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.

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

  1. So to be clear – I am not able to pre-book train tickets with my JR pass? (Tokyo –> Osaka)? If not, is there somewhere I can at least figure out train times so I can plan accordingly?

    Thanks!

      1. Why am I finding this so difficult to figure out?? Are there frequent trains from Tokyo to Osaka? or is it advisable to purchase tickets in advance? It would be at least helpful to know the train times so I can plan days accordingly. I’m staying in Shinjuku so where would I need to go to take the bullet train to Osaka (I have the JR Rail Pass).

        Thanks!

        1. Hi Wandering Gosling,

          Did you see this page? It’s Shinkansen timetable. You can take the Shinkansen from either Tokyo or Shinagawa.
          https://global.jr-central.co.jp/en/info/timetable/_pdf/eastbound_0220.pdf

          You can take JR Chuo line or Yamanote line to get Tokyo or Shinagawa. Both lines are covered by JR pass and these are commute train routes. The train runs every 3-5 minutes:
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/tips-for-japan-rail-pass/best-way-efficient-how-much-can-we-use-japan-rail-pass-in-downtown-tokyo.html

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Dear Takeshi,

    I have a question regarding train tickets, because I/m going to visit Japan with my wife for 2 weeks. I come from The Netherlands.

    Is it possible to buy train tickets in advance for me and my wife for my train ticket from Tokyo – Takayama with the Nozomi Shinkansen on the 7th of April 2020 departure time 09:00 and make a reservation on the seats for 2 persons?

    And for the train ticket from Takayama – Kyoto on the 9th of April departure time 11:32 also for two persons? See the 2 attachments in picture below.

    I think a JR Rail pass is not better for us since we only what to make use of the train lines mentioned above and with the Nozomi Shinkansen which is not included in the JR Pass.

    Let me know if this is possible or perhaps you have a better solution or option for me. Many thanks in advance.

    Hope to hear from you!

    Kind regards,

    Remmert San

    1. Hi Remmert,

      At this point, there is no ways to book in advance before you leave from Netherlands. The online app is not available in your country unfortunately. But Nozomi runs every 5 to 10 minutes and it is not hard to book a seat even if you try to make it after you will be in Japan. Even if you cannot make it, you still have a chance to get a seat on non reserved car. Please see the link below about non reserved car:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/reserved-seat-vs-non-reserved-seat-how-to-get-a-seat-on-non-reserved-car.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Dear Takeshi,

        Thank you very much for answering my questions. I will then book my to two tickets with the Nozomi when I will arrive in Japan. And you are sure that on the 7th of April it is not a busy period to buy these tickets 3 days before?

        Regards,

        Remmert San

  3. Good day! Thanks for the information that you put up regarding rail travel in japan.

    I purchased a Tokyo Wide Pass online using Kkday, and I plan to book seat reservations. I am scheduled to get the pass this February 6 and I will be using it on February 7.Is it possible to reserve seats using ekinet this early or is it recommended to go to a Midori no Maguchi once I get my Tokyo Wide Pass upon my arrival in Tokyo?

    Thank you so much!

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