The Japanese Bullet Train is one of the fastest ways of transport in Japan and can make your travels smooth and efficient. Figuring out which train to take and how to reserve however, can take some time. It is quite time-consuming to scan through the entire The Japan Rail (JR) website so here is an article to make a short-cut. We will help you find your way to the Shinkansen heading for Nagano, as well as explain how to book in advance and how to pay.
One of the best things to get a hold of when you are taking a holiday in Japan is the JR Pass. Those in possession of the JR Pass have almost unlimited access to the JR lines strewn across Japan (with some exceptions). So if you are heading to cities like Hiroshima and Kagoshima on the complete opposite side of Japan this pass is highly recommended to save on transportation costs when traveling in Japan. More information on the JR Pass can be found here.
It used to be so that you’d had to reserve your JR before your arrival in Japan. But now people can also reserve their JR Rail Pass when staying in Japan during a limited period (March 8, 2017 ‒ March 31, 2018). Please see further information regarding where you can buy JR Pass in Japan, please see the page here.
When looking at the JR Pass website, you might notice that they site different types of JR passes. These passes limit you to a certain area, but save you a bunch of money compared to the price of JR Pass that will take you across the entire country. So which type of JR Pass is suitable if your travel plan is centered around Tokyo area, but would like to make an excursion trip to the Snow Monkey Park? The answer is, the JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata area). For further information on how to purchase and where to buy, please go to JR East website here.
Now you know the appropriate pass for your travel plan. Further information regarding price, covered area, how to purchase, and how to pick up, are all explained in the above inserted links of the websites of the JR Pass and the JR EAST Pass.
In regards to the Shinkansen heading to Nagano, the nearest Shinkansen station to the Snow Monkey Park, we will answer the most frequently-asked questions by the visitors of our website below. The information explained is applicable for those with or without the JR (or JR East) Pass.
1. It seems there are different names for Shinkansen heading in the direction of Nagano. Which Shinkansen should I take and what is the difference?
There is actually only one Shinkansen line that passes through Nagano. It goes from Tokyo to Kanazawa, and is called the “Hokuriku Shinkansen", operated by JR EAST. On this line there are three different Shinkansen trains. They operate at the same pricing, but have different speeds, thus travel duration will differ per train. This due to some trains stopping more often than others. See below for an explanation on each line:
- Asama – has both reserved/non-reserved seats, more stops than the other two lines and takes about 1:50 to 2 hours.
- Hakutaka – has both reserved/non-reserved seats, takes about 1:30 to 1:40 hours.
- Kagayaki – has only reserved seats, takes about 1:20 to 1:30 hours.
The train fare of Hokuriku Shinkansen between Tokyo and Nagano is ¥8200 for a single ride. To see the timetable for the Hokuriku Shinkansen, please click here.
2. Do I need to make a reservation to ride a Shinkansen, and what is the procedure?
A Shinkansen train is comprised of 10-15 cars and most of the Shinkansen have 3-5 cars with unreserved seats. However, during peak season like the Christmas holidays, many Japanese people travel by Shinkansen. There is a high chance that all the seats will be taken. You can still stand in the train aisles but if you prefer to travel comfortably then reserving might be your best option. Reservations can be made through the following procedures:
a. Reserve online
If you want to make a reservation before your arrival to Japan, you can reserve online at the JR EAST Train Reservation website. You will need to register for the JR EAST membership (free of charge) and enter your credit card details in order to reserve the tickets.
Please note that reservations can only be made as early as one month in advance of the day of your travel. For example, if you would be traveling the 27th of April, you can reserve your seats starting March 28th.
The website first asks you if you hold any JR Passes. By selecting the one you have, the website shows you the train lines which you can use. If you are not a pass holder, you can choose the “without any rail pass" button.
Once you have selected your type of Pass, you can select the Shinkansen line (choose Hokuriku Shinkansen for Nagano), departure station, arrival station, and boarding date/time. The website then gives you a list of the Shinkansen lines that take you where you want to go. After selecting a specific Shinkansen, you designate a JR station where you will pick up your ticket. It can be a bit confusing to pick one station since it is a quite a long list of stations to choose from. The easiest pick would be just the station of your arrival airport or Tokyo Station, which is the central station of Tokyo. The above inserted link also tells you the opening hours of each office.
The final step of completing the reservation process is to select a date when to pick up the ticket at your selected JR station. JR asks you, “Please collect your tickets before 9:00 p.m. (21:00, Japan Standard Time) of the day before your departure. Tickets cannot be collected on the day of departure."
Now you know when and where to pick up your tickets. Payment for online reservations are made through registering your credit-card number. The Japan Railways will process your payment when you pick up the actual ticket at the JR station.
b. Reserving at a JR station, ticket office or ticket vending machine
If you are already in Japan but want to reserve seats, you can do so at the JR ticket office (named Midori-no-Madoguchi in Japanese), the Travel Service Center (View Plaza), or the ticket vending machines at JR stations, as explained in the JR East webpage here.
If you are a JR Pass holder, you cannot reserve seats via ticket vending machines and have to go to the JR ticket office. Just explain where and when you want to travel, and the JR staff will print out a ticket for you. The JR ticket office does not have to be in the station you want to depart from. For example, you could reserve your Shinkansen ticket departing from Nagoya in Tokyo.
If you are not a JR Pass holder, you can of course head to the JR Ticket Office but you could also pay for your ticket at an electronic ticket machine. For a detailed explanation of how to make a purchase, please see the inserted video on this page.
Hope this could be a useful tip for you to make your trip to Nagano easier!