No visit to Japan would be complete without riding the famous shinkansen (bullet train) at least once, and for many visitors, it is their main means of transport while here.
As a visitor to the Japan (on 14 to 90 day temporary visas), you have the option of using a JR Rail Pass (or one of the regional equivalents), which offers an economical means of travelling on Japan’s rail network with few restrictions – for 7, 14, or 21 day periods.
Passes can be purchased online before you depart your home country or in person once you arrive in Japan. For those who opt to buy their pass from abroad, you will need to exchange your voucher (provided online at time of purchase) and activate it for use once you have arrived. This is an easy step however it can catch-out some visitors given that it can take time.
Exchanging your voucher and activating your JR Rail Pass
Most visitors choose to exchange and activate their pass at one of the shinkansen offices at Tokyo Station however, it is worth noting that this step can be completed at the shinkansen office of any JR station. Opening times will vary between offices. Tokyo Station has two convenient offices which you can use:
JR East Travel Service Center (Marunouchi North Exit): 7:30 to 20:00
JR Central Ticket Office (Yaesu North Exit): 7:30 to 20:00
You must exchange your voucher and activate your pass before it can be used. While this step is simple it can take time, particularly at Tokyo Station. Many visitors choose to do so at these offices meaning wait times can be long. Make sure you allow adequate time to exchange and activate your pass if you are intending to use it on the same day or do so a day or two before you plan to start using it (you can always nominate a later activation date).
Once you have your activated pass you are free to ride however you can’t insert your pass into the ticket gates. Simply walk through the side booth (permanently attended by station staff) and show your pass. You will be waved through and you can make your way to the platform.
Getting from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station
Tokyo Station is the largest train station in Japan. With numerous lines servicing the station and a labyrinth of platforms, tunnels, and underground shopping areas, navigating your way to the shinkansen can be challenging for first-timers or Tokyoites alike!
The shinkanasen access gates are divided by region – those servicing the lines running to the north/east and those running to the south/west. Nagano Station is on the Hokuriku Line and is accessed via the gates marked Shinkansen North Transfer.
As you can see in the images above, these platforms service several shinkansen lines and are clearly labelled both outside and inside of the gates. If you are heading to Nagano Station, ensure that you entering one of these gates. Where many visitors get confused and ultimately lost, is by accessing the gates for Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen Lines (running to the south/west of Tokyo).
If you are using the JR Rail Pass, no one will check which train you are intending to use, meaning that if you’ve entered the wrong section of the station, you won’t see your train listed and suddenly, you’re feeling lost! Avoid this by following the directions above and making sure you enter the correct section.
Travelling from Tokyo to Nagano takes between 80 to 100 minutes depending which shinkansen you choose to use. The Hokuriku Line is covered by both the JR Japan Rail Pass and JR East (Nagano & Niigata Area) Pass.
There are numerous trains each day and we look forward to seeing you here in Nagano!