2016 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even busy period.

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Many readers have asked me about busy period to travel. I would like to show you the calendar of the peak period in 2016 season. And also I would like to give you some tips when you travel in the peas season.

Don’t travel same direction as local tourist

Before I show you the calendar, I would like to tell you how Japanese tourist move in the peak period. Please keep these in your mind when you build your plan.

1. Trains from major cities are busy in the beginning of the peak period.
2. Trains to major cities are busy at the end of the peak period.

Major cities, like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka have huge population. Huge number of travelers get out of the cities. So you have to avoid to leave cities in the beginning of the peak period. On the other hand, if you travel opposite way, train is not crowded.

The following movie is only 40 seconds. It is Japanese local news and shows you how busy Tokyo station was on December 29, 2015.

If you stay in the cities in peak period, it is not much different from regular weekend. Of course attractions are busy. I do not recommend you to visit Disneyland and Universal Studio Japan in the peak period. You have to spend a couple of hours to take just one ride. You will not be satisfied.

I would like to show you some more tips later. Now I show you the calendar of the peak period in 2016.

Golden Week (late April to early May)

2016’s calendar is the following:

Apr 29 (Fri) Holiday

Apr 30 (Sat)

May 1 (Sun)

May 2 (Mon)

May 3 (Tue) Holiday

May 4 (Wed) Holiday

May 5 (Thu) Holiday

May 6 (Fri)

May 7 (Sat)

May 8 (Sun)

Basically there are two three consecutive days off, April 29 to May 1 and May 3 to May 5. However some of Japanese residents will take extra days off on May 2 and/or May 6. I expect outgoing from the cities is busy on Apr 29 and May 3, and incoming to the cities is busy on May 1, 5 and 8.

Obon (mid August)

Obon is not National holidays. It is Japanese traditional summer break. Usually Obon period is August 13 to 16. 2016 calendar is the following:

Aug 11 (Thu) Holiday

Apr 12 (Fri)

Aug 13 (Sat)

Aug 14 (Sun)

Aug 15 (Mon)
Aug 16 (Tue)

In 2016, Japan will have new holiday, “Mountain’s day” on August 11. Some of local travelers will take an extra day off on April 12 and start to move on August 11. But I expect the busiest day is August 13 for outgoing and August 15 for incoming.

New Years holidays

In Japan, Christmas is not holiday season yet. Public school will have winter break from December 25. And December 23 is holiday. Christmas period is a bit busier than usual. But it is not a big issue. The busiest period in Japan is New Years Holidays. It usually starts on December 29 and finish on January 3. 2016-17 calendar is the following.

Dec 29 (Thu)
Dec 30 (Fri)

Dec 31 (Sat)

Jan 1 (Sun)

Jan 2 (Mon)

Jan 3 (Tue)

For outgoing, I expect train will be busy from December 29 to morning on December 30. January 3 will be very busy for incoming. Most of local travelers want to settle before New Years Eve. Usually December 31 is slow.

January 1 is very slow too. However most of Japanese visit shrine or temple to pray on New Years Day. Local trains run all through the night from December 31 to January 1. Some of local lines are very busy in this period.

How to book a seat in peak period

You may have to travel to same way as local tourists in the peak season. But unfortunately online booking is very limited for overseas travelers.

How to reserve the train seat of Japan Railway.

However you can find the availability of the trains in advance.

How to find seat availability of trains. JR Cyber Station guide.

You must know the booking status of the trains that you want to take in advance. It will be much easier to find a seat after you arrive in Japan.

The first thing you need to do is trying to book a seat right after you arrive in Japan. But you may not be able to make it. I introduce some tips to expand the possibility to book a seat.

Take early or late trains

Nobody want to travel in early morning and late night. That is why trains in early morning and late night are slower than daytime trains. Late night trains are usually slower than early morning train.

Take slower trains

Everybody wants to get the place as early as possible. That is why slower trains have lower demand than faster trains. I do not recommend you to take local trains to move for a long distance. This technique can be used for Shinkansen only. I recommend you to take slower trains on Shinkansen line, such as Kodama.

Please see the links below to find Shinkansen timetables:

Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Shin Osaka-Hiroshima-Hakata)
Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen (Hakata-Hiroshima-Shin Osaka-Kyoto-Nagoya-Tokyo)

You will find the trains that stop at all stations. That is Kodama. It’s way slower than other Shinkansen trains. But it’s much easier to get a seat on this train. If you are okay with spending extra hours but want to get a seat, try to book a seat on Kodama.

Take Green seat

Green seat is more spacious and more expensive. So usually Green seat is easier to book than Ordinary seat. However in peak period, even Green seat on some trains are booked out. Especially if you are wondering JR pass ordinary or Green, it maybe expand the possibility to get a seat. But if you cannot get Green seat, you have to take ordinary seat even if you have Green pass. It maybe gamble.

Try to book separately

If you cannot find a seat, divide into two segments and try to book. You may find a seat. For example, if you want to get a seat for Tokyo to Shin-Osaka, you can try to book for Tokyo to Nagoya and Nagoya to Shin-Osaka.

How to get a seat on non reserved seat car

It’s first come first serve on non reserved car. There are lots of standing passengers in non reserved cars during peak season. If you want to get a seat in this situation, you must pick the train that depart from the station where you are. For example, if you take Shinkansen from Tokyo station, all trains depart from Tokyo. So you can pick any trains. If you take Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station, some trains come from other stations, like Tokyo, Okayama. But other trains depart from Shin-Osaka. Look at the Shinkansen timetable links again.

Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Shin Osaka-Hiroshima-Hakata)
Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen (Hakata-Hiroshima-Shin Osaka-Kyoto-Nagoya-Tokyo)

You may find some trains that depart from Shin-Osaka.

Example of trains that depart from Shin-Osaka
Example of trains that depart from Shin-Osaka

Once you pick your trains, show up at the platform and wait on the line at least 30 minutes earlier than departure time. You may show up much earlier if you can. And if you pick early/late and/or slower train, it’s easier to get a seat.

I hope these information will help you to travel smoothly in the peak period.

61 thoughts on “2016 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even busy period.”

  1. Dear Takeshi,
    I’m will be going for a holiday to Japan on 22nd December to 5th of January 2018. During this period, I will be touring Kansai region till 29th of December and after that, I shall depart to Tokyo from Shin Osaka via Shinkansen on 29th of December. May I know whether Shinkansen Ticket to Tokyo sell out since 29th of December is consider peak period for Shinkansen travel. I’m traveling without a JR pass so what can I do in order for me to secure my Shinkansen seat on 29th of December to Tokyo.

    Thanks

    Best Regards
    Jason

      1. Hi Jason,

        You can actually do that. What you can do is go on https://www.eki-net.com/top/index.html and create an account to book the required shinkansen tickets for that day. There are however a few caveat to it.

        1. You need to know some Japanese in order to do so. Google translate has limitations as the buttons can’t be translated as they are PNG/JPG. But you can work around by using the google translate app on your phone to scan them to translate. But having a basic grasp of the language helps.
        2. You need a Japanese phone number (you can get it here https://hushed.com/pricing/) and a japanese address (possibly a friend’s place, airbnb or hotel). They don’t send you anything anyway after booking so it’s not a big deal.
        3. You can only collect it at JR east office, so you need to enter through Tokyo in order for this to work.
        4. Alternatively have a friend booked you for you.
        5. Lastly, I would like to add that the tickets you booked online are not covered by JR pass. However, for some reason whatsoever, all additional fees were waived as I do have JR pass for that day (nice of them to do so, but don’t expect that to always be the case and I was fully prepared to pay in full as i was travelling on 28th dec 2016)

        1. Hi YeeLoong,

          Thanks for the replied. Are u able to secure your reserved seat that day on 28th December 2016 as I’m facing the same situation as you where my departure date to Tokyo is 29th December. What is the desire time, early morning or morning for Shinkansen travel ?

          Thanks

          Best Regards
          Jason

          1. I did, I reserve my tickets way ahead, like a month ahead before I arrive (can’t quite remember the exact dates but I do remember tickets getting sold out on those dates, Kodama shinkansen tickets takes a longer time to sell out). In my case, I actually miss my shinkansen because the Narita Express was late and I have to wait in line for the non-reserved seatings XD, it was pretty crowded and I was half afraid I might not have a seat haha… Some additional information can be found here as well, https://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/81786/what-are-my-options-for-reserving-jr-shinkansen-tickets-in-advance-over-the-new

            One thing I notice though, you are travelling against the crowd (busy route is from Tokyo to everywhere else, and routes coming into Tokyo would be relatively quiet I think?), so I highly suspect you will not have a problem in securing tickets for the trip.

      2. Hi Takeshi,

        Is there any difference between JR pass issue by JTB and Shinkansen Ticket purchase at the train station? As far as I know, train type is different as JR pass holder offer Hikari train where Shinkansen Ticket purchase at the train station is Nozomi train class. Beside the train difference, there is 1 thing that share in common and base on my understanding, the Shinkansen seat is non reserved by default whether it is obtain either from JR pass or ticket purchase directly from train station. Also, i realized that if I purchase Shinkansen Ticket at the train station in Japan and I can reserved the seat I want subject to availability. In contrast, JR pass holder require to reserve the seat at JR office directly. Other than that, I’m not very sure about the advantage. Thank.

        Best Regards
        Jason

        1. Hi Jason,

          In my opinion, it doesn’t matter you use JR pass or regular ticket. JR Pass covers reserved seat fee but you need to book it after you arrive in Japan. If you purchase regular ticket, you need to purchase and book on the spot. JR Pass does not give you any advanced booking.

          As you mentioned, JR Pass does not cover Nozomi. Trip time is 30 minutes longer than Nozomi. And also Nozomi runs much more frequently. Your change to book a ticket by regular ticket is much bigger than JR pass. Please see the timetable in the link below. You will find that Nozomi (shown by “N”) runs much more than Hikari (shown by H).
          http://english.jr-central.co.jp/info/timetable/_pdf/eastbound.pdf

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Hi Takeshi,

            Thank you.

            May I know whether I have the option to choose Nozomi Train when I purchase Shinkansen Ticket from the ticketing machine?
            Also, regarding about the base ticket and express ticket purchase issue at the Shinkansen ticketing machine. May I know whether base ticket and express ticket are purchase together or seperately? Lastly, can I purchase Shinkansen reserved ticket in JR office at Shin Osaka station in case we don’t know how to use the ticketing machine.

            Thanks

            Best Regards
            Jason

          2. Hi Takeshi,

            I’ll wonder whether Kansai International Airport, JR Ticket counter got sell Shinkansen Ticket as there is no information specify from their website that Shinkansen Ticket can be purchase at Kansai International Airport ? It is very tricky that it mentioned only regular train and Haruka train that is available and also JR pass holder could exchange their tail pass at JR office. So, Takeshi. Did they sell Shinkansen Ticket at the Kansai International Airport?

            Thanks a million!!!

            Best Regards
            Jason

          3. Hi Jason,

            Don’t worry. Most of JR stations have reservation window which is called “Midori no Madoguchi”. Kansai airport station has it too.
            If you travel in country side, you may not find the reservation window. But in the city, like Osaka, all stations have reservation window and you can book any JR trains ticket there. So you don’t need to be nervous. You can just go to the window and purchase/book it.

            Cheers,

            Takeshi / JPRail.com

      3. Hi Takeshi,

        Base on your experience, how high is the chance for me to get a reserved Shinkansen seat from Shin Osaka to Tokyo on 29th of December 2017 if I purchase the Ticket directly from train station when I enter Japan on 22nd of December. Can I purchase the ticket on that day and reserved the seat on 29th of December? Also, what is the best time for travel during this peak period, is it early morning on that day? Thanks.

        Best Regards
        Jason

        1. Hi Jason,

          I think you will be make it anyway if you can take any trains, any departure time and any types of trains. As I mentioned, slower train is much easier to book. Usually late evening is much slower than morning. Most of travelers want to depart in the morning and want to arrive the destination as early as possible.
          You can book it on December 22nd. So just try to book it right after you arrive in Japan.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Dear Takeshi

    Thanks for your informative website. Will there be much change to dates above for the year 2017-2018 new year? I had a plan to fly into Tokyo 27 December – 3 nights then and head to Nagano 30th. Then I see that this will likely be the worst possible time to travel from Tokyo. I see one trip advisor article
    advises Shinkansen book out within 1 minute of opening! Will this be the case for the Hokuriku Line also? If we manage to be able to travel out of Tokyo 28 or 29 December will it be significantly different? Would 31 be safer? And will return from Nagano be ill advised 2-4 Jan? Thanks very much.

    1. Hi Sue,

      Please see the link below to see 2017 version.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/2017-busiest-period-to-travel-by-train-tips-to-book-your-seat-in-even-busy-period.html

      Trip to Nagano on 30th is very very tough. If you can change to 31st, it’s way much better. Most of residents want to have time with family on New Years Eve. Most of them complete the trip by the end of 30th. 29th is busy too. 31st is the best choice and 28th is next choice.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi,

    Im planning to go to Osaka and Kyoto on Dec 28 from Tokyo. I might stay there for 2 nights then go back to Tokyo on the 30th. Any chance I can get a seat or is Shinkansen available on that day?

    1. Hi Jefferson,

      It depends on when you book it. If you intend to book it on the day of travel, it will be very very tough. All I can say now trying to book it as early as possible.

      You can book a ticket at any major JR stations in advance.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi dear

    I am thinking to go to osaka from tokyo on 25th dec 2016 to 30 dec 2016.
    Even i can take late night 24dec train also.
    How and where ( in which station in tokyo) i can get the Moonlight ticket.

  5. I arrive on Dec 29th at 730 pm in Haneda when redemption center is already closed. On the 30th, I wanted to travel from Yokohama to Kyoto. It looks like I will have to redeem my JR Pass voucher the day I wish to travel . I purchased the Green First Class. What are the chances that I will be able to get a seat on the 30th to Kyoto on the Hikari? I already pre-paid for my hotel in Kyoto so I must make it there or lose my reservation.

      1. Dear Takeshi-san,

        Thank you for your quick reply. I am hopeful that we can get a reservation on Green car as the schedule shows open seats after 2 pm or so.

        We must check out of our hotel in Kyoto on the 3rd. But we cannot check into our Tokyo hotel until the 4th. Given the travel direction you mentioned below, would you recommend we go to Hiroshima on the 3rd then travel from Hiroshima to Tokyo on the 4th – instead of going from Kyoto to Tokyo on the 3rd as it sounds like that will be extremely busy that day.

        1. Hi Ejv san,

          Going to Hiroshima is much much better than going to Tokyo. Going to Tokyo on 3rd is almost full already. The chance is super slim to get a seat on 3rd to Tokyo.

          It’s not hard to get a seat for Hiroshima.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Dear Takeshi,

    I’m planning to travel on new year holidays, and we’re planning to go to osaka on 4 jan from tokyo. Do you think that we’ll get a seat using our JR pass ? Oh and btw, we’ll arrive on 1 jan, and at that time I think to book a seat for the shinkansen immediately after I get my JR pass. Do you think will it possible for us to get a seat ?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Tao,

      I’m very optimistic. Jan 3 is super super busy. But Jan 4 is completely different. Everybody go back to work. School is still in winter break but it’s not hard to get a seat for Jan 4. You will be okay.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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