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

Timetable and reservation
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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.

Comments

  1. KK_Cherie says:

    Dear sir,

    As my plan, I will be arrived at Nagoya on Friday 23 Dec 2016 which most of a plan I will be based in Osaka until 29 Dec.
    However, I will move from Shin – Osaka to Takayama on 29 December morning and will be back to Nagoya on 30 December 2016. Do you think that I have enough time to reserve my seat when I arrive to Japan (23 Dec) in order to get a ticket on 29 – 30 December?

    Your response is highly appreciated.
    KK

  2. elon001 says:

    Hi,

    I’ll be reaching Tokyo on the 24th, by your experience, is that even sufficient time to get a reserve seat on the 29th from Tokyo to Kyoto? Kind of worried that I might be in the queue for too long if I go the unreserved route as my mom is travelling with me and she isn’t exactly that young anymore :p

    • Hi elon001,

      I expect 30th is the busiest day. I think you still can get a seat for the trip on 29th. If your plan is very flexible and can take any trains to Kyoto (even early morning or late night), you can book your seat.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Chris says:

    Dear Takeshi-san,

    Thank you so much for your information here. It is very helpful to hear that travelling south from Tokyo is very busy. But for my trip to Japan, I plan to go to Tohoku. Is it busy too? I arrive Dec. 28, and I want to take the 1426 Shinkansen (Komachi 23) from Ueno to Akita. Will that be a busy train? I know JR East allows pass holders to book online. But I even if I can guarantee myself a seat/ticket, I am still afraid to travel on a very busy day. Will Ueno be as busy as Tokyo?

    • Hi Chris san,

      All trains from Tokyo to outside is busy. So train to Akita is busy too but 28th is not the busiest day. If you can reserve your seat in advance, you don’t need to worry about it. As long as your seat is secured, you will enjoy your trip by train. Both Tokyo and Ueno are busy.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      • elon001 says:

        Thanks a lot:) On another note, does it work if I get a friend to reserve the tickets at the end of this month and then mail it to me, and I can cancel that and rebook it on my JR pass when I arrive on the 24th of Dec?

        • Hi elon001,

          It may not work. First, you have to pay handling charge when you cancel. Handling charge is 330 yen if you cancel 2 days prior to the date. If you cancel within 2 days, it’s 30% of ticket amount. And also once you cancel it, it may not come back to you. It may be taken by someone in one second.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          • elon001 says:

            Thanks a lot… looks like I’ll have to reserve ahead on eki.net for a favourable timing. One last question, do tickets open more than 1 month ahead of travel for the route between Tokyo and Kyoto? And if so, how crazy is the rush to buy tickets online? I’m curious because there seems to be travel agents that seems to preorder tickets way ahead of schedule and I have no idea how they are able to do so.

            • Hi elon001,

              It’s on sale at 10:00 am. But you don’t need to do right after 10:00 am. If you want to book a specific train, you need to do it right away. But Shinkasnen timetable is easy. As long as you will book in a week after on sale, you will be able to book the train that you want to take.

              Cheers,

              Takeshi / JPRail.com

          • elon001 says:

            Hi Takeshi-san,

            So I reserved a ticket on http://www.eki-net.com as I saw that the train tickets for the reserved seats getting sold out fast for the train ride between Atami and Tokyo on the 29th December. I have 2 question with regards to my ticket,

            1. If the reserve seat tickets on eki-net shows that it is sold out, is that an absolute number or does JR ticket office still have sale of some reserve seatings?
            2. Can the pdf train tickets that I have be exchanged at the JR office at Narita airport(the same office that people usually exchange their JR pass)?

  4. Adi says:

    Dear Takeshi-san,

    Good moorning.
    I will travel to Japan on the New Year Holidays 2016 with my big family. This is our itinerary (with very tight schedule & JR Pass 7 days since the first day) :

    Day1/29Dec2016 : Arrive at Narita by 07:30 AM, travel to Osaka directly with expected arriving by 13:30, store/keeping luggage at hostel in Namba. Travel to Nara and explore it, back to Namba take rest.
    Day2/30Dec2016 : Travel to Hiroshima and directly to Miyajima explore it, back to Hiroshima around 13.00 PM and explore it. Travel to Kobe for dinner of Kobe Wagyu Steak and back to Namba take rest.
    Day3/31Dec2016 : Explore Osaka and travel to Kyoto at late noon for sightseeing on New Year Celebration. Stay at Kyoto Hostel.
    Day4/01Jan2017 : Explore Kyoto (bamboo grove, castle, etc)
    Day5/02Jan2016 : Travel to Sapporo and stay.
    Day6/03Jan2016 : Explore Sapporo (snow?)
    Day7/04Jan2016 : Travel to Tokyo and explore it.
    Day8/05Jan2016 : Explore Mt. Fuji (snow?)
    Day9/06Jan2016 : Tokyo Tour
    Day10/07Jan 2016 : Fly home Jakarta from Narita by 11:05

    Since the airplane ticket already in hand on busiest period, would you advise us for better and statisfied our family to see Japan in winter 🙂
    Thank you.

    Warms regards,
    Adi

    • Hi Adi san,

      First of all, as you know, you will be traveling in super busy period. Especially day 1 and 2 will be very busy. However you cannot book your train until you get Japan to exchange JR pass. So when you get Narita, try to book all train ticket at once. You have to fix your schedule at this point.

      Second, many restaurants will be closed in New Years period. Especially dinner on Dec 31 may be problem. If you are okay with light meal at convenience store or fast food, it will be okay. Those are open all day.

      Next, what is your plan to get Sapporo? If you intend to take a train from Kyoto to Sapporo, it will be a long long trip. Please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/destinations/hokkaido-area/how-to-get-sapporo.html

      It shows you the itinerary from Tokyo to Sapporo. If you start from Kyoto, you have to add another 3 hours.

      Your plan is not impossible but it will be very busy and tight trip. Please understand before you go.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      • Adi says:

        Dear Takeshi-san,

        Thank you for your advise and understood very well.
        Yes at first to get Sapporo from Kyoto but anyway have to study it again, especially for Kobe and Sapporo.
        BTW, what will happened when you not use your booking seat on the train (especially shinkansen)? Fine by the authority? Please let me come to you again when I need some more advise.
        Thank you very much for your time and advise.

        Warm regards,
        Adi

        • Hi Adi san,

          Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen among Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima have non reserved seat. You can take Shinkansen train’s non reserved seat by JR pass only. However you will travel in very busy period. During this period, it is not rare to see the passengers who stand on isle or passengers deck. If you don’t reserve a seat, you may need to stand for a couple of hours.

          If you go to Hokkaido, you will take Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen. Most of trains do not have non reserved seat. You cannot take these trains without reservation. The conductor may make you get off the train at the nearest station.

          JR pass covers reserved seat fee. Don’t try to take Shinkansen without reservation.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. leny says:

    I am visiting Japan in October for 11 days only and staying mainly in Osaka but has plan to go to Tokyo, stay overnight and most likely go to Kyoto as well. What I would like to know is, whether it would be economical to buy a 7day JR pass or not. Also, am I eligible to buy one since I am staying only for 11 days? Should I use it from Kansai International on arrival or just get a single ticket. Please help. Thanks.

  6. Kenny says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    I will be arriving Narita on 26 Dec (Monday) 7am and leaving on 1st Jan (Sunday) 10am.

    These are the areas I planned (all day trip) from Sinjuku.

    1 day – Mt Fuji
    1 day – Nikko/Kinugawa onsen
    1 day – Gala Yuzawa
    3 day – City Sightseeing

    I will be buying JR East Wide Area Pass.

    In your opinion, will the above areas affected by busiest season? Should I use the pass for the first 3 days or last 3 days considering my dates are before and during the busiest season.

    Thank you.

  7. Lee Lay Heong says:

    Takeshi San,
    Pls find below my itinerary and advise which pass suit me and advise the last train and early train if possible.

    Besides, pls let me know if I can purchase pass in Narita airport or from internet (how to get the ticket if purchase on-line).

    1. Day 1
    My flight from Narita to Chitose airport is from 20: 20 to 22:00pm. Pls advise the last train.
    Destination : Sumikawa station

    2. Day 2
    Odori station–>Susukino –> Mount Moiwa

    3. Day 3
    Sapporo to Hakodate
    Travel in Hakodate
    What is the early train to Hakodate

    4. Day 4
    Travel in Hakodate

    5. Day 5
    Back to Sapporo.
    What is the early train to Sapporo

    6. Day 6
    Sapporo station to Otaru.
    Travel in Otaru

    7. Day 7
    Sapporo to Chitose airport.

  8. Yvonne Lo says:

    HI Takeshi,
    I will use the JR East Pass to go to Matsumoto. Can I reserve a seat? Can I do that online or is it only after I pick up the pass when I arrive in Tokyo. It’s important to me to reserve seats as I will be travelling with 2 sons. Will I need to pay more to reserve a seat? And can I pay more to upgrade to Green Car?
    Thanks- Yvonne

  9. Ken Schneiders says:

    Thank you for the information about train travel in Japan. Very helpful!

  10. Tan PS says:

    I am completely confused with all the choices of travel JR Rail & non JR railway to take. Pls asst which ticket is the best to buy based on below itinerary:
    Flight to Kansai Osaka airport in month of May for meeting. After which I intend to extend as below

    Day 1 – Osaka – Kyoto (overnight) – Arayashima & Fushimi-Inari
    (if train/subway not included then I take the 1 Day bus in Kyoto)
    Day 2 Kyoto – Takayama – Shirakawago – Takayama (Overnight) – assuming Nori Bus from Takayama – Shirakawago included
    Day 3 Takayama back to Osaka (latest train back to Osaka)
    Day 4 Short trips from Osaka – (which area to stay is nearer to the train station)
    Day 5 Depart to Kansai airport.

    Should I buy Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass – Yen 13,500
    or
    Kintetsu Rail Pass Wide 5 days incl to Kansai airport. – Yen5860 (disadvantage slower JR)
    Your advise is much appreciated.

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