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.

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

  1. Hi,

    I will be travelling the following routes and dates using the JR East-South Hokkaido Pass. Is it difficult to reserve seats (for 4-5 people) even online 1 month before travel date given it is super-peak?

    1. Tokyo to Ichinoseki (27 Dec)
    2. Morioka to Shin-Hakodate (29 Dec)
    3. Shin-Hakodate to Tokyo (6 Jan)

    Thanks.

  2. Hi Takeshi,

    I am planning to visit Shirawakago from Kyoto, so i will be taking Haruka train on 2nd of Jan 2020. However, I can only take non reseved seats with Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass. Will the train be so crowded at that time of the year? And will it be so difficult to get a seat during that period? I will return to Kyoto from Kanazawa on 3rd of Jan 2020 in the afternoon.

    I need your advise please.

    Thank you and Best Regards,
    Ridwan

    1. Hi Ridwan,

      The train which you will take from Kyoto is not Haruka. Haruka runs between Kansai airport and Kyoto. You will take Thunderbird to Kanazawa.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/limited-express-thuderbird-raicho-%e9%9b%b7%e9%b3%a5.html

      January 2nd will be slow. But January 3rd will be getting busier. Especially if you travel from Kanazawa in the late afternoon, it may be busy. However Kanazawa is the original departure station of the limited express Thunderbird. I expected that it’s not hard to find a seat if you go to the station 30 minutes earlier than the departure time.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi,

        Thank you for your reply and advise. Yes, you are right, I will be taking Thunderbird train to and from Kanazawa. I hope I can get some seats using Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass as it is much more cost effective for me than any other pass.

        Best,
        Ridwan

  3. Hi Takeshi,

    I am glad that I come across your article before my trip to Japan in Dec this year. It helps me a lot in planning and be prepared for my trip. Just some questions seeking your advice in regards to the travel dates and locations.

    1) Will there be an issue in getting seats(non-reserved) during 22 Dec – 27 Dec? Or will it be better to reserve seats? I will be getting the ordinary JR pass.
    Considering 23 Dec is a holiday, 25 Dec is Christmas and 27 Dec being a Friday before the start of the New Year Holiday.
    Route as below:
    – 22 Dec : Tokyo to Nagano
    – 23 Dec : Nagano to Takayama
    – 25 Dec : Takayama to Kyoto
    – 27 Dec : Kyoto to Nara/Osaka

    2) From Osaka to Tokyo on 1 Jan 2020 via Sunrise express. Will there be an issue in reserving seats especially for private compartments?

    Thank you in advance for your time and help.

    BL

    1. Hi BL,

      Christmas season is not an issue in Japan. As you said, it is holiday. So it may be busier than usual but it is not a super busy day.
      If you want to use non reserved seat, that is fine. However if you travel with someone, you may not get the seats side by side. There are lots of solo travelers and they will take the window side first. If you can fix your schedule, I recommend you to reserve the seat. The reserved seat fee is covered by JR Pass. It is a benefit.

      Regarding Sunrise, usually January 1st is very slow day. But it’s very hard to say about the availability of Sunrise. I’m optimistic but I cannot guarantee that you can get a compartment.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi Takeshi!

    The article is insightful! I glad that there’s this article for travellers like us!
    We will be travelling to Japan from 24 Dec to 2 Jan for honeymoon! I would like to seek your views on these possible travel dates and locations!

    24 dec : Haneda Airport to Osaka / Kyoto
    27 dec : Osaka / Kyoto to Kanazawa / Takaeyama (we wanted to visit Shirakawago)
    30 dec : Kanazawa / Takaeyama to Tokyo
    2 jan : Tokyo to Nirata Airport

    Would the above be feasible ? Would we face a situation that all the trains are booked?

    Thank you for your time !

    1. Hi Wan Lin,

      I recommend you to move to Kanazawa / Takayama on 27th in the morning. The train will be getting busier from the late afternoon on 27th.
      And you will take the bus to get Shirakawago. You should book a seat on this bus in advance.
      https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/highwaybus/shirakawago.pdf

      I think The train to Tokyo will be okay. Usually 30th is busy day but in this year, 28th and 29th are weekend. Most local travelers will be moving on these two days and I expect 30th will be not very busy.

      On the other days, you will be fine. You may use JR pass 7-day for the first 7 days.
      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

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hello Takeshi,
    I’m Shaun from Singapore. I’ll be visiting Japan in Dec this year.
    I’m glad I come across your article. I’ve my trip pretty much organised and I would like to seek your advice on what I can expect on these travel dates :

    1. From Haneda Airport to Osaka by shinkansen train on 24 Dec 2019. I understand I will need to go to either Tokyo or Shinagawa station to take the Hikari to Osaka (I’ll be using JR Pass). Will it be difficult to reserve seats (family of 4) if I pick up the JR Pass from Haneda airport on 24 Dec morning ? I will arrive on 23 Dec around 930pm. It will be too late to get the JR Pass I supposed.

    2. From Osaka to Kanazawa on 27 Dec 2019. Will it be an issue to reserve seats ? 27 Dec 2019 being a Friday, do people usually take a longer holiday and leave on Friday instead of Saturday?

    3. From Kanazawa to Karuizawa on 31 Dec 2019. This is New Year’s eve. I supposed it should be ok to reserve seats ?

    4. From Karuizawa to Maihama on 3 Jan 2020. I’m hoping that people will have longer holiday and only head back home on 5 Jan 2020.

    5. What about making a day trip to Mt Fuji from Maihama on 4 Jan ? I suppose I will be going in the reverse ‘exodus’ flow and it should not be any issue with reserving seats?

    Thank you in advance for sharing your experience. Appreciate it.

    Shaun

    1. Hi Shaun,

      1. I’m optimistic that you can make it. Christmas is not an issue.

      2. It’s getting busier on this day. Please try to book a seat when you exchange JR pass.

      3. You can book a ticket for this trip at JR East online site before you come to Japan. You can book online and pick up a ticket at Kanazawa station by 21:00 on Dec 30th.
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      You also can book a ticket for Karuizawa to Tokyo and Tokyo to/from Otsuki. Otsuki is the last JR station on the way to Kawaguchiko (Fuji). You cannot book a seat for Otsuki to Kawaguchiko. But when you pick up a ticket, you may ask to extend a ticket to Kawaguchiko. You may able to make it. This segment is not covered by JR pass. You have to pay extra.
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/1to3-days/how-to-build-the-trip-plan-to-fuji-area-various-sample-itineraries-of-fuji-five-lakes-and-5th-station.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com
      5.

  6. Hi Takeshi,
    How are you? I am glad that I saw this article and got a chance to better understand what to expect before we travel. We are planning to visit Osaka and Tokyo at the end of the year. Unfortunately that is the only time my kids are off. We plan to arrive on Dec 28 and spend a few days in Osaka. Then travel to Tokyo after a couple of days. I have three questions seeking for your input and advice:
    1). In the article, it said “usually Dec 31 is not such a busy day”. Do you see any issues to get tickets if we (5 of us) want to travel from Osaka to Tokyo on Dec 31? We are looking for late evening/night schedule.
    2). We are hoping to plan a day trip to Hiroshima from Osaka. Do you anticipate issue to get same day travel arrangement from and then back to Osaka in Dec 29?
    3). Once we arrive in Tokyo, we would like to spend a couple of days to Habuka area to ski. Any issues to get train arrangement from and then back to Tokyo on Jan 3 or Jan 4?
    I would assume I should book all these tickets when we arrive the first day in Osaka, correct?

    Thanks again for your time. Elsa

    1. Hi Elsa,

      1. Evening and night on Dec 31 is very quiet. It’s like Christmas Eve in the western country. Most Japanese want to settle before New Year’s Eve.

      2. I believe the train from Osaka on 29th will be very busy. But I don’t expect that will be busy from Hiroshima.

      3. January 3rd is better. Many Japanese start to go back to the cities, like Tokyo on 4th. 4th will be very busy.

      You should book all train tickets right after you come back. I think you will use JR pass because you can get the worth of 7-day pass by your trip plan. There are some online reservation but it does not accept JR pass user. However if you use JR pass to get Hakuba, you may use the online to book.
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      This online does not cover Osaka to Tokyo and Osaka-Hiroshima-Osaka unfortunately.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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