Sunday, January 8, 2017

Chubu Nagano & Niigata 中部 長野、新潟 - JR EAST Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)

Top: Hakutaka on Hokuriku Shinkansen line; Bottom: Toki on Joetsu Shinkansen line.
More value for money! In 2015, the original JR EAST Pass was split into two passes to make train travel in the eastern region of Japan more affordable (for foreign visitors). Same rule applies to both passes - pass holders get to enjoy unlimited rides on any 5 days out of 14 days period starting from the pass issue date. The starting date can be decided when you exchange your voucher for the pass at JR ticket counters upon arriving in Japan.
As compared to its previous version which cost 22,000 yen, the new passes are cheaper and its value can be better maximised since it is more area focused.
- Tohoku area; 19,000 yen (purchased outside Japan); + 1,000 yen if purchased in Japan. Pass covers train usage in all six prefectures of Tohoku region (Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima).
- Nagano, Niigata area: 17,000 yen (purchased outside Japan); + 1,000 yen if purchased in Japan
In fact, the introduction of the subdivided rail passes was the catalyst for me to explore Nagano and Niigata on my next trip to Japan. 
Side note: If only the subdivided rail passes were introduced earlier, I would be able to enjoy an additional 3,000 yen saving during my trip to Tohoku in Oct 2015. 


JR EAST Pass (Nagano, Niigata area)

Pass coverage/features
(1) Unlimited rides using reserved seats on Shinkansen, limited express, express and local trains on JR EAST train lines in Nagano, Niigata, Gunma, Tokyo, Saitama, Yamanashi, Kanagawa, Tochigi and Shizuoka (on Izu Peninsula) such as
- Joetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線) from Tokyo to Niigata, via Echigo Yuzawa.
- Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) from Tokyo to Joetsu Myoko, via Karuizawa and Nagano.
- Tokyo Monorail between Haneda Airport and Hamamatsucho.
- Narita Express between Narita Airport to Tokyo.
- Seats onboard seasonal sightseeing trains, such as Koshino Shu*Kura (越乃 Shu*Kura) and Genbi Shinkansen (現美新幹線), can be reserved without any additional charges.

(2) Hokuhoku line ほくほく線 (operated by Hokuetsu Express) between Echigo Yuzawa and Naoetsu, via Tokamachi.

(3) Echigo Tokimeki Railway line えちごトキめき鉄道 between Naoetsu and Arai.

(4) Izu Kyuko line 伊豆急行 in Shizuoka Prefecture between Ito and Izukyu Shimoda.

(5) Tobu Direct Limited Express "Nikko", "Kinugawa" and "SPACIA Kinugawa" trains.

Note 1: Nagaden 長野電鉄 (runs between Nagano and Yudanaka, via Obuse) is not covered. Nagaden offers other rail and bus passes such as 1-Day Snow Monkey Pass (スノーモンキーパス) and 1 or 2-Day Free Pass (長電フリー乗車券). I utilised the 1-Day Free Pass (1,860 yen) to cover a day trip to Snow Monkey Park and Obuse.
Note 2: Kamikochi line between Matsumoto and Shin Shimashima (新島々駅) operated by Matsumoto Dentetsu 松本電鉄 is not covered. I utilised Kamikochi/Norikura 2 Days Free Pass (6,000 yen) which covers buses in Matsumoto city, buses from Shin Shimashima to Kamikochi, Norikura and Shirahone Onsen and rail service on Kamikochi line.

Exclusive Shinkansen badges collected from Nagano and Niigata JR Stations.
Seasonal perks! Apart from discounted train fares, pass holders are entitled to other incentives too. Till 31 Mar 2017, you can redeem JR EAST Shinkansen badges exclusive to the region you are visiting, when you flash your pass at designated tourist information centres/counters located at/adjacent to major train stations! For example, E6 Akita Shinkansen badge can only be redeemed from Kakunodate and Akita, which are train stations found along Akita Shinkansen line. There are a total of five badges, E7 Hokuriku, E4 Joetsu, E3 Yamagata, E6 Akita and E5 Tohoku Shinkansen, to collect from. Collected two badges - Hokuriku and Joetsu Shinkansen from this trip and would love to collect the complete set.
Shinkansen badge campaign (till 31 Mar 2017):


My itinerary
Did my homework to plan out the transportation routes undertaken over 9 days, search online for the fares for all the routes, tweak the itinerary to maximise railway usage on certain days and eventually derive a strategy to maximise the usage of JR EAST Pass. I have to admit that this entire churn of work is a tedious process but trust me, the outcome can be quite fulfilling especially when the amount of savings derived is extremely significant!

JR EAST Pass (Nagano, Niigata area) = 17,000 yen
Total train fare = 36,750 yen
Savings = 19,750 yen (54% discount)

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