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.
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.
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.
“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 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!
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
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.
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.
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 Passes and single ticket users.
This site offers the seat reservation for the trains that operate in JR East and JR Hokkaido areas. So you CANNOT make a reservation for Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto or Osaka). And also there are some restrictions. Please read Guide (FAQ) before you make a booking.
I have received a comment from one of my readers, Tak. He mentioned 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.
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.
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.