When you take the Shinkansen or the limited express train, you may have to book a seat because some trains require you a seat reservation. Though some limited express trains have some non-reserved cars, you should book a reserved seat if you can.
Especially if you use JR Pass, Hokkaido Rail Pass, JR East Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Sanyo San’in Area Pass and Kyushu Rail Pass, these passes cover a reserved seat fee. Use this benefit to ride a train with a peace of mind.
I also strongly recommend you to secure a seat if you travel in the peak seasons, such as late April to the first week of May (a.k.a. Golden Week), August 10 to 20 (It is called “Obon” which is a summer break.) and the year-end/New Years holiday (December 29th to the first week of January.)
I would like to explain you how to book a reserved seat in this post
- Before you make a reservation
- Where you can book
- What kind of information you need
- When you can start booking
- Online booking
- How to reserve a ticket from outside Japan in advance
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 MUST turn in your exchange order to the actual Pass before booking your seat. You have 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 at any reservation windows and anytime. But if you use JR Easts’ online reservation, you can book a seat in advance before exchanging an actual pass. I will explain about this online reservation site later in this post.
Explaination by movie
You can watch the movie below which explains you about the booking in the station:
If you buy the JR Pass on the official reservation site, you can book a seat online. I explain how to use this site in the movie below:
I explain how to use JR East online booking step by step in the movie below:
Where you can book
First of all, I would like to tell you how to book a seat at the station. I will explain you about online booking later in this post.
You can book a seat at the ticket 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.
“Midori no Madoguchi” is located at most of major JR stations. If you are in major cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Sapporo, you cannot miss “Midori no Madoguchi”. 99% of JR stations in these cities have “Midori no Madoguchi”. Some major stations have a few Midori no Madoguchi.
The signage is different in JR Central area.
If you travel in 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, Mishima, Shizuoka, Gifu, Takayama, it is shown as “Shinkansen and JR Line Tickets (新幹線・JR線きっぷうりば)” like image below.
JR Central operates the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. JR Central has a ticket office outside JR Central operation area, such as Tokyo, Shin-Yokohama, Kyoto and Shin-Osaka. In these stations, you can find two different kinds of the ticket office, “Midori no Madoguchi” and “Shinkansen and JR Line Tickets”. But you can use either ticket office to book any JR train tickets. This difference does not matter.
What kind of information you need
Please make sure the following information before you make a 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 is much easier to make a reservation for the staff and you can save your time. All Shinkansen trains and most limited express trains have the combination of the name and number. e.g. “Hikari 246”.
- Departure and Arrival Stations
- Smoking or Non Smoking
Smoking seat is still available on a few trains. If you really want to have a seat in the smoking car, you may ask a staff to look for. If you do not mention, usually you will be assigned a seat on non smoking car. If a seat is available on only smoking car, usually a staff let you know and make sure that you accept it or not.
If you use JR 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 when they want to check it.
When you can start booking
You can make a reservation anytime within one month prior the departure date. The ticket is on sale one month prior to departure date at 10:00am
Departure date — August 23 at 10:00 am. the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka
Ticket is on sale at 10:00 am on July 23.
Departure date — August 24 at 00:34 am. Sunrise Seto from Osaka to Tokyo
Ticket is on sale at 10:00 am on July 23, not July 24. Because this train originally depart from Takamatsu at 21:26 on August 23. Overnight trains are very few in Japan currently. But if you book a seat on overnight booking, please check the departure date at the original departure station.
The reserve seat on most trains can be reserved at Midori no Madoguchi only. So you have to be in Japan when you book. Online booking is still very limited.
Japan Rail Pass official site
If you buy the JR Pass at the official site, you can make a booking through this website.
You can book a seat on most JR trains. However the price of JR pass is higher than the prices at the authorized dealers. If you buy the JR pass at the authorized dealer, you cannot book a seat on this site.
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 the traveler who use JR Pass, Hokkaido Rail pass and JR East Passes. If you intend to use a regular ticket, you can use this site too.
This site offers a seat reservation for the trains which run in JR East and JR Hokkaido areas. So you CANNOT make a reservation for the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto or Osaka) and other limited express trains which does not run in JR East and JR Hokkaido area. And also there are some restrictions. The biggest restriction is the ticket pick up. You must pick up a ticket one day before the travel date. You cannot pick up a ticket on the day of travel. Please read Guide (FAQ) before you make a booking.
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Reservation App “EX”
This app is available in a few countries only. And also this app is available for a regular ticket user only. You cannot use this app to book a seat for JR Pass or other rail passes. However any rail passes do not meet your trip plan and this app is available in your country, this is very convenient. You can book it in advance from your smartphone.
JR West Online Train Reservation
JR West has launched the online reservation site. However this online booking system does not cover any train pass user. You can use this online reservation as the regular ticket user only.
If you use a regular ticket, this online site may be a good choice. This online booking covers most of JR trains.
I have received a comment from one of my readers, Tak. He mentioned me that 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 this is not available for all of you. 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. You can do it with your friend in Japan and use this site.
This reservation system covers all over Japan. You can book for the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka which is not available on JR East Train Reservation.
How to reserve a ticket from outside Japan in advance
As you saw, online reservation does not cover all trains. I really wish Japan Railway have full online reservation system.
If you want to secure your seat before departure, the local travel agent may be able to help you. This is only way to reserve a ticket before you depart from your country.
One of my frequent visitors, James in Australia, left a comment. He did this way many years ago. But I would like to share this information:
*JTB actually charge MORE than $55 Australian dollar($56 US dollar March 2011 currency) per ticket, in fact JTB charge $75 Australian dollar(US$76) 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.
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.