IC Card Shinkansen Ticketing arrives in September

As my next trip to Japan is approaching sooner than I think, I have an update concerning shinkansen ticketing using IC cards.

IC cards go by many monikers in Japan (Suica and PASMO in Tokyo, Toica in central Japan, Icoca in western Japan, etc), but no matter the name, the IC card is an indispensable piece of hardware that make traveling on trains easy. No need to figure out how much a train or a bus costs between point A and point B… just tap your IC card when getting on and getting off, and the correct fare will be deducted from the stored balance on the card. Cards can easily be topped up at train stations and convenience stores, and can be used to pay for items at shops and a growing number of vending machines.

As reported on this blog in February 2016, JR Central and JR West, operators of the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen – arguably the two most important bullet train lines in the country – were said to be making plans to introduce some sort of mobile ticketing system for their bullet trains that would be tied to IC cards.

These plans have now been confirmed in a Japanese-language press release from both companies. Starting September 30, 2017, a new service called SMART EX will begin operation, allowing passengers to purchase bullet train tickets on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen using a major credit card and then “store” the details onto a linked IC card. The IC card would then be used to enter through the ticket barriers.

Earlier indications were that the new system would be foreigner-friendly. Following the recent JR press release, the travel site Japan-Guide.com has reported that a dedicated, bilingual website will be created. Passengers would need to create an account, register a credit card, and register a valid IC card.

Of course, if you don’t have an IC card in your possession, you will need to obtain one in Japan before you register for the service. When you use SMART EX to make a shinkansen reservation, you will get a small discount of 200 yen off of the normal fare.

The following brands of IC cards can be used with the new service: Kitaca, Pasmo, Suica, Manaca, Toica, Pitapa, Icoca, Hayakaken, Nimoca and Sugoca.

The following credit cards can be used to purchase tickets: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diner’s Club and JCB. J-West credit cards, exclusive to Japan, are also eligible.

The service can only be used to make seat reservations for Tokaido Shinkansen and San’yo Shinkansen services, as well as through services between the two lines. Tokaido Shinkansen trains run from Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, while the San’yo Shinkansen runs from Osaka to Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kita-Kyushu (Kokura station) and Fukuoka (Hakata station).

You cannot make reservations for Kyushu Shinkansen trains (those that run from Fukuoka to Kumamoto or Kagoshima), and you can’t reserve any bullet train services operated by JR East… in fact, JR East already has a website where you can make train reservations.

If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, the SMART EX can be a good way to make bullet train reservations without having to stop at a ticket machine or a ticket counter beforehand. The downside is that you need an IC card in your possession before you can register for the service.

If the reports are true and there indeed is an English option for SMART EX, I may give it a shot on my next trip and report my results!

HT: Japan Guide

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New Rail Passes for Japan in 2015

Last week, West Japan Railway – the JR company that runs trains on the western part of the Japanese mainland for the most part – announced a new set of rail passes for foreign tourists visiting the west part of the country, while announcing an expansion of rail passes that already exist. In order to qualify, you must be in Japan as a tourist – specifically, the “Temporary Visitor” stamp must be on your passport.

These are additions and changes that are being made by JR West – the national Japan Rail Pass right now remains unchanged as far as coverage.

Available from March 1, 2015:

San’yo-San’in Area Pass: 20,000 yen for 7 consecutive days (1,000 yen discount if purchased overseas)

San’yo-Hiroshima Area Pass: 14,000 yen for 5 consecutive days (1,000 yen discount if purchased overseas)

Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass: 12,000 yen for 5 consecutive days (1,000 yen discount if purchased overseas)

Kansai Area Passes from JR West will have coverage expanded, and prices will go up for tickets sold on or after March 1, 2015:

Kansai Area Pass: 1, 2, 3 and 4 consecutive day passes ranging from 2,300-6,500 yen (100-200 yen discount if purchased overseas)

Kansai Area Wide Pass: 9,000 yen for 5 consecutive days (500 yen discount if purchased overseas)

All passes are sold at a discount of 50% for children aged 6-11.

These will replace some other rail passes: The JR West San’yo Area Pass and the San’yo-Shikoku-Kyushu Area Passes will both be discontinued when the above passes take effect.

I will talk more about these passes soon, but in the meantime you can read the brochure on JR West’s website: https://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/