How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains at the station and online

Timetable and reservation
Midori no Madoguchi (reservation window) and ticket window at Central Exit concourse. (C) JP Rail
Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.
The Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen Hayabusa has only a reserved seat car. You cannot take this train without a seat reservation.

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

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

Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)

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.

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, 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 ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.

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.
  • Passport
    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.

Online booking

Japan Rail Pass official site

If you buy the JR Pass at the official site, you can make a booking through this website.

Japan Rail Pass official reservation site

Japan Rail Pass official reservation 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.

Eki-net (えきねっと)

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.


  1. Rex Lee says:

    Dear JR,

    How can I download the fully JR time table? I wonder to print hard copy to easily check and
    reserve it when I visit Japan,thanks.

    Rex Lee

  2. REX LEE says:

    I will visit Japan in JAN/E to FEB/B of 2012 ,and I also plan to buy JR PASS .I have one question about reservation seat issue . Do I need to reserve all seat by one time ? Or I can reserve every seat just base on daily inquiry ,please advise it ,thanks


    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of
      JPRail says:

      Hi Rex,
      No. You don’t need to. After you get the actual pass, you can make a reservation anytime.
      Takeshi / JP Rail

  3. Australia says:

    Hello! Would it be possible to book the Akebono overnight train from Ueno to Aomori online? I’m travelling in end november. Is it a busy period? Will there be any places left on the train? Thank you!

    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of
      JPRail says:

      Hi Australia,
      No, you cannot. Please see this post.
      It is not busy period. But I recommend you to make a reservation ASAP.
      Takeshi / JP Rail

  4. Caren says:

    I have a JR pass. I want to take the Twilight Express from Osaka. But I know that tickets are already being sold for when I am going, and I am worried that I won’t be able to take it. I am wondering if my friend from Japan can buy/reserve tickets, but I can still use my JR pass to pay the basic rate? Is there any way that I can use my pass, but reserve the three required seats now?

    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of
      JPRail says:

      Hello Caren,
      You cannot ask your friend to reserve a ticket. Because you need to show your actual pass when you reserve a ticket.
      As long as you use Japan Rail Pass, the only way to reserve it is using an authorized travel agent. You may ask the agent where you got JR pass.
      Twilight Express is one of most popular train in Japan. If you really want to take this train, I strongly recommend to reserve a ticket ASAP. Especially from Osaka to Sapporo train is busier than Sapporo departure.
      I’m sorry, but that’s all I can say…
      Takeshi / JP Rail

  5. seannopak25
    sean says:

    do u know how early one can buy the pass in advance? im thinking december 6 – 13 and mine will look like this

    day 1 osaka – doton buri ( arrive late from kix )
    day 2 osaka – aquarium
    day 3 kobe port an maritime museum and around
    day 4 tokyo and come back same day
    day 5 sun tory museum
    day 6 kyoto – gion
    day 7 flight lave at 9:00 am on kix

    should i even get a pass? thanks

    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of
      JPRail says:

      Hi Sean,
      You can buy an exchange order now. Please refer the following link
      The exchange order must be turned within three month. So you can buy it now.

      And I check your itinerary. I recommend you to buy a pass. Because you don’t need to buy a ticket whenever you take a JR trains. It will be easier and comfortable. But if you take a limousine bus between downtown Osaka and KIX, and take a private lines or subways a lot for exploring Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto, JR pass is not only your choice. The cost is not much different between Japan Rail Pass and a single ticket.

      Takeshi / JP Rail

  6. Jonathan Ayre
    JAyre says:

    For people who have time in advance, I recommend visiting the hyperdia website. It’s a very good database of timetables in Japan and can find almost any route you wish to take by train or plane. Before I go to Japan, to make the best of the pass, I plan all my major rail travel in advance and book it all when I exchange the pass. I use a simple format on paper that I can give to the staff (usually at View Plaza at Ueno because of the convenience of Keisei Skyliner from the Airport) that hasn’t failed me yet:

    Date (YYYY/MM/DD) / Dep. Station – Arr. Station / Service / Dep Time – Arr. Time

    It takes a little while to do it all when you arrive but it saves heaps of time in the long run to come in upfront, and I’m sure its better for the staff when you know exactly what trains you wish to book and have it all on paper. Also, if you wish to use sleeper trains, you should try to give yourself as much time as possible to reserve tickets – You can’t expect to get on (especially Twilight Express and Cassiopeia) and should have the capacity to make back-up accommodation arrangements.

    As mentioned in the post, you can also book online for anticipated JR Pass or JR East Pass on select JR East services but the private lines (Tobu Nikko Line and the Hokuetsu Kyuko Line) you can only book segments operated by JR East, I think.

  7. jj says:

    Hi JPRail,

    Below is my itinerary,

    Day 1 – Tokyo
    Day 2 – Tokyo
    Day 3 – Kyoto
    Day 4 – Hakodate
    Day 5 – Sapporo
    Day 6 – Furano
    Day 7 – Asahikawa
    Day 8 – Sapporo
    Day 9-13 – Tokyo

    I wonder how many time I need reserve the ticket, is it everytime before I depart from each station?
    Let’s say from Kyoto to Hakodate for train Hikari, Hayate and Hakucho.

    • Takeshi Shimomura, Author of
      JPRail says:

      Hello JJ,
      My answers are following:

      Day 2 – Tokyo
      Hikari (Tokyo-Kyoto)
      Day 3 – Kyoto
      Hikari (Kyoto-Tokyo)
      Hayate (Kyoto-Shin Aomori)
      Super Hakucho (Shin Aomori-Hakodate)
      Day 4 – Hakodate
      Super Hokuto (Hakodate-Sapporo)
      Day 5 – Sapporo
      Super Kamui (Sapporo-Takikawa)
      *You need to take local train from takikawa to furano.
      Day 6 – Furano
      Super Kamui (Takikawa-Asahikawa)
      Day 7 – Asahikawa
      Super Kamui (Asahikawa-Sapporo)
      Day 8 – Sapporo
      Super Hokuto (Sapporo-Hakodate)
      Super Hakucho (Hakodate-Shin Aomori)
      Hayate (Shin Aomori-Tokyo)
      Day 9-13 – Tokyo

      You can make all reservation at same place. For example, you can complete your reservation when you get the pass.

      Takeshi / JP Rail

  8. Chris says:

    My Niece will be studying abroad in Fukuoka. She would like to fly into Tokyo and take the train to Fukuoka. Can anyone please advise on how to do this?

    I found the following info: Tokaido Shinkansen is the oldest and busiest Shinkasen line and it is operated between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. Sanyo Shinkansen is operated between Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima and Hakata (Fukuoka). Both lines are connected each other. Some trains go through from Tokyo to Hakata.

    Does this mean she can take a train from Tokyo straight to Hakata (Fukuoka) with 3 stops in between? Where can I find a route map online of how this works along with a timetable of the route and the costs?

    I need to book her flight into Tokyo and would like to get her on a connecting train to Fukuoka.


    A Grateful Aunt!

  9. lastmockingbird
    dill says:

    is it possible to reserve for a seat in Inaho Limited Express online?

  10. Adelaide says:

    Is it possible to reserve the Nobinobi seats online? I see that I can reserve a seat for the Hamanasu train on the JR Hokkaido website, but it only gives me choices for Sleeper B, Reserved seat, and Free seat. There was no specification for Nobinobi or Dream car. So if I buy the ticket online, I wouldn’t know where the seat will be? I didn’t actually go through the reservation because I’m afraid I will be charged for cancellation, so maybe there is a final choice of seats in the end? It would be really nice if I can reserve it online as it’s so hard to get!

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