How to Use the New Japan Rail Pass: Bullet Train

How to Use the New Japan Rail Pass

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.

The Old Japan Rail Pass

Two Old Japan Rail Passes and a Reserved Seat Ticket

To get to a platform with the old pass, you had to search for a manned wicket (ticket gate) so you could physically show a JR employee your pass. As tourism to Japan became more and more popular, the lines to get in and out of the stations got out of control.


This is a Wicket (Ticket Gate).

The old pass was also huge. It was slightly larger than a passport and a bit of a pain to carry, especially if you didn’t have a bag. On the positive side, it was very obvious that it was a Japan Rail Pass, which made it easy to find.

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

Japan Rail Pass in a Commuter Pass Wallet

The new size is a bit of a double edge sword, though. On one hand, it’s easy to store in a wallet or a commuter pass wallet. On the other hand, it’s smaller and a bit easier to lose. And it looks just like a reserved seat ticket, so this raises the chances of someone accidentally throwing it away.

Added Conveniences

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.
NOTE: When you order your JR Rail Pass from a third party or the official Japan Rail website, they’ll send you either a physical voucher or a digital voucher. Once in Japan, you must exchange the voucher to get your Japan Rail Pass. You can only get the physical pass once you’re in Japan and prove you’re eligible to use it.

New Price

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
7 days¥50,000 JPY per adult
14 days¥80,000 JPY per adult
21 days¥100,000 JPY per adult

Green Car First Class Pass
7 days¥70,000 JPY per adult
14 days¥111,000 JPY per adult
21 days¥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

Notice the thin slot with the yellow box around it.

It makes no difference in which direction the pass is inserted. You can even put it in upside down if you like. This advanced machine will flip it around and spit it back out on the other side as you exit. Just be sure to pick your pass back up as you pass through the wicket.

Slide your Japan Rail Pass into the Machine

Slide your Japan Rail Pass into the machine.

Pick Your Rail Pass up as you pass through

Pick your Rail Pass up as you pass through.

You’ll need to do this every time you enter and exit a train station. You’ll also have to use your JR Rail Pass to transfer between a regular train line and a Shinkansen train line. Although they’re both JR trains, the Shinkansen is completely separate from normal JR trains.

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

New Japan Rail Pass

Reserved Seat Ticket

Reserved Seat Ticket

We tell our tour participants to always put their pass in the same place. I also recommend stepping off to the side and putting your pass away immediately after passing through the wicket.

Go Slowly

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.

Stay Put

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.

Not Replaceable

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.

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