Given that the coronavirus pandemic is still an issue, JR is still planning to implement the Rail Pass changes on June 1, 2020 as of the time of this post.
The newly upgraded Japan Rail Pass will turn the pass into a magnetic ticket. You will be able to use the ticket to pass through automatic ticket gates at JR stations as opposed to using the manned gates. Furthermore, you will be able to use ticket reservation machines at JR stations to make a free seat reservation or pick up existing reservations.
It appears from images just recently posted on the Japan Rail Pass website that access to the machines will be a two-step process. All of the new Japan Rail Pass tickets will be printed with a QR code on them. To access, you will select the Japan Rail Pass option on the home screen and hold up your ticket’s QR code to the machine’s QR scanner. (If there is no QR scanner then you will type in the ticket number on your rail pass using the touch screen.) After that, you will enter your passport number to confirm that you are the owner of the ticket.
Entering your passport number into the machine might cause concern for a few, though I believe the option will still exist of going to a manned counter to make seat reservations if needed.
Regardless, you will have to go to a manned counter once in order to receive the actual rail pass. You will be asked to show your passport to the clerk to confirm your eligibility, and you will also be required to turn in your exchange voucher or show proof of payment.
As mentioned before, the Japan Rail Pass will be sold directly by JR on a dedicated website. The prices will be in Japanese Yen and will be slightly higher than the prices for exchange vouchers. However, one perk of purchasing your pass through JR directly is that you will have access to JR’s reservation system to make free seat reservations beforehand if you wish, within the validity of your pass.
The exchange voucher system will be in place until at least 2023. Exchange vouchers are sold by authorized travel agencies and retailers in your local country (in person and online) and in your local currency, plus any markups/shipping fees that may be added by the seller. It appears to have been clarified – contrary to earlier posts – that even if you use an exchange voucher, you will still receive a Japan Rail Pass ticket with a QR code, you can still use a ticket machine to make seat reservations and pick up reservations after receiving your pass, and you can still use the automatic ticket gates. However, you cannot make advance train reservations before your trip and must wait until you arrive in Japan to make the reservations.
It might make sense, then, to purchase directly through JR if there is a specific train or two you would like to reserve in advance, or if you are traveling when it might be busy and a seat reservation might be hard to obtain at the last minute. Otherwise, purchasing an exchange voucher the old way may save you some money.
Remember that in some instances you may not need a reserved seat ticket… if you are able to access non-reserved seating then you can simply walk into a non-reserved car and find any open seat. Your Japan Rail Pass will be enough for the journey.
Also, don’t forget that depending on your situation, you might not need to get a Japan Rail Pass. Please read my post on whether or not the Japan Rail Pass is right for you.
Learning more about the advantages the refreshed Japan Rail Pass offers gives me more inspiration to plan for my next Japan trip… whenever it happens.
Will you take advantage of the new Japan Rail Pass product? Let me know in the comments below.