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 Mobile Ticketing for Shinkansen arriving next year

This afternoon I came across a press release from the Shinkansen timetable site Tabi-O-Ji, and I thought it might be nice to share here on the blog.

If you want to travel by bullet train in Japan, under most circumstances you cannot book your ticket until you arrive in Japan. There are a few exceptions, most notably the online reservation system of JR East, allowing travelers to reserve – in English – trips on bullet trains that they operate. While many routes to the north are covered, the most important routes – the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen connecting Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and points in between – does not offer advance ticketing in English.

This MIGHT change in the Summer of 2017, when JR Central and JR West are set to unveil a new mobile ticketing system for Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen trains. According to the press release, you will be able to use the new ticketing system by linking your credit card and an IC card, such as a SUICA, TOICA, ICOCA, etc. You’d have to pick up an IC card in Japan if you don’t have one already, but once you have one you can add it to the account.

Purchases in the new system would be charged to your credit card, then when you are ready to travel you simply tap in and out of the ticket barriers using your IC card.

I bring this up because apparently there is some language in the JR press release saying that “Even foreign travelers can use the system”. This might suggest that in the future, there could be an English option to purchase shinkansen tickets on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen using a mobile device.

There are a few points to note:
– As the release says, you must be in possession of an IC card BEFORE you make a purchase. If you have acquired an IC card from a previous trip to Japan, it is valid for five years after purchase.
– There is no option mentioned regarding purchases for Japan Rail Pass holders. I honestly do not expect such an option to be made available – instead, rail pass holders would have to continue making ticket reservations in person, and pass through manned ticket barriers to access trains.

Further details are yet to be announced (including whether or not there will be an English option) but if you plan to go around on the Tokaido and San’yo Shinkansen using regular tickets, the new mobile ticketing system that will be in place next year might just make purchases easier.