When you take Shinkansen or Limited Express train, you may book a seat and some trains require you a seat reservation. Though some of the express train have a non-reserved seat, you should book a reserved seat if you can. If you use JR Pass, Hokkaido Rail Pass, JR East Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Sanyo San’in Area Pass and Kyushu Area Pass, these passes cover a reserved seat fee. You should use this benefit. And also I strongly recommend to secure your seat especially 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 December 29 to the first week of January.
I would like to explain you how to get a reserved seat.
- 1 Before you make a reservation
- 2 Where you can
- 3 What kind of information you need
- 4 When you can
- 5 Online booking
- 6 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.
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”. 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, Shizuoka, Gifu, Takayama, it is shown as “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 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 a ticket office, “Midori no Madoguchi” and “Shinkansen and JR Lines Tickets”. But you can book any JR train tickets at either ticket office. This difference does not matter for you in most cases.
What kind of information you need
Please make sure the following information 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 is much easier to make a reservation for the staff and you can save your time. Most 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 on Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen. And overnight train, “Sunrise Izumo” and “Sunrise Seto” still have a few smoking seats. If you really want to have a seat on 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 okay for you 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
You can make an 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. 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 date at the original departure station.
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 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 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. The biggest restriction is a ticket pick up. You must pick up a ticket one day before travel date. You cannot pick up a ticket on the day of travel. Please read Guide (FAQ) before you make a booking.
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.
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 Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka which is not available on JR East Train Reservation. But this online reservation is not available for overnight train, such as Sunrise Seto. I have received so many questions about Nobi Nobi seat of Sunrise Seto/Izumo booking in advance. But you cannot book it even on this Japanese site.
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. According to a local news, JR West will launch an online booking site for overseas tourist in 2019. I still look for the detailed information. When I find it, I will share it with you.
If you want to secure your seat before departure, you have 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 visitors, James in Australia, left a comment. I would like to share this information:
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.