What is the difference between Reserved seat and Non reserved seat. How to get a seat on non reserved car?

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

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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.

158 thoughts on “What is the difference between Reserved seat and Non reserved seat. How to get a seat on non reserved car?”

  1. Hi Takeshi,

    First of all, thank you for your post, this is such a helpful and information site.
    May I ask for your advice? I will be travelling to Japan in February 2020 and am planning to purchase the JR Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass. Do you know if the JR Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass covers all the areas that I am planning to visit as follow:
    1. From Osaka Station to Kinosaki Onsen Station via Ltd. Express Kounotori
    2. From Kinosaki Onsen to Kyoto Station via Ltd. Express Kinosaki
    3. From Kyoto Station to Kanazawa via Ltd. Express Thunderbird
    4. From Kyoto Station to Kansai Aiport via Ltd. Express Haruka
    I would appreciate if you can offer your advice. Thank you in advance.

  2. Hi Takeshi-san, I’m planning to go to Japan in Oct and thinking of the following schedule.
    Oct 3: Arrive in Osaka – visit day trip to Kobe.
    Oct 4: Transit to Kagoshima
    Oct 5: Yakushima island
    Oct 8: Miyajima
    Oct 10: Kyoto
    Oct 13: Osaka (leave to airport)
    I’m not so sure which pass that I should use – really need your expert advice on this!
    Opt 1: JR nationwide pass – 14 Day
    Opt 2: 1-day JR west pass (for Oct 3) + 7-day JR nationwide pass (Oct 4-Oct 10) + 3-day JR west pass (Oct 11-13).
    The cost difference is about 60$ between opt 1 and 2.
    I also see that there are Hankyu passes which can go from Osaka to Kobe but not sure if that’s covering Kansai airport to Osaka (else, I would just use the JR west pass). I also see that the JR West pass doesn’t cover reserved seats for the Hakura trains from airport (while the JR nationwide pass seems covering reserved seats) so not sure if I should take the JR west pass or JR nationwide pass.
    Thank you for your advice,
    Cindy

    1. Hi Cindy san,

      You may use JR West Kansai Rail Pass 1 day and JR Pass 7-day. But I don’t think you need another 3-day Kansai area pass. You may use other deals in Osaka. You can find it in the links below:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/kansai-kix/how-to-choose-the-deals-for-access-tofrom-kansai-airport.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thanks Takeshi-san for the super quick reply!
        I’ve done a quick check and found that only JR pass / JR west pass and Kansai-through pass cover airport trains (and also Osaka/Kyoto visits) so it seems JR west pass (3-day) is the best option for now. Would appreciate if you have any other advice 🙂

        1. Hi Cindy san,

          You can use JR Pass for the trip to Kyoto. So basically you need the deal for sightseeing in Osaka only. JR West Kansai area pass is too much and you cannot get the worth of it. You cannot get the worth of Kansai thru pass either. If you take Nankai railway from Namba to Kansai at the regular fare, it costs only 920 yen. So I didn’t recommend these.

          I put two links about the deal for Osaka in the previous reply. You can pick up one of those for Osaka.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Hi Takeshi-san,

    We are a group of 8 traveling from Nagoya to Osaka in late December. This is our first time to plan a trip via shinkansen with luggage. We’ve only used the shinkansen once, and very briefly as a means of getting to Tokyo from Hakone at the end of our daytrip bus tour a few years ago.

    Considering that we each have on average one medium-large suitcase and a carry-on each, would it be ok to get a reserved seat ticket (Kodama or Nozomi, depending on seat availability when we book), without being a nuisance to our fellow riders on that day? Maybe even a first-class ticket? Or should we just take a bus service like Willer?

    Thanks in advance for helping this gaijin ^_^

  4. Hi Takeshi-san!

    I got a super express (nozomi) shinkansen Non-reserved ticket and I was wondering if it’s easy to tell which seat I can take when I board the train, I don’t want to take the seat of another person, and because of the peak season I suppose it’s going to be crowded so in which order people go into the train? do you have to wait for the reserved passengers first and then take any seat that’s left free?

    Also, in your post you say that I should not take shinkansen at Ueno or Shinagawa for Non-reserved seat, but my ticket already says Tokyo-Shinagawa, can I still take the train from Tokyo station?

    Finally (sorry for so many questions), I’m very confused by the two tickets that the machine gave me, the basic-fare ticket says “Musahi-Mizonokuchi > Hiroshima” but the Nozomi ticket says “Tokyo-Shinagawa > Hiroshima”, did I make a mistake?

    Thank you for your post, has been very useful.

    Best,
    Joseph

    1. Hi Joseph san,

      Your tickets are okay. You will take the local train to Tokyo so your Shinkansen ticket says from Tokyo-Shinagawa. You can take the Shinkansen at either Tokyo or Shinagawa. But you should take it at Tokyo. Most of seat maybe taken when the train depart from Tokyo. In the worst case, you have to stand up in non reserved seat car if you take the train at Shinagawa.

      Nozomi is 16 cars train formation. But non reserved car is only 3 of 16 cars. Car #1 to 3 are non reserved cars. Other cars are reserved seat car and you cannot get on these cars. You have to find the seat in car #1 to #3.

      There are lineups at the door of Car #1 to #3 before the train coming. You should go to the platform at least 20 minutes earlier.

      Please see the link below to find more info about the Shinkansen:

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Ok got it! That was very clear Takeshi-san, very helpful!!! thank you again for the quick response! happy holidays!

  5. Hi Takeshi San,
    YR
    We are group of 2adults, 1teenager,and a kid.going to Kansai region/kKanazawa/Shirakawa mid Dec with Kansai -Hokuriku area pass, can u pls kindly advise the following,
    1. Can we take the Ltd Exp Hashidate from Nijo station to Amanohashidate with the pass?
    2. Is it peak season then to get seat together at the non-reserved cabin?
    3. If we were to reserved the seat, do we pay the basic fare+ seat fee or just the seat fee?
    4. Do this pass cover Hiroshima?

    Appreciate you kind advice
    Thank you .

    Regards,
    Felicia

    1. Hi Felicia san,

      1. Yes.
      2. It is not a peak season. But if you want 4 seats together, you should take a train at the original departure station. For example, when you take the limited express Hashidate, you should take a train at Kyoto.
      3. You have to pay the full fare or the reserved seat fee. The base fare is covered.
      4. No. You have to pay the base fare and the seat fee for Okayama – Hiroshima. If you take non reserved seat, one way fare (base fare+seat fee) is 5,500 yen. If you plan to visit Hiroshima, you should think about using JR Pass. It covers the reserved seat fee too but it does not cover Amanohashidate. You have to pay the fare for Fukuchiyama to Amanohashidate on top of JR Pass.
      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

    2. Takeshi San,

      Thank you for your prompt reply, would like to check with you the following,

      1. Can we use the kansai- hokuriku pass to travel on Ltd Exp Thunderbird to Kanazawa? As we will be traveling on Sun, is it hard to get seat?

      Thank you .

      Regards,
      Felicia

      1. Hi Felicia san,

        You can take the limited express Thunderbird. Usually it is not hard to take a seat even on Sunday because the business travelers take this train in weekdays as well. However if you want to take 4 seats together, it may be hard. There are lots of solo passengers and they take the window side seats first. If you really want to take 4 seats together, you should take the train from Osaka.

        Cheers,

        Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi Takeshi san, years ago your website and your advice helped me to plan my first trip to Japan. I am more experienced now but still with some questions. I usually plan my route with hyperdia which is fantastic. As this trip I not buying a rail pass I am not sure if I can buy a ticket with a non reserved seat. I would be travelling from Tsu to Nagoya in Kintetsu line and the price is much cheaper without reservation.
    Thanks again and congratulations for your new web site.

    1. Hi Maria,

      If you don’t reserve your seat, you will take a commute train. You may have to stand up. If you reserve a seat, you will take a limited express train which is much more comfortable. You can find the images of both the limited express train and commute train in the link below:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/kintetsu-rail-pass-most-affordable-deal-for-osakakyoto-nagoya-and-access-to-ise.html

      The choice is yours.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Hello and thank you for this post, it’s very helpful! I’m planning on taking mostly limited express trains and Shinkansen across Japan for 2 weeks and I bought the JR Pass. I’m planning on taking only Shinkansen covered by the JR Pass. How far in advance would you recommend reserving tickets for limited express trains and Shinkansen? Are reservations required? If I reserve a ticket for Hayabusa Shinkansen, for example, am I allowed to use it on any Hayabusa Shinkansen for the day I choose to use it? Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Joy,

      I usually complete all train bookings when I exchange JR Pass. If you want to take the specific trains or departure time, you should book as early as possible.

      Reservation is required for some trains. For example, you cannot take Hayabusa without reservation. JR pass covers the reserved seat fee. So you may better book and secure your seat.

      If you reserve a seat, you will be assigned the train, car number and seat number. You have to take the train which is assigned.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. Hello,

    I was wondering what the method is by which station agents assign seats when making a seat reservation. Is there an official policy that they follow unless a passenger makes a special request?

    – do they try to equally distribute travellers among all reserved seating cars?
    – is one car filled first before moving to the next and then the next?
    – within cars, do they start at the first row and then fill the car backwards (or the opposite direction) or do they try to equally space out travellers to give more comfort in case the cars does not get fully booked?

    – when making an online seat booking, which method does the inline system follow? Does it allow a passenger to pick a specific car/seat or only a seat preference such as window/aisle and do/don’t split groups?

    1. Hi Manu,

      They don’t distribute the seat like that. It depends on the passengers and the reservation staff. When you book a seat at the window, you can pick the specific seat if you like, such as the front row seat on car #2. You also can tell window side or aisle side. They don’t usually split the seat for the multiple number of passengers. If they need, they will tell.

      If you book online, in most cases, you can pick aisle or window, near front or back end or middle of the car. In some cases, you can pick the seat. When you try to book online, you will find it.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. Hi Takeshi,

    I’ve visited Japan 2 or 3 times per year since 2008 (first trip in 2006), but have mostly stuck to Tokyo and Osaka and flights between. I’ve never gotten a JR pass, or a similar wide area pass, for cost reasons. The price of the pass wouldn’t be worth the cost for my plans. I got some metro day passes in Tokyo and Osaka for my first trips to each, but the limits on them (subway only) and the price for the pass compared to the amount of travel didn’t make it worth it. I later got a Suica and ICOCA (and another 18 or so similar IC cards from around the world ).

    I’ve only used the shinkansen twice. One Tokyo>Toyohashi return day trip (something came up during that trip and I had to make an unplanned stop in Toyohashi), and Nagoya>Mishima>Tokyo over a week. I have always gotten reserved seat tickets from Midori no Madoguchi counters (I had to run with all my bags through Nagoya station as a delay on my train from Owari-Ichinomiya turned the 10 min connection into 2 minutes). Are there still 2 tickets used to pass through the shinkansen gates with an unreserved seat?

    I’m trying to work out if it is worth making a side trip during my next trip to Japan. I’ll be back in Japan in early June for a concert in Saitama (Metlife Dome June 8/9).
    I arrive a few days before and am considering a quick trip to Numazu to see things I missed during my last trip, but it would depend on the costs.

    Are there any passes that would cover the train between Tokyo and Mishima/Numazu and the bus to Awashima Marine Park and the Mito Beach area?
    I understand that if I were to get the Tōkaidō Main Line (instead of the shinkansen), I’d have to exit and come back in at Atami since you can’t cross areas on the same tap with Suica (even though Suica is otherwise usable in the TOICA area)?
    Is it likely to be busy? Given the dates and area involved, comparable travel dates would be September 27 and 28, 2017 and June 7 and 8, 2018, with possible higher travel on February 23 and 24, 2017 and November 15 and 16, 2018

    Thanks for any help or suggestions

    1. Hi Amy,

      There is no deals to cover Mishima, Numazu and Tokyo. But Tokyo Wide Pass may be considerable:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/tokyo-wide-pass-is-newer-version-of-kanto-area-pass-nikko-fuji-gala-yuzawa-and-odaiba-are-covered-by-this-pass.html

      The Shinkansen is not covered by this pass. But you can take the limited express Odoriko.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/odoriko-super-view-odoriko.html

      You can get Mishima directly by Odoriko but you have to pay for Atami to Mishima/Numazu on top of the pass. You cannot get the worth of Tokyo Wide Pass by Tokyo-Atami return by Odoriko. But if you may add some more trips, you may be able to get the worth of it, such as taking Narita Express from Narita to Tokyo.

      As you think, you cannot get Mishima/Numazu from Tokyo by Suica. You will cross the border of JR East and JR Central. You have to exit at Atami and need to buy a regular ticket for Mishima/Numazu. Suica is usable in Toica area. But you cannot cross the border. The trip by IC card must be completed in same area.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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