Forget to bring the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass? Here are two options. (It’s not the end of the road)

tokyo station architecture
The architecture of Tokyo station is actually quite amazing.

If you, like us, had forgotten to bring the physical copy of the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass to Japan, be prepared to lose some cash. But it’s not the end of the road in the sense that if the physical voucher is still in your home country, there’s a chance of getting a refund. The biggest loss you would incur is that it is actually more expensive to purchase the Japan Rail Pass in Japan. Forget to bring the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass? Here’s our story and two possible options.

Our story

Forgetting to bring the Japan Rail Pass was a significant wrinkle during our recent trip to Japan. The other was receiving a notice by the administrator of our Airbnb in Shinjuku, telling us that we are not allowed to stay there. The notice also demanded that we leave as soon as possible. We managed to resolve that, but for the Japan Rail Pass, it was a relative loss of about SGD130 per person. Which is not too bad because we initially thought that the SGD646 (SGD323/ USD241)for one pass) we had spent on the Japan Rail exchange orders for two could not be recovered.

We first realised that we had forgotten to bring the exchange vouchers when we were transiting in Jakarta, en-route to Japan. Naturally, we panicked.  ¯_༽ ಥ Д ಥ ༼_/¯ This is because we were told that the physical copy of the exchange orders had to be brought to Japan, in order for an exchange of rail passes to take place. The only other option that we had then was to courier the exchange orders from Singapore to Japan via an express delivery service.

Option 1: Try and get the exchange orders couriered to Japan via an express delivery

We tried to courier the exchange orders, but it was Japan’s Golden Week

Help was sought to courier the exchange orders to us from Singapore to Japan via express delivery, which seemed to be the most plausible recovery option then. But as luck would have it, it was not possible to do a 1-2 day express delivery due to Japan’s Golden Week. DHL said that the earliest the package would reach us would be the Monday the week after. (By then we would have completed all our travels outside Tokyo).

Forget to bring the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass
The line to exchange for the JR Rail Pass. You actually don’t have to queue here. It’s possible to do the exchange at the JR Tokai Tours counter.

Our experience at the JR Rail Counter at Tokyo station (Yaesu North Exit)

The only option left was for us to visit the ticket counter, and request for their help to accept the scanned copy of the exchange orders. The staff at our hotel, Daiwa Roynet in Ginza were helpful and assisted to print the scanned exchange order for us.

But the minute we passed the scanned copy to the staff manning the JR Rail Counter at Tokyo Station, they shook their heads and said we needed the physical copy of the JR Rail Pass. Receiving the scanned copy of the exchange order was like a stink bomb – the staff was very averse to it.

Forget to bring the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass
The staff (as indicated with the arrow) – he was very helpful, unlike his supervisor on the iPad.

There was a helpful station staff at Tokyo Station Yaesu North Exit who did his best to help us. He enlisted the help from his supervisor, via video-call on an iPad, to help address our situation.

Now his supervisor was the opposite. Instead of trying to help us, she attempted to charge us more for a Japan Rail Pass. Which was appalling. Well, we had faced plenty of scams in Egypt, but to be scammed by a JR station staff was unexpected, and unacceptable.

We had the following conversation with the JR supervisor via the iPad.

We explained the situation. ‘Can you help us please, what do you advise we do?’

The answer – ‘Sorry we can’t help you. You will need the physical copy of the exchange order before you can exchange it for a rail pass.’

‘Are there other alternatives, like calling up the travel agency?’

‘Sorry we can’t help you. It is the Japanese Golden Week. Everything is closed. The alternative is to purchase a rail pass. That will cost you ¥35,000.’

‘From what we can see, the JR Rail pass is issued through barcodes? Will it be possibel to scan the barcode or use the unique serial number of the scanned exchange order to process our request?’ S asked.

‘No, that is not allowed. You will need a physical copy of the exchange order in order for us to issue the JR pass.’

Of course, there was no room for flexibility. Why make exceptions for two lone foreign tourists when she had a chance to rip us off with the ¥35,000 JR pass.

(Just so you know, this is ¥2,000 more than the official rate provided to us by JR’s official tour agency, Tokai Tours. The rate is also listed on the Japan Rail Pass website.)

The lady on the iPad held her ground steadfastly, like a cold, hard, machine, programmed to say no to deviations. Of course, we later realised why would she help us when she was actually out to rip us off.

I can still remember our parting words till this day.

‘So, would you like to purchase a JR Rail Pass ticket for ¥35,000/ USD320 /SGD428 ?’

‘No thank you, we will be happy to travel on foot across Japan.’ Was S’ answer.

‘I wish you all a lovely trip then.’ Was the answer that radiated from the iPad.

An angry Anmitsu

angry anmitsu tokyo station
An angry anmitsu. I’ll never eat this for the rest of my life.

We decided to sit down at a cafe, to have a think about our options. First, we were quite certain that the Japan Railways staff will not change their minds. Second, that lady supervisor lacked compassion, and in a more serious way, lacked a logical mind. If company was willing to scan the barcode of the voucher, would it not be a unique number? What cost would it be to the organisation if they were to accept scanned copies of the exchange order? In fact, it would have probably saved them from a laborious audit process, unless of course, they have not been audited in decades.

At JR Tokai Tours at Tokyo Station (a short walk away from the JR office)

JR tokai tours tokyo station
At JR Tokai Tours – which had much better service than the JR Yaesu North Ticket office.

Now we were at our wit’s end, and decided to give up and just buy a pass from the station. We walked pass the JR Tokai Tours, one of the approved outlets to exchange a JR Rail Pass. The lady at the counter took a while to find a solution to our predicament, and showed us her monitor. Alas, without a physical exchange order, the pass could not be issued. But there was a possibility of getting a refund back from the travel agency we had bought the passes back in Singapore.

Forget to bring the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass jr tokai tours Japan
The lady at JR Tokai Tours was more helpful, and kindly showed us her monitor.

We asked what was the price for the JR Rail Pass – and was told that it was ¥33,000. Only then did we realise that not only was the staff at the JR Rail Station at the Yaesu North Exit unhelpful, she was trying to make us purchase an even more expensive rail pass, at ¥35,000. Clearly she was out to make the extra ¥2,000 she could make from the sale of two passes, bringing her profit from unsuspecting tourists to ¥4,000/ SGD49/ USD37.

Option 2: Buy a new rail pass and get a refund from the travel agency you bought it from

There was no other choice but not buy a new rail pass. But the possibility of getting a refund back in Singapore did comfort us a little, well at least it was good to know that the SGD646 we had spent on the rail passes earlier was not going to waste entirely.

Review: Refund from Klook in Singapore

When we got back to Singapore, I emailed Klook to inform them of our situation, and that we would like to cancel the rail passes. All we had to do was to head down to pass them the original copy of the rail passes. The refund of 90% of the cost was processed on the day itself, which was great. I would also encourage you to get a JR Rail Pass through Klook as their rates are one of the lowest. The cancellation policy is also stipulated quite clearly in the page.

Forget to bring the exchange order of your Japan Rail Pass? The Travelling Squid’s Take

tokyo station yaesu north ticket office jr rail pass
Feeling traumatised by the whole incident.

If we did bring the physical copy of the JR rail pass exchange order to Japan, we would have spent about SGD130 less per person. But well, this experience did help us get a better understanding of the Japanese psyche, which later came in quite handy when handling the rude notice from the administrators of our Airbnb. I love many things about Japan, but the rigidity of the ‘system’, the unwillingness to deviate from the rules was frustrating and did not make much logical sense. We also didn’t think that we would get ‘overcharged’ in Japan, but we sure almost did. Glad we did have a moment to calm down (while having an anmitsu) and take stock of our situation.

To me, the moral of the story is that it is possible to get scammed or overcharged anywhere in the world, including a place like Japan. If someone’s being annoying and offers to ‘help’ eventually, don’t take it up. She has probably something up her sleeve. To the JR station lady on the iPad, here’s a rather apt donger for you – ╭∩╮(ಠ۝ಠ)╭∩╮

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