How to buy tickets for the bullet train if you don’t speak Japanese

Here’s how I buy bullet train tickets:

There are lots of sites that will tell you how to buy a long-distance train ticket in detail (this is a good one) but here’s how I do it:

• Decide on your dates and times of arrival and departure

• Figure out what trains you’ll need to take, using your phone app (if you don’t have one, here’s where to get one and how to use it):

• Center the bullet train segments on your screen and take a screen shot. Write the dates you want to leave and return on a piece of paper, along with the bullet train departure station and the final bullet train arrival station, like this:

• Go to any JR line station and find the glass-fronted ticket office with people lining up inside it

• When you get to the counter, hand the reservation agent the paper with the dates you want to go and return, and show them the screen shots with the trains you want to take

• You can pay for your tickets with most major foreign credit cards.

Can I buy bullet train tickets from those handy wall-mounted vending machines with no line?

Sadly, no. Unless you have a Japanese credit card, issued by a Japanese bank.

Should I buy a Japan Rail Pass?

A rail pass makes excellent economic sense if you’re doing a lot of long-distance travel in a short time. It doesn’t really pencil out if you’re only taking one round trip, even though you can use it to ride the JR (elevated) trains within Tokyo as well.

Before buying one, you should know:

• You need to plan your trip so your long-distance travel falls within the time period which period it’s activated

• You do have to go to a station and activate it in person.

• If you use it to ride the elevated trains within Tokyo, you always have to go in and out through the ticket gate manned by a live station attendant. (My opinion: this gets old pretty fast, when the alternative is beeping your way through seamlessly with a transit card.)

The excellent Japan Rail Pass site will give you lots more details about how to get one and use it.

On that long train ride, read a novel set in Tokyo!

“A genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, drawing us in emotionally . . . Highly recommended.”

Raven Crime Reads

For nine years, Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura thought his mother’s death was an accident. Then he gets a call, and his life begins to unravel. Because if her death wasn’t an accident…what was it? Read more…

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