In previous posts I mentioned that Ryan and I bought JR East passes and that they allowed us to ride on the shinkansen and other JR services. Allow me to expound further on that information.

In Japan the public transportation systems, of which the train and subway I have the most experience, is one of the best in the world. The times posted are when things arrive, depart, etc. without, barring for accidents and other mishaps, being late and are dependable and overall the best way to get around, in my opinion. The rail system in Japan is mainly owned by JR ( The Japan Rail Group ) and the bigger cities and other provinces have their own systems as well, most notably the Tokyo Metro and Toei Metro systems. JR runs the shinkansen and has trains running all over Japan. 

Available to the public are discounts for riding the trains, my favorite resource for this is the Japan-guide entry for Rail Passes. It includes discounts by region and has very good descriptions for all of them. 

On our trip Ryan and I acquired JR East Passes which allowed us unlimited travel on all JR lines ( including the shinkansen ) in the Kanto, Koshinetsu and Tohoku Regions. We used it mostly for the shinkansen but it did see some use for local travel as well. If we so wished, we could have used it for any bus systems that JR runs, but we didn’t use any of the local ( or long distance for that matter ) buses. That gives a good background on the JR Pass I think, now before I get to the actual “How to use” part of this I have to preface it just a bit more.

While in Tokyo we bought something called a Tokyo Free Kippu, which actually costs 1,580 yen, which allowed for unlimited travel on all subway lines, JR Trains, streetcars, and buses in Tokyo for one day. It is extremely handy for those who want to travel to many places in one day. You purchase this by going to the station attendant, the guy who sits in the box near the turnstiles for entry to the train and say “Tokyo furii kippu o kudasai” ( there’s your Japanese phrase for the day ^^ ). After it is purchased to use the ticket you show it to the station attendant of the station that you are getting off from, he hits the buzzer and you walk on through. No additional hassle, real easy and quick. Now here’s where the confusion set in.

Initially when we were going to use the JR East Pass we thought it would operate in the same fashion; show it to the station attendant, walk through, get on shinkansen, get off at ending station, show it to that station attendant, and that would be that. This method actually worked, although it is not supposed to and we found out when we went on one of the longer rides, luckily there was not any penalty for not knowing how to use a JR Pass, however, so that you do not have to go through that embarrassment, I will share my knowledge gained from making the mistake first hand.

How to use a JR Pass to purchase a shinkansen ticket ( The Right Way )

1. Have your JR Pass with you at all times, you do not want to lose it because you will not be able to get a replacement without buying a new one. Here is what your Rail Pass will look like:
JR East Pass

2. When arriving at the station look for the area where you would normally purchase a shinkansen ticket, the JR Rail Pass allows you to obtain the shinkansen ticket without having to spend any extra money for it, in other words it serves as your method of payment for the ticket itself.

3. When reaching the attendant tell him or her where you want to go: ” <destination> mahday” 

4. The attendant will tell you the times when the trains are leaving. Because the shinkansen goes long distances there may be only one going out every hour or something like that. If you don’t know Japanese very well here’s your best strategy: look confused, they will bring out a timetable and point to the times. Point to the time you want to leave, and they will ask you if you want a reserved or non-reserved ticket. Get a reserved ticket, this means that you will have your own seat, as opposed to non-reserved where the seats are first come first serve. If you didn’t have the Rail Pass the non-reserved is cheaper, but you’re not spending money so you might as well get the better placement.

5. A ticket will be printed and then handed to you, bow slightly and thank them. Your ticket will designate the time of departure, arrival, what car you will ride on, and what seat you have. Here’s an example:
Ticket

6. Take your ticket, go to the entrance to the tracks and insert it into the gate. Proceed to the place where your car is and wait for the train to arrive. During the train ride you may need to show your ticket to one of the attendants on the train as you are going towards your destination.

7. When you arrive, insert your ticket to exit the station. You will not get it back, don’t worry that’s normal.

Congratulation you now know the right way to use your JR Pass and you should be able to get around Japan on the shinkansen without too much of a problem.