How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?

Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.
Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.

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.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

Let’s learn how to get a reserved seat.

Before you make a reservation

If you intend to use Japan Rail Pass (a.k.a. JR Pass), JR East Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass, Hokkaido Rail Pass and Kyushu Rail Pass, you need to turn in your exchange order to the actual Pass before booking your seat. You need to show your pass when you make a reservation. Exchange order does not work to book a train seat. 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 can book a seat before exchanging an actual pass. Please see the below to see the details about online reservation.

Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)
Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)

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 images above and below.

The logo of Midori no Madoguchi
The logo of Midori no Madoguchi

“Midori no Madoguchi” is located at most of major JR stations. If you are in major cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo, you cannot miss “Midori no Madoguchi”. 99% of JR stations in these cities have “Midori no Madoguchi”. You can find it very easily.

The signeage is different in JR Central area

If you travel JR Central (JR東海) area, you cannot find Midori no Madoguchi. Because “Midori no Madoguchi” is JR East’s trademark and JR Central avoids to use it. In JR Central area, such as Nagoya, Shizuoka, Gifu, Takayama, it’s called “Shinkansen and JR Lines Tickets (JR全線きっぷうりば)” like image below.

JR Central ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.
JR Central ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.

JR Central operates Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. JR Central has ticket office in Tokyo, Shin-Yokohama, Kyoto and Shin-Osaka. In these stations, you can find two different ticket offices, Midori no Madoguchi and JR Central ticket office. But you can book any JR train ticket at either ticket office. This difference does not matter for us in most of cases.

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!
  • Passport
    If you use Japan Rail Pass or other JR passes, You always have to carry your passport. You may be asked to show it by 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

ex1)
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.

ex2)
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.

Online booking

JR East Train Reservation

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.

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. Please read Guide (FAQ) before you make a booking.

Eki-net (えきねっと)

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 or other travel passes 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 covers 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 overnight trains, like Sunrise Seto. I could get some of overnight trains. I have received so many questions about Nobi Nobi seat of Sunrise Seto/Izumo. 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.

jr-odekake.net (JRおでかけネット)

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 have received a reply from JR West. The answer is as follows. “Once you arrive Japan and exchange the voucher to Japan Rail Pass, it is possible to make reservation at our call center. However, you have to collect the ticket within 8 days. (If your departure date is within 9 days, you have to collect 2 days before.) If you don’t collect it, your reservation is automatically cancelled.
This service is limited for the trains departing and arriving in JR West, Kyushu, Shiko area. ” (Well, that’s official answer, but I think you would be able to ring JR West and make reservation from your country even before exchange to JR pass. They cannot see your pass on the phone, and you’ll only need it at the station when collecting the ticket. However, the problem is you have to collect it within 9 days after reservation is made!)

According to the website, there are two ways to reserve a ticket.
http://www.jr-odekake.net/goyoyaku/phone/comparison.html
1. At call center, make reservation only. Payment is made on collecting the ticket at a JR West, Shikoku and Kyushu stations.
2. At call center, make reservation and pay by credit card on the phone.

So my understanding is that if you want to reserve Hamanasu carpet, Akebono Gronto or Sunrise nobi nobi at 10am, 1 month before, you will need to pay for Limited Express surcharge + reservation fee (指定席特急券) or Express surcharge + reservation fee 指定席急行券.

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.

Find your hotels in 218 cities throughout Japan!!!

ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Narita 10 min from airport by complimentary shuttle

Karasuma Hotel Kyoto Traditional tatami room

How can we reserve a ticket from outside of Japan before departure?

As you saw, online reservation does 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 rely on 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.

I think many people here asked for how to get JR tickets before arriving Japan, I would like to add.

*JTB actually charge MORE than $55 Australian dollar($56 US dollar March 2011 currency) per ticket, in fact JTB charge $75 Australian dollar($76 USdollar) per ticket.

The $75 came from $55 service fee plus $20 courier fee to deliver your ticket to your hotel in Japan, $55+$20=$75 Funny my ticket for SL-Yamaguchi express is only $60 therefore altogether I need to pay $135 to get SL-Yamaguchi express ticket!

So, all I can say is, if you want to get a JR train ticket before you get to Japan, make sure you are ok with paying at least $75( $76 US dollar), it helps if you really need to get on a particular train that is very hard to book or if you are travelling during peak season. But if you are not in a hurry, travelling in leisure pace across Japan, perhaps think twice.

I hope is worthy many people told me SL-Yamaguchi express is the best steam train experience ever in Japan.

Do you think it is 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.

598 thoughts on “How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?”

  1. Hi Takeshi San,
    We are arriving on 22 April and leaving Hakodate to Tokyo on 3May. We will only activate our Jr PASS when we arrive in Japan. Are we able to reserve the seats from Hakodate to Tokyo via the website. Please advise

      1. Hi Takeshi-San,
        One more question, we have bought the 14day Jr pass. If we reserve the seat fr Sapporo to Tokyo via JR east, do we have to pay and if we do, how much more.

        Thank you

      2. Hello, Takeshi,
        Accessing the link you posted above, I found this:
        “If you are traveling on an excursion type pass*, please also show the pass when you collect your tickets. (You will not be charged for Reserved Seat Limited-Express Tickets reserved under the pass.) ”
        Our travel Shinkansen Tokyo to Hakodate is June 9. I arrive in Japan June 4 late (Haneda JR office closed) and will be unable to get to an office to turn in exchange order for a JR East-S. Hokkaido pass until June 6 or 7. So, with ONLY the exchange order, on May 10, I should be able to reserve seats online without being charged for the tickets–as long as I show my valid JR pass? Just checking because one travel agent said I could reserve with only the exchange order and another told me I MUST have the pass. you are very, very knowledgeable and I hope you can help!
        Thank you,
        Susanna

  2. We arrive in Haneda late on July 17 and will stay overnight in Shinagawa. The JR ticket office will be closed, so we need to exchange voucher for our rail pass the next morning. We want to go to Hakodate on July 18. Do you think it will be a problem to get seats? There is 15 of us traveling.

    1. Hi Sheryl,

      It’s very hard to say. July 18 is not a peak season yet. It’s not very hard to book a seat in this season. But your group is 15. This may be an issue. But there is no way to book in advance. If you really want to know the availability, please see the link below to find the way. You can find it after 1 month prior to travel date which is June 18.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/how-to-find-seat-availability-of-trains-jr-cyber-station-guide.html

      If you purchase JR pass at the travel agent near your place, make sure that they can book a seat or not. Travel agent usually do not book a seat. But sometimes they accept group booking. If you purchase a pass online, they don’t do it.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Takeshi-San,
    I will be traveling from Kyoto to Hirsohima by Nozomi on April 21 to join a city tour. It is not possible for me to buy the ticket from New York and I don’t want to pay the premium to travel agent. I will be in Tokyo on April 11th. Can I buy the ticket there and is the train going to be full with no seats?
    Thanks

  4. Hi Takeshi-san,

    Thank you always for your informative / updated articles 🙂

    Actually, we’re heading to Takayama from Nagoya a week after the golden week (May 11 to be exact). We are a group of 9 people. So my question would be: do you think it is possible to book a shinkansen ticket (from Nagoya to Kyoto) at Takayama Station?

    Due to time constraints, I don’t think we can manage to drop by JR Nagoya Station before heading to Takayama. So we are thinking of making seat reservations at Takayama Station instead. What do you suggest?

    Sincerely,

    KL

  5. Hi Takeshi san

    We will arrive in osaka this saturday and stay until wed then travel to tokyo. Can we purchase shinkansen ticket online here in singapore or just buy when we arrive osaka?

    Also, We want stay for a couple of hours near mt fuji before heading to tokyo. Can we do a stop over and use the same shinkansen ticket ?

    Thank you in adavance

    Cris

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