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

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 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 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:

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

e.g.
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.

e.g.
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

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.

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 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.

875 thoughts on “How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains at the station and online”

  1. Hi Takashi,
    I have some questions about reserving tickets using JR pass. I am travelling from Dec 26 to Jan 3. I want reserve tickets as soon as I land (Dec 26), or online if there is other ways. I want to reserve tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto using JR Pass for Dec 29 or 30. Will this be possible, as you say travel during this time is very crowded. Do I have other options?

    Thank you,
    Bryce

    1. Hi Bryce,

      You should take the train on 30th. I expect it is much easier to book a seat than taking the train on 29th.
      Unfortunately there is no ways to book online or in advance before you come to Japan. So you have to book a seat when you exchange the pass.
      If you really want to take the train on 29th, you can try to book a seat for the late train or very early train. I think most of the local travelers will train until the afternoon on 29th.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you for your reply Takashi,
        I have a few more questions. If I am not able to reserve tickets for early morning on the 29th, I was thinking unreserved seats may be possible. What time should I arrive to try to get an unreserved seat if I can’t get reserved tickets for the 29th?

        Thanks again!

  2. Hi Takeshi,

    I have 2 questions, if you can assist it would be great:

    1 – I’m working on ordering a reserved ticket in the JR east system, it seems that i only pay for the reserved seat fee. does this mean i have to pay for the ride itself when arriving to Japan? does the reserve ticket guarantee i will not have an issue when buying the 2nd part of the ticket? (a bit confused).

    2 – I’m planning to order the tickets to an extremely busy time during a a festival (Lake Suwa fireworks festival). my assumption is that if a have a reserved tickets then there should not be any issue with taking the train i ordered (just need to make my way through the people), right? or is there something i’m missing?
    an additional question is if i dont reserve a reserved seat, again, my place on the train is guaranteed?

    Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Gidi,

      It is called the base fare ticket. And you need the reserved seat fee ticket. When you book a seat online, you will buy the reserved seat fee ticket only. And you can buy the base fare ticket after you arrive in Japan. When you pick up the reserved seat ticket, you can buy the base fare ticket on the spot. There is no restrictions.

      If you don’t buy the reserved seat ticket, you may not be able to take the train. You will reserve a seat on the limited express Azusa. This train has only reserved seat ticket. If all seat are booked out, you still may take the train but you have to stand up in the crowded train.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi,

    Can you please advise on the quickest way (train) from Shinjuko to Nakatsugawa ?

    Either i don’t understand Hyperdia that well, or its a complicated transfer (minimum of 2 transfers)

    In addition, it always seems to put me on commute to catch a Shinksen from other stations, the specific ones for Nakatsugawa (Nagoya) don’t leave from Shinjuko?

    We’re planning to catch the train at around 17:30, 18:00 on August 14th.

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Gibi,

      The fastest way is the following:

      Shinjuku (Yamanote line) Shinagawa (Shinkansen) Nagoya (local train) Nakatsugawa

      As you said, at least two transfers are required. There is no Shinkansen stations in Shinjuku. They have to go to Shinagawa to catch it. And there is the limited express train running between Nagoya and Nakatsugawa. But if they leave Shinjuku around 17:30, it’s too late to catch the express train at Nagoya. The arrival time at Nakatsugawa is around 21:30. If they stay in Nakatsugawa, that’s okay. But if they intend to get Magome, it’s too late to catch the bus.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi Takeshi,

    1st, thanks for all the effort you invest in these valuable information posts and answering confused travelers 🙂

    I’m currently building a honeymoon to a friend, they will land in Narita on August 14th at 14:30 and the goal is to bring them to Matsumoto the same day (by using the Asuza trains) in order to attend the “Suwa Lake fireworks festival” on the day after.

    As you can already understand i have 2 concerns:
    1 – they can’t pickup the tickets the day before, thus ti can’t reserve them in advance.
    2 – even though according to your 2019 calendar the 14th is out of the “danger zone” i’m concerned that the fact the festival is the next day will create additional passengers on the train.

    From 17:00 until 18:00 (i dont think they will arrive to Shinjuko before that) i see Asuza leaving every 30 minutes (after 18:00 the next one is at 19:00)

    Do you anticipate they will encounter out of the ordinary pick during this time, do you have a good action plan for that scenario maybe?

    Thanks again,

    Gidi

    1. Hi Gidi,

      I recommend you to choose the bus because you can make a reservation online.
      https://highway-buses.jp/course/matsumoto.php

      The day of the travel is just between the busy dates. But it may be busy. As you think, the fireworks event will be held. And this day is slower than busy dates but it is in summer break. It will be busier than the regular days.

      Shinjuku bus terminal is same location as Shinjuku station. So this choice is much safer.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Thanks for your explaining Takeshi. I didn’t go through to the payment page because I thought it’s actually going to take the whole payment for the seat and I was searching for mention of JR Pass but couldn’t see anything, even on the eki-net home page.

    Just to confirm, the correct search button I should be choosing is 指定席 (and not 乗車券)? Yes, I understood the information on the pick up requirements page.

  6. Hi Takeshi. I registered with Eki-net but when l attempted to reserve a seat it’s asking for payment by credit card. How does one use this with JR Pass?

    1. Hi Simon,

      It’s just a deposit. It will not be charged when you make a booking. But if you don’t pick up a ticket by 21:00 on the day before the travel, it will be charged to your credit card automatically. And you must bring the credit card which you use to make a booking when you pick up a ticket even though you use JR pass. They will find your booking by your credit card. You cannot receive your ticket without your credit card.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Hi, since booking Hayabusa online requires me to pick up 1 day before, and I intend on going to Sapporo on the day of my arrival in Japan. Can I exchange my JR Pass at Narita on the day of my arrival and reserve a seat on the same day to Shin Hakodate?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Lola,

      You can exchange the pass at Narita and book a seat right away. But please check the availability of the seat before you go. In the worst case, all seats may be booked out. Hayabusa to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto requires the seat reservation. You cannot take this train without the reservation.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. I would like to use the new JR West online reservation system because it seems to be the most complete solution for my travel plan. However, I am confused about all the restrictions noted about where tickets can be picked up in the various JR regions as explained in the map here

    https://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/howto/train-reservation/receive/

    My itinerary is
    1) Shinjuku – Kawaguchiko / JR East
    2) Mishima – Kyoto / JR Central
    3) Kyoto – Okayama / JR Central & JR West
    4) Okayama – Kanazawa / JR West
    5) Kanazawa – Tokyo / JR West & JR East

    Arriving at Haneda, is it correct that I will be able to receive the tickets at the JR East travel centre for 1) and 5) but not the others? Will JR East let me collect the ticket for entire Kanazawa to Tokyo section?

    I would then have to collect 2) and 3) at Tokyo or Shinagawa stations for the JR Central sections? How about the part of 3) that is on the JR West Sanyo Shinkansen portion?

    And what about 4) which is entirely in the JR West area? Is there any ability to collect the reserved ticket in the Tokyo area?

    This is all very confusing. Appreciate your help. To clarify, we won’t be using a Japan Rail pass.

    I basically just want to collect all my tickets immediately after arriving at Haneda at a convenient single location within the Tokyo area (Haneda, Tokyo or Shinagawa) but this seems almost impossible.

    Thank you
    Manny

    1. Hi Manny,

      If you reserve your ticket through JR West reservation site, you can pick up all 5 tickets at JR East Travel Center Haneda.
      By the way, you cannot book Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko on JR West reservation site. You cannot find this station on this reservation site. Because Kawaguchiko is not on JR line and Otsuki to Kawaguchiko is Fuji Kyuko railway segment. You may book Shinjuku to Otsuki when you reserve your ticket. And when you pick up a ticket, you may try to change Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko. You may be able to change it.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you for the quick response. I am happy to use the JR East website to make the reservation for the Fuji Excursion train. What I really want to avoid is having to visit different stations to pick up the tickets for all the online reservations.

        It’s a shame the JR West website is not clearer about this. It gives the impression specific tickets are only available for pickup from specific stations

  9. Hi Takeshi

    I will arrive NET on 6/6/2019 with my family (3 pax) staying at Shibuya. On 8 June I will leave for Shin Osaka prefer Shinkansen reserved seats. What stations do I go & how to book tickets

  10. Greetings: We will be getting to Japan on July 14th and we bought the 14 day JR pass, we want to use it for the first time on the 19th so it lasts us the following 2 weeks, should we make the exchange the moment we get to Narita Airport or should we wait? Also, would it be possible to book the first train that we want to board, that would be the over night from Tokyo to Kyoto on that same day we arrive from Buenos Aires? Thank you so much for your help in advance!

    1. Hi Agustín,

      It is up to you. You may exchange the pass when you get Narita on 14th. Even though you will not start using it on 14th, you can exchange the pass there. When you exchange the pass, you will be asked when you want to start using it. So you can tell that you want to start using it on 19th.

      Once you exchanged the pass, you can start to book a seat. So if you really want to get a seat on the first train to Kyoto, I recommend you to exchange the pass at Narita on arrival day.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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