How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?

Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.
Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen Hayabusa has only a reserved seat car. You cannot take this train without a seat reservation.

When you take Shinkansen or Limited Express train, you may book a seat and some trains require you a seat reservation. Though some of the express train have a non-reserved seat, you should book a reserved seat if you can. 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 get a reserved seat.

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

Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)

You can make an reservation at the 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, Nagoya, 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, Shizuoka, Gifu, Takayama, it is shown as “Shinkansen and JR Lines Tickets (JR全線きっぷうりば)” like image below.

JR Central ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.

JR Central operates 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 a ticket office, “Midori no Madoguchi” and “Shinkansen and JR Lines Tickets”. But you can book any JR train tickets at either ticket office. This difference does not matter for you in most cases.

What kind of information you need

Please make sure the following information before you make an 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. Most 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 on Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen. And overnight train, “Sunrise Izumo” and “Sunrise Seto” still have a few smoking seats. If you really want to have a seat on 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 okay for you 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

You can make an 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. 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 date at the original departure station.

Most of trains can be reserved at Midori no Madoguchi only. So you need to be in Japan when you book. Only JR East offer online reservation service. Even if you are Japan Rail Pass user, you can make a reservation in advance.

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 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 that operate in JR East and JR Hokkaido areas. So you CANNOT make a reservation for Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto or Osaka). And also there are some restrictions. The biggest restriction is a ticket pick up. You must pick up a ticket one day before 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.

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 Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka which is not available on JR East Train Reservation. But this online reservation is not available for overnight train, such as Sunrise Seto. I have received so many questions about Nobi Nobi seat of Sunrise Seto/Izumo booking in advance. But you cannot book it even on this Japanese site.

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. According to a local news, JR West will launch an online booking site for overseas tourist in 2019. I still look for the detailed information. When I find it, I will share it with you.

If you want to secure your seat before departure, you have to rely on a travel agent. This is only way to reserve a ticket before you depart from your country. It is not cheap. One of my frequent visitors, James in Australia, left a comment. I would like to share this information: I think many people here asked for how to get JR tickets before arriving Japan, I would like to add.

*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.

751 thoughts on “How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?”

  1. We will purchase the JR Pass before departing the USA and will arrive into Osaka on 06 Sept. After one night there, we intend to take the train to Naoshima (understanding that this means: to Okayama, then Uno, then ferry). We will then be in Japan 2 weeks, traveling to Kyoto, Kanazawa, and Tokyo. My question is: is it possible to hire a guide to help us with the Exchange voucher, seat reservations, and navigating the first train in Osaka?

    1. Hi Susan,

      You can hire a private guide in Osaka. Just google “Osaka tour guide” and you can find lots.

      But I have never used a guide in Japan. I don’t know any recommended company and/or guide.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hello we are going to be in Japan on may 1st and were planing to use the JR Pass to travel from Haneda to Fukuoka
    How much of a problem will we have with getting a seat if there is still no online system?

    1. Hi Carolyn,

      I believe May 1st is the slowest day in the entire Golden Week days. Because May 1st will be Emperor coronation day. Many of the local residents will stay in home and watch TV.

      The train may be still busier than usual. But I think you can get a seat.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. We will arrive late at Tokyo on 21/ 04 /2019
    we have bought the 7 – day – JR PASS online with travel agent through JNTO we plan to go :
    1- to Morioka on the 24 / 04 ,
    2- to Ashikaga Park on the 25 / 04
    3- MT Fuji on the 26/ 04
    4- Hitachi Park on the 27 / 04
    then leave Tokyo on the 27/04 to Shin – Osaka
    Do we have ENOUGH TIME to make seat reservations for all of those trips after exchange J R Pass tickets on the 22 / 04 .
    This is our first trip to Japan !
    We would appreciate if you can give some advice

    1. Hi Thi,

      You can book all seats except Tokyo to Shin-Osaka on Apr 27 online. Please see “JR East Train Reservation” in the post above. Just try to book a seat for Tokyo to Shin-Osaka upon arrival.

      Apr 27 will be very busy day. So try to book a seat right after you exchange JR pass.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi,
    My flight will arrive In Haneda on April 27, at 21.00 pm. I have booked the hotel in Aomori on April 28, and I’m planning to go to Aomori by Hayabusa Shinkansen at 18.20 pm on April 28. But, I cannot book the seat reservation online, because of the flight schedule, I cannot take my ticket before 21.00 the day before my departure to Aomori.
    Please your suggestion, how can I get the seats to Aomori ? I’ll use JR Pass. It would be Golden week, is it possible that I reserve the seats in the morning on April 28 for evening’s departure ? What do you think about the possibility to have seats in the peak seasons ?

    1. Hi Rindavi、

      Honestly I cannot guess how busy it will be because this Golden Week is the first ever ten consecutive days off. But in my opinion, the chance to get a seat is very slim. If I were you, I will take the earliest train on Apr 29 and book a seat online. It is very risky to book a seat after arrival.

      And also all seats on Hayabusa are reserved seat. You cannot take this train without reservation. Even if you are okay to travel as the standing passenger, you cannot. So if the train is booked out, there is no other choices by JR Pass.

      If you want to avoid any risks, I do not recommend you to travel on Apr 28.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you Takeshi San for your kindly reply. Ok, I will re arrange my hotel schedule, Thank you for your suggestion.

  5. Hi!
    I want to book a train to Osaka from Tokyo 1 month prior (like soon!), what is the site’s name i should use booking my ticket from outside Japan. Please give me a link (as im so confused by all the instruction).
    BEST regards,
    Mira

      1. Hi, I just bought my JR pass from JTB in Singapore and would like to know if seat reservations for JR pass would be applicable on travel from Kyoto to Tokyo please? I’m looking to book seats on 10th April travel if possible. Thank you.

        1. Hi Margaret,

          Unfortunately you cannot. But it’s not hard to book a seat on the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo. You can do it easily after you arrive in Japan. You can book a seat when you exchange the pass in Japan.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hello Takeshi,

    I am planning a trip to Tokyo with my children from Dec 25 to Jan 6. My plan is to visit Hokkaido using an itinerary I did before (using your site) that went to Hokkaido (Noboribetsu, Otaru, Sapporo, Hakodate) and maybe Osaka/Himeji/Nara/Kyoto area

    I plan to get 7-day (or 14-day) JR passes. some questions:

    1) For the JR East trains, would it be difficult to get seat reservations for the trains I am planning to go on if I make reservations online as soon as it becomes available 1 month before the travel date?

    2) I read the JR West is planning to make online reservations available, if it does happen before the end of 2019, would trains to Osaka and the nearby areas be available for reservation?

    3) In case we are not able to get a reservation for a particular train, does that we cannot go on the train at all? Or are there unreserved seats we can sit on? Or do we have to stand?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    1. Hi Benito,

      1. If you go ahead to book right after the date in one month prior to travel day, it usually okay to book.

      2. It depends on the travel date. Please see the link below to find which day the busiest will be:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/2019-busiest-period-to-travel-by-train-tips-to-book-your-seat-in-even-during-the-busy-period.html

      3. Most trains have non reserved seat car. But in the busiest period, even non reserved car will be occupied and need to stand up. And Hokkaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto requires booking. You cannot take this train without booking even if you are okay with standing. Standing passenger is not allowed on this train.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Hello!

    I am planning on travelling with my partner hopefully on the Sunrise Izumo on the night of May 18th, going into May 19th. We are arriving in Osaka on the 14th, and activating our JR Pass on the 15th. Just to confirm, I would activate my JR pass, then immediately book for the Sunrize Izumo, correct? What do you think is the likelyhood of the both of us getting a seat near that time?

    Thanks so much,
    Serena

  8. Hi,

    We will be travelling from Haneda Airport T1 to Osaka Namba City using JR pass.
    We have to take the Tokyo monorail to Hamamatsucho, then to Shinagawa. And from Shinagawa, take the Hikari bullet train to Shinosaka.
    Do we turn in our exchange order for the JR pass at the Tokyo monorail station?
    And with JR pass, can I reserve seats on Hikari train at Tokyo monorail or I can only do it at Shinagawa before taking the Hikari.
    Thanks and regards

      1. Hi Takeshi san,

        Thank you for your reply.
        My travel from Haneda (using only JR pass), taking the Tokyo monorail to Hamamatsucho, then to Shinagawa. And from Shinagawa, take the Hikari bullet train to Shinosaka takes us about 4 hours to reach.
        Is there a faster route using JR pass?
        Thank you & regards

  9. You mentioned that JR West is setting up an online booking site for overseas tourists in 2019. Since we are already in 2019, any word on when this will happen?
    Until this site is in operation it looks like one can only make a JR seat reservation in Japan, is this true?

    1. Hi William,

      JR West said it will come up sometimes in spring. Probably it will come up in March. But I haven’t received the any detailed info yet.
      This online system will be set for overseas tourist, such as JR East online reservation system.

      Once I will get the detailed info, I will update this post.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Does this one is what you’re talking about?
        But I still struggle how to do reservation with JR Pass (nation wide 7 days)….

        I need a help here.
        Thanks.

        Dea

          1. Hi Takeshi-san

            I’ve been make the reservation by JR West Online, and it is said if using JR Cards or JR-West Cards as long as the shown name is same as above (reservation name).

            [“(N.B.) “JR Cards” or “J-West Cards” can be used if they display any of the above names. However, they shall be handled as the credit cards of the above companies.”
            2 「クレジット決済」の場合、利用者は購入・変更の都度、クレジットカード番号およびセキュリティコードの入力が必要です。
            その際に使用できるクレジットカードは、次の各号に定める表示のあるカードで、利用者本人名義のものに限り、クレジットカードの使用については各カード会社が定める規約等に従うものとします。
            (1)JCB
            (2)UFJ
            (3)MUFG CARD
            (4)AMERICAN EXPRESS
            (5)VISA
            (6)UC
            (7)MasterCard
            (8)Diners Club
            (9)DC
            (注)「JRカード」または「J-WEST CARD」で上記の表示があるカードは使用できます。ただし、上記表示会社のクレジットカードとして取扱います。]

            Although I’m not sure if the term “JR Cards” is the same with “JR PASS”.
            Eventually, I can’t continue the reservation due to error for credit card number.

            Do you have any idea about this?

            Cheers

            Dea

            1. Hi Dea san,

              Unfortunately JR Card does not mean JR pass. It is the credit card which is issued by JR or JR West. You cannot use this online reservation for JR pass.
              In regards to the error at the time of booking, please contact your credit card company. I tried to use my credit card which is issued in Canada. But I could not use it because the credit card company declined it due to using overseas website.

              Cheers,

              Takeshi / JPRail.com

  10. Hi,

    I will be travelling to Hokkaido in a week time and will be staying there for 8 days. I would like to visit Sapporo, Otaru, Abashiri, Shiretoko, Asahikawa and Niseko. Are all these places accessible by JR Trains? & I am quite confused by the reservation website of JR East railway as it required a charge for reserving seats even though I selected with Hokkaido Railway Pass. So is reserving seats with Hokkaido Pass free of charge? Can I reserved all the seats at 1 go and collect all the reserved seat tickets on the day of my arrival at New Chitose Airport?
    Thank you!

    Regards,
    Jovial

    1. Hi Jovial,

      You may get all places other than Shiretoko. You have to take a bus from Shiretoko-Shari to get Shiretoko, such as Utoro. You may find the route and the timetable in the link below:
      http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/train/index.html#ip1

      When you book a seat at JR East reservation site, the price is shown. But it won’t be charged when you pick up a ticket. It will be charged if you don’t pick up a ticket by the day before. You can pick up all tickets at New Chitose but you cannot book a seat for the train on arrival day because you have to pick up a ticket by the day before.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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