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.

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

  1. Hi,

    I plan to travel from sapporo to furano by train on 21 Dec 2019. I have used Hyperdia to search the available trains, unfortunately it doesn’t show result. However if i type sapporo to Asahikawa, there are few available trains. Does it mean no trains available for segment route Asahikawa – furano?
    Can you advice me how to purchase the train tickets in advance by online ticketing?

    1. Hi Rudy,

      I could find lots of trains between Sapporo and Furano. Did you try to find the route by the limited express only? If so, you cannot find it because there is no limited express trains to Furano in winter time. You have to take a local train between Asahikara and Furano or between Takikawa and Furano.
      Sapporo – Furano search result

      This result shows you the route of Sapporo-Takikawa-Furano. But don’t take this route. Because a part of Takikawa-Furano segment is closed and a substitute bus service is currently replacing the train service.
      http://www.jrhokkaido.co.jp/CM/Info/unkou/pdf/1206_global.pdf

      I recommend you to take Sapporo-Asahiawa-Furano route.

      You can buy it for Sapporo to Asahikawa or Takikawa online in the link below. But you will take a local train to Furano from Asahikawa. You cannot book a seat for this segment:
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi-san,

    May I get your advise if 23rd Dec will it be peak season and is it advisable to reserve tickets in advance for traveling from Biei – Asahikawa – Sapporo – Hakodate?

    Also, can the LTD. EXP LILAC 14 be reserve in advance too?

    Thank you so much.

    Cheers,
    Estee

    1. Hi Estee san,

      23rd is not super busy season but the train in Hokkaido is always busy in these days. I highly recommend you to book a seat in advance. You can book all trains except Biei to Asahikawa online:
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      There is only local train running between Biei and Asahikawa. You cannot book a seat for this segment anyway.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. I need some help. We purchased a 14 day Green Seat Japan Rail pass a few weeks ago. I am now trying to reserve some train seats and I’m finding it very hard to figure out. Here are the trains we need to take. How do I reserve seats? If we are not able to reserve seats before we arrive, will the trains be full?

    12/28 Nagano to Kyoto via Nagoya
    12/30 Kyoto to Hiroshima
    12/30 Hiroshima to Kyoto
    12/31 Kyoto to Nara
    12/31 Nara to Osaka
    12/31 Osaka to Kyoto
    1/1 Kyoto to Tokyo

    Please advise!

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Liz,

      Unfortunately all trips cannot be booked online. You must book all tickets after you arrive in Japan.

      In your trip, the trips on 28th and 30th will be very busy. You may not be able to book a ticket. All you can do is trying to book right after you arrive in Japan.

      You will take a local train mostly on 31st. So it is okay. And usually January 1st is slow. I believe you can book a seat for Kyoto to Tokyo.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi,

    I booked Shinkansen tickets for 30th December and I was wondering if I can pick them up earlier at the station.

    Thanks

      1. Hi,

        I booked the tickets via the smartex app but because there was no IC card I can only pick up from the machine.

        Are you saying that I can go to the machine earlier and pick up?
        Thanks

        1. Hi Tiffany,

          Yes, you can. You don’t need to pick up on the day of travel. Once you booked, you can pick it up anytime before boarding time. But once you pick it up, you cannnot change or refund through Smart EX. You must go to the station ticket counter.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

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