2017 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even busy period.

(C) Calendar* / DafneCholet
(C) Calendar* / DafneCholet

Many readers have asked me about busy period to travel. I wrote about the calendar of the peak period in 2016 season. Now I would like to tell you about 2017. 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, such as USJ, Tokyo Disneyland are busy. I do not recommend you to visit very popular attractions 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 about getting a seat during peak period later. First of all, I would like to show you the calendar of the peak period in 2017.

*If you look for the information about 2016-17 New Years peak period, please see the link below:
2016 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even busy period.

Golden Week (late April to early May)

2017’s calendar is the following:

Apr 29 (Sat) Holiday
Apr 30 (Sun)
May 1 (Mon)
May 2 (Tue)
May 3 (Wed) Holiday
May 4 (Thu) Holiday
May 5 (Fri) Holiday
May 6 (Sat)
May 7 (Sun)

There is five consecutive days off from May 3 to May 7. I expect May 3 and May 7 will be busiest days. However some of Japanese residents will take extra days off on May 1 and May 2. Apr 29 and 30 will be busier than normal.

Obon (mid August)

Obon is not National holidays. It is Japanese traditional summer break. Usually Obon period is August 13 to 16. 2017 calendar is the following

Aug 11 (Fri) Holiday
Aug 12 (Sat)
Aug 13 (Sun)
Aug 14 (Mon)
Aug 15 (Tue)
Aug 16 (Fri)

I expect the busiest day is August 11 for outgoing and August 16 for incoming.

New Years holidays

In Japan, Christmas is not holiday season. Most of public schools have winter break from December 25 to January 7. 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 30 and finish on January 3. 2017-18 calendar is the following.

Dec 29 (Fri)
Dec 30 (Sat)
Dec 31 (Sun)
Jan 1 (Mon) Holiday
Jan 2 (Tue)
Jan 3 (Wed)

The beginning of New Years Holiday will be Saturday on December 30. Many of Japanese travlers will start to get off the cities in the afternoon on December 29. For outgoing, I expect train will be busy from afternoon on December 29 to the end of 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 not such a busy day.

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

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 but 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

I explain about reserved seat and non reserved seat in the link below. You can find some tips to get a seat in non reserved car. You may be able to use this way even in peak period.

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

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

85 thoughts on “2017 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even busy period.”

  1. Hi Takeshi

    We are arriving in Tokyo on 30 December and going to Kyoto on 2 January. On 4 January we will go to Nozawa Onsen (Iiyama station). I have managed to book Tokyo to Kyoto using the SmartEx app but from Kyoto to Iiyama Hyperdia suggests limited express Thunderbird to Kanazawa then Shinkasen Hakutaka to Iiyama. I can’t book those trains from overseas so I will have to try to book them once I arrive in Japan. Do you think I have a good chance of getting 4 seats for my family together on those if I book on 30 December? I am not using a JR pass. As a back up I booked Shinkansen from Kyoto-Tokyo-Iiyama but it is much more expensive and will take a lot longer due to many services already being heavily booked and therefore transfer times not matching up so I would prefer going through Kanazawa.


    1. Hi TC,

      I’m very optimistic to book 4 seats for the trip on Jan 4th. Most of local travelers will complete trips by Jan 3. They will start to work on Jan 4. Some of them will take extra days off but they will travel on 6th or 7th. I think you will be okay.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hello Takeshi,

    I’ll arrive in Tokyo on 26th Jan 2018 midnight and will travel to Kyoto on 30th Jan, early morning. I’m not buying the JR Pass so i wonder whether is it okay to buy Shinkansen ticket when i arrive in Tokyo or should i pre-book before coming to Japan? I’ll then travel to Osaka (planning to use Shinkansen as well) on 1st Feb and going back to my hometown on the 3rd Feb. Our itinerary is a bit packed so i’m worried if shinkansen tickets are sold out when we arrive. And where can i purchase the tickets? What’s your advice?

  3. Hello,

    It will be my family’s first time in Japan and we will be travelling to all the touristy places during our stay. I had no idea that the trains get busy in Dec/January.

    I’ve already booked our accommodations in:
    Tokyo (Dec 25-28)
    Kyoto (Dec 28-30)
    Osaka (Dec 30-January 3)

    Then we go back to Tokyo from Osaka on January 3 because we will be flying out from Narita on January 4.

    I just bought an Ordinary JR Pass today. And the seller told me to reserve our seats upon arrival on December 25.

    Should I worry? Any advice?

    Thank you so much in advance!!


    1. Hi Marielle,

      Trip to Osaka from Tokyo on Jan 3 will be busy. As your travel agent said, you cannot do anything now. All you can do is try to book right after you arrive in Japan. You can exchange JR pass even if you start using later day. Once you get an actual pass, you can start booking. So I strongly recommend you to exchange the pass at the airport on arrival day.

      If you want to see availability of the trains, please refer the link below:


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. We have ryokan reservations in Yudanaka on Dec. 25-27th., and have purchased Green Rail Pass. What time would be the best to travel on the Hokuriku Shinkansen in a Green Car? Also, is it possible to reserve seats ahead of our arrival on Dec. 22nd?

  5. Hi there,

    We have booked our trip to go from Tokyo to Kyoto on 29 December 2017 (without reading this website first). Will it be extremely difficult to purchase a shinkansen ticket when we arrive in Tokyo on 23 December 2017? We are happy to leave very early on 29 December if that helps.

    Also we plan on travelling from Kyoto to Osaka on 2 January – will that be very busy too?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Tina,

      At this point, 29th is better than 30th. But train is getting busier in the afternoon on 29th. You should try to book early one. But if you don’t use JR pass and use regular ticket, you can book in advance.

      Unfortunately this app does not accept JR Pass user. If you use JR Pass, you need to book upon arrival. Just try to book when you exchange the pass.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi

        Thank you for the fast reply! We are not JR Pass user but we are from New Zealand so the app doesn’t work for us unfortunately. But it’s good to hear that morning of 29 December may be ok. We will try and book when we arrive at Narita airport on 23 December.

  6. Hello,
    Thank you for this information. This is really helpful.
    We arrive in Tokyo on December 31st (morning). We need to catch a train to Iiyama that afternoon. Do you think we should be ok?
    I wanted to book online tickets, but we have to collect them before 9pm the day before. Our flight arrives on the 31st, so we cannot do that.

    Should we worry?
    We also have big snowboard bags.

      1. Wow thanks for such a speedy reply!

        I’m happy to here that.
        Do you think we will be okay with snowboards on the train? I don’t want to annoy people by taking too much space…

        Thanks again!

  7. Great advice, and thank you for the post.

    Originally, I had planned to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on Dec 29th, but I thought this may be more difficult than traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto on January 3rd.

    Do you think this logic is correct?

  8. In Kyoto, we plan to go to these sites in the order they are listed. Is the Kyoto Sightseeing One Day Pass Card the most suitable for us?
    Fushimi Inari Taisha
    Sanjusangedo Hall
    Kiyomizu Temple
    Heian Shrine
    Kinkakuji Temple
    Arashiyama bamboo groves
    Gion district

    1. Hi Li Di,

      You may use one day bus pass at 500 yen and pay regular fare to take trains. Kyoto sightseeing card covers bus and subway. But subway is not very convenient actually. You will take Keihan railway or JR to get Fushimi, Hankyu railway or Keifuku railway or JR to get Arashiyama. These trains are not covered by Kyoto sightseeing pass.

      You may use Kansai one pass if you don’t want to purchase a ticket one by one.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. We would like to visit Kyoto in one day, and we plan to take the Nozomi Shinkansen. We believe the first train leaves Tokyo at 06:00 and the last train leaves Kyoto at 21:30, and so we plan to buy tickets for these times. Do you recommend buying the tickets for reserved seats in advance if we travel either on 12/23/17 Saturday or 12/24/17 Sunday? Do you have an opinion on which day would be better to visit Kyoto? We read online 12/23/17 is a national holiday and so, therefore, might be more crowded. If you recommend buying the tickets in advance, could we buy them online from overseas (USA)?

    1. Hi Li Di,

      You can visit on either days. Actually there are lots of business travelers. Sometimes weekday is much busier. But it’s not much different between 23rd and 24th.

      You can find all Shinkansen timetables in the links below:

      If you want to book online, please refer the link below:

      But it’s not hard to book it after you arrive in Japan.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  10. Dear Takeshi san,

    we are preparing for a next trip to Kyushu next year and hope to get a ride on SL Hitoyoshi…
    But I could not find till now:
    – is this fully covered by Kyushu (south) railpass or else, what is the price for Kumamoto-Hitoyoshi and back?
    – how and where can we make reservation (and buy the tickets, if
    necessary) for these rare seats?
    We expect to arrive in Fukuoka by air, staying here for a few days,
    but will have only few days before the ride has to start.
    – What time can I expect the new timetable for this train?
    (we have to arrange our tour so we hit an operating day…)
    And, finally, to avoid this – golden week 2018 is 30.Apr – 6.May?

    Thank you so much and kind regards,

    1. Hi Wolfgang san,

      It’s covered by both Kyushu rail pass (All Kyushu version and Southern version). You can find the base fare at Hyperdia.

      And add seat fee 820 yen on top of the fare. If you use Kyushu rail pass, it’s covered fully.

      You can reserve a seat at any major JR station’s reservation window. This ticket may be sold out quickly. But there is no ways to reserve outside Japan. Usually Hitoyoshi to Kumamoto is easier than Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi.

      I believe the timetable will come out in late January.

      Golden week is the worst period to take this train.


      Takeshi / JRPail.com

      1. Hallo Takeshi san,

        thank you very much for your quick and helpful answer!

        No, we will not try to go at golden Week! I just asked for the date, so we can pick some other time…


Please read these terms and conditions before you leave a comment.
  • Your comment will not be displayed until I approve it. When you will leave a comment, the page will just reload and nothing will happen. But if I approve the comment, your comment will be displayed. Press submit only once and wait for the comment to appear.
  • Please refrain from asking me to create a itinerary. I'm not your personal travel agent, so I do not accept making itineraries from scratch. This site provides you with a lot of information. Please refer to them and make your own itinerary. I will be happy to advise you on the itinerary.
  • Please refrain from asking how to get to the hotel you are staying at. I think that is the first thing to check when choosing a hotel. Also, I think that any hotel nowadays explains how to access it on the official website. First, try google the hotel name.
  • Please refrain from asking me which hotel to recommend. I can comment on the hotels I actually stayed at, but I can't judge on other hotels.
  • If you ask me the rail pass that fits your itinerary, please explain your travel plan in as much detail as possible. I can't choose the best pass on the rough itinerary.
  • I will not answer your question by email. I manage this website with a policy of sharing all information, including questions received from readers. Some readers read past comments carefully. Please note that I do not personally interact with readers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *