Reserved seat VS Non reserved seat. How to get a seat on non reserved car?

Common ordinary car interior (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Common ordinary car interior (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Most of trains in Japan have reserved seat and non reserved seat in ordinary cars. But some of you do not understand the difference between reserved seat and non reserved seat. And you may worry that all seats are full if you use non reserved seat.

In this post, I will explain you difference between reserved seat and non reserved seat. You will find pros and cons of both reserved and non reserved seat.

What is Non Reserved seat and Reserved seat

You can secure your seat if you take reserved seat. If you use reserved seat, seat number, car number and train are fixed. Your seat is secured but you have to take a designated train.

Reserved seat ticket for Shinkansen
Reserved seat ticket for Shinkansen

Meanwhile if you take non reserved seat, you have to fix your trip plan and the route, such as Tokyo to Kyoto. But your train number and seat number are not assigned and you have flexibility. The ticket is valid for one day. However your seat is not secured. It is first come first serve basis. In peak season, there are many standing passengers in non reserved car. You may have to stand in the car for a few hours.

If you want the information about booking a ticket, please see the link below:

How to reserve the train seat of Japan Railway

The difference of the cost between reserved seat and non reserved seat

Non reserved seat fee is 520 yen (510 yen in Kyushu) cheaper than reserved seat fee in regular season. But in the shoulder season, reserved seat fee is 200 yen cheaper than the regular season. So the difference between reserved and non reserved is 320 yen. On the other hand, in the peak season, reserved seat fee is 200 yen higher than the regular season. The difference is 720 yen.

When you take Nozomi on Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen, Nozomi surcharge is added on top of seat fee. This extra charge is from 210 yen to 620 yen by distance. So when you take Nozomi, the difference between reserved seat and non reserved seat is bigger.

Difference of accommodation between reserved seat and non reserved seat

Interior of limited express train in Shikoku. There are both reserved and non reserved seats in same car. The seats are exactly same.
Interior of limited express train in Shikoku. There are both reserved and non reserved seats in same car. The seats are exactly same.

In most of JR trains, both reserved seat and non reserved seat offer same accommodation. The seat, leg space and width are exactly same.

520 yen reserved seat fee does not give you any better seat.

The accommodation is not an issue to choose reserved or non reserved.

But there are a few JR trains to offer better interior in reserved seat than non reserved seat.

Limited Express Super Kamui (Sapporo – Asahikawa) and Suzuran (Sapporo – Muroran)

Useat of Limited Express Super Kamui (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Useat of Limited Express Super Kamui (C) Sonic Rail Garden

This train does not have Green car. Therefore reserved seat is a bit better than non reserved seat. Reserved seat is called “U seat” in these trains. The seat in reserved seat car is bigger than non reserved seat. And the power outlet is available at the seat in reserved seat car only.

Please see the post, Limited Express Super Kamui to get the detailed information.

Sanyo-Kyushu Shinkansen, Mizuho and Sakura (Shin Osaka/Hakata – Kagoshima Chuo)

Reserved ordinary class seat (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Reserved ordinary class seat (C) Sonic Rail Garden

The difference is huge between reserved seat and non reserved seat in this train. Basically the ordinary class seat of Shinkansen trains have 2+3 layout.

But in Mizuho and Sakura, reserved seat car offers 2+2 seat layout. The leg space is same as non reserved car but the width is same as Green seat. This reserved seat is much more comfortable than non reserved seat and it is highly recommended.

Please read the post, Kyushu Shinkansen N700 series for Mizuho, Sakura and Tsubame image gallery to get the detailed information.

How to get a seat in non reserved car

Many readers asked me, “Can we get seats in non reserved car easily?”, “Is it hard to get a seat in non reserved car?”. And also many readers worry the case that there is no empty seats when they are on board in non reserved car.

It is very hard for me to answer to these inquiries. In my experience, it is not hard to find a seat in non reserved car other than peak season. If you are solo traveler, you can find a seat easily in most of seasons. But if you travel with someone or travel as a group, you may not be able to find the seat together in even regular season.

Please imagine. Most of trains have 2+2 seats layout. There are many business travelers and most of them are solo traveler. They usually pick up window side seat. As a result, you may find the seat but most of empty seats are isle side.

If you are okay with this situation, it is no problem with using non reserved seat. But if you want to have a few seats together, you may consider to use non reserved car.

However there are some tips to get some seats together and avoid this situation.

Take a train at the original departure station

When train comes to the platform in the original departure station, train is empty. It is much easier to take a seat.

e.g.
Your departure station : Shin-Osaka station
Your destination : Kanazawa
In this case, you will take Limited Express Thunderbird. This train stops at Shin-Osaka but train departs from Osaka station originally. Many of seats will be taken at Osaka station. Osaka station is only one station away and it takes only 5 minutes by local train from Shin-Osaka. If you go back to Osaka and catch this train, it is much easier to get a seat.

When you try to get a seat in non reserved car, you have to check where train comes from. And try to get on the train at the original departure station. You can find this information at Hyperdia. Please see the link below how to find it in Hyperdia:

Advanced function – Hyperdia perfect guide

Many of you will take Shinkansen (a.k.a. Bullet train) in your trip. If you take Shinkansen in downtown Tokyo, there are several stations to catch Shinkansen.

Tokaido Shinkansen (bound for Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka, Hiroshima) : Tokyo, Shinagawa
Tohoku, Joetsu, Hokkaido, Hokuriku Shinkansen (bound for Sendai, Niigata, Nagano, Kanazawa, Shin-Aomori, Akita, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto) : Tokyo, Ueno

Original departure stations of Shinkansen in downtown Tokyo is Tokyo station. You should not take Shinkansen at Ueno and Shinagawa if you take non reserved seat.

If you take Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka station, try to pick up Shin-Osaka departure train. You may find the timetable of Shinkansen in the links below:

Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen westbound timetable (from Tokyo)
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen eastbound timetable (to Tokyo)

You may find some trains that depart from Shin-Osaka originally such as the image below.

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

Many trains come to Shin-Osaka to carry huge number of passengers. Please try to avoid those trains and find the train that depart from Shin-Osaka.

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 Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen timetable again.
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen westbound timetable (from Tokyo)

You can find many “K” trains, such as K633 that departs from Tokyo at 06:56, arrive Shin-Osaka at 11:00. This is Kodama that is the slowest train on Shinkansen line.

As you see, Nozomi (“N”) is 1.5 hours faster than Kodama. Even Hikari is 1 hour faster than Kodama. That is why it is easier to get a seat on Kodama. And also Kodama has many more non reserved cars than Nozomi and Hikari. If you do not mind to spend extra hours, Kodama may be considerable.

Extra cost to book a seat by rail pass that covers only non reserved seat

Some of rail passes do not cover reserved seat, such as Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, Kansai Wide Area Pass, Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass, Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass. If you want to book your seat by this pass, you have to pay full fare of seat fee.

e.g.
Trip from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima by Shinkansen Nozomi
Reserved seat fee 4,810 yen
Non reserved seat fee 4,090 yen

Some of you think that you need to pay the difference, 720 yen in this case. But unfortunately it is wrong. You have to pay 4,810 yen. In this case, the pass does not cover any seat fee. It covers only base fare. If you really want to book your seat, you can do it. But the pass does not give you a big saving. This way is not very recommended when you use the pass that covers only non reserved seat.

22 thoughts on “Reserved seat VS Non reserved seat. How to get a seat on non reserved car?”

  1. Hi Takeshi

    Is it possible to purchase an upgrade to Green Car while on the train? For example, my wife & I want to go from Daimon to Kita-Kamakura via Shimbashi . There is only a 7-minute change between trains at Shimbashi so can we board a Green Car carriage for K-K & pay the Y570 each to the Conductor on board?

    Thanks for your advice

  2. Hi Takeshi

    I plan to take Nozomi from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka on 16 August (around 9-11 AM). I have several questions :
    1. Is it considered peak season? Should i book reserved seat 3-4 days in advance?
    2. What is the seating in Nozomi reserved train – is it 2×2 or 2×3?
    3. If the seat is 2×2, is it possible to use 2 seats for 3 people (1 Adult and 2 Childs)? Is it still okay – comfort?
    4. What is the most backseat number for nozomi tokyo – osaka?

    1. Hi Wahyu,

      1. It is a peak period. You should try to book a seat as soon as possible.

      2. 2X3. Please see the link below:
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-tokai/nagoya-toyohashi/tokaido-shinkansen-image-gallery.html

      3. Children can share the seats if you want. But when I traveled with my daughter who was 5 years old, she didn’t want to share the seat. Just for your info:

      4. I cannot tell. It depends on the car and train type. When you book a seat, you can ask that you want to have most back seat. However it’s peak season and you cannot get it.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thanks Takeshi, very fast respond!

        My first child is 6, second one is 3 (still free right). I intend to get a 3-line reserved seat for the for of us (we could remove the separator up right?). Have checked also, seat still available at 16 august.

        Is it possible to have someone book shinkansen for you (have friend in tokyo, want to have him to help). Where can he buy the ticket? i mean which is the most convenient place as he is not so fluent in speak japan ?

        Regards

  3. I will be traveling with my family to Nagoya in early December. If we take the non-reserved train from Nagoya to Takayama on 5 December, do you foresee any issue in getting seats? And we will be traveling from Kanazawa to Osaka on 9 Dec, which is a Saturday. Is the train usually crowded?

  4. Dear Takeshi,

    I have a plan to go to Kinosaki Onsen . I’m going to use “Kansai Wide Area Pass” and take “Ltd. Exp. Kinosaki 1” from Kyoto Station to Kinosaki Onsen Station.
    I understand that this pass can be used with non-reserved seat only.
    So I would like to ask you that
    Can I use the pass to board “Unreserved Seat Car”
    or I have to pay Yen 1,730 for “Unreserved Seat”.
    Because, I saw from “Hyperdia” that there are fare for “Reserved Seat Yen 2,050 and Unreserved Seat Yen 1,730”?

    Thank you for your kind assistance.

    Have a good day

    Joe

  5. Hi Takeshi
    I don’t exactly understand prices when I have a look on Hyperdia. Can you give me an example for a price if I travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on Shinkansen for reserved and non reserved seat? Is there a price difference when I take a Nozomi or a Kodoma train? Thanks a lot and looking forward to come back to Japan in April. Greetings Stefan

  6. Hi, Takeshi-san.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

    My main concern is my baggage. I’ll be bringing with me a baggage (23 kgs or 50 lbs with dimensions not exceeding 158 cm or 62″ l+w+h) aside from backpack. Mostly in my travel there together with my baggage, I will be taking Thunderbird, Shinkansen (Tsurugi or Hakutaka) and Haruka on my last day. All non-reserved seats.

    Based from your experience or say what you observe, how can a traveller store that baggage at those trains during the trip? Can I put my baggage behind the seat of the last row? Is there a dedicated place where one can stow that baggage size? I know for sure given the configurations you have pictured, my baggage cannot be stored in the aisle.

    Appreciate your feedback. Thanks.

    1. Hi Jini san,

      Most of even number cars (car# 2, 4….10) of Hokuriku Shinkasnen and Haruka have luggage space but Thunderbird not. If you can get the last row, you can put the luggage behind the seat. But if you can’t, you have to put your luggage in your leg space. It’s very very tight but there is no way.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/baggage/managing-luggage-how-to-carry-your-baggage-on-board-and-how-to-store-your-baggage-at-the-station.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Just as I’m thinking about how to get a seat on car 2 of Evangelion Kodama train, this post comes along! But how do we purchase a non-reserved seat tickets with JR Pass? Do we still have to go to the ticket office, or just go through the gates?
    And do you think it will be hard to get a seat on Car 2 (why does it have to be a non-reserved car ) of the Evangelion Kodama if I travel from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka on a Sunday?

    1. Hi Amadl,

      If you use JR pass, you don’t need anything. Just show your JR pass to enter the station and ride a train.
      It’a hard to say how busy this train is. But I’m very optimistic. I think you will be okay to get a seat. In this train, seat is much better in reserved car. Reserved car is like Green car, 2+2 layout and non reserved is 2+3. So I recommend you to book a seat in reserved car and try to sit down a seat in non reserved car for 5 to 10 minutes. If it’s full, you still have a seat in reserved car and JR pass covers it of course.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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