normal Shinkansen Bullet Train ticket and is used the same way. Now you can slip your JR Pass into the wicket gate and pass through, the same as you’d do if you had a normal train ticket. This has made getting in and out of the station so much faster and easier.
Japan Rail Pass in a Commuter Pass Wallet
The new Japan Rail Pass comes with some other very helpful conveniences.
- Order Online Directly from Japan Rail: In the past, you had to order the pass from a third-party merchant. Now you can get it straight from JR at the same price.
- Order 30 Days in Advance: You can order your rail pass on the official Japan Rail website 30 days before you plan to exchange it in Japan. Once purchased, you’ll receive a digital voucher. You no longer need to wait for a physical voucher to be mailed to you.
- Get Reserved Seat Tickets Online: If you order your new Japan Rail Pass through JR online, you have the option to reserve your seats online up to 30 days in advance. Once in Japan, just scan the QR code on your rail pass ticket at one of the many ticketing machines, and you can print your reserved seat tickets right there.
The price of the new Rail Pass is high, so you’ll need to do some calculations to see if it’s better to get the pass or buy individual tickets. Japan Guide has a Japan Rail Pass Calculator that you can use to find out if the pass is worth it or not.
|Standard Class Rail Pass
|¥50,000 JPY per adult
|¥80,000 JPY per adult
|¥100,000 JPY per adult
|Green Car First Class Pass
|¥70,000 JPY per adult
|¥111,000 JPY per adult
|¥140,000 JPY per adult
How to Use the New Japan Rail Pass
To get into a station and catch a train, you must first pass through the wicket (gate). On this electronic gate, you’ll notice a thin slot with a yellow box around it. This is where you need to insert your JR Pass.
Notice the thin slot with the yellow box around it.
Slide your Japan Rail Pass into the machine.
Pick your Rail Pass up as you pass through.
Becki using her Japan Rail Pass to go through the wicket.
One of my biggest concerns with the new Japan Rail Pass, especially when we’re with our tours, is that it looks almost identical to a seat reservation ticket. It’s easy to confuse the two because they’re identical in color and size.
New Japan Rail Pass
Reserved Seat Ticket
Another thing to be cautious about is following someone too closely as you pass through the wicket. The machines process the JR Pass quickly, and there’s a chance that the person in front of you may accidentally take your ticket.
I’ve read online about many instances where people’s passes just vanished into thin air. It even happened to one of our tour guests in Kyoto this past fall. I also saw it happen to some other tourists in Kanazawa.
I recommend waiting until the person ahead of you has exited the gate before inserting your JR Pass. This way, you know it’s your pass popping out on the other end, and nobody will accidentally mistake it for their own.
If, for any reason, your Japan Rail Pass doesn’t pop back out on the other end of the wicket, DO NOT LEAVE! Stay there and get a JR employee to come and check the machine. Although rare, sometimes the machine will make a mistake and keep your pass.
If it’s not in the machine, DO NOT LEAVE. Don’t get angry and yell, either. Just calmly explain the situation, and stand there until they do something about it. There are video cameras that point at each wicket, ask them to review the footage.
If this isn’t getting you anywhere, ask them to call the police so you can file a report. This will show you’re serious, and you’ll need the report to file a claim with your travel insurance.
Your Japan Rail Pass cannot be reissued, and you cannot buy a new one until your current Rail Pass has expired. It doesn’t matter if it’s stolen, lost, or damaged.
Each Japan Rail Pass is linked to a passport number. JR will not issue a new Rail Pass to a passport with an active pass registered, and there is no way to cancel a lost Rail Pass.
This measure is put into place to keep visitors from buying two Rail Passes under one tourist visa and then giving it to someone who isn’t eligible to use it.
It’s essential to keep track of your Japan Rail Pass. The pass is a skeleton key that lets you ride almost any JR train. It’s also expensive and very coveted among expats living and working in Japan.
The new Japan Rail Pass is much more convenient and efficient for travelers, but its similarity to a JR seat reservation ticket requires you to be cautious. Remember that the Rail Pass is non-replaceable, so keep it in the same, safe place after every use.