No visit to Japan would be complete without riding the famous ‘shinkansen’ (bullet train) network at least once, and for many visitors, it is their primary means of transport while here.
As a visitor to the Japan – on 14 to 90 day temporary visa – you have the option of using a Japan Rail (JR) Pass (or one of the regional equivalents), which offers an economical means of traveling on Japan’s rail network with few restrictions – for periods of 7, 14, or 21-days.
Passes can be purchased online before you depart your home country. Once payment has been completed online, you will receive an exchange order, which as the name suggests, once be exchanged for your actual JR Pass once in Japan. The following information explains how to exchange your pass once here and avoid any nasty surprises or delays.
Exchanging your voucher and activating your JR Rail Pass
Prior to using your pass, you must first exchange the order/proof of purchase you received online. This can be done a numerous JR Pass Exchange Offices found at any major train station or airport, including Narita and Haneda Airports.
If you have time to do so before leaving the airport, you can use the pass immediately. However, if you want to do so at Tokyo Station, the following offices can exchange and activate your JR Pass:
JR East Travel Service Center (Marunouchi North Exit): 07:30 to 20:00
JR Central Ticket Office (Yaesu North Exit): 07:30 to 20:00
If you aren’t planning to use your pass on that day, you can still provide your exchange order and ask that the pass activates on whichever day works best for you.
Getting from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station
Tokyo Station is one of the largest stations 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 and Tokyoites alike!
Multiple shinkansen lines operate to and from Tokyo Station and access to each shinkansen is divided by region – those servicing the lines running to the north/east and those running to the south/west.
As you can see from the images above, platforms service multiple shinkansen lines which 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. You simply show your pass at the window and they will let you pass through the gates. Meaning that if you’ve entered the wrong area, 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.