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.

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

  1. Hello Takeshita-san,

    Planning to go to Asahikawa from Sapporo. We only need to pay the base fare of JPY2490 if we ride on the unreserved seats, right? No need to pay the seat fee.

    1. Hi Maricel san,

      No. You still need to limited express non reserved seat fee. In most cases, non reserved seat fee is 500 yen cheaper than reserved seat fee. If you check the fare at hyperdia, you can find dropdown menu at “Seat fee”. You can see both reserved seat fee and non reserved seat fee:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/hyperdia-perfect-guide-train-timetable-and-route-search-engine.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Dear Takeshi San,

    My plan is to take Kansai Airport Rapid Service for Kyobashi to Hineno, transfer Ltd express Kuroshio to Shirahama. Do I buy rapid service and Ltd express ticket together at the ticket machine at Kansai Airport ?

    Thanks
    May

    1. Hi May san,

      You can purchase all tickets at Kansai airport station. I’m not 100% sure that you can purchase limited express surcharge ticket at the vending machine or not . You may need to buy it at the ticket window.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshisan,

    I am traveling from Kansai Airport to Shirahama via Ltd express Kuroshio train and would like to reserved seats. Can I use the IC card to pay the fare and buy the reserved seats from the ticket machine?

    Thanks

      1. Hi Takeshi,

        We finally have our JR Pass. We are planning to take the earliest train from Shinimamiya station to Kanazawa on the 28th December. My question is,
        Hyperdia says we take the 6:05 departure from Shinimamiya to Osaka arrival at 6:23.
        (Arrival track No.2 / Departure track No.11) Then LTD. EXP THUNDERBIRD 1 departure at 6:30. We only have about 7 minutes to get to the Thunderbird train dep track 11. Is that enough time to get to the train given we are bringing pieces of luggage? Just a bit worried we might not make it in time for the departure to Kanazawa.

        thanks in advance for your help.

        1. Hi Vivian,

          You can do it in 7 minutes. But if you are not comfortable, you can take one earlier train. Train runs every 5-10 minutes. If you go to Shin-Imamiya station 10 minutes earlier, you can take one earlier train.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi There,
    Great Site!
    We are a family (including 2 children) coming to Japan 23 Dec and travelling from Osaka to Ueda (Nagano) on 31st Dec. By the sounds of it travel by Shinkansen on the 31st Dec should be OK. We are then travelling from Ueda to Tokyo on 3rd Jan. I realise it is very busy to travel then but we already booked our accommodation. Will I be able to reserve seats on the Asama Shinkansen when we arrive in Japan at JR ticket office at Kansai? Also would you recommend getting on the train at Nagano instead of Ueda as this is where the train starts.
    Thanks so much for your advice.

    1. Hi Rosie,

      You can book a seat for Ueda to Tokyo on Jan 3 when you get Kansai airport or other major stations in Osaka. And also you can book it for Ueda to Tokyo online. 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 have to pick up a ticket in JR East area. Osaka is not in this area. If you can pick up a ticket somewhere on the way to Ueda, such as Nagano, Tokyo, Kanazawa, you can use this site and no worries about it.

      You cannot book a seat for Osaka to Ueda. Because this site does not cover Osaka. So book a seat for Osaka to Ueda after you arrive in Japan. Dec 31 is not such a busy day. I think you will be okay.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hi, can i ask my plan trip is osaka kyoto nara back to osaka takayama tokyo, this my 8 days plan trip
    Should i buy JR pass? Is it more cheaper if i buy kintetsu pass for osaka kyoto nara, day ticket, and for osaka takayama tokyo just bought one way train ticket?

    Planning to travel on mid february? That month should be low season or high?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Irin,

      JR Pass 7 days is recommended because a regular fare for Osaka to Takayama and Takayama to Tokyo is almost 26,000 yen. It’s only 3000 yen lower than JR Pass 7 days price. You will use JR Pass in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. You will get the worth of it easily.

      Mid February is not very low season in these days because of Chinese New Year. Many tourist from Asian countries in this period visit Japan. But in 2019, Chinese New Year is February 5th. Mid February may be a bit slower than usual.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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