From August 20, 2020, JR East will start offering a 50% discount on all its shinkansen as well as most of its limited express trains. Though the savings can be great, there are several restrictions that you should know before pulling out your credit card. This article covers everything you need to know about this sale, including how to get the discount, what trains and seat types are eligible, and the restrictions that you should be aware of. Educate yourself and take advantage of this opportunity to save on your travels in Japan!
The Background Behind the 50% Off Ticket Sale
Japan, like many other countries, was heavily hit by the coronavirus. In just a few months, the number of tourists shot down to a near record-breaking low, and even domestic tourism slowed to a tiny trickle. The Olympic and Paralympic Games were pushed back to 2021, thrusting country morale to an all-time low. Hundreds of businesses shut down and thousands more lost their jobs.
With the end of the state of emergency in late May 2020, the Japanese government now had the grueling task of trying to revive the economy while making sure infection rates stayed low. This is where the Japan Tourism Agency, a branch of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, came in.
They recently announced a campaign to revive the country’s tourism industry and encourage tourists to visit more far-off, regional areas. This campaign, called “Go to Travel,” would cover 50% of a person’s travel costs. However, one caveat was that it did not cover transportation expenses unless they were part of a travel package.
In response to this, JR East released its own campaign, “Tabi ni Deyo,” or in English, “Let’s Go on a Journey.” This campaign encouraged tourists to visit the Tohoku region, offering multiple tour plans at attractive prices. As part of the campaign, JR East also discounted most of their shinkansen and limited express train tickets, selling them under a "Early Bird Bargain Special." This is the 50% off sale campaign that will be discussed in more detail in this article.
When Can I Get 50% Off My Shinkansen and Limited Express Train Tickets?
This sales campaign will run all the way from August 20, 2020 until March 31, 2021. The only exceptions are the Hokuriku Shinkansen’s Kagayaki and Hakutaka trains, which will be on sale until September 30, 2020.
Which Trains Will Be Discounted?
Here are all of the shinkansen trains that come under this sales campaign:
・Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen: Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko, Nasuno
・Yamagata Shinkansen: Tsubasa
・Akita Shinkansen: Komachi
・Joetsu Shinkansen: Toki and Tanigawa
・Hokuriku Shinkansen: Asama, Kagayaki, Hakutaka
Here are all of the limited express trains that come under this sales campaign:
・Joban Line: Hitachi
・Chuo Line: Azusa and Kaiji
・Sotobo Line: Wakashio/Shinjuku Wakashio
・Uchibo Line: Sazanami/Shinjuku Sazanami
・Sobu Line: Shiosai
・Uetsu Line: Inaho
For more information on the routes that these trains cover, please check out JR East’s official website’s “Train Information” section, available in English. You can also check their Japanese site to see specifically which parts of the above routes are covered.
How Much Will I Save?
JR East made a really useful chart showing the main train lines and just how much an adult could save. In general, the further out you travel, the more you save! And, don’t worry, the discount also applies to children’s tickets.
* Base fare, limited express fee, and seat reservation fee are included in the ticket price. The prices are all for a single adult ticket. All the prices are regular season prices, so do note that they will change depending on the time of year.
How Do I Purchase These Discounted Tickets?
Here’s the catch. Well, several catches.
First, unlike normal shinkansen or limited express tickets, these discounted tickets can only be bought online directly from JR East. While JR East does have an English reservation site, no news of this campaign have been released in English on the site (yet), so we strongly recommend purchasing directly from their Japanese site.
Second, you’ll have to create an account on the reservation site. If you do not know Japanese, you should get someone who does to help you out or use Google Translate.
Third, upon account registration, you’ll need to have a Japanese IC card at hand. Specifically, you should have one of the following:
The reason for this is that starting from March 14, 2020, all discounted tickets from JR East can only be purchased if you use their e-ticket service. The way that it works is that you need to register the serial number of your IC card to your account before you make a reservation. (You can usually find it at the back of your card. Below is an example of what to look for.)
When making a reservation, you’ll have to select your registered IC card, and once the purchase is confirmed, your registered IC card will become the train ticket. So, you’ll be able to go through any gates with just the tap of a card, without needing any physical train tickets!
Note that this only applies to shinkansen tickets. If you plan on purchasing a limited express train ticket, you’ll still have to purchase the ticket online, but you won’t need to register a Japanese IC card. You can pick up the limited express train ticket from any Midori-no-Madoguchi like usual.
What Other Limitations Should I Be Aware Of?
There are just a couple of other limitations that you should be aware of before purchasing.
・You must make a reservation 20 days to a month ahead of your departure date.
・The discount only applies to non-reserved and reserved seats. In other words, you can’t use this to get a discount on a green car seat.
・There are only a limited number of discounted seats available per train.
・Any changes to your reservation can only be made online through the reservation site.
Though there are some limitations compared to regular tickets, the savings can be massive, so please carefully consider the costs and benefits before making a purchase.
Take Advantage of This Sale to Travel Japan (Safely)!
If you love to travel and plan to come to Japan before March 31, 2020, we highly recommend purchasing one of these tickets to visit the more far-off parts of Japan. Not only will you be able to practice social distancing a bit more compared to the bigger cities, but you’ll discover a whole new side to Japan! Better yet, pair these tickets together with the Go to Travel campaign discounts and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a budget-friendly trip.
Don't know what's on offer in these more regional parts of Japan? Here are a few articles to help you plan your perfect Japan trip.
11 of the Best Tourist Spots in Kanazawa, the City Filled with Japanese History and Culture
10 Must-See Places in Nagano
13 Sightseeing Attractions You Won't Want to Miss When Visiting Nikko!
10 Best Historic Sites at Sendai to Understand Japan’s History Better
20 Recommended Spots in the Tohoku Region for Solo Travelers!
8 Best Hot Springs in the Tohoku Region
Experience Timeless Japanese Beauty in the Untouched Scenery of Niigata, Yamagata, and Akita
Also, before finalizing any of your travel plans, please keep yourself informed on the covid-19/coronavirus situation in Japan by looking through our Traveling Safely in Japan page.
Title image: Blanscape / Shutterstock.com
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