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The JR East Pass Guide for First-Timers | Explore More, Spend Less

Unleash the magic of Eastern Japan with the JR East Pass! With the help of this easy-to-use travel partner from the East Japan Railway Company (JR East), you can explore an amazing network of trains and bullet trains that will transport you to both well-known locations and lesser-known gems throughout the area. 

Traverse the Japanese Alps to the vibrant streets of Tokyo, all with one pass. The JR East Pass grants access to a vast network covering not only major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sendai but also charming towns, historical landmarks, and scenic coastal escapes. Read on to discover the different JR East Pass options, which one’s best for you, the top sights to visit with your pass, and more!

Navigate your JR East Pass guide

  1. What is the JR East Pass?
  2. Why get the JR East Pass?
  3. Things to know before booking your JR East Pass
  4. Your JR East Pass options
  5. JR East Pass: Region covered
  6. Areas covered with the JR East Pass
  7. How to buy & activate your JR East Pass
  8. Top sights & things to do in East Japan
  9. Visit East Japan with your JR East Pass: Your itinerary
  10. Frequently asked questions about the JR East Pass

What is the JR East Pass?

The JR East Japan Railway Company provides an affordable travel pass known as the JR East Pass. It unlocks unlimited rides on JR East trains within a designated area for a set period, streamlining travel and maximizing value for exploring Eastern Japan's diverse landscapes, bustling cities, and hidden treasures. The JR East Pass is primarily divided into 2 types: The Tohuku area and the Nagano & Niigata area. Both passes are valid for 5 days, allowing you to get the most out of your stay in East Japan. 

Things to know before booking your JR East Pass

  • JR East Pass comes in 2 options: the Tohoku area and the Nagano & Niigata areas. Select the pass that aligns with your itinerary. Should you wish to cover both areas, you can buy both passes. 
  • Choose the JR East Pass (Tohoku area) for historical and architectural sites, or the JR East Pass: Nagano & Niigata for more nature exploring with mountains and vibrant culture.
  • Both of these passes are valid for 5 consecutive days.
  • All JR East Shinkansen (bullet trains) and limited express trains, including Tohoku Shinkansen, Yamabiko, Nasuno, and Hayate services, are accessible with the JR East Tohoku Area Pass.
  • You can board all JR East Shinkansen (bullet trains) and limited express trains, including Joetsu Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, and Kagayaki services, with the JR East Nagano-Niigata Area Pass.
  • JR East passes cover JR East trains. For local transportation beyond JR lines, factor in additional costs when budgeting.
  • JR East passes do not include Shinkansen bullet trains like the Nozomi and Mizuho services.
  • Only holders of non-Japanese passports can purchase the JR East Pass, and to qualify, a traveler must have a "Temporary Visitor" visa.

Your JR East Pass options

Japan Rail East Pass

JR East Pass: Tohoku area

Tohoku is the northeastern region of Japan's main island, Honshu. This pass unlocks unlimited rides on JR East trains within the regions of Tokyo, Sendai, Aomori, Morioka, and more, for five consecutive days. Ride the Shinkansen, the bullet train, to Sendai, delve into the fascinating Michinoku Kokubun Cho temple complex, or visit the Towada National Park —the possibilities are endless.

  • Validity: 5 days 
  • All areas covered: Sendai (Miyagi), Aomori (Aomori), Fukushima (Fukushima), Kakunodate Samurai District (Akita), Hirosaki Castle (Aomori), Nikko Toshogu Shrine (Tochigi), Towada-Hakusan National Park (Akita and Aomori), Matsushima Bay (Miyagi), Nikko National Park (Tochigi).
  • Shinkansen Access: Yes. From Tokyo to Sendai and further.
  • JR train access: Tohoku Shinkansen, Yamabiko, Nasuno, and Hayate services, Tokyo Monorail, Izu Kyuko Line, Aoimori Railway Line, Iwate Galaxy Railway (IGR) Line, Sendai Airport Transit Line
  • Major junctions: Tokyo Station and Sendai Station for line changes.
JR East Pass: Nagano & Niigata area

JR East Pass: Nagano & Niigata area

Nagano and Niigata are neighboring prefectures located in the central part of Japan's main island, Honshu. Beyond skiing, Nagano offers beautiful scenery year-round, with hiking trails, hot springs (onsens), and historical sites like Zenko-ji temple, one of Japan's oldest Buddhist temples. Niigata is known as "the Rice Bowl of Japan" due to its fertile plains producing some of the country's best rice.

  • Validity: 5 days 
  • All areas covered: Nagano (Nagano), Niigata (Niigata), Matsumoto (Nagano), Hakuba Valley (Nagano), Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (Nagano and Gunma), Myoko-Kogen National Park (Niigata), Nozawa Onsen (Nagano), Yudanaka Onsen (Niigata), Ogoya Onsen (Niigata), Matsumoto Castle (Nagano), Kanazawa (Ishikawa - accessible with limited travel outside the Nagano and Niigata area), Shonaigashi Coast (Yamagata).
  • Shinkansen Access: Yes. From Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa and further.
  • JR train access: Joetsu Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, Kagayaki services, all JR East Shinkansen (bullet trains) and limited express trains, JR East Lines​, ​Tokyo Monorail, Izu Kyuko Line, Hokuetsu Express​ and Tokimeki Railway (between Naoetsu and Arai)
  • Major junctions: Tokyo Station and Echigo-Yuzawa Station for line changes.

JR East Pass: Region covered

Areas covered with the JR East Pass

Tokyo Tower at sunset, Tokyo - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Tokyo

Japan's vibrant capital, Tokyo, is known for its iconic landmarks like Shibuya Crossing and historic temples like Senso-ji, offering a taste of both modern and traditional Japan.

Don’t Miss:

  • Tokyo Tower
  • Foodie Tour
Matsushima Bay on a sunny day - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Sendai

Sendai, a bustling city in Miyagi Prefecture, is famous for its delicious beef tongue (gyutan) and the beautiful Matsushima Bay, dotted with hundreds of small islands.

Don’t Miss:

  • Osaki Hachiman Shrine
  • Matsushima Bay Sightseeing Cruise
A farmer picking an Apple from a tree - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Aomori

The northern city, Aomori, is known for the Nebuta Matsuri summer festival with its giant illuminated floats and as the gateway to the scenic natural beauty of the Hakkoda Mountains.

Don’t Miss:

  • Nebuta Museum WA RASSE
  • Apple Picking during the Fall Season
Zenko-ji Temple, Nagano, Japan - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Nagano

Nagano, the 1998 Winter Olympics host city, offers world-class skiing in Hakuba Valley and relaxing soaks in the renowned Nozawa Onsen hot springs.

Don’t Miss:

  • Zenko-ji Temple
  • Soba Noodle Making Class
Skiing in Myoko-Kogen National Park - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Niigata

Niigata, a charming coastal city on the Sea of Japan, is famed for its fresh seafood, the relaxing Yudanaka Onsen with snow monkeys, and its prestigious Koshihikari rice.

Don’t Miss:

  • Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art
  • Skiing in Myoko-Kogen National Park
Onsen hopping in the Ginzan Hot Spring area - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Yamagata

Inland prefecture, Yamagata,  is known for its stunning Shonai Coast with dramatic rock formations and its delicious cherries, celebrated annually during the Yamagata Sakurambo Festival.

Don’t Miss:

  • Mount Gassan
  • Onsen hopping in the Ginzan Hot Spring area

How to buy & activate your JR East Pass

The JR East Pass grants you access to an unforgettable Eastern Japan adventure. Here's a breakdown of the purchasing and activation process:

A person making an online purchase - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Purchase your JR East Pass

Choose the JR East Pass that you wish to buy, such as the Nagano-Niigata Area Pass or the Tohoku Area Pass. Purchase your preferred JR East Pass online well in advance online. 

A person using their laptop - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Receive your Exchange Order

Upon online purchase, you'll receive a confirmation email with a voucher (e-ticket).

A woman at a ticket counter  - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Activate your JR East Pass in Japan

Head to the JR East Exchange Office with your passport and the original exchange order (voucher). Inform the staff of your desired activation date, which should be within one month of redemption. You cannot activate the pass before arriving in Japan.

A woman at a Ticket counter exchanging documents - Understanding Your JR Pass Options

Collect your JR East Pass

The staff will verify your documents. At the correct ticket counter, please provide the voucher on your phone along with your official photo ID to exchange it for a physical pass.

Additional info about booking your East JR Pass:

  • Ticket redemption points: The e-ticket and passport must be presented when picking up your JR East Pass at the specified location in Japan. You cannot pick up a pass using a copy of your passport. The JR East ticket office at Narita Airport Terminal 1 and Narita Airport Terminal 2·3 Station is only open when the JR East Travel Service Centers at those stations are closed.
  • Reserving seats: While the JR East Pass grants access to trains, consider reserving seats on Shinkansen bullet trains and Limited Express trains, especially during peak seasons or for long journeys. This ensures a comfortable ride and avoids potential overcrowding.
  • Non-Japanese passport holder only: This pass is valid for passengers traveling on non-Japanese passports. Please remember to bring your travel documents, such as ID cards and passports with valid visas, when you leave.
  • One pass per person: There is only one pass available per order, so please reserve passes separately for each visitor.
  • Details matter: Please provide accurate personal information that can be verified using your passport, such as your name and residence address, as well as accurate personal data. Make sure you have your passport and Temporary Visitor Stamp for a smooth exchange.
  • Activate when ready to travel: Remember that your JR East Pass can only be activated once in Japan. To make the most of the validity period, select an activation date that corresponds to your travel itinerary.
  • Unlimited travel: As long as the pass is still valid, you are welcome to use it as often as you like. That means you can travel as many times as you like wihtin your 5-day window. The initial turn-on is all that is required. Every station does not require it to be stamped. 
  • The essentials: When using this pass, please make sure you have your passport and the voucher receipt with you.
  • Not included: The passes do not apply to non-JR trains, buses, ferries, or any other form of transportation that JR East Pass does not run.

Visit East Japan with your JR East Pass: Your itinerary

A woman on a train in Japan

5 day-Tohuku itinerary

Day 1: Sendai 

  • Arrive in Sendai, the bustling capital of Miyagi Prefecture.
  • Dive into the lively atmosphere of the Ichibancho shopping arcades, browsing local shops and specialty stores.
  • Explore the historic Osaki Hachiman Shrine, a beautiful Shinto shrine dating back to the 17th century.
  • Savor Sendai's signature dish, gyutan (grilled beef tongue), for dinner. (Estimated Shinkansen travel time to Sendai from Tokyo: 2 hours)

Day 2: Matsushima Bay (Travel time: Sendai to Matsushima: 1 hour by train; Matsushima to Kakunodate: 2-3 hours with transfers)

  • Take a scenic train ride to Matsushima, a picturesque bay dotted with over 260 islands.
  • In the afternoon, travel to Kakunodate, a charming samurai district lined with Edo traditional wooden houses.
  • Stroll along the well-preserved samurai residences, and admire their architecture and peaceful gardens.
  • Experience a local teahouse and indulge in traditional Japanese sweets before returning to Sendai for the night.

Day 3: Nikko National Park (Travel time from Sendai: 2 hours, 30 minutes by train)

  • Take a day trip to Nikko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Explore the lavishly decorated Toshogu Shrine, a Shinto shrine complex.
  • See Kegon Falls, a cascading waterfall plunging 97 meters, and enjoy views of Lake Chuzenji.
  • Nature lovers can end their day with the Nikko Botanical Garden.

Day 4: Aomori City (Travel time from Sendai: 2 hours, 30 minutes by train)

  • Journey to Aomori City, known for its vibrant summer festival, the Nebuta Matsuri. (If traveling outside the festival period, consider Hirosaki for its stunning castle and apple orchards instead.)
  • Outside Festival Dates: Visit Nebuta Museum WARASSE, and learn the history and artistry of the Nebuta Matsuri floats.
  • See the Sannai Maruyama Site, an archaeological excavation site revealing the remains of a Jomon period settlement.

Day 5: Departure or additional exploration (Estimated travel time from Aomori to Tokyo: 4 hours, 30 minutes by Shinkansen)

  • Depending on your flight schedule, depart from Sendai or explore another Tohoku region city with your JR East Pass (Tohoku Area). Consider options like Fukushima City for its serene natural beauty or Yamagata Prefecture for its charming Shonai Coast and delicious cherries.
Two tourists at a train station at Japan

5-day Niigata & Nagano Itinerary

Day 1: Nagano City

  • Arrive in Nagano City and check into your accommodation.
  • Explore Zenko-ji Temple, a significant Buddhist temple with a hidden Amida Buddha statue unveiled only every six years.
  • In the evening, enjoy a delicious soba noodle dinner, a local Nagano specialty. (Estimated Shinkansen travel time to Nagano from Tokyo: 1 hour, 30 minutes)

Day 2: Hakuba Valley (Travel time from Nagano: 1 hour, 30 minutes by train)

  • Head to Hakuba Valley, a world-renowned ski paradise.
  • Winter: Hit the slopes and enjoy the diverse terrain, catering to all skill levels.
  • Non-Winter: Explore the charming village, indulge in local cuisine, try snowshoeing, or go hiking in warmer months.

Day 3: Matsumoto City (Travel time from Hakuba: 1 hour, 15 minutes by train)

  • Take a scenic train ride to Matsumoto City, known for its impressive Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan's oldest castles.
  • Stroll through the beautiful Matsumoto Castle Park and admire the surrounding gardens.

Day 4: Niigata City (Travel time from Matsumoto: 2 hours, 40 minutes by Shinkansen; Travel Time from Niigata to Yudanaka Onsen: 1 hour, 15 minutes by local train)

  • Take a Shinkansen bullet train to Niigata City, on the Sea of Japan.
  • Visit the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art or indulge in fresh seafood at the bustling Niigata Dotombori Market.
  • In the afternoon, travel to the charming Yudanaka Onsen, a traditional hot spring village nestled in the mountains.
  • Experience the unique "onsen hopping" culture by soaking in the village's steaming hot springs, some of which are even frequented by wild snow monkeys.

Day 5: Departure or Additional exploration (Estimated travel time from Niigata to Tokyo: 2 hours by Shinkansen)

  • Depending on your flight schedule, you can either depart from Nagano or Niigata City.
  • If you have additional time, consider exploring Joshinetsu Kogen National Park for scenic hikes or further skiing opportunities. Alternatively, visit the historic town of Obuse in Nagano Prefecture, known for its beautiful landscapes and association with Japanese artist Hokusai.

Frequently asked questions about the JR East Pass

Is the JR East Pass really worth it?

The JR East Pass can be an excellent value, especially if you intend to travel extensively within the area covered by your chosen pass. Consider the number of train trips you plan to take and the total cost of individual tickets compared to the JR East Pass price.

Does the JR East Pass cover the Narita Express train from Narita Airport to Tokyo?

Yes, the JR East Pass indeed covers the Narita Express (N’EX) train, providing a convenient and efficient transfer between Narita International Airport and Tokyo. The seats must be reserved separately after purchasing the tickets.

My chosen JR East Pass covers the Shinkansen. Does it automatically include reserved seating, or do I need to make separate reservations?

While your JR East Pass allows access to Shinkansen bullet trains, seat reservations are not automatically included. To guarantee a seat on a specific Shinkansen train, especially during peak seasons or for long journeys, it is recommended to make separate seat reservations in advance.

Does the JR East Pass cover any local JR buses or other modes of transport?

No, the JR East Pass is valid for JR East trains only. It does not cover local JR buses, subways, taxis, or other forms of transportation.

Can I use the JR East Pass on non-consecutive days?

Unfortunately, JR East passes are not valid for non-consecutive days.  The pass is valid for a continuous five-day period from the activation date you choose.

Is there a way to extend the pass or purchase additional days?

No, there is currently no option to extend the validity period of your JR East Pass or purchase additional days.

Are there any scenic train rides included with the JR East Pass?

Absolutely! Many beautiful train rides are included with the JR East Pass. Some popular options include the Shinkansen bullet trains themselves, offering stunning views of Mount Fuji on clear days (depending on the route), and the journey along the coast between Tokyo and Aomori on the Tohoku Shinkansen.

What’s not covered by the JR East Pass?

The JR East Pass does not cover local transportation (buses, subways, taxis), limited express trains requiring separate seat reservations (unless specifically included in your pass type), meals or accommodation, or attraction entrance fees.

What happens if I lose my JR East Pass?

Unfortunately, lost JR East passes cannot be replaced. It's important to keep your pass safe and readily accessible throughout your trip.

Can I get a refund on my JR East Pass?

Refunds are not available for JR East Passes.