When you take Shinkansen, Limited Express train or Express train, you may take a reserved seat. Though some of the express train have a non-reserved seat, you should better take an reserved seat if you can. If you are Japan Rail Pass user, why don’t you take a reserve seat. Japan Rail Pass includes a reserved seat surcharge. You should use it! And also I strongly recommend to secure your seat especially in peak season, such as late April to the first week of May, August 10 to 20 (It is called “Obon” in Japan. It is a Summer vacation week) and December 29 to the first week of January.
Let’s learn how to get a reserved seat.
Before you make a reservation
If you are Japan Rail Pass user, you need to turn in your exchange order to actual Japan Rail Pass. You need to show your pass when you make a reservation. Once you turned in, you can go ahead to make a reservation any reservation window and anytime. But if you use JR Easts’ online reservation, you don’t need to have an actual pass. Please see the below to see the details about online reservation.
Where you can
You can make an reservation at the reservation office that is called “Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)”. You can find “Midori no Madoguchi” very easily. You will find a big green sign easily like the above image. “Midori no Madoguchi” is located at most of major stations. If you are in major cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo, you cannot miss “Midori no Madoguchi”. You know why? Almost every stations have “Midori no Madoguchi”. You don’t need to worry that you cannot find it.
What kind of information you need
Please make sure the following infomation before you make an reservation:
- Date and time
- Train name and number
This is not required. But if you want to take the specific train, please tell the train name and number. It’s much easier to make a reservation. Every express trains have the combination of the name and number like “Hikari 246”.
- Departure and Arrival Stations
- Smoking or Non Smoking
It’s good news for the smoker. Some JR trains still have the smoking seat. But it’s getting strict for smoking in Japan too. Especially in downtown Tokyo smoking during walking is the against regulation. Plaese be careful!
Japan Rail Pass Holder always have to have a passport! You need to show it when a station officer or a conductor want to see it.
When you can
You can make an reservation anytime within one month prior the departure date. The ticket is started to sell one month prior to departure date at 10:00am
Departure date — August 23, 2011 at 10:00 am. Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka
Ticket is started to sell at 10:00 am on July 23, 2011.
Departure date — August 24, 2011 at 00:34 am. Sunrise Seto from Osaka to Tokyo
Ticket is started to sell at 10:00 am on July 23, 2011, not July 24. Because this train originally depart from Takamatsu at 21:26 on August 23. Be careful when you reserve the ticket for overnight trains.
Most of trains can be reserved at Midori no Madoguchi only. So you need to be in Japan when you book. Only JR East offer online reservation service. Even if you are Japan Rail Pass user, you can make a reservation in advance.
This online reservation system is operated by JR East. Unfortunately this JR East Shinkansen Reservation is only English online reservation for Japan Rail Pass, JR East Pass and single ticket users. You can book your seat for these following trains only.
- Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko and Nasuno on Tohoku Shikansen (Tokyo-Shinaomori)
- Toki and Tanigawa on Joetsu Shikansen (Tokyo-Niigata)
- Asama on Nagano Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagano)
- Komachi on Akita Shikansen (Tokyo-Akita)
- Tsubasa on Yamagata Shinkansen (Tokyo-Shinjo)
- Narita Express (Narita airport-Tokyo/Shinjuku/Yokohama/other stations in greater Tokyo)
- Limited Express Hitachi (Fresh Hitachi and Super Hitachi) (Ueno-Mito/Iwaki/Sendai)
- Azusa, Super Azusa and Kaiji (Tokyo/Shinjuku-Kofu/Matsumoto/Minamiotari)
- Limited Express Hakutaka (Echigoyuzawa-Naoetsu)
- Limited Express Odoriko/Super Odoriko (Tokyo-Atami/Ito)
- Spacia Nikko, Nikko, Spacia Kinugawa and Kinugawa (Shinjuku-Omiya)
This site offer the seat reservation for the trains that operate in JR East area. So you CANNOT make a reservation for Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto or Osaka). And also there are some restriction. For example, you can make a booking for Nikko. This train goes to Nikko. But you can make a booking between Shinjuku and Omiya only. You cannot make a booking between Omiya and Nikko, because this train is operated on Non-JR line between Omiya and Nikko. So please read Guide (FAQ) before you make a booking.
I have received a comment from one of my readers, Tak. He told me we can use this Japanese online reservation system even for Japan Rail Pass users. This online reservation is in Japanese. So unfortunately anyone cannot use. However some of my readers asked me that we can use a friend in Japan to make a reservation for Japan Rail Pass user in outside of Japan. Yes. You can do it now.
This reservation system cover all over Japan. So for example, you can book for Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin Osaka. We cannot do this in JR East Shinkansen Reservation. But this online reservation is not perfect. I tried to book for several overnight trains, like Sunrise Seto, Hokutosei and Twilight Express. I could get some of overnight trains. I found Akebono and Hokutosei. But this site showed only Type-B berth. It did not show me any compartment. I have received so many questions about Nobi Nobi seat of Sunrise Seto/Izumo and Carpet car of Hamanasu. But I could not make it for these trains.
So even if you have a friend in Japan or speak Japanese, you still cannot make a reservation for most of overnight trains.
This way is also added by my reader, Tak. This is reservation call center by JR West. Unfortunately this is Japanese speakers only. I don’t think everyone can use this service. But some readers have a contact in Japan. So I would like to share this information with you.
I agree with Tak. Even though Japan Rail Pass covers surcharge and reservation fee, you need to pay. Because this reservation call center is basically for common users. They don’t take any requests without pay. But if you have someone who speak Japanese and you really want to secure your seat, this way of booking may work for you. However this service does not accept the person who want to book reservation for other person. If you ask your friend to book a ticket for you, your friend has to pretend to be you. And you have to provide your credit card information to you. It is very sensitive and not very recommended way.
How can we reserve a ticket from outside of Japan before departure?
As you saw, online reservation do not cover all trains. I really wish Japan Railway have full online reservation system!!!
Anyway, if you want to secure your seat before departure, you need to use a travel agent. This is only way to reserve a ticket before you depart from your country. It is not cheap. One of my frequent visitor, James in Australia, left very useful comment. I would like to share this information with you.
Do you think it’s rip off? But unfortunately this is only way to do it. You can find Japan Rail Pass authorized agent at JR Pass official site. They may be able to reserve a ticket for you too. But some of the agent do not want to reserve your seat. They want to book whole things, like hotel, air ticket, attraction tickets. Because it is too small profit to make a reservation for only train ticket.