2019 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even during the busy period.

Hatsumoude is the first visit a shrine or a temple to pray and make a wish on New Year’s day.

You must know that your travel period is a peak season or a shoulder season. I would like to show you the busy period in 2019. You also find some tips when you travel in the peak season in this post.

Don’t travel same direction as a local tourist

Before I show you the calendar, I would like to tell you how Japanese residents travel in the peak period. Please keep these in your mind when you build your plan.

1. A train from the major cities are busy in the beginning of the peak period.
2. A train to the major cities are busy at the end of the peak period.

Major cities, like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka have the huge population. The huge number of travelers get out of these cities and go back to their hometowns to spend the time with family. So you have to avoid to leave the major cities in the beginning of the peak period. On the other hand, if you travel opposite way, a train is more crowded than usual but it is still acceptable.

The movie below shows you how Tokyo station was on December 29, 2016. It is 20 minutes movie and mostly shows car #1 which is non reserved seat car. You will find there was a long line up and many passengers waited for.

If you stay in the cities in the peak period, it is not much different from a regular weekend. Of course attractions, such as USJ, Tokyo Disneyland are super busy. I do not recommend you to visit very popular attractions in the peak period. You have to spend a few hours to take just one ride. You may not be satisfied.

Kyoto and Nara are busy in New Year’s day because Japanese visit shrine and temple to pray on New Year’s Day that is Japanese traditional custom. Major shrines and temples in other cities, such as Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo are super busy on New Year’s Day. The trains in the cities run all night long from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day.

I would like to show you some more tips about getting a seat during the peak period later in this post. First of all, I would like to show you the calendar of the peak period in 2019.

*If you look for the information about 2018-19 New Year’s peak period, please see the link below:
2018 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even during the busy period.

Golden Week (late April to early May)

There are lots of holidays in this period. That is why it is called “Golden Week” in Japan. 2019’s Golden Week will be more special in Japan. Because Emperor Akihito will abdicate on April 30, 2019. Prince Naruhito will ascend the throne and will become the next emperor on May 1, 2019. It is not confirmed yet but May 1 will be holiday too.

2019’s calendar is the following:

Apr 27 (Sat)
Apr 28 (Sun)
Apr 29 (Mon) Showa Day
Apr 30 (Tue) Citizen’s holiday
May 1 (Wed) Emperor coronation day
May 2 (Thu) Citizen’s holiday
May 3 (Fri) Holiday (Constitution Memorial Day)
May 4 (Sat) Holiday (Greenery Day )
May 5 (Sun) Holiday (Children’s Day)
May 6 (Mon) Holiday (Children’s day observed)

2019’s Golden Week will be 10 consecutive days off from Apr 27 to May 6. I expect April 27 for outgoing and May 6 for incoming will be busiest days. However some Japanese residents will start to travel earlier. A trail will be busier from the late afternoon on April 26 (Fri). And May 5 will be busy too.

Obon (mid August)

Obon is not a national holiday. It is Japanese traditional summer break. Usually Obon period is August 13 to 16. 2019 calendar is the following

Aug 10 (Sat)
Aug 11 (Sun) Holiday (Mountain Day)
Aug 12 (Mon) Holiday (Mountain Day observed)

Aug 13 (Tue)
Aug 14 (Wed)
Aug 15 (Thu)

Aug 16 (Fri)
Aug 17 (Sat)
Aug 18 (Sun)

In 2019, Obon period will be just between weekends. I expect the busiest day is August 10 for outgoing and August 18 for incoming. However late afternoon on Aug 9 and Aug 17 will be busy too.

New Year’s holidays

In Japan, Christmas is not a big holiday season. Most public schools have the winter break from December 25 to January 7. And December 23 is holiday. Christmas period is a bit busier than usual. But it is just one of the weekend and holidays. The busiest period in Japan is New Year’s Holidays. It usually starts on December 30 and finish on January 3. 2018-19 calendar is the following.

Dec 28 (Sat)
Dec 29 (Sun)

Dec 30 (Mon)
Dec 31 (Tue)

Jan 1 (Wed) Holiday (New Year’s day)

Jan 2 (thu)
Jan 3 (Fri)

Jan 4 (Sat)
Jan 5 (Sun)

In 2019-2020, December 28 is Saturday. The beginning of New Year’s Holidays will be one day earlier than usual. Saturday on December 28 is the first day of New Year’s Holidays. Many Japanese travelers will start to get out of the cities in the morning on December 29. For outgoing, I expect train will be busy from the morning on December 29 to the end of December 30. January 4 and 5 will be super busy to go back to the cities. Most local travelers want to settle before New Year’s Eve. Usually December 31 is not such a busy day. January 3 is the last day of New Year’s holidays period usually. But in 2019-2020, Jan 4 and 5 will be weekend. Japanese residents will enjoy a longer period in next season.

January 1 is very slow too. However as I mentioned above, most Japanese visit shrine or temple to pray on New Year’s Day. A local train runs all through the night from December 31 to January 1. Some of local lines are very busy in this period.

How to book a seat in peak period

Online train seats booking is very limited actually. Please see the link below:

However you can find the availability of the trains in advance.

You must know the booking status of the trains that you want to take in advance. It will be much easier to find a seat after you arrive in Japan.

The first thing you need to do is trying to book a seat right after you arrive in Japan. But you may not be able to make it. I introduce some tips to expand the possibility to book a seat.

Take early or late trains

Nobody want to travel in very early morning and late night. That is why trains in very early morning and late night are slower than daytime trains. Late night trains are usually slower than early morning train.

Take slower trains

Everybody wants to get the place as early as possible. That is why slower trains have lower demand than faster trains. I do not recommend you to take local trains to move for a long distance. This technique can be used for Shinkansen only. I recommend you to take slower trains on Shinkansen line, such as Kodama.

Please see the links below to find Shinkansen timetables:

The Tokaido Shinkansen timetable (JR Central official site)

You will find the trains that stop at all stations. That is Kodama. It’s way slower than other Shinkansen trains. But it’s much easier to get a seat on this train. If you are okay with spending extra hours but want to get a seat, try to book a seat on Kodama.

Take Green seat

Green seat is more spacious but more expensive. So usually Green seat is easier to book than Ordinary seat. However in peak period, even Green seat on some trains are booked out. Especially if you are wondering JR pass ordinary or Green, it maybe expand the possibility to get a seat. But if you cannot get Green seat, you have to take ordinary seat even if you have Green pass. It maybe gamble.

Try to book separately

If you cannot find a seat, divide into two segments and try to book. You may find a seat. For example, if you want to get a seat for Tokyo to Shin-Osaka, you can try to book for Tokyo to Nagoya and Nagoya to Shin-Osaka.

How to get a seat on non reserved seat car

I explain about reserved seat and non reserved seat in the link below. You can find some tips to get a seat in non reserved car. You may be able to use this way even in peak period.

I hope these information will help you to travel smoothly in the peak period.

28 thoughts on “2019 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even during the busy period.”

  1. Hello Takeshi,

    I have read your posts, but I am still unsure of what to do about my travel in Japan from April 27 – May 4, 2019.

    I am going with a friend and he did not realize that Golden Week will be happening during our entire stay in Japan. This has me worried, but your blog is easing my mind some and I am hoping that you will reply to this posting and put me more at ease.

    We are planning on staying a night in Tokyo and leaving for Aomori on 4/28 by train. We will go to Sapporo on 4/29 and my friend has to be back at Narita on 4/30 by 3PM for a 6PM flight.

    I am going to stay in Hokkaido and continue as far north as I can get before heading back to to Aomori and Sapporo and then return to Tokyo for a 5PM flight out of Narita on 5/4.

    I am really worried about the trains north because they are all reserved seats and I have no idea as to whether or not the trains sell out during Golden Week. As my friend only has a short time in Japan, I want to be sure that we can get to our destinations without worry.

    So, I was thinking that the 7-day green passes would be good for us (if we can get reserved seats). What do you think?

    We are going to be on a cruise, so we arrive in Japan (Kochi) on 4/24 and are there for 10 hours. My thoughts are that we can go activate our Green passes at a train station and make our reservations for Aomori and beyond on there in Kochi. Is that a good plan, or will the trains be sold out by then?

    I am looking at buying reserved seats online for our travel dates, but the cost is much more than a pass would be.

    I would love some advice.

    Thanks,
    James

    1. Hi James,

      Simply you can book online in advance. Please see the link below:
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      You can book all trains which you take in your trip. You have to pick up a ticket by 21:00 on the day before. I think you can do it at Tokyo.

      So you can exchange JR pass at Tokyo station or other exchange place.
      http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/exchange.html

      You can choose same locations to pick up a ticket when you book online. Everything should be much easier than your thought.

      You can start to book at 10:00 am, one month prior to departure date.

      e.g. For booking from Tokyo to Aomori on 28th April, you can book at 10:00 am on 28th March (Japan time).

      You must book right after 10:00 am on 28th March. So you have to do it almost everyday from 28th March. But you should do it to get a seat.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hello Takeshi,

        Thank you so much for your help! It is much easier than I thought. Being able to reserve a seat online with the rail pass is great and I could not find it on my own.

        I appreciate your time and your blog!!

        I am really looking forward to my trip.

        Take care,
        James

  2. Greetings Takeshi
    This is a wonderful website, and your info and knowledge is so helpful.
    I am purchasing a Green JR pass this week for my trip April 5th. I am most concerned about my travel from Takayama to Kanazawa. I know I will change trains. Are there plenty of trains that run that line. I am not very computer savy, and am having a hard time finding the schedules.
    I think once I get my pass, there should be maps included, but I would appreciate your info.
    Thank you.
    Linda

  3. Hi!

    I will be travelling to Japan (april 22 till may 8) with my family. Since there will be 5 of us, including 2 children, I wan’t to be careful and choose best itinerary possible, not to end up in crowded areas. The biggest concern is our trip from Kyoto to Tokyo on Saturday, april 27th, right when the Golden Week begins. Do you think we will have difficulties getting seats on shinkansen to Tokyo? We will activate JR passes and make a reservation as soon as we land on april 22nd, but I am afraid we will be too late. I am also thinking about reserving shinkansen seats from Tokyo station to Ueno, where we are staying, to avoid JR yamanote line and subway. It’s a short ride, but it will be easier than going on a crowded JR train with large suitcases.

    I would be grateful for your opinion and possible tips.
    Thank you in advance and best regards!

    1. Hi Mojca,

      I guess you can get a seat anyway. But actually I’m not 100% sure. Because this will be the first ever 10 consecutive days of Golden Week. It’s hard to find how busy we will be.

      If you are okay with any departure times, you will be able to get a seat. If you can’t, please try to book separately, such as Kyoto to Nagoya, Nagoya to Tokyo by the slowest Shinkansen train, Kodama.

      It’s okay to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Ueno. But it’s such a short ride as you know. You may not have a time to stay in the seat. And also the Shinkansen platform in Ueno station is deep underground. You have to move lots in Ueno station.
      https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/stations/e204.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi!

        We can leave anytime during the day, so we will try to go when it will be less busy, I found several advices to go early in the morning. Thank you for the kodama tip, I haven’t thought about that option.
        I don’t mind standing the 5 minutes to Ueno, as long as we are not stuck in a crowded train with big suitcases, but getting around the station is also an issue to consider, I will definetly check the path from the platform to the surface.
        I have been to Japan in this period already, however not with kids and as you said, this year is unpredictable and unique :). I am not that confident this time as nobody knows what to expect.

        Thank you so much for your help!

        Regards, Mojca

  4. Hi,

    I will be in Japan during from March 19 to April 2, 2019. I read that this will be during student’s spring vacation time. Is this a busy time shinkansen trains?

    Thank You

  5. Hi!

    Unfortunately my family and I (a group of 4) is traveling to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara from 25/4/18 to 4/5/18, which falls on the Golden Week. We would like to travel to Kyoto first and stay there for around 4 days before heading back to Osaka and travel out to Nara for a day trip.

    However, now I am worried that I couldn’t get tickets for the train. Do you have any advise for me? Thank you.

    1. Hi Jing Yi,

      Actually it doesn’t affect your trip much because you will take a commute train mostly. Kyoto, Nara and Osaka are closed each other. The frequent commute trains connect these cities. And you cannot book a seat even if you want. All you have to do is just hopping on and off the train. But most of tourist spots will be very busy and crowded.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takeshi,
    We (4 adults, + one 18 mon. infant) will be in Japan 3/26/19-4/6/19. We will be in Tokyo until 3/29, and travel to Kyoto on that day. On 4/2
    we travel to Atami, and then to Shimoda. We leave from Tokyo on 4/6.

    Questions: Are we better off buying the Japan Rail Pass for the train travel? Should we reserve seats on Shinkansen during this time?

    Thank you,
    Kathryn

    1. Hi Kathryn,

      JR pass 7-day is recommended. Shimoda is just outside coverage area. Please see the links below to find more info:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/japan-rail-pass-user-guide-how-to-use-jr-pass-to-its-maximum.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/tips-for-japan-rail-pass/how-to-access-to-atami-ito-shimoda-and-other-places-in-izu-peninsula-by-railways.html

      You can start using 7-day pass when you leave Tokyo for Kyoto on 29th. You can use other deal for the airport to downtown Tokyo. Please see the link below:
      https://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/airport_bus/index.html

      The period when you travel is not the super busy season but it’s a public school spring break. Reservation is recommended.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi,

        Thank you so much for your helpful reply! We will follow the links to make the reservations.

        Sincerely,
        Kathryn

      2. Hi! Takeshi,
        Thanks for responding to my wife’s questions. I did add up the cost of the individual legs of our trip and it seems purchasing Japan Rail tickets individually would be more reasonable for us. Can I do so online in advance? What is the best online site? Also, can we purchase the round trip pass from Narita Airport to Ueno Station online? (If we purchase the Round Trip, can we do so if our arrival at Narita is on March 26, 2019 and our departure date is April 6th, 2019?)
        Can we purchase individual tickets on the Izukyu-line online? (Ito to Shimoda?) I noticed if we wanted to purchase the Izukyu One Day Pass, we would have to pick up the Pass at Izu-Kogen Station. Is that in Ito? Does the JR system end at Ito?
        Can we reserve seats Tokyo to Kyoto (March 29) and Kyoto to Atami (or to Ito) (April 2) and Ito to Tokyo (April 6) online? Which online site? Thank you for your assistance!

        1. Hi William,

          Actually online is not available in most tickets. Please see the link below:
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/how-to-reserve-seat.html

          In your trip, I think you have to book after arrival in Japan.

          But you can do for Narita to Ueno:
          http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/e-ticket/en/

          You have to do on site for Izukyu. Ito station is the place where you can get one day pass.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Dear Takeshi,

    What a truly awesome website this is!
    I would like to avoid Golden Week and am considering of visiting Tokyo from 8 to 12 May. Do you think the crowds would be back to normal by then or would arriving on 9 May be a better choice?

    Thank you!

  8. Hello Takeshi,
    I hope you can help me with this:
    I will be in the Kyoto/Osaka area between 22 Dec and 1 Jan (very soon). I wonder about the following routes – how busy they will be, and whether a Kansai Wide Area pass would be a good idea.
    – I’ll need to travel by train on the following routes: Kyoto-Kinosaki Onsen (26 Dec) and Kinosaki Onsen-Osaka (28 Dec).
    – Also, I’m considering doing some day trips on the 29, 30, and/or 31 December from Osaka to one or more of the following: Koya-san, Ise, Shirahama and/or Okayama.
    My questions are as follows:
    a. Is it true that Kinosaki Onsen, Koya-san, Shirahama and Okayama are all covered by the Kansai Wide Area pass, but Ise isn’t?
    b. If I travel only to Kinosaki Onsen and back, is it still worth to buy the Pass, or would I need to do an extra day trip to make it worthwhile?
    c. Do you think any of the the above destinations will be too busy on those days? Any suggestions for avoiding specific destinations on specific trains? Would I still need to reserve a ticket if I get the Kansai wide area pass?

    Many thanks in advance.
    Michael

    1. Hi Michael,

      a. Koya-san is not covered. You have to take Nankai railway and Koyasan World Heritage Pass is recommended. And also the cable car to Mt. Koya is suspended now. You have to take a substitute bus now. Please see the links below to find more info:
      https://www.howto-osaka.com/en/ticket/ticket/koyasan.html
      https://www.howto-osaka.com/global/pdf/news/2018substitutebustokoyasan/181126substitutebustokoyasan_en.pdf

      b. Yes, you can.

      c. It will be super busy on all trains on 29th and 30th. But Koyasan is better than other destinations. If you travel on 31st, it’s much much easier.
      If you use Kansai wide area pass, you cannot book a seat. Please see the link below to find more info:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/travel-tips/reserved-seat-vs-non-reserved-seat-how-to-get-a-seat-on-non-reserved-car.html#Extra_cost_to_book_a_seat_by_rail_pass_that_covers_only_non_reserved_seat

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you Takeshi.

        Regarding question b, I just checked and it seems I can get ticket to and from Kinosaki Onsen for 6000 yen, but the pass costs 9000 yen. So, it may be best not to buy the pass if I don’t go anywhere else that the pass would pay for. Is this correct?

        Thank you again,

        Michael

        1. Hi Michael,

          I think you meant only a base fare. If you go there, you will take a limited express train Konotori. One way base fare and non reserved seat fee is around 5,000 yen. So round trip fare is around 10,000 yen and you will get the worth of it.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

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