Japan Rail Online Ticketing to Expand for Foreigners

Welcome to another Christmas season everyone! This year has been a real roller-coaster ride for me. Lots of things going on in my life, including a recent heart infection that hospitalized me for a few days. With bills to pay, I am not sure if I will be able to make a return trip to Japan next year like I want to, but I will try my very best!

If you plan on visiting Japan next year, there’s a little bit of good news… it’s a big step forward for tourists visiting Japan, though I think there is still much more to do.

In a Japanese-language press release issued last week by East Japan Railway Company, there is news that the online foreign-language JR East Reservation System will extend online booking of Japanese trains to include more bullet train services, as well as all conventional limited express trains in Hokkaido.

Currently, you are only limited to reserving trains that are within JR East’s territory. This includes a myriad of bullet trains and limited express trains to reach far-away destinations. Two of JR East’s primary bullet trains are the Tohoku Shinkansen, which now extends into Hakodate in Hokkaido (as the Hokkaido Shinkansen), and the Hokuriku Shinkansen which runs northwest from Tokyo to the northern coastal cities of Toyama and Kanazawa. The issue currently is that you cannot reserve train tickets using the foreign-language reservation website for lines that travel outside of JR East’s territory. So this means you cannot make an online reservation on the Tohoku Shinkansen north of Aomori into Hakodate, and you cannot reserve for the Hokuriku Shinkansen past Joetsu-Myoko, which is en route to Toyama and Kanazawa. These zones are part of the territories of JR Hokkaido and JR West respectively.

Now, under a new agreement with JR Hokkaido and JR West that starts on February 1, 2017, you will be able to reserve seats on the full length of these lines, which means you can reserve the Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen trains between Tokyo and Hakodate, and the Hokuriku Shinkansen trains between Tokyo, Toyama and Kanazawa.

In addition, the agreement with JR Hokkaido will also allow users of the foreign language reservation website to make seat reservations on all of JR Hokkaido’s limited express services, including one of the primary ones that run from Hakodate to Sapporo and the ones running out of Sapporo to different parts of the island. You can also make seat reservations for the Airport Rapid services operating from Sapporo to the city’s airport, New Chitose.

This is big news for foreign tourists who will now able to reserve longer bullet train journeys more easily online, whether buying regular tickets or reserving seats for use with rail passes. The only caveat that remains is that you still won’t be able to book the most important bullet train lines on the JR East system, that being the Tokaido, San’yo and Kyushu Shinkansen that run from Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and further west into the Chugoku and Kyushu areas. This might change sometime in 2017, as reported in an earlier blog post, though I haven’t heard much news on this topic since then.

Will you plan to use JR East’s newly expanded ticketing system for foreigners next year?

Thanks for reading!

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