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.

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.

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

  1. Hi Yves. Yes, as I said there are non-reserved seat carriages so if you go to the correct part of the platform some time before the train is due to depart you should hopefully be able to get on, and possibly get a seat too. But it’s also possible you may have to stand. Just go early and get into Oita early so you can enjoy the fanzones for a while. Have a great time.

  2. Hi Yves, I went to the Wales v Fiji game in Oita. With the bus from the fanzone and then walk it takes about 40mins to the Stadium, so it would definitely be good to be at Oita Station by 15.00 so you are not rushing for the kickoff. Having said that, there are two good fanzones, one by World Rugby, and one by Oita City on opposite sides of the station so I would encourage you depending on your plans and flexibility to get to Oita earlier.

    Ok, that means by Takeshi’s info you can’t make a reserved seat reservation, but the very nice limited expresses which I used, like the Sonic and Nichirin do also have about half the carriages with unreserved seating so check the LED display for which carriages (pretty sure it was 3 or 4 to 6 on my trains and if you search the above trains on this website I think Takeshi gives a breakdown of the carriages for them). Look for the marking of that train and carriage number on the platform and queue. Hopefully you can be close to the front of the queue to have a chance to get a seat.

    The fastest way is to get the Shinkansen to Kokura then switch to Sonic or Nichirin but there is I think a high chance you will have to stand between Kokura and Oita. Taking the Sonic for example from Hakata takes 30mins longer but getting to Hakata early and taking that train from its point of origin may give you a better chance of getting a seat in an unreserved seating carriage. Otherwise if you don’t mind standing for 80mins you can take a chance, and just catch one of the above limited expresses from Kokura. Who knows, you might still get lucky with a seat.

    Don’t forget about getting back either. It’s great that between the Sonic and Nichirin, there are pretty regular expresses between Oita and Kokura/Hakata.

    Finally, I thought it’s quite a scenic line between Kokura and Oita. Some nice inland rural scenery earlier on, then you see the river mouths opening to the ocean at Nakatsu and other towns, and finally the sea on the final part (though before Beppu it’s often behind hotels and apartments).

    1. Also you could take the Shinkansen to Kokura making sure to arrive plenty of time before the next Nichirin Express departs. And then get on the platform early and queue for the Nichirin instead of the Sonic. Again as the Nichirin starts from Kokura, you will be taking a train from its origin so possibly have a better chance to get a seat in one of the unreserved carriages.

      I used the Sonic on game day, Beppu to Oita, and as usual there were still some unreserved carriages. JR Kyushu also put on some extra limited express trains on the game day. Looking at Hyperdia, they also include unreserved seat carriages.

      1. Hi SimonThank you so much for your comment! I booked a train back but havent figured out how to get to Oita. I wanna go there Saturday early in the morning. I kinda gave up organising it online and decided to organise it when I arrive on Friday. I should make my way somehow to Oita, what do you think?

        Thank you so much,
        Yves

  3. I will be in Japan for a Rugby Game on Oct 19th.
    I tried to organise a transfer from Fukuoka to Oita (and back) with JR Kyushu – unfortunately I failed. Is there any way I can book a seat in advance ?

    Thx
    Yves

    1. Hi Yves,

      Actually all trains that arrive in Oita before 14:30 are completely booked out. There are still seats available on the train which arrive in Oita at 15:00 or later. If you use Northern Kyushu Rail Pass, you can book a seat with some extra fee:
      http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/railpass/railpass.html

      You can get the worth of 3-day pass by the round trip between Hakata and Oita.

      This is only way to book in advance.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

    2. Hi Yves, we are arriving on Friday and will be looking to do the same trip – have you found a way to get there and back? Could a person hire a car?

      1. Hi Vera

        I have booked a train ticket back (Oita to Fukuoka) late at night but haven’t figured out yet how to get to Oita from Fukuoka. How many persons are you?

        Kind regards
        Yves

          1. Vera, see my comment to Yves. Unless JR Kyushu made a special change for the game on the 19th to make all carriages reserved seating, half of the carriages on the Sonic or Nichirin Limited Expresses are unreserved seating, and with two expresses between Oita and Kokura/Hakata it means there are pretty regular express trains (between 18 and 32 min intervals) leaving from Oita. Find the right place on the platform and queue. If you are back in tbe queue and won’t get a seat, you can consider to not get on and instead be towards the front of the queue for the next express.

            Perhaps you could target Sonic 58 at 20.12 and if you don’t get on or can’t get a seat you only have to wait 18mins until 20.37 for Sonic 86. Just remember to get to the station early. And from my experience at an earlier game it takes ages (close to 1hr I thought) to get back to the station from the stadium.

  4. I will be travelling for one day, from Uwajima,Ehime to Kani station, which requires changing trains at Okayama Station and Nagoya Station.Trains are punctual and I can walk fast, but is it reasonable to make connections in 10-15 minutes, or should I schedule more time between trains? I hope to have reserved seats for such a long trip.

    Thank you

  5. Hi, I wish to travel by train from Kobe to Kyoto on the 27th September, and then travel by train on the 28th from Kyoto to Osaka Kansai Airport. Can you please advise on how to book prior to my travel, I fly to Tokyo on the 19th September. Thanks for your kind help.

    1. Hi Philip,

      For the trip from Kobe to Kyoto, you don’t need to book a seat. This segment is the urban commute line. Special rapid train runs every 15 minutes. You cannot book a seat anyway.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/rapid-service/special-rapid-service.html

      You can take the limited express Haruka from Kyoto to Kansai.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/kansai-airport-limited-express-haruka.html

      You can book a seat at any major JR stations throughout Japan. Of course you can do it at the major stations in Tokyo.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takeshi,

    I intend to purchase a 14 days JR Pass and reserve the Sunrise Seto from Osaka to Tokyo. I have a friend who lives in Japan and is able to help us do the reservation a month before our arrival. However, we are unsure about what is required to be presented for the reservation to be made.

    Please advise.

    Thank you,
    Ameria

    1. Hi Ameria,

      If you want to book a space for the compartment (other than Nobi Nobi seat), you can ask your friend in Japan to book the space. He/She doesn’t need anything to show when he/she buy a ticket. He/She can go to the reservation window in any major JR stations to buy a ticket. He/She has to buy only the compartment ticket. The base fare ticket is not required because JR Pass covers this portion. He/She doesn’t need to buy the base fare ticket at same time.

      If you want to book a space for Nobi Nobi seat, you cannot ask him/her to book it. This is covered by JR pass but the actual JR pass is required to get the space for Nobi Nobi seat. You cannot do it before you exchange the actual pass. You have to do it after you arrive in Japan.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

    2. Hi Ameria, if you get the JR Pass and only need the nobi-nobi seats on the Sunrise train, you can get your friend in Japan to register you on the Japanese language site Eki-net.

      Then when it is 10.00am Japan time one month before your train, the friend can log into your Eki-net account and choosing the reserved seating option, can search for nobinobi seating, and if available it can now be chosen, andva seat reservation made.

      I was able to do a nobinobi seat reservation on Eki-net last week. I already advised Takeshi that I was able to do it.

      Otherwise, for other compartment types, as Takeshi says, you can get your friend to go to the counter at the station. I am taking the Sunrise Train twice, and for my second trip I chose, as Takeshi recommends, to go in the Single Compartment, and my Japanese friend went to the station and bought that for me.

      1. Simon
        Great news.
        Please tell me if i am right.
        it is about nobi nobi seat on sunrise izumo
        Suppose i intend to use a jr pass for travelling between tokyo and izumo ( but i’ll buy the jr pass only one week before going to japan).
        You can create a personal account for me on eki-net ( adress and phone in japan)
        then when it is D-30 at 10 am Tokyo time ( the same process as for purchase ghibli museum tickets) you connect with my account id on eki-net and then you can check wether there are nobi seats on that D day or not, and in the case there are still some nobi nobi seats you can book it.
        right ?
        Is there something to pay online on eki-net website at that moment ?
        Then once in Japan, do i have to go to “midori no madoguchi” and make a reservation ?
        or is it ok with the booking made on my account ?
        thank you for your answer.

        oliver

        1. Hi Oliver, thanks for your message. Sorry for my late reply. I just returned from my Japan trip. Unfortunately I cannot create customer accounts at Ekinet for people on this forum. I was only able to do so myself because I have studied Japanese and previously lived in Japan for several years. If you want to create an Ekinet account you will either need to know Japanese yourself or have an acquaintance who does. Sorry again.

          The other thing is you are only purchasing your JR Pass one week before travel. I purchased mine a little more than one month before I travelled and I already created an account at Eki-net. That meant I was able to reserve a nobinobi seat as soon as they were released for sale.

          Whereas in your case, the seats will already have been on sale for three weeks before you even buy your JR Pass. Also I took the Sunrise Izumo in nobonobi seat from the probably less popular Sanin Area towards Tokyo and it was still sold out. And you plan to take it from Tokyo.

          If you want, I am happy to check availability for you if you tell me the date and destination. I can check 2-3 times before you buy the JR Pass so you know if there is still availability. If the nobinobi seats get sold out then at least you know you have to make another plan.

  7. Greetings Takeshi,
    I’d like to take the bullet train from Shinjuku to Nikko. (I know that only part of the journey will be on the train). I’d like to reserve round trip seats for myself and 2 children. We will not be buying a pass because this is our only trip and didn’t think we needed them. How do I make the reservation?
    Thank you very much,
    Niago

  8. Hi Takeshi…I have previously sought your advice last month on making a reservation online for Hakodate and you have suggested making a reservation online. Thank you. I am going to book the first leg from Tokyo to shin-Hakodate (30 days before the actual travel date September 30) However I CANNOT find the following:-
    1, Shin hakodate to hakodate
    2, Hakodate to Sapporo and return
    3, Hakodate to Nagano.
    I have tried all lines many times and cannot find anything with the JR Pass (with an earlier travel date) PLEASE HELP

    1. Hi MRS.R.

      I could find Hakodate to/from Sapporo in the following page:
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/JRTicket/SeatReservation/RouteSearch.aspx

      But you don’t need to book a seat for Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Hakodate because it is an ordinary train. You cannot book a seat.

      You have to book a separately for Hakodate to Nagano. You have to search the route, Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen (Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Omiya) and Hokuriku Shinkansen (Omiya to Nagano).

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. Hey Takeshi,

    Do you know if tourists are allowed to use Eki-net to buy tickets? I don’t have a JR Pass, but I wanted to buy a single ticket from Matsumoto to Tokyo for Sept. 3, 2019 on Azura (depart at 8:00AM). I read on the Matsumoto Tourism website (https://visitmatsumoto.com/en/access) that Eki-net has a discounted price of ¥4,350 instead of the usual ¥6500. Also, it seems that to register as a member of Eki-net, you need a Japanese address. Should I just write down my Japan hotel address?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Brendan,

      You have to register Eki-net in Japanese website. And when you register, you have to give them the address and the phone number in Japan. If you can give these info, you can do. Otherwise you can’t unfortunately.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hey Brendan. I recently registered on Eki-net. I used my old address from when I lived in Japan and it was fine. I think you can put in any address as long as the system sees it as a valid one. The system does not ask for any verification of the address you put in. So maybe you could put in the address of the first hotel will you stay at for example.

  10. Hi Takeshi,

    If i would like to order a train leaving at 13:00, will it be available at 13:00 a month before or at 10:00 a month before?

    Thank you

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