The Shinkansen and the JR RailPass

The travel oracle

An immediate word of advice: if you're foreigner headed to Japan for a vacation, get a JR RailPass. Even if you're just moving around greater Tokyo everyday, it almost pays for itself -- and if you're getting out of the Kanto at all, it immediately is a great deal. It lets you ride any normal class (i.e., not green car) JR trains for free. You still need reservations on the Shinkansen. You need to show your passport with the tourist visa to get the RailPass, and you'll need to show the RailPass to the conductor on the train when you're using it for conducted trains (I think the conductor's theoretically supposed to look at your passport too). For JR lines around Tokyo, you'll show it at the window when you exit the station (you have to use the attended window).

If you haven't traveled by Shinkansen (or via France's TGV), you've gotta try it. Afterwards, you'll realize that trains can be an excellent way to travel!

reservation cards When you make a reservation on the Shinkansen, you'll get these reservation stubs, which you also need to show the conductor (you're supposed to return them at the end of your journey, but they're pretty loose with folks with aRailPass). The upper one was for my seat from Tokyo station to Kyoto, and the lower for Kyoto to Himeji. At right is the Shinkansen I took back to Tokyo later in the trip waiting at Okayama station. Shinkansen at Okayama
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  © 1998 Leo Hourvitz