How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?

Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.
Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.

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.

Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)
Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)

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.

The logo of Midori no Madoguchi
The logo of Midori no Madoguchi

“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 ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.
JR Central ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.

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!
  • Passport
    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

ex1)
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.

ex2)
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.

Online booking

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 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.

Eki-net (えきねっと)

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.

Find your hotels in 218 cities throughout Japan!!!

ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Narita 10 min from airport by complimentary shuttle

Karasuma Hotel Kyoto Traditional tatami room

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.

I think many people here asked for how to get JR tickets before arriving Japan, I would like to add.

*JTB actually charge MORE than $55 Australian dollar($56 US dollar March 2011 currency) per ticket, in fact JTB charge $75 Australian dollar($76 USdollar) 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.

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.

665 thoughts on “How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?”

  1. I am planning my trip to Japan next summer. Unfortunately I need to take the train from Tokyo to Kyoto on 8/15/2019, the peak week.1. I will be in the airport on 8/12. Do you think I can get three reserved seats for 8/15 train? I found a app smartex which can reserve seats but it is more expensive than JR PASS. If I cannot get the tickets in airport, I might consider to use smartex to reserve seats. 2. I am planning back from Kyoto to Hakone on 7/18/2019. Is there possible for me to get the reserved seats too? 3. Do I need to get back to Tokyo then to Hakone, or there is better way from Kyoto to Hakone?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Hua Ding,

      I have just written up new post about a peak period in 2019. Please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/2019-busiest-period-to-travel-by-train-tips-to-book-your-seat-in-even-during-the-busy-period.html

      I think you are okay to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on August 15 because it’s in mid Obon. Everybody will be settled. You mentioned that you will travel from Kyoto to Hakone on 7/18. But I guess you will travel on 8/18, right? If so, this day will be much busier than August 15. It will be very challenging.

      You can take Kodama which is the slowest train on Shinkansen to get Odawara from Kyoto. This is much easier to take the fastest train, Nozomi to Tokyo or Hikari to Tokyo or Odawara. Don’t go back to Tokyo when you go to Hakone. Just try to get Odawara on the way to Hakone.

      I cannot say how busy a train will be on August 18. But if I were you, I go for JR pass and take Kodama.

      You may find the availability from one month prior to travel day in Cyber station. Please see the link below to find more info:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/how-to-find-seat-availability-of-trains-jr-cyber-station-guide.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi-san,
    First of all, great site and your response to the comment is promptly and amazing!
    My itinerary is below:
    13th Dec Chitose / Sapporo
    15th Dec Sapporo – Hakodate
    17th Dec Hakodate – Osaka (fly)
    (in Osaka, will travel to Kobe, Himeji, Nara)
    20th Osaka – Kyoto
    (in Kyoto, surrounding areas, Arashiyama etc.)
    24th Kyoto – Tokyo
    28th Tokyo – Haneda airport

    I was planning to get a 7 days JR Rail Pass for the train rides after arriving Osaka, but from a site japan-guide.com comparing the cost and the pass does not pay off. So i would get day pass in Osaka and local trains. What is your opinion?

    Travel from Kyoto to Tokyo on the 24th Dec by train, is there an official site where I can buy the ticket outside of Japan? If no, can I buy the ticket for this route when I am in Sapporo or Osaka? Should I be worried for not having a ticket due to fully booked (Christmas Eve)?

    Is there an official site where i can check all the train numbers, schedules and stations for all over Japan?

    This could be irrelevant but i will try my luck. I plan to do a day trip from Tokyo to Fuji on the 26th Dec. A lot of recommendation suggested bus over train. Do you have an opinion and do you happen to have a site where i can buy bus ticket online?

    Many thanks for your help.
    Zach

    1. Hi Zachary san,

      As you think, JR pass is not your choice. You may use the regular fare ticket for Chitose-Sapporo, Sapporo-Hakodate, and Kyoto-Tokyo. You cannot purchase a ticket online but you can purchase these tickets at any major JR stations. So you can purchase it all at New Chitose airport station if you want. But New Chitose is always busy. You can purchase a ticket for New Chitose to Sapporo at the vending machine. You can purchase it only there and you can purchase Sapporo to Hakodate and Kyoto to Tokyo in Sapporo station. Don’t worry about Christmas. Christmas is not a busy period in Japan. The busiest period is before/after New Years. It’s after you will leave Japan. So it’s not an issue.

      For other small trips, you may find the deal. Please see the links below:

      For trip to Nara, Kobe, Osaka to Kyoto, you can use Kansai thru pass:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-use-kansai-thru-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html

      For trip to Himeji, you can use Kansai area pass:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/how-to-use-jr-west-kansai-area-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html

      You can use Kansai thru pass to get Himeji too but Kansai area pass is much better choice because trip time is much shorter. If you intend to visit Kobe and Himeji on same day, you can use Kansai area pass for these cities:
      https://jprail.com/destinations/world-heritage-destinations/how-to-access-to-himeji-and-kobe-from-osaka.html

      For sightseeing in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html
      https://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html

      You can find the timetable and fare at Hyperdia:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/hyperdia-perfect-guide-train-timetable-and-route-search-engine.html

      Please see the link below to find the bus info to Fuji:
      http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/highway/detail/id/1

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi. What about the smartEX reservation app? You didn’t mentioned it. Not for JR Pass users but you can book up to 1 month in advance the Tokaido / Sanyo Shinkansen trains. I think it is very useful and in some cases you can have a small discount on the rate

  4. HI,
    I have inquiry about online seat reservation. I plan to go to Sapporo and travel around Tohoku area on peak period ( end of December until January)
    I will use JR east south Hokkaido pass (I plan to buy pass on November). I want to do online reserve seat to book the seat in advance. I’ve checked all train that I need to reserve is in the list. My question is normally JR pass includes seat reserve charging that mean I have not to pay for any reserve seat cost. How about if I reserve through online. Do I have been charged or not charged for seat reservation? I got some confusing explanation from Japan travel agent in my country.They said I have to pay for reserve seat if I use online reserve process because it’s booking advance that I don’t think it makes sense. Can you help to explain clearly for this inquiry.

    1. Hi Kotchakorn C.,

      No extra fee is required even if you book a seat online. However you have to put your credit card info when you book because it will be charged if you will not pick up your ticket. As long as you pick up a ticket and show your JR pass when you pick it up, they don’t charge you.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Takeshiさん、
        I’ve more questions about online reservation.
        If I do online booking for 3 person in advance, but on effective date I can pick up ticket only 2 person, because 1 person can not come to japan. I’ll be charged whether or not? Although i take the exchange order to Japan with me for 3 person.

        1. Hi Nathipatn san,

          I think you will use JR pass or other rail pass and you want to book online. Am I right? If I’m right, unfortunately you cannot correct 3 tickets. Because when you pick up tickets, you have to exchange all passes. You cannot pick up tickets by exchange order. You must exchange the pass before pick up. And you cannot exchange the pass without an actual passport with short term visitor stamp.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hello, we plan to arrive at Narita on Aug 8 around 1:30pm. Then go to JR office to get round trip NEX Tickets plus activate Rail Pass and reserve seats to Kyoto that same afternoon. Is that doable since it’s a busy travel week in Japan? We hope to reserve seats for the return to Tokyo on Monday at the same time

    If we go from Kyoto to Osaka using the rail pass, do we also need to reserve seats for such a short trip? Can we get on a train for unreserved seats with the rail pass only or without getting a ticket?

    Are there unreserved seats available on the Hikari even when all the reserved seats are booked? Or can all seats be booked during busy season and there are no unreserved seats available?

    Are the unreserved cars usually 1 to 3 or 1 to 5 in the front? How does standing on the train work? Are we only allowed to stand in certain places?

    Do we assume correctly that getting a 7-day rail pass would be beneficial in our case, even if it limits the trains that we can take?

    Thank you for your help and any suggestions. MY

    1. Hi M Y,

      Aug 8 is not in the busy period yet. But when you go back to Tokyo, it may be. Please see the link below to find more info:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/2018-busiest-period-to-travel-by-train-tips-to-book-your-seat-in-even-busy-period.html

      There are lots of ordinary trains between Kyoto and Osaka, such as Special rapid train. Of course you can take Shinkansen or other limited express trains, such as Thunderbird, Haruka. All trains have non reserved seat and you can take the train without booking by JR Pass.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/limited-express-thuderbird-raicho-%E9%9B%B7%E9%B3%A5.html
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/kansai-airport-limited-express-haruka.html
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/rapid-service/special-rapid-service.html

      You can stand on the isle or by the door. Please see the link below to find more info about non reserved car.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/reserved-seat-vs-non-reserved-seat-how-to-get-a-seat-on-non-reserved-car.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hello,
    Will appreciate it much if you could explain how to use the JR Pass from Kyoto to Koyasan-World Heritage site(Mt Koya)? We plan to visit this site when we are in Kyoto next month.
    Also, is my understanding correct that we can use our JR Pass to go around Hiroshima and Miyajima?
    Thank you.

  7. Hi,

    If I am traveling during Golden Week and buy a JR Pass that cannot be activated until my arrival April 27 (meaning I cannot reserve any seats until then as well) what is the likelihood that all the bullet trains will already be booked? What are my options for bullet trains and/or to ensure my husband and I will be able to sit together on our longer trips?

    I am concerned we need to be in certain cities on certain days (and within certain time frames for some) and may have not have a guaranteed way to get there after spending the $$ to buy the passes.

    Also wondering which JR Pass (Central or regular) to buy and for what length? Although we are in Japan for 14 days, the cost of the 14 Day Pass is more expensive than the actual tickets we will need. However the 7 Day Pass will not cover all of our major travel dates. Does the 14 Day Pass offer additional value beyond the ticket prices (in-city travel, ease of travel, complimentary discounts to restaurants, purchases, admission, or other)? Or should we buy the 7 Day Pass and activate it for our most expensive 7 consecutive days and just buy supplementary tickets for the other travel dates?

    Do you suggest purchasing other rail passes (ex. Hanoke Pass or Kansai Pass) in addition to the JR Pass?

    TRIP DETAILS: My husband and I are arriving in Tokyo (Haneda airport) on 4/27. We travel to Hakone on 4/30 (via already booked tickets on the romance car). On 5/1 we travel to Kyoto. While in Kyoto we’d like to take day trips to Osaka and Nara. On 5/6 we travel from Kyoto to Fukui. While in Fukui we may take a day trip to Kanazawa before having to be back in Tokyo by 5/9.

    Thank you in advance for any suggestions or assistance,

    Janet

    1. Hi Janet,

      In my rough calculation for Odawara to Kyoto, Kyoto to Fukui, Fukui to Kanazawa round trip and Fukui to Tokyo, it costs around 40,000 yen. It is still 6,000 yen cheaper than 14 days pass. But you may use JR pass for Kyoto to Osaka return, Kyoto to Nara return. It costs around 2,000 to 3,000 yen. JR pass is not a perfect choice for sightseeing in Kyoto. But you may visit Arashiyama, Nijo, Fushimi Inari, Uji by JR pass. You also can take JR local train in Tokyo, monorail from Haneda to Hamamatsucho in downtown Tokyo. So total cost may be higher than 14 days pass.
      https://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/tips-for-japan-rail-pass/how-to-transfer-among-kyoto-osaka-and-kobe-compare-japan-railway-and-private-lines.html

      On the other hand, if you use 7 days pass, you can start using from Odawara. You may be able to included round trip to Kanazawa in 7 days period. But you have to add Fukui to Tokyo regular fare which is around 14,000 yen. So 7 days pass + this extra cost is around 43,000 yen. It is only 3,000 yen difference. This does not included train ride in Tokyo. In my opinion, 14 days pass is not such an expensive choice and 14 days pass is recommended.

      In regards to the trip in Golden Week, please refer the link below:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/2017-busiest-period-to-travel-by-train-tips-to-book-your-seat-in-even-busy-period.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. I am going to Japan quite soon and I want to get this straight.

    I arrive in Japan on the 10th April. I go to the exchange office and state on the application form that I want to start using the JR Pass from 11th April.
    Am I able to make a seat reservation on 10th for 11th April with the Pass? Or do I have to wait till the next day to make seat reservations?
    I’m planning to go to Tokyo to Sapporo taking the earliest train possible (6am-8am) on the 11th April.
    Sorry if this confusing, this is my first solo travel so I want it to be as smooth as possible.

    1. Hi Vianca,

      You can book right after you exchange JR pass. Even though you don’t use it on 10th, you can go ahead to book a train for 11th. Whenever I use JR pass, I will complete all bookings when I exchange the pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you!

        And also, what do I say to the person at the counter? I want to book all my Shinkansen on the day I arrive.
        (Tokyo>Sapporo, Sapporo>Hakodate, Hakodate>Tokyo, Tokyo>Osaka etc)

        I can’t seem to find any YouTube video or website that tells me what to say when booking these tickets.
        A few videos says the staff at the Tokyo station will book the tickets for you at the exchange counter (only the Tokyo Sta.) Is this true?

        1. Hi Vianca,

          Please refer the link below:
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/how-to-reserve-seat.html

          The staff at Tokyo station, Shinjuku station, Narita airport station and Haneda airport station can communicate with the travelers in English more than other stations’ staff. The easiest way is booking all when you exchange the pass. You may make the list of the train that you want to take. It is easier to understand which train you want for the staff.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. Thank you for a great post! 🙂
    Is it possible for me to make reservations and/or pick up tickets in Tokyo even if I want to ride trains in other areas? (i.e. JR Kyushu)

  10. I booked a day tour to Shirakawago on 24 Dec and the trip will be end at 21:00pm at Nagoya Station. I want to take Shinkansen to go back to Kyoto. What is the time for last train? And, I want to purchase Kodama ticket. How do I purchase?

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