Out of all of the Asian countries I have been lucky enough to visit, Japan has by far been the easiest of them all to navigate. This is undeniably due to the incredible, magical little book that is the rail pass, available for purchase through the efficient services of JR East Travel Services.
In short, purchasing a rail pass from JR East allows you unlimited travel on any permissible train during the time in which the pass is valid. Even more conveniently, JR East offers you the option of buying a pass according to the region in which you intend to travel during your time in Japan. This means that you can tailor your travels without overpaying for a pass that would permit you to enter areas that you do not intend on exploring. How convenient is that!
What's more, there is no need to panic if you did not manage to organise your pass prior to your arrival in Japan. Whilst the comprehensive JR Pass can only be purchased by foreigners whilst outside of Japan, passes for the Tohoku, Hokkaido, Niigata and Nagano areas can be both bought and exchanged for a pass book at any JR East Travel Service outlet whilst you are in the country. Once purchased, you can initiate the pass at any stage, after which you can choose any five days within a two week period in which to use it. For a traveller such as myself who prefers more freedom with my itinerary, this option offers amazing compatibility with my travels.
I was fortunate enough to receive a five-day rail pass for the Tohoku area from the good folks at JR East, and I could not wait to begin exploring the region. My first port of call was the JR East Travel Service Centre in Tokyo Station. Knowing how large this station is, I was anxious about finding the office. One quick visit to the company’s website, however, put all those worries to bed. Every single thought or query I could possibly have had was succinctly answered on the user-friendly English site, including a detailed map on how to find the office.
The staff at the travel centre are friendly and professional, and were more than happy to answer all of my questions. Not only do they deal with rail passes, but they also offer tourist information, currency exchange services and baggage services. Within minutes I had my pass in hand, and I was headed for the next fast train to Takahata. It could not have been any easier.
All trains operated by the JR East company are efficient, clean and so easy to use. Most signs and announcements are made in both Japanese and English, and the staff on board have always treated me with the highest amount of courtesy. It really is a dream to experience such a high quality of service.
If you plan on exploring Japan, a rail pass from JR East is a must. There simply is no doubt about it. Make the JR East Travel Service Centre in Tokyo Station your first port of call, and the kindly people there will have you sorted before you can say "shinkansen"!
Please note that the contact information provided in this article is for the JR East Travel Service Centre at Tokyo Station. For more information on other branches, and the passes in general, please visit the company's official website.