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

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.

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 Pass and single ticket users. You can book your seat for these following trains only.

This site offer the seat reservation for the trains that operate in JR East area. So you CANNOT make a reservation for Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto or Osaka). And also there are some restriction. 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 told 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. (JRおでかけネット)

This way is also added by my reader, Tak. This is reservation call center by JR West. Unfortunately this is Japanese speakers only. I don’t think everyone can use this service. But some readers have a contact in Japan. So I would like to share this information with you.

I have received a reply from JR West. The answer is as follows. “Once you arrive Japan and exchange the voucher to Japan Rail Pass, it is possible to make reservation at our call center. However, you have to collect the ticket within 8 days. (If your departure date is within 9 days, you have to collect 2 days before.) If you don’t collect it, your reservation is automatically cancelled.
This service is limited for the trains departing and arriving in JR West, Kyushu, Shiko area. ” (Well, that’s official answer, but I think you would be able to ring JR West and make reservation from your country even before exchange to JR pass. They cannot see your pass on the phone, and you’ll only need it at the station when collecting the ticket. However, the problem is you have to collect it within 9 days after reservation is made!)

According to the website, there are two ways to reserve a ticket.
1. At call center, make reservation only. Payment is made on collecting the ticket at a JR West, Shikoku and Kyushu stations.
2. At call center, make reservation and pay by credit card on the phone.

So my understanding is that if you want to reserve Hamanasu carpet, Akebono Gronto or Sunrise nobi nobi at 10am, 1 month before, you will need to pay for Limited Express surcharge + reservation fee (指定席特急券) or Express surcharge + reservation fee 指定席急行券.

I agree with Tak. Even though Japan Rail Pass covers surcharge and reservation fee, you need to pay. Because this reservation call center is basically for common users. They don’t take any requests without pay. But if you have someone who speak Japanese and you really want to secure your seat, this way of booking may work for you. However this service does not accept the person who want to book reservation for other person. If you ask your friend to book a ticket for you, your friend has to pretend to be you. And you have to provide your credit card information to you. It is very sensitive and not very recommended way.

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.

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

  1. Hi Takeshi San—

    We arrive in Narita airport at 15:40pm. We plan to pick up our rail pass at Narita before leaving.

    We would like to take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station on the Narita Express 40, leaving at 17:16 and arriving 18:18 (looks like this is the earliest direct?)

    We want to head directly to Kyoto, on the following train: SHINKANSEN HIKARI 527, departing at 18:33 and arriving at 21:11.

    We had a few questions:
    1) We are curious if there is a way to make reservations for either of these tickets prior to leaving for Japan since we will be taking the trains the day we arrive and will be arriving in Kyoto later in the evening. I saw that we can make reservations for JR East travel, but I am not sure if that applies to these tickets. Help?

    2) Also, do we need to pad in more time between the Narita Express to the Shinkansen at Tokyo Station?

    Thank you so much for your help,


    1. Hi Jenni san,

      1. JR East side does not cover Shinkansen to Kyoto. Narita Express is covered but you need to pick up a ticket day before, so you cannot use this site either. If you travel in the end of December, you will have a big trouble. But if you travel other than these dates, it’s not hard to book a seat for Narita Express and Shinkansen.

      2. If you book a seat for Shinkansen at Narita airport station, 15 minutes is okay to change trains in Tokyo station.


      Takeshi /

  2. Hi Takeshi-san

    I am arriving at HND airport on Dec 31 6:30pm which means the JR office is closed. I need to take the train to Hamamatsucho to exchange my ticket, but I want to leave for Kyoto on the same day. My friend told me if I get on at Tokyo station it’s possible to get a seat in the unreserved carriage. Should I risk having to stand for 3 hours or stay one night in Tokyo and take the train the next day?

    Should I do Tokyo first and then Kyoto later? Also do you think 4 days in Kyoto is enough? Plus I would be making a day trip into Himeji/Kobe as well during that time.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Carmen san,

      First of all, if you intend to use JR pass, you need to go to Tokyo station anyway. It’s only place to exchange the pass on arrival day.

      If you don’t use JR pass, go to Tokyo, and it’s easier to get a seat in non reserve car. Please see the link below:

      But if I were you, I will stay in Tokyo on arrival day. Because you will spend at least one hour to clear custom and immigration. And then move to Tokyo or other stations in downtown Tokyo. It will be 20:00 to 20:30.

      The last train to Kyoto is 21:23 departure. If you use JR pass, you can take Hikari or Kodama. That means the last one is 20:03.

      If your flight is late, you cannot make it. It’s a bit risky, isn’t it?


      Takeshi /

      1. Hi Takeshi-san,

        Thank you for the information. Will customs really take that long? Last time it took me 20mins to clear customs and 30mins to get to tokyo station. But then it is New Year’s Eve when I arrive this time and I also might get lost in the subway. Is there usually a line at the JR office to exchange?

        Let’s say the best case scenario happens, when do you expect me to arrive at Tokyo station?

        1. Hi Carmen san,

          In my experience, I usually spend less than 30 minutes. But I have spent 1.5 hours before. So it’s hard to say.
          New Year’s Eve is not such a busy day. Don’t worry about it. Especially in late night, it’s very quiet except temple and shrines. Long distance train, such as Shinkansen is slow.


          Takeshi /

  3. Hi Takeshi-san
    We will be arriving in Haneda Airport on 18 Dec 0940h and will be heading to Nozawa Onsen (Iiyama) after that. I am thinking of getting the Shinkansen tickets for Green Car. Is it possible to purchase all the tickets online from Haneda to Iiyama or I have to purchase the rail & Shinkansen tickets separately? Kindly advise. Thank you!

    1. Hi Takeshi-san,
      Is it possible for me to reserve the seats before buying the tickets? I read on JR East website that tickets have to be collected a day before departure. This means that I cannot puchase any online ticket/ pass? Please advise. Thank you.

  4. Hi Takeshi-san,

    I’ll be arriving in Nagoya on Nov 19, can I already exchange the JR Pass voucher even if we’ll start using it when we travel to Tokyo on Nov 23? Or will it be better to exchange it on Nov 23?

    If we can exchange it on Nov 19, can I already do the reservation for the shinkansen trip to Tokyo? Can I also do the reservation to my other shinkansen trips like Tokyo to Hakodate on Nov 24?

  5. Hi Takeshi San,

    We will be arriving at Narita airport, Terminal 2 at 5.30pm on 29 November. By the time we go through immigration and customs, pick up baggage, it’ll be around 6.30pm. Then, we will be heading to Exchange Office for our 7 Days JR Pass.

    We plan to take the Narita Express to Shinagawa and catch the Hikari Shinkansen from Shinagawa to Nagoya on the same day of arrival Tokyo. We can only book the seats right after we arrive in Japan. Do you think we can make it?

    I have checked the last 2 Hikari Shinkansen to Nagoya as follows:
    Hikari 537 Dep 21:37 Arr: 23:24
    Hikari 539 Dep 22:07 Arr: 23:49

    Could you please also advise if our itinerary is ok? Thanks.

    29 Nov – Arrive Narita Airport at 5.30pm to Nagoya
    30 Nov – Nagoya tour
    01 Dec – Kanazawa and Shirakawago Day trip
    02 Dec – Osaka tour
    03 Dec – Kyoto tour
    04 Dec – Nara and Osaka tour
    05 Dec – Osaka to Tokyo
    06 – 08 Dec – Tokyo
    09 Dec – Back

    Due to time constraints, should we do Kanazawa and Shirakawago or Takayama and Shirakawago as this is our first time there?

    Am I right that 29 Nov to 5 Dec (Day 1 to Day 7) will be covered by JR pass including Narita Express except Nohi bus to Shirakawago and some local trains/subways/buses that are not run by JR? Could we make an online reservation for Nohi bus?

    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Lee san,

      I usually try to get Narita Express to Tokyo 2 hours after departure time. Please see the link below:

      So your choice will be Narita Express 48 (19:12/20:23) or 50 (19:46/21:00). So you can catch Hikari earlier.

      But I always got the earlier connections. Of course I have arrived at Narita many times. I sometimes could custom, immigration and baggage pick up in 45 minutes. You may be able to take even earlier Narita Express, such as 46. Anyway you can be optimistic.

      Your itinerary is okay. You can use JR pass 7 days from day 1 to 7 as you think.

      I recommend Takayama and Shirakawago more than Kanazawa and Shirakawago. Takayama is smaller than Kanazawa and closer to Shirakawago. It’s easier for day trip from Nagoya.

      You have understood the coverage of JR pass correctly. You can make a booking for Nohi bus in the link below:


      Takeshi /

  6. Hi, we will be landing at Haneda airport October 24, where we will change our JR Pass Exchange for the JR Pass. We plan to take shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka October 26, and them take return trip by shinkansen again from Osaka to Tokyo October 29. Can I make seat reservations for the trip from Osaka to Tokyo at a midori no madoguchi in Tokyo? Or can I only reserve these seats when I get to Osaka?

    1. Hi AnjB,

      You can book all bookings at once. Of course you can book for Osaka to Tokyo in Tokyo. You can book when you exchange the pass if you want. Even if you will not start using the pass on arrival day, you can use book. As long as you exchange the pass and get an actual pass, you can start booking right after that.


      Takeshi /

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