Japan Rail Pass upgrades coming in Spring 2020

Update 12/27/19: An official English translation of JR’s press release is now out, specifying that in addition to the new features coming with the Japan Rail Pass, it will also be possible for Rail Pass holders to reserve seats at the ticket machines. Yet another win for tourists!

Hello everyone! I hope you are having fun and staying warm this holiday season.
Unfortunately real life has gotten in the way of some additional posts and updates… however, there IS an update that is worth sharing this morning, and it could be a real game changer if you are considering a visit to Japan.

Takeshi over at JPRail.com posted on his Facebook page earlier today about an announcement made by Japan Railways. According to his post, the Japan Rail Pass will soon be sold online, directly by Japan Railways. In recent years, they have permitted online sales of the national pass by third-party travel agents at slightly increased prices. Now, in addition to the above methods, Japan Railways will handle online sales directly.

But what may come as a true “upgrade” to the Rail Pass to make it very useful is the fact that Rail Pass holders would be permitted to make online seat reservations for trips where reservations are available. Presumably, this will include shinkansen (bullet train) and limited express journeys operated by JR.

I took a moment to look at JR’s press release from December 18. The JR group cites the increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan as the reason for these changes.

The JR release suggests that one could purchase a pass and make seat reservations through JR, pick up the rail pass at a manned counter, and then pick up reserved seat tickets at either the counter or at a ticket vending machine. Pass holders could then use automatic ticket gates to go through the wickets.

These changes are planned to be implemented in the Spring of 2020. If these changes are implemented as announced, it will mark a giant leap in the usefulness of the Japan Rail Pass. In particular, there will be two new features that will save tourists a whole lot of time.

First, the ability to reserve seats online and pick up reserved seat tickets at a ticket vending machine. I presume the option to pick up the tickets at the manned counter will still be available, but this will save some time as you do not have to get into a long line and then attempt to communicate your travel intentions to the clerk.

Second, the ability to use automatic ticket gates. Currently, all Rail Pass holders have to present their paper rail passes to a manned station agent at the ticket barriers in order to cross in and out. It remains to be seen how the automatic gates would be used in conjunction with rail pass users. Will the rail passes be upgraded to an IC-type card that holders can then tap in and out? Will the reserved seat tickets themselves permit access to the train in the place of basic fare tickets? Will there be measures in place so that only the passenger authorized to do so can cross through the automatic gates? The exact details of how the system would work are yet to be revealed by Japan Railways.

I will certainly pass along any more details once I hear about them, but this news about the Japan Rail Pass, and the measures that will be implemented, is a wonderful Christmas gift for those looking to visit Japan in the future.

2 thoughts on “Japan Rail Pass upgrades coming in Spring 2020

  1. C. Krauss

    Thanks Jose. What do you think the chances are that clearing U.S. customs at Narita will be in place in time for the Olympics?  That’s the one I’m looking forward to.  We are planning our next trip for next November after the crowds have left and will most likely take advantage of a new Delta non-stop from PDX to HND, but NRT is always an option at other airports.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your message! I have not heard any US pre-clearance news with regards to Japan since it was originally proposed in 2016, so I have doubts it will be implemented any time soon.

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