Japan Rail (JR) Pass
Most international visitors coming to and from Nagano will make at least one journey on Japan’s famous shinkansen. Often referred to as the ‘Bullet Train’, the shinkansen network spans the country and connects the cities and regions of Japan with a highspeed rail network that is the envy of the world.
The shinkansen is hugely convenient but also expensive, particularly for longer journeys. A couple of journeys on the famous train network can quickly add-up but fortunately, most international visitors are eligible for a Japan Rail (JR) Pass.
Passes are available for 7, 14 and 21-day periods and cover unlimited (with a couple of exceptions) use of the shinkansen network and many other trains around Japan. These passes represent the most economical and convenient way of navigating the rail network and in doing so, get the most out of your time in Japan.
Further information and tips for using the Hokuriku Shinkansen to travel to and from Nagano can be found through our ‘How To: Getting to Nagano from Tokyo by Shinkansen’ page.
For further information regarding tickets, please refer to our ‘How To: Shinkansen Reservations to Nagano’ page.
Services Covered by the Pass
JR Passes are valid for use on almost all trains operated by Japan Railways including shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid and local trains. Furthermore, passes cover use of the Tokyo Monorail to and from Haneda Airport and some non-JR train lines and local buses.
Nozomi services on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen and Mizuho services on the Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen are not covered by the pass, nor are most non-JR trains. Further exclusions and Japan Railways terms of cancellation are listed at the bottom of this page*.
Holders of any JR Pass can however use all services on the Hokuriku Shinkasen – which runs from Tokyo to Kanazawa, stopping at Nagano – at no additional charge. For further details, please refer to our ‘Hokuriku Shinkansen’ page.
Types of Passes & Prices
As stated, passes are available for periods of 7, 14 and 21-days and can only be used by the person named on the pass. Passes can be purchased for Ordinary or Green Cars at the following prices:
Ordinary Cars include both reserved and non-reserved seating and are the carriages that most people, including most Japanese, use for their journeys. They are comfortable and clean. Holders of an JR Pass covering Ordinary Cars can sit in a non-reserved carriage without need of an additional ticket however should you wish to sit in a reserved seat, you will need to arrange an additional ticket from the ticket office. This is provided at no additional cost.
Green Cars are variously described as the equivalent to business or first-class on an airline. Seats are larger and more comfortable with more legroom and luggage space for each passenger. Holders of JR Passes covering Green Cars must obtain a separate ticket from the ticket office prior to their journey as all Green Cars are reservation-only. Holders of these passes can also use Ordinary Cars should they wish to.
For further information about Ordinary, Green Cars and Gran Class, please refer to our ‘Hokuriku Shinkansen’ page.
Eligibility for a JR Pass
To obtain a pass, you must be traveling on a foreign passport and be the holder – or will be the holder – of a temporary visitor visa while you are in Japan. Any other class of visa, including other temporary visas such as students, spouses, trainees, etc. are not eligible for a pass.
Purchasing a JR Pass
Passes can be purchased via the official website or via a JR-affiliated overseas sales office. Once you have completed payment, you will receive an exchange order. This is a proof of payment and looks almost like a flight ticket with your personal details, type of pass, and validity (three months from the date of issue).
It is important to note that the exchange order is not your actual pass and will need to be exchanged for your pass once in Japan. So whatever you do, do not lose the exchange order and prioritise exchanging it for your pass when you arrive.
Exchanging & Activating Your 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 Airport and Haneda Airport.
If you have time to do so before leaving the airport, you can use the pass immediately. Tokyo Station is another popular place to exchange/obtain your pass at either of these offices:
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
For further information, please refer to our ‘Activating a JR Pass & Traveling to Nagano from Tokyo Station’ page.
Travelers already in Nagano can exchange/activate their pass at the Travel Service Center/View Plaza inside Nagano Station from 10:00 to 19:00 on weekdays and 10:00 to 17:3o on weekends and holidays.
To exchange/activate your pass you will need your exchange order and passport. 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.
Should I Buy a JR Pass?
It depends on how long you will be in Japan and what you plan to do while here. If for example, you will be in Tokyo less than a week and not planning to travel outside of the city, then a JR Pass really isn’t worth it.
If however you’re here for more than a week and/or planning to use the shinkansen more than a couple of times, the pass will quickly pay for itself. For example, a return journey from Tokyo to Nagano will cost approximately JPY17,000 for a seat in an ordinary car. Looking at the table of prices above, you will note that that return journey is already more than half the price of the 7-day pass.
Once you start using the train regularly, and travelling longer distances than Tokyo to Nagano, the cost of the pass will soon justify itself. Just remember, shinkansen cover huge distances quickly and without the hassle of check-in and luggage pickup of an airport. It is definitely expensive but well-worth using, particularly with a JR Pass in hand.