Eligible for a rail pass and making at least one return journey? No problem, the Japan Rail Pass has you covered. But if you’re a foreign resident shut out of most rail passes, or just want to book a cheap one-way journey, you’ve got to find discounts another way. Here are all the details you need to find discount JR East Shinkansen tickets.
JR East operates the rail network in eastern Honshū (basically Tokyo and everything north and east of it on Japan’s main island). This includes the following Shinkansen: Jōetsu, Hokuriku, Tōhoku, Yamagata, Akita, and Hokkaidō. For the Tōkaidō Shinkansen — the one that connects Tokyo with Kansai cities Kyoto and Osaka — look into the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan.
Online ticket platform Eki-net
Eki-net is JR East’s online ticket platform. Here you can purchase Shinkansen tickets at full fare and also a limited number of discounted tickets (called “tokudane”). The platform is available in English and several other languages; however, to access the discounts, you need to navigate to the Japanese version. (For reserving seats with a rail pass, the multilingual version of Eki-net is fine).
Tokudane tickets offer anywhere from a 5% discount to a 40% discount off standard fares. These tickets must be purchased a minimum of 1 hr and 50 mins before departure. Purchase tickets 14 days before your planned departure and you may be able to lock in a 25–40% discount.
Now for the caveats: the number of tokudane tickets are limited, and are of course, going to be the first to sell out. It works better if your travel dates and times are flexible, so you can hunt around for available tickets.
Tokudane tickets are only available as e-tickets, so you have to have an IC card (like a Suica or Pasmo) linked to your Eki-net account. This also means you get the e-ticket discount of ¥200 on reserved seats. (More on this below).
Also, bear in mind that the most common discount is 10%; consider yourself very lucky to find a 25% or a 30% off ticket. We’ve never actually seen a 40% off ticket in the wild (nor the super exclusive mythical 50% tokudane ticket).
All tokudane tickets are for reserved seats.
How to purchase tokudane tickets
To purchase tickets through Eki-net, you first need to set up an account. (See below for more on that).
Once logged in, you can search for available Shinkansen tickets through the search box on the homepage. The results will show you, first of all, if tickets are available (for standard class, Green Car, and GranClass where applicable, and unreserved seats) using the standard “circle” (plenty available), “triangle” (few remaining), and “cross” (out of luck) iconography.
Look closer at the results and you’ll see a little green icon indicating whether the train service offers tokudane tickets (トクだ値) and what the discount is. Now before you get your hopes up, you have to click through to the next page to see if any discounted tickets are still available. If you’re lucky, keep clicking through and choose your seat.
You can purchase up to six tickets at a time. If you’re booking for a group and coming up with no tokudane options, try searching for smaller number of tickets (even just one) — as that might be all that is left.
Eki-net has a tutorial (only in Japanese) demonstrating the process. It also shows the exact time that tokudane tickets become available. For example, the 14-day early bird discount technically becomes available at 11:50 p.m. on the eve of the 13th day before your intended departure.
Making an Eki-net account
Even if you already have an account on multi-lingual Eki-net, you will need to make a new account on Japanese Eki-net to use the service. In order to do so, you will need a Japanese address and phone number. When registering, you will be given the opportunity to link a credit card and an IC card to your account. We’ve had success registering a foreign card to a Japanese Eki-net account. A credit card, however, is not required; you can also settle payment at the convenience store. (The multi-lingual site does require a credit card).
As noted above, if you want to take advantage of tokudane deals, you’ll also need to sign up for Eki-net’s “Shinkansen e-ticket” (新幹線eチケット) service. It’s an extra step, to link your IC card to your account. This means you’ll be able to use your IC card to enter the Shinkansen ticket gates, no need for a paper ticket.
You get a ¥200 discount on reserved seat e-tickets. You also get 10% discount on return travel (if your destination is more than 600 km away) and unlock the ability to accumulate JRE points.
Frequent JR East Shinkansen riders can earn JRE points that can be used to pay for future Shinkansen tickets and/or upgrades. We say frequent because like most Japanese points schemes, the payoff is not great. You get 2% points for every Shinkansen ticket purchased through Eki-net. If you pay with a View credit card you get another 3% points. But even at 5% points it would take a long time to earn the, say, 7940 points required for a one-way ticket between Tokyo and Sendai.
Read more (in Japanese) about exchanging JRE points for tickets and for upgrades.
You can also earn JRE points by booking packages through JR Tour and or renting from JR Eki Rent-a-car.
Travel agencies sell package tours that include Shinkansen travel and accommodation. These should work out to be cheaper than purchasing everything separately, provided you like the accomodation options. The options are usually perfectly nice, though often bland, hotels.
JR Tour and View Travel
Click on the JR Tour (JRツアー) tab on Eki-net and you can book package deals that include Shinkansen tickets and acommodation. Offers vary, but the better deals work out to costing little more than the standard round-trip train fare. Unfortunately, everything is in Japanese.
There’s also View Travel (びゅうトラベル), JR East’s in-house travel agency. Again the website is all in Japanese, but you can browse packages.
JR East Travel Service Centers
The View Plaza travel agency counters that used to be inside select JR East train stations have been rebranded as JR East Travel Service Centers (or “Eki Tabi Concierge”). These counters have English-speaking staff who can advise on online ticket reservations, rail passes, and, when available, package tours.
In the greater Tokyo area, JR East Travel Service Centers can be found at the following stations:
- Narita Airport
- Haneda Airport
JTB is Japan’s largest travel agency and it’s worth becoming acquainted with if you plan on spending a lot of time in Japan. Like JR Tour and View Travel, JTB sells package tours that include Shinkansen travel and accommodation. JTB covers the whole country, so it covers travel beyond the scope of JR East’s rail network as well.
JTB has many subsidiaries overseas with localized websites. However, the packages we are talking about here can only be booked through JTB’s Japanese portal, or at JTB branch offices in Japan. To purchase packages online, you will need to make an account. Like Eki-net, this requires having a Japanese address and phone number. You do not need an account to purchase packages in person at JTB offices.
JR East (like all the JRs) offers a 20% student discount on Shinkansen tickets to students enrolled at universities (or junior and senior high schools) in Japan. To purchase tickets with a student discount, you will need to first get an official certificate called a gakuseishō (学割証) from your school/university. Bring the certificate and your student ID to any JR ticket counter. Student tickets must be purchased in person, and station staff will check your ID. (The certificate you receive from your school will have your name and student ID recorded on it, and can only be used by you).
JR East offers discounted travel to seniors — or really, anyone over 50 — through its Otona no Kyūjitsu Club (which means, uh, “Adult Holiday Club”). The discount for over 50s is a guaranteed 5% and for over 65s (or over 60s for women) the discount is 30% for JR East and JR Hokkaidō long distance train tickets. (Long distance is defined as journeys over 201 km).
This is something you have to register for in advance. There is an annual membership fee, and you have to apply for and use an Otona no Kyūjitsu Club credit card to complete bookings. If you already have a View Card, you can roll it into an Otona no Kyūjitsu Club card when you enroll. For “middle” members, the first year of annual fees is waved. The annual fee for “zipangu” members who enroll as a married couple is ¥7,458.
Otona no Kyūjitsu Club cost and benefits at a glance:
|Club name||Eligibility||Annual fees||Discount||Couple membership?|
|Middle||women aged 50–60 / men aged 50–65||¥2,624||5%||No|
|Zipangu||women aged 60+ / men aged 65+||¥2,624||30%||Yes|
For “middle” members, the first year of annual fees is waved. The annual fee for “zipangu” members who enroll as a married couple is ¥7,458. “Zipangu” members can now also purchase any JR long distance train tickets at a discount of 20–30%. To enroll, you will need to reside in Japan. JR East Travel Service Centers can help you sign up and book.
Tickets can be purchased on Eki-net (as well as in person); just make sure to pay with your Otona no Kyūjitsu Club card. You can collect JRE points and also get the ¥200 e-ticket discount.
Discount Shinkansen ticket shops
Various third-party vendors sell discount Shinkansen tickets; however, the selection is usually pretty random. We’ve seen discounts ranging from ¥80 to ¥2,500, but the average seems to be about ¥1,000. There are some online shops you can search (in Japanese only), like Kakuyasu Ticket and Ticket Ranger.
You can also find IRL shops, usually on side streets around major train stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo Station. But again, there’s no guarantee as to the selection on offer at any given time. While these shops and sites may look a bit suspect, they are legit. Just don’t expect any foreign-language support.
While we do our best to ensure everything is correct, information is subject to change. Research by Maria Danuco.