JR East Passes to Change From April

Some passes become available to foreign residents

By Peter Sidell    - 2 min read

The shinkansen bullet train is probably the best way to get around Japan, but many of the passes offered by JR are available only to foreign visitors, leaving foreign residents unable to take advantage. However, from 1 April 2021, JR East is making two of its most popular passes available to all foreign passport holders, whether living here or not.

The Tohoku Area Pass will cost JPY20,000 for adults and JPY10,000 for children, and the Nagano/Niigata Area Pass will cost JPY18,000 for adults, JPY9,000 for children. Both will allow for five consecutive days of unlimited travel on all trains, including the shinkansen, and some JR East bus services.

This will mark a change from the previous version of the pass, which allowed for five days of travel, but on non-consecutive days within two weeks of the first use.

With the Tohoku Area Pass, you'll be able to travel in these prefectures: Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi, Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata, Akita, Iwate and Aomori. This will allow you to enjoy the sights and action of Sendai, see beautiful Matsushima Bay, visit historical Aizu-Wakamatsu and Hiraizumi, and even get as far as Osore-Zan, a spectral temple complex at the top of a steaming volcano in the remotest reaches of Aomori.

Using the Nagano/Niigata Area Pass, you'll be able to travel around any and all of Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Ibaraki, Gunma, Nagano and Niigata prefectures. This will cut out much of the north, but does then include Hakuba ski resort and the historic castle town of Matsumoto, and will allow you to see the onsen monkeys near Nagano city.

The passes are available for purchase at any JR East Service Center, or online through the JR East website. When traveling with a pass you'll need to be carrying your passport in case of inspection by the train staff.

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Peter Sidell

Peter Sidell @peter.sidell

I came to Japan from Manchester, England in 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I'm not working, I write satire and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check YouTube for a taste.

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Susan Tumanon a week ago
It will be a cheap way to travel if you plan it carefully.
Sander van Werkhoven 2 weeks ago
Great for foreign residents, unfortunately bad news tourists (not that there are any right now...). I used the Nagano/Niigata Area Pass in 2019, and what I liked most was that you could use it for 5 non-consecutive days within a 14 day period. Which was perfect for my trip: straight from Narita to Nagano, stay there for 4 days including a day trip to Matsumoto but otherwise just limited use of inexpensive trains and mostly buses, then back to Tokyo and use the remaining two days for daytrips that would have been quite expensive without that pass.

With just 5 consecutive days, it would have only covered the Nagano part of the trip, which barely would have paid off. And it's not like it's getting cheaper now, so you get quite a bit less for a few hundred yen more.

For that same reason I would love to see a nationwide JRP that you could use for just a limited number of days within a couple of weeks. Say, something like 6 or 7 days of travel within a 3 week period. For my first trips to Japan a JRP was a no-brainer, since I'd basically travel the length of the country and back again. Even a 21-day JRP would easily be worth it. But now that I tend to focus more on specific regions, most rail passes are pretty useless: the JRP is just way too expensive, and most regional passes are too limited.
As far as I know most of the lines in Japan and especially the shinkansen are making a good profit. And even if they wouldn't, considering the (extremely successful!) efforts Japan has been making to attract more tourists it really shouldn't matter. If they want those people to visit more than just Tokyo and Kansai, convenient and affordable transportation should be a priority.

Japan still has a (mostly undeserved!) reputation for being an extremely expensive destination, with the JRP being one of the great "bargains". Which actually still is pretty expensive and requires a LOT of travel to pay off. I've heard so many times that people basically decided the duration of their stay in Japan based on the JRP. And think 60k yen per person for a 3-week JRP is too expensive, so just limit it to one or two weeks. Which is a shame, and could easily be avoided with more flexible options.
Elena Lisina 2 weeks ago
Yes, JR Tohoku Pass is cheaper than one-way trip to Aomori - good!
Kim 2 weeks ago
This is such an encouraging change!
Kim a week ago
Ah, should have specified that I meant for foreign residents...I know a lot of people who will be taking advantage of the changes.