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. Hello Takehi shan,
    Hope you’re having a great week! Could you please help me with the following questions as I could not find information online? My friends and I are traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo on December 31st and we decided not to purchase de JR Pass because it won’t be financially worth it for us.
    1) Since we’re each going to have one small luggage and one person is going to carry a 15kg luggage, would it be better to buy reserved train seats? From what I have heard, they have more space between seats, right? Also, because it is peak season, it would be safer to guarantee our seats buying reserved seats, correct?
    2) Where can I buy the train tickets online? Is the website shinkansen-ticket. com safe? Sorry, I really am lost!
    3) How do I reserve the seats for the tickets that I’ve bought? I am worried because I read that close to new year’s eve all shops and etc are closed, and that I cannot reserve seats online?

    Thanks in advance!

    Leonard

    1. Hi Leonard san,

      1. Actually the space is completely same at reserved and non reserved seat. You will take Nozomi on the Tokaido Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo. The seat layout is 2+3 and leg space is same in reserved and non reserved. Please see the link below:
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-tokai/nagoya-toyohashi/what-is-shinkansen-bullet-train.html#Ordinary_class_seat_reserved_and_non_reserved

      2. I have no idea about shinkansen-ticket.com at all. I have never seen that before. I usually recommend using Smart EX if this is available in your country.
      https://smart-ex.jp/en/index.html
      Otherwise you may book a seat at the ticket window in any major JR stations.

      Usually it’s not hard to book a seat for the train which depart in the late afternoon on 31st December. The peak period is 29th and 30th. On 31st in the morning, the train is still busy but it’s much easier than 29th and 30th. Most residents in Japan want to go back to hometown by 31st to settle. And they want to share the time with family in New Year’s Eve. Many of them do not want to move in the last minutes.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hello Takeshi-san,
    My trip starts from 25 Nov to 8 De., I arrive at Kansai Airport at 8 am 25 Nov. I plan to use 14-day JR Pass National wide and would like to turn exchange order to actual JR Pass in the Kansai Airport and start using it to go Hakodate (Hokkaido) as schedule below:
    1/ Kansai-Airport Station to Shin-Osaka Station:
    Haruka 10 Limited Express Kyoto: 9.16 am – 50mins – 10.06 am
    2/ Shin-Osaka Station to Tokyo Station:
    Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Nozomi: 10.33 am- 2h30m -12.57 am
    3/ Tokyo Station to Shin-Hakodate-Hotoku Station
    Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen: 1.20pm – 3h23m – 5.47pm

    However, the route from Tokyo to Hakodate must be reserved in advance. Is it okay if I make a reservation just about 4 hours prior train’s departure time when I active JR Pass at Kansai Airport? Or must I change my schedule to go to Hakodate in the next day to make sure the seat can be available to reserve?
    Thank you so much for your supports,
    Regards,
    Thuy Anh Nguyen,

    1. Hi Thuy Anh Nguyen san,

      First of all, I don’t think you can get Haruka 10 at 9:16. You will spend about 2 hours to complete everything. Please expect to take one hour later train connection.

      And also Nozomi from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo is not covered by JR pass. You have to take Hikari to get Tokyo.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-tokai/nagoya-toyohashi/what-is-shinkansen-bullet-train.html

      Nobody guarantee it but usually you can get a seat for Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto on arrival day. There are lots of trains running. But you may not be able to take the train which you want. You may have to take the later one and your arrival time may be later than your plan. If you really want to see the availability, juse use JR East online reservation. You cannot book a seat these because you have to pick up a ticket one day before in Tokyo area. But you can see the availability.
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takashi san,

    My family of 4 including 2 teenagers will be travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto on 16th December 2019.
    As such, I will be using the ‘Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Reservation’ App to book the train tickets in advance. May I know can we use this app to choose the seat and the train car we desire?

    Thank you.
    Adeline

  4. Dear Takashi san,
    My family of 4 will be heading to Gala Yuzawa Ski resort on 15 December and return on 16 December 2019.
    Can we purchase the JR Tokyo Wide Pass online prior to our arrival in Tokyo?
    How do we pick up the JR Tokyo Pass when we are in Tokyo?
    Can we pick up in advance?
    For this pass, can we make an online reservation/booking of the seats in advance?
    If not, which station shall we go to make a seat reservation in advance?
    As our plan to Gala Yuzawa is fixed, so we prefer to settle all tickets prior to our arrival.
    Does JTB Singapore provides this JR Tokyo Wide Pass?
    Great Thanks and shall hear from your advise.

    1. Hi Veron san,

      Tokyo Wide Pass is not sold online and outside Japan. You have to purchase it after you arrive in Japan. But you can book a train online.
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      You have to put your credit card info but it won’t be charged. You have to pick up a ticket by 21:00 one day before travel day. And you can puchase Tokyo Wide Pass in advance. You can decide which day you want to start using it when you buy Tokyo Wide Pass. You can pick up online reservation ticket at same time and it is free of charge.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hello Takeshi-san,

    My wife and I with 4 children will be flying from Philippines to Nagoya on Dec 25, then onto Osaka on Dec 26, and

    then start using a 7-day JR Pass from Dec 27 to Jan 2.

    The trains we will be taking are:

    Dec 27
    Shin-Osaka to Kanazawa
    (Ltd Exp Thunderbird 1, 6:30am, 2h43, 9:13am)
    Kanazawa to Omiya
    (Kagayaki 516, 7:18pm, 2h12, 9:30pm)
    Omiya to Sendai
    (Hayabusa 41, 10pm, 1h07, 11:07pm)
    Sendai to Hon-Shiogama
    (Senseki->Higashishiogama, 11:21pm, 0h29, 11:50pm)

    Dec 28
    Matsushima to Sendai
    (Senseki->Aobadori, 10:50am, 0h39, 11:29am)
    Sendai to Shirioshizao
    (Yamabiko 138, 11:44am, 0h13, 11:57am)
    Shirioshizao to Sendai
    (Yamabiko 141, 3:50pm, 0h14, 4:04pm)
    Sendai to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto
    (Hayabusa 27, 4:54pm, 2h53, 7:47pm)
    Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Sapporo
    (Ltd Exp Super Hokuto 23, 8:13pm, 3h27, 11:40pm)

    Dec 29
    Day trip to Asahikawa/Furano/Biei

    Dec 30
    Day trip to Otaru

    Dec 31
    Day trip to ???
    -> Can you suggest worth it spots to visit from Sapporo?

    Jan 1
    Sapporo to Noboribetsu
    (Ltd Exp Super Hokuto 6, 8:39am, 1h12, 9:51am)
    Noboribetsu to Hakodate
    (LE Super Hokuto 14, 2:42pm, 2h28, 5:10pm)

    Jan 2
    Hakodate to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto
    (Hakodate Liner, 6:08pm, 0h22, 6:08pm)
    Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Tokyo
    (Hayabusa 42, 6:40pm, 4h24, 11:04pm)

    My questions/comments are:

    1) Please go over my list and help me double check if I have everything correct;

    2) Do you have any suggestions to improve the schedule?

    3a) Since the Shin-Osaka to Kanazawa train cannot be reserved using the JR East online reservation, can I ask my

    brother (who can read/write Nihongo) to reserve for me in Eki-Net?

    3b) To be able to reserve on Tokaido Line, my understanding is he needs to first register for an Eki-Net account.

    Can he do this even if he DOES NOT live in Japan?

    4a) My bigger problem is I start using JR Pass on Dec 27, but we only arrive JR East area (Kanazawa) on Dec 27

    also. I just found out I cannot get the reserved tickets the day before from NAGOYA or OSAKA. Do you know of a workaround for this problem?

    4b) I have Japanese friend living in Kawasaki, can he claim all the tickets I reserved even if he DOES NOT have the

    JR passes with him?

    4c) I may have a friend visiting Tokyo before we go on Dec 25. If I give her all the passports of my family, can she claim all our 7-day JR Passes? So that she can also claim all the reserved train tickets.

    5) In case there is no way to claim the advanced online reservations because my trip starts in Osaka, can I go first thing morning of Dec 26 and claim my JR Pass and make reservations for my Dec 27 train rides? Do you think those train we need for Dec 27 will be full by Dec 26? If yes, can we still go aboard even without seats? Or it is a reserved seat only train?

    I’m sorry for long message and appeciate you help in advance.

    Thank you.

    Regards,
    Benito

    1. Hi Benito san,

      1) It will be very busy trip but it looks okay.

      2) No.

      3) No, you can’t. Because if you reserve it at Eki-net, you have to pick up a ticket in JR East area. You cannot pick up a ticket at either Nagoya or Osaka.

      4) No, you can’t. You have to exchange the pass and show your actual passport. Otherwise you cannot reserve a ticket. And regarding 4C (ask your friend who visit Japan earlier than you), it is impossible. Because the staff check the entry date of Japan. Even if you pass your real passport, you will not enter your Japan. JR staff check the status of Japan too. The short term visitor status must be stamped on the passport.

      5) In my opinion, you can reserve a seat on Thunderbird and Kagayaki. Especially Thunderbird has non reserved seat. In the worst case, you can get on the train as the standing passenger. I don’t think it will happen. But it is possible. Kagayaki does not have non reserved seat. But before the busy period, train to Tokyo is slower than train from Tokyo. So I think Kagayaki is okay. Hayabusa from Omiya is considerable. 27th December is not the busiest day. But even in the regular season, the late night Hayabusa from Tokyo is busy. And Hayabusa does not have any non reserved seat. You must reserve a seat to take Hayabusa. Otherwise you cannot get on Hayabusa. So it is gamble.

      If you are okay to shortern your time in Kanazawa, you may have earlier train choice. The possibility of getting a seat is wider and easier. But if you want to keep this itinerary, you have to accept a risk. If you want to avoid the risk, you should stay overnight in Kanazawa. You can pick up a tiket through JR East online reservation at Kanazawa. So if you stay overnight in Kanazawa, you can book all tickets except Thunderbird.

      Especially I don’t have any idea to recommend the place from Sapporo. If you can change your trip plan, you can cut one day in Sapporo and stay overnight in Kanazawa.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi-san,

        Thank you for the detailed reply.

        I will re-work my itinerary so that I can pick-up reservations in Kanazawa.

        One more question. Our arrival at Centair terminal 1 is on Dec 25, 6:55pm. My plan is to do the following:

        – Meitetsu μSky to Nagoya at 8:37pm, arriving 9:05pm
        – Walk from Meitetsu-Nagoya to Kintetsu-Nagoya
        – Kintetsu Ltd Exp to Osaka-Namba at 9:30pm

        Back-up plan is to take Nozomi from Nagoya to Shin-Osaka since there are later shinkansen trains even after 9:30pm. But I prefer to use the 5-day Kintetsu Rail Pass Plus because we are family of 4 adults and 2 children and the additional cost of shinkansen adds up.

        Since Centair is not a big airport, I think we may be able to do the above schedule. What do you think?

          1. Hello Takeshi-san,

            Thank you again for the clear advise about exchanging Kintetsu Rail Pass at Centair.

            Sorry I have another small question, do you know if Donan Bus is operating on Dec 31 for Noboribetsu JR Station to Noboribetsu-Onsen? I am having a hard time confirming this and finding a winter time table for this.

            Regards,
            Benito

              1. Hello Takeshi-san,

                Thank you again for replying.

                I have having a hard time finding a timetable for Donan bus between Noboribetsu and Noboribetsu-Onsen for winter season, specifically for Dec 31 and Jan 1. And it seems Donan bus website is not accessible from outside Japan (?).

                Would you be able to provide me a link (not donanbus.co.jp) or a picture/screenshot showing the timetable for my date?

                I’m sorrry to have to ask and it is ok if you do not know or cannot find it…

                Regards,
                Benito

                1. Hi Benito san,

                  Actually I live in Canada and I cannot access that website either. But you can find it in the following link:
                  From Noboribetsu station https://takimotokan.co.jp/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/3A.Ja%E9%A7%85%E2%86%92%E6%B8%A9%E6%B3%89%E9%81%93%E5%8D%97%E3%83%90%E3%82%B92019.pdf
                  From Noboribetsu onsen https://takimotokan.co.jp/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/3B.Ja%E6%B8%A9%E6%B3%89%E2%86%92%E9%A7%85%E9%81%93%E5%8D%97%E3%83%90%E3%82%B92019.pdf

                  Cheers,

                  Takeshi / JPRail.com

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