2020 busiest period to travel by train. Tips to book your seat in even during the busy period

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Hatsumoude is the first visit a shrine or a temple of the year to pray and make a wish on New Year’s day. This photo was taken in Senso-ji temple, Asakusa.

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 2020. You also find some tips when you travel in the peak season in this post.

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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 the Shinkansen platform in 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 2019-20 New Year’s peak period, please see the link below:

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. 2020’s calendar is the following:

Apr 25 (Sat)
Apr 26 (Sun)

Apr 27 (Mon)
Apr 28 (Tue)

Apr 29 (Wed)

Apr 30 (Thu)
May 1 (Fri)

May 2 (Sat)
May 3 (Sun) Holiday (Constitution Memorial Day)
May 4 (Mon) Holiday (Greenery Day )
May 5 (Tue) Holiday (Children’s Day)
May 6 (Wed) Holiday (Constitution Memorial Day observed)

2020’s Golden Week will be 5 consecutive days off from May 2 to May 6. I expect May 2 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 on April 29 and in the late afternoon on May 1. And the train to major cities on May 5 will be busy too.

I do not expect that the train is busy on April 25 and 26. These days are not in Golden Week. This is just one of the weekends.

Tokyo Olympic

Tokyo will hold Summer Olympic game from July 24 to August 9 in 2020. The hotel rate will be super high. All part of Tokyo will be busy. It is not a good idea to visit Tokyo during Olympic game.

Tokyo Olympic is postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19 outbreak,

Obon (mid August)

Obon is not a national holiday. It is Japanese traditional summer break. Usually Obon period is August 13 to 16. 2020’s calendar is the following:

Aug 8 (Sat)
Aug 9 (Sun) Tokyo Olympic closing ceremony
Aug 10 (Mon) Holiday (Mountain Day)

Aug 11 (Tue)
Aug 12 (Wed)

Aug 13 (Thu) Obon
Aug 14 (Fri) Obon

Aug 15 (Sat) Obon
Aug 16 (Sun) Obon

In 2020, Obon period will be weekend. I expect the busiest day is August 13 for outgoing and August 16 for incoming. However August 10 will be holiday and Olympic game will be closed on August 9. Some traveler may take extra days off on 11 and 12 and will start to travel on August 10. In Tokyo and surrounding areas, everything will be busy from July 24 to August 16 in 2010.

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 weekends and holidays. The busiest period in Japan is New Year’s Holidays. It usually starts on December 29 or 30 and finish on January 3. 2020-2021 calendar is the following.

Dec 29 (Tue) New Years Holiday
Dec 30 (Wed) New Years Holiday
Dec 31 (Thu) New Years Holiday

Jan 1 (Fri) Holiday (New Year’s day)
Jan 2 (Sat)
Jan 3 (Sun)

In 2020-2021, the beginning of New Year’s Holidays will be December 29. Many Japanese travelers will start to get out of the cities from the morning on December 29 to the evening on December 30. For outgoing, I expect that the train will be busy from the morning on December 29 to the early evening on December 30. January 2 and 3 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 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.

Many restaurants and stores will closed early on December 31 and close on January 1. Most attractions will stay open on January 1.

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.

Leave very early or very late

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

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. And sometimes Green is harder to book than ordinary. If you are wondering which you will buy JR pass ordinary or Green, Green pass expand the possibility to get a seat. But if you cannot get Green seat, you have to accept an ordinary seat even if you have Green pass.

Try to book separately

If you cannot find a seat, divide into two segments and try to book. You may find a seat.

e.g.
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 the peak period.

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

Comments

  1. Mihai says:

    Dear Takeshi-san,

    Together with my wife and two kids will be travelling to Japan for two weeks – 21st of April to May 4th. We would like to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Fuji Hakone area, but also go up north to Hakodate to see the cherry blossoms. We plan to acquire the 7-day JR Pass and our plan would be the following:
    Day1-5- Kyoto (with trips to Osaka, Nara etc)
    Day6-7 – Hakodate (return evening to Hakone with JR Pass)
    Day8-9 – Fuji Hakone area (Fuji Hakone Pass)
    Day10-14 – Tokyo
    Could you please advise how to make the most efficient travel itineraries and make the most out of our passes? We are also flexible with our plan, so if there is a more efficient and economical way (or to avoid busy routes) of doing the above we can visit the cities in a different order.
    Thank you,
    Mihai

  2. Tcuk says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    Is it advisable to travel to Izu during Summer, particularly between 10th – 15th? I had initially planned to visit Kamakura and travel down Izu – Jogasaki Cape. Finding a place to stay is very difficult or its very expensive. If I were to split the trip and return to Tokyo, it a very long trip from Tokyo to Izu Shimoda.

    Thank you,
    Tuck

  3. Hi, Takisha, Ny husband and I will visit Japan. I don’t know how many days of JR Pass need.
    My itinerary is bellow,
    4/6 Haneda to Kyoto: Arriving Narita: 2:75 pm go through custom then pick up languages, then take a limousine bus to Tokyo Station. then change JR Pass to tickets. How long it will take time to change, Also a hotel reservation and arriving time 8:00-9:00pm. I have enough time all this? We will stay Kyoto till 4/9.
    4/10, Shitakaoka 10:2am, overnight
    4/11, Shintakaokas to Itoigawa, taking oito line to Matsumoto,two days overnight.
    4/1/3 Matsumoto to Nigata, “I HAVE PROBLEMS” I don”t want to go Takasaki change shinkansen to Nigata. is there any rout to Nigata. Joetsumiyoko to Naoetsu ? I could not Nagono to Nigata, Please help me
    Thank You

  4. eeveelau
    Evelyn says:

    Hello Takeshi,

    I am travelling to Japan for the first time but without realising it, I have booked my trip during the Golden Week period. I was hoping you could help me answer a few questions I had. Some of the questions are about travelling during Golden Week and some are not. If you would like me to post them on a different page, I can do that.
    Anyway, I’ve listed my itinerary below:

    Tuesday, 28 April – Sydney-Haneda-KIX, Osaka
    Wednesday, 29 April – Osaka
    Thursday, 30 April – Osaka
    Friday, 1 May – Osaka-Himeji-Osaka (Day 1 of Kansai-Hiroshima Pass)
    Saturday, 2 May – Osaka-Hiroshima-Miyajimaguchi-Hiroshima (Day 2 of KH Pass)
    Sunday, 3 May – Hiroshima-Osaka shinkansen. Osaka-Kyoto (Day 3 of KH Pass)
    Monday, 4 May – Kyoto (Day 4 of KH Pass)
    Tuesday, 5 May – Kyoto (Day 5 of KH Pass)
    Wednesday, 6 May – Kyoto-Nara-Kyoto
    Thursday, 7 May – Kyoto
    Friday, 8 May – Kyoto-Tokyo
    Saturday, 9 May – Tokyo
    Sunday, 10 May – Tokyo
    Monday, 11 May – Tokyo
    Tuesday, 12 May – Tokyo
    Wednesday, 13 May – Haneda, Tokyo-Sydney

    1. Would you recommend I buy the Kansai-Hiroshima Pass for my trip? And are those (1 May-5 May) the best days to use them?

    2. If I use the KH Pass, can I board all shinkansen trains (Nozomi, Mizuho, Sakura, Hikari, Kodama) that run on the Sanyo Shinkansen line? How can I make sure to only ride on the Sanyo Shinkansen line? What settings do I tick when I want to check my trip on the Hyperdia website (local train? limited express? express? shinkansen?)?

    3. On 2 May, when I make the trip from Osaka to Hiroshima, will the train be very crowded from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima? Do you think there are many people wanting to travel to Hiroshima and Miyajima on the day? What are the chances of me getting an unreserved seat if I catch a shinkansen that leaves Shin-Osaka between 6am and 6:30am?
    From your experience, how early should I arrive beforehand to catch a train at this hour for an unreserved seat? I know I’ll be competing for seats with other tourists but are many Japanese people willing to get up this early to catch the train? Will there be people coming from Tokyo and Kyoto to Hiroshima in the early morning?

    4. When do the ekiben stores open in Shin-Osaka and Kyoto station? Will I have time to buy one if my train departs at 6am?

    5. Will there be more trains during Golden Week? How do I access this updated timetable?

    6. I want to ride the Hankyu Kyo-Train Garaku from Osaka to Kyoto. Do I pay a separate fare for this or is it covered in my KH Pass? Will they stop me from boarding if the train is too crowded at 3:30pm?

    7. I will be travelling to Tokyo on 8 May when some Japanese tourists may also be returning to the city from their holiday. What train ticket do you recommend I buy for Kyoto-Tokyo? Will the shinkansen still be very crowded in the morning if I catch a train between 8am and 9am? Will I have a lot of difficulty booking a reserved seat ticket a month in advance? Which website can I use to book Kyoto-Tokyo trains?

    8. Which side of the train should I sit on for a nicer view from Osaka-Himeji or Osaka-Hiroshima-Miyajimaguchi?
    Which side of the train should I sit on for a nicer view from Kyoto-Nara?
    Which side of the train should I sit on to get a view of Mt Fuji when I travel to Tokyo?

    Thank you for reading all my questions, Takeshi. I know I have written a lot here and I am very grateful for your time.

    Thank you so much,
    Evelyn

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