This is no April fools joke – JR East are making big changes to their popular Rail Passes from April 1st.
Most of the changes are positive, and welcome especially for foreigners resident in Japan using anything other than ‘Temporary Visitor’ status. Previously you were ineligible for the passes, but now you will be.
“To provide an even more seamless service, JR East will introduce a service that enables customers to use the automatic ticket gates, and purchase passes and reserve seats at the Reserved Seat Ticket Vending Machines that is compatible with all rail passes offered by JR East.“
“Therefore, there will been some changes to the validity and price of the rail passes offered by JR East.“
“We are striving to provide an even higher quality service to foreign tourists visiting Japan by offering a stress-free service that allows the purchase of tickets and reservation of seats without having to wait in line at the ticket counter” according to JR East.
So there will be no need to show your JR Pass at stations, or go to offices to pick it up. The latter is particularly helpful for flight arrivals outside their office hours (or will be once international travel ramps up again).
Instead passport readers will be installed on Reserved Seat Ticket vending machines at some stations and customers will be able to purchase a rail pass using the machines by tapping their passport on the reader.
Stations where a passport reader will be installed from April 2021: Tokyo, Ueno, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Hamamatsucho, Yokohama, Mito, Narita Airport, Narita Airport Terminal 2·3, Sendai, Yamagata, Fukushima, Morioka, Hachinohe, Aomori, Akita, Niigata, Nagano, and Matsumoto.
You can also then simply make you desired seat reservations on the machines as well.
The existing price differential of 1,000 yen for purchase abroad is being removed, and one flat rate will apply for adults or children for each type of JR East Rail Pass.
So the passes remain great value versus purchasing individual sectors, especially shinkansen sectors.
But itinerary flexibility will be reduced. Passes that are currently valid for 5 days travel in a 14 day period switch to 5 day consecutive only.
That’s OK for anyone in a rush happy to move on every day to somewhere new. But a loss for others.
This change is likely to dramatically impact the volume of pass sales, so hopefully it will be revised. For example, in the Tohoku area there is just so much to see and do you really need more time.
You can check out the latest details from JR East on their website.