All About Flex Rail Tickets: Discounted Bullet Train Tickets for Foreign Residents in Japan!
International visitors to Japan can enjoy highly discounted travel throughout Japan thanks to the Japan Rail Pass system. Foreign residents in Japan, however, often realize that getting anywhere on the bullet train without a pass can be seriously expensive. Bullet train discounts are usually pretty hard to come by, but there is a little-known system that gives foreign residents and travelers alike up to 25% off tickets between destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto. Read on for all you need to know about the Flex Rail Ticket package via JR Tokai Tours!
Oct 29 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
How Flex Rail Tickets Work
The Flex Rail Ticket is a rail pass offered by JR Tokai Tours for the Tokaido line between Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, Mt Fuji (Mishima Station) and Hakone (Odawara Station).
The tickets are designed as a kind of tour package, and because of this, there are some restrictions. For one, you can only buy return tickets, and your return trip also needs to be within seven days. The tour package actually has no tour included. Instead, you get some discount coupons to use during your trip. And although it's called a tour, there is no minimum group size, so you can use this pass for solo holidays or even work trips, too.
Unlike some other discount tickets and rail passes, you can choose any train you like. This includes the Nozomi, the fastest train on the Tokaido line that connects Tokyo to Kyoto in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Seats are non-reserved, which should be kept in mind if you're traveling in busy times. You should also be aware that the pass is not available during the peak New Year's period from December 25th to January 5th.
You will need to show your foreign passport when booking, but unlike the Japan Rail Pass, there's no residence restrictions, so exchange students and expats in Japan can take advantage of it too. Unfortunately, Japanese passport holders are not able to take advantage of the discount. We'll give another option below that covers Japanese citizens, too!
Pricing and Where to Buy
The below diagram shows prices to Tokyo from Shin-Osaka Station, Kyoto Station, or Nagoya Station. To give a sense of the discount, a regular price of a return trip in a non-reserved seat between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka is 27,240 yen. As you can see, the Flex Rail Ticket equates to around a 25% discount. For full pricing details, visit the Flex Rail Ticket page for your destination.
Tickets are only available in person at JR Tokai Tour outlets. In Tokyo, these are located within Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station, and also at the Shinjuku branch of JR Tokai Tours, which is around a 7-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. They are also available at branches in Shin-Yokohama Station, Nagoya Station, Kyoto Station, and Osaka Station. For more information about the locations, you can see the JR Tokai Tour branch directory here.
While the tickets aren't available online, you can simply buy a ticket at the station on your travel date, so there's no need to make a special trip to buy them. You will need to show your foreign passport to demonstrate eligibility, so if you're a foreign resident who doesn't usually keep it on your person, make sure you remember to bring it with you on the day.
Since tickets aren't reserved, you can simply board any train that suits your schedule after purchase. As we mentioned, there are no restrictions on trains, so we'd recommend taking advantage and picking the fastest available!
Alternative Bullet Train Discounts
While the Flex Rail Ticket can cover a lot of bases for residents in Japan, the fact that it is only available as a return ticket that must be used within seven days means it's not as suitable for longer, one-way, or open-jaw trips.
An alternative option also offered by JR Tokai Tours is the Platt Kodama ticket. This is even more affordable than the Flex Rail Ticket, and can be purchased one-way to suit your needs. Travelling between Tokyo and Osaka is only going to cost you 10,700 yen, and between Tokyo and Nagoya is just 8,500 yen. Upgrading your trip into the first-class Green Car seats only costs an extra 1,000 yen between Tokyo and Nagoya, and 1,500 yen between Tokyo and Osaka. This ticket also comes with a free voucher for a beer or soft drink.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of trade-offs, the biggest being that your travel is restricted to the slowest Kodama train. You also must buy the ticket at least a day in advance, and seats are reserved on a specific train with no rescheduling allowed. There are also some surcharges during peak periods. For more information, visit the Platt Kodama page at JR Tokai Tours.
Still, if you have firm travel plans and don't mind kicking back on the shinkansen for an extra hour or two, this is a pretty flexible discount that can be used by foreign residents and Japanese citizens alike. The Platt Kodama must also be bought in person at the JR Tokai Tours outlets mentioned above.
Save Money on Travel Within Japan!
We hope this overview of the Flex Rail Pass helps you save some money on your next trip within Japan. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, it's good to know your options and to keep in mind that you don't always have to pay full price for bullet train tickets!
For more information about the shinkansen, including details on the Japan Rail Pass for international tourists in Japan, check out our complete guide below!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.