Reserved seat VS Non reserved seat. How to get a seat on non reserved car?

Common ordinary car interior (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Common ordinary car interior (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Most of trains in Japan have reserved seat and non reserved seat in ordinary cars. But some of you do not understand the difference between reserved seat and non reserved seat. And you may worry that all seats are full if you use non reserved seat.

In this post, I will explain you difference between reserved seat and non reserved seat. You will find pros and cons of both reserved and non reserved seat.

What is Non Reserved seat and Reserved seat

You can secure your seat if you take reserved seat. If you use reserved seat, seat number, car number and train are fixed. Your seat is secured but you have to take a designated train.

Reserved seat ticket for Shinkansen
Reserved seat ticket for Shinkansen

Meanwhile if you take non reserved seat, you have to fix your trip plan and the route, such as Tokyo to Kyoto. But your train number and seat number are not assigned and you have flexibility. The ticket is valid for one day. However your seat is not secured. It is first come first serve basis. In peak season, there are many standing passengers in non reserved car. You may have to stand in the car for a few hours.

If you want the information about booking a ticket, please see the link below:

How to reserve the train seat of Japan Railway

The difference of the cost between reserved seat and non reserved seat

Non reserved seat fee is 520 yen (510 yen in Kyushu) cheaper than reserved seat fee in regular season. But in the shoulder season, reserved seat fee is 200 yen cheaper than the regular season. So the difference between reserved and non reserved is 320 yen. On the other hand, in the peak season, reserved seat fee is 200 yen higher than the regular season. The difference is 720 yen.

When you take Nozomi on Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen, Nozomi surcharge is added on top of seat fee. This extra charge is from 210 yen to 620 yen by distance. So when you take Nozomi, the difference between reserved seat and non reserved seat is bigger.

Difference of accommodation between reserved seat and non reserved seat

Interior of limited express train in Shikoku. There are both reserved and non reserved seats in same car. The seats are exactly same.
Interior of limited express train in Shikoku. There are both reserved and non reserved seats in same car. The seats are exactly same.

In most of JR trains, both reserved seat and non reserved seat offer same accommodation. The seat, leg space and width are exactly same.

520 yen reserved seat fee does not give you any better seat.

The accommodation is not an issue to choose reserved or non reserved.

But there are a few JR trains to offer better interior in reserved seat than non reserved seat.

Limited Express Super Kamui (Sapporo – Asahikawa) and Suzuran (Sapporo – Muroran)

Useat of Limited Express Super Kamui (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Useat of Limited Express Super Kamui (C) Sonic Rail Garden

This train does not have Green car. Therefore reserved seat is a bit better than non reserved seat. Reserved seat is called “U seat” in these trains. The seat in reserved seat car is bigger than non reserved seat. And the power outlet is available at the seat in reserved seat car only.

Please see the post, Limited Express Super Kamui to get the detailed information.

Sanyo-Kyushu Shinkansen, Mizuho and Sakura (Shin Osaka/Hakata – Kagoshima Chuo)

Reserved ordinary class seat (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Reserved ordinary class seat (C) Sonic Rail Garden

The difference is huge between reserved seat and non reserved seat in this train. Basically the ordinary class seat of Shinkansen trains have 2+3 layout.

But in Mizuho and Sakura, reserved seat car offers 2+2 seat layout. The leg space is same as non reserved car but the width is same as Green seat. This reserved seat is much more comfortable than non reserved seat and it is highly recommended.

Please read the post, Kyushu Shinkansen N700 series for Mizuho, Sakura and Tsubame image gallery to get the detailed information.

How to get a seat in non reserved car

Many readers asked me, “Can we get seats in non reserved car easily?”, “Is it hard to get a seat in non reserved car?”. And also many readers worry the case that there is no empty seats when they are on board in non reserved car.

It is very hard for me to answer to these inquiries. In my experience, it is not hard to find a seat in non reserved car other than peak season. If you are solo traveler, you can find a seat easily in most of seasons. But if you travel with someone or travel as a group, you may not be able to find the seat together in even regular season.

Please imagine. Most of trains have 2+2 seats layout. There are many business travelers and most of them are solo traveler. They usually pick up window side seat. As a result, you may find the seat but most of empty seats are isle side.

If you are okay with this situation, it is no problem with using non reserved seat. But if you want to have a few seats together, you may consider to use non reserved car.

However there are some tips to get some seats together and avoid this situation.

Take a train at the original departure station

When train comes to the platform in the original departure station, train is empty. It is much easier to take a seat.

e.g.
Your departure station : Shin-Osaka station
Your destination : Kanazawa
In this case, you will take Limited Express Thunderbird. This train stops at Shin-Osaka but train departs from Osaka station originally. Many of seats will be taken at Osaka station. Osaka station is only one station away and it takes only 5 minutes by local train from Shin-Osaka. If you go back to Osaka and catch this train, it is much easier to get a seat.

When you try to get a seat in non reserved car, you have to check where train comes from. And try to get on the train at the original departure station. You can find this information at Hyperdia. Please see the link below how to find it in Hyperdia:

Advanced function – Hyperdia perfect guide

Many of you will take Shinkansen (a.k.a. Bullet train) in your trip. If you take Shinkansen in downtown Tokyo, there are several stations to catch Shinkansen.

Tokaido Shinkansen (bound for Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka, Hiroshima) : Tokyo, Shinagawa
Tohoku, Joetsu, Hokkaido, Hokuriku Shinkansen (bound for Sendai, Niigata, Nagano, Kanazawa, Shin-Aomori, Akita, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto) : Tokyo, Ueno

Original departure stations of Shinkansen in downtown Tokyo is Tokyo station. You should not take Shinkansen at Ueno and Shinagawa if you take non reserved seat.

If you take Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka station, try to pick up Shin-Osaka departure train. You may find the timetable of Shinkansen in the links below:

Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen westbound timetable (from Tokyo)
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen eastbound timetable (to Tokyo)

You may find some trains that depart from Shin-Osaka originally such as the image below.

Example of trains that depart from Shin-Osaka
Example of trains that depart from Shin-Osaka

Many trains come to Shin-Osaka to carry huge number of passengers. Please try to avoid those trains and find the train that depart from Shin-Osaka.

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 Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen timetable again.
Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen westbound timetable (from Tokyo)

You can find many “K” trains, such as K633 that departs from Tokyo at 06:56, arrive Shin-Osaka at 11:00. This is Kodama that is the slowest train on Shinkansen line.

As you see, Nozomi (“N”) is 1.5 hours faster than Kodama. Even Hikari is 1 hour faster than Kodama. That is why it is easier to get a seat on Kodama. And also Kodama has many more non reserved cars than Nozomi and Hikari. If you do not mind to spend extra hours, Kodama may be considerable.

Extra cost to book a seat by rail pass that covers only non reserved seat

Some of rail passes do not cover reserved seat, such as Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass, Kansai Wide Area Pass, Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass, Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass. If you want to book your seat by this pass, you have to pay full fare of seat fee.

e.g.
Trip from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima by Shinkansen Nozomi
Reserved seat fee 4,810 yen
Non reserved seat fee 4,090 yen

Some of you think that you need to pay the difference, 720 yen in this case. But unfortunately it is wrong. You have to pay 4,810 yen. In this case, the pass does not cover any seat fee. It covers only base fare. If you really want to book your seat, you can do it. But the pass does not give you a big saving. This way is not very recommended when you use the pass that covers only non reserved seat.

44 thoughts on “Reserved seat VS Non reserved seat. How to get a seat on non reserved car?”

  1. Do I have to collect the shikansen ticket even though I am traveling in a non reserved seat? or do I walk to the platform and just hop on the unreserved car number?!
    it is my first time getting the ordinary tickets as I am used to reserve on the midori guchi for the green seats.

    1. Hi Emy,

      Are you using JR Pass. If so, you don’t need to pick up any tickets. Just show your pass to enter ticket gate and proceed to the platform.
      If you use a regular ticket, you will buy a ticket at the window or vending machine anyway.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Sorry to bother you buy can you please clarify your point about “Extra cost to book a seat by rail pass that covers only non reserved seat”.

    I plan to use the Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass to take the Thunderbird from Kanazawa to Kyoto. As I understand, if I do not care about reserved seats, I don’t need to pay anything. But if I want reserved seats, I need to pay full fare(and not just the reserved seat fare), right?

    To reiterate, I plan on using it as non-reserved. So as I understand, I do not need to pay anything, right?

  3. Hi Takeshi san,

    I will be arrive at Kansai Airport on Dec 23 and plan to visit Kanazawa on the next day Dec 24 (hopefully to catch 7am or 7.40am Limited Express Thunderbird). I will be using Takayama Hokuriku Pass for Kanazawa/Shirakawago/ Takayama).

    Kindly advise the below:
    1. Is the pass said to be activated once exchanged? or we can exchange the pass first and choose a specific date to begin to use?

    2. As our flight will arrive Kansai at 10pm (Dec 23), should we activate the pass and reserve the seat for early train (Thunderbird) to Kanazawa for next day? or we still have chances to get seats if we activate and reserve on the same day (Dec 24)?

    3. Understand that Dec 23 is a public holiday, what time will the ticket office (for MCO exchange) closed?

    4. Is Takayama Hokuriku Pass cover Nohi Bus for Shinhokata / Hirayu line?

    Many thanks!

  4. hello, i will be travelling from tokyo to kyoto on 29th of december 2017 with one friend, and returning on tokyo on 4th of january. Ir will be hard to take a seats ? For me it will be possible to take train at 6 am or so on by kodama train: is impossibile to take train? Any suggest? Thank you very much!

  5. My family is arriving at Osaka on 27 Dec. Will move on to Kyoto , then to Takayama and to Tokyo.

    I need your advice:

    1) Osaka > Kyoto > Takayama > Tokyo – can I use the JR PASS for the Limited Express Wide View Hida!?
    2) Kyoto > Gifu > Takayama : Do I need to change train at Gifu?
    3) Takayama > Nagoya > Tokyo: Do I need to change train at Nagoya?
    4) If i purchase JR PASS online, where do I colkect the JR PASS? At Kansai Airport or at Osaka Train Station?
    5) How do I reserve seat for these routes in advance? Kyoto > Gifu > Takayama and Takayama> Nagoya > Tokyo?

    appreciate your advice. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sharon,

      1. It’s covered.

      2. If you take direct service of Wide View Hida to Takayama from Osaka or Kyoto, you don’t need to change at Gifu. But there is only one trip available. If you cannot take this train, you need to take Shinkansen to get Nagoya and then take Wide View Hida. Wide View Hida runs almost every on hour from Nagoya to Takayama.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/tips-for-japan-rail-pass/how-to-access-to-takayama-by-trains-and-buses.html

      3. Yes. You need to take Shinkansen from Nagoya to Tokyo

      4. You can exchange the pass at any station in the list. Kansai airport station is on the list. Please see the link below to find it:
      http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/exchange.html

      5. You can book when you exchange the pass. You may travel in very busy period. Please try to book for all trains when you exchange the pass.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/2017-busiest-period-to-travel-by-train-tips-to-book-your-seat-in-even-busy-period.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takeshi-san
    My family which consist of 2 adults and an 8 y/o child will be travelling from Tokyo to Osaka via Nozomi on Dec.14 (thurs) with hand carry luggages and backpack. Since we don’t know the specific time we will be able to finish exploring Tokyo Station, we are unable to decide between reserved and non-reserved seat.
    Can you advise me on the following:
    1. Is it possible to get a seat at non -reserved section during this day?
    2. Can we upgrade our tickets from non-reserved to reserved seat if the train is full?
    3. Is it possible to buy reserved seat ticket 1 hour prior to or same time we intend to leave Tokyo?
    4. If we bought reserved seat tickets but missed our trip, can we still modify our tickets and ride the next nozomi?

    Thank you and I appreciate your help.

    Kath

    1. Hi Kath,

      1. Yes. Dec 14 is not a busy day.
      2. You cannot do it in the train. But if it’s full, you can take next one. Nozomi runs every 10 minutes.
      3. Yes. You can purchase it 10 minutes before departure time. Many business travelers purchase it just before on board.
      4. You can take non reserved seat on later train.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Hi Takeshi san,

    For non-reserved seat on rapid train @ JR Hokkaido, can we buy few days in advance through the ticket machine? I read somewhere the ticket only valid on the same date of purchase.

    Thanks for the guide.

    Kenny

  8. Hi,

    Thank you for your detailed information, i found this website very helpful.

    I’m arriving in Tokyo on 27 December in the morning 10am, and hope to get the shinkansen to reach Morioka by latest 7pm on the same day. I have a JR pass, but i cannot reserve seats online because i cannot collect my reserved tickets the day before (which is required).

    Do you think it will be possible to get unreserved seats on 27 Dec?
    Or do you think it is possible to reserve a seat on the day itself?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jac,

      I think you can reserve a seat on some trains to Morioka. Dec 27 is not the busiest day yet.

      If you can’t, you need to take non reserved seat. But most of trains to Morioka from Tokyo do not have non reserved seat. Please see the link below to find the timetable.
      http://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/english/wb/common/timetable/e_tohoku_d/index.html

      There are three kinds of trains to Morioka. Those are Hayabusa, Hayate and Yamabiko. Only Yamabiko has non reserved seat. Other trains have reserved seat only and you cannot get these trains without reservation.

      You cannot book your seat online as you said. But you can find the availability of trains by online reservation site. Use this site just before you depart.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. I will be traveling on the JR Thunderbird limited express to Kanazawa from Kyoto on Dec. 28th and returning to Osaka (Station) on Dec. 30th. Any recommendations – are trains crowded going to Kanazawa and going to Osaka on those days? Thank you.

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