We have all heard about The Bullet Train and there is no doubt that a ride is on the ‘to do’ list of every traveler going to Japan. So, how does it work?

The Shinkansen is operated by JR or Japanese Railways, a conglomeration of 5 different rail lines. Understanding the JR system can be a bit confusing and understanding the subtlety is very important for the travel professional and client.

JR Pass vs. Individual Tickets?

To start, there is the question of whether or not to purchase a JR Pass or individual tickets? Many clients see the JR pass and think of it as a no-brainer for their 10 day trip. Unfortunately, as with many things in Japan, it is not that simple.

A JR Pass allows you to take a number of trains throughout Japan as often as you would like for a set weekly price. This is ideal for travelers without concrete plans and wanting the freedom to travel when and where you would like, without the time constraint of a particular train time. While the pass will get you on the train (barring a sold out situation), it does not give you a specific seat. In order to do this, you must visit a JR information station with your pass and passport to receive a seat assignment. As trains can become crowded, this is highly recommended, especially if traveling with a companion(s).

A JR Pass does have its limitations in that it will not operate on many local or more rural lines, and does not include access to the Nozomi and Mizuho trains, Japan’s fastest. Additionally, a JR Pass will not grant you access to the Tokyo Metro. In all of those situations, a payment on the spot will be required.

Lastly, and perhaps the most important point to note, a JR Pass cannot be purchased unless the passenger is present and with their passport in Japan. This makes the life of a travel professional much more difficult and is a large factor in why tickets are typically purchased point to point and not via JR Pass.

There are a number of benefits of purchasing JR tickets one way at a time. To start, you do not run the risk of not using a pass enough to get the full value. A ticket can also be purchased one month prior to the date of travel, making the travel professionals life much easier! Finally, most tour operators and DMCs, such as Destination Asia, will only arrange for transfers and pick-ups on one-way tickets. The reason behind this is that trains are frequently sold out and plans change without notice. With the high cost of guides and drivers in Japan, it is best not to risk having someone waiting for hours.

Ordinary Class vs. Green Class

The train itself is beautiful, sleek and classy. Even the mere sight of a Shinkansen flying by is quite impressive.
Inside the train you will find two classes of service: Ordinary Class and Green Class (First Class). Both Ordinary and Green are comfortable, clean and provide an enjoyable ride. Snacks and beverages can be purchased by the friendly crew walking down the aisle.

Of course, there are certain benefits of booking a Green Class ticket. Green Class travelers will find additional service such as hot towels and a complimentary drink, as well as a bit more space to enjoy the views on the ride. Additionally, with a higher price tag in Green Class, there are less travelers and the train is usually less crowded.
Although Green Class is not available on all trains, it is recommended for clients that are accustomed to
traveling on higher classes of transportation to use this option when available.

For more information on the Shinkansen or getting around Japan, drop me a line or go visit yourself!

For more information on Japan or any other destinations in Asia, please contact andrew@kainyc.com.

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