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.

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

  1. Hi,

    I want to take Akita Shinkansen from Ueno to Akita. But found I cannot reserve seat on line. Is it correct ? I can only book seat when I arrived Japan ?

    Besides, if I brought JR EAST PASS(Tohoku area) at date Oct 20 then can I pick up at Oct 20 when arrived Japan and use the pass at same date ?

    thanks!
    Nicole

    1. Hi Nicole,

      You can book online.
      https://www.eki-net.com/pc/jreast-shinkansen-reservation/English/wb/common/Menu/Menu.aspx?_ga=1.4778995.1325107855.1421419524

      But if you intend to travel to Akita on the day of arrival, you cannot book because you have to pick up a ticket one day before. You have to book a seat after arrival in this case.

      I think you can purchase it on the day of arrival but actually I’m not sure 100%. I have never done that before.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Dear Takeshi,

    Is it okay to get a reserved seat ticket by JR pass but go to the non-reserved car instead to find a seat that better suits me (for example when I can’t get a window seat reservation). Is there any penalty for not attending the seat you have reserved?

    Thank you.

  3. Is there a list or link to site showing the allocation of non reserved seat to which carriage, on the Shinkansen or limited express.

    I will be using these trains for my trip.

    Kounotori 22
    Super Hakuto 10
    Hashidate 1,8,10.

      1. Thanks for the information, but seeing that i’m traveling solo, as you said, it shouldn’t be difficult for me to obtain a seat during November 16-18.

  4. Hi, i plan to take the JR Hakodate Main Line from Sapporo to Otaru, and i dont have JR pass. Based on hyperdia it’s 640 yen.

    May i know if it’s free seating?
    Or can i reserve seats on this train without JR pass?

    Cause from what i found on the internet, JR Hakodate Main Line seems to be 2-2 seating..? Or am i wrong?

    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Stefani,

      Trains have some reserved seat but you don’t need to take it. Most of seats are non reserved and the train is basically commute train. You can take a seat. But sometimes train is very busy and there are lots of standing passengers.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hi,

    If Kansai Wide Pass is good for my proposed itinerary, my next concern are the sears.
    The Kansai Wide Pass covers only unreserved Seats, as I am traveling with 2 young children so needs to have seats. Can you advise whether late Nov is a peak time whereby it is difficult to get sears on train from Wakayama to Shirahama?

    Thanks

    1. Hi May,

      All trips are covered by Kansai wide area pass. You can do either Shirahama-Wakayama-Osaka or Shirahama-Osaka directly.
      Late November is not peak season. Usually it’s not hard to get a seat.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Dear Takeshi-San,

        Thanks for your prompt advice. We will purchase the Kansai Wide Pass for the trip. So is it advisable to travel directly from Kansai Airport to Shirahama or it is better to go directly to Wakayama from Kansai Airport? Then access Shirahama from Wakayama? As for Nara trip, should I continue from Shirahama/Wakayama or plan a day trip f on Osaka?

        Thanks
        May

        1. Hi May san,

          If you have a reason why you want to drop by Wakayama, you can do so. Otherwise you don’t need to. By the way, there is no direct trains to get Shirahama from KIX. You must change trains at least once, at Hineno or Hineno and Wakayama.

          For the trip to Nara, it may be too long if you reach Nara from Shirahama. Day trip is easier.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

          1. Hi Takeshi San,

            So I should travel Kansai Airport-Shirahama-Wakayama (if I intend to visit)?

            Thanks
            May

      2. Dear Takeshi San

        Thanks for all yr advice. Can I also check the best way to reach Shinsaibashi station from Wakayama Station?

        Regards
        May

        1. Hi May san,

          You may drop by Wakayama either on the way or on the way back to/from Shirahama.
          You can take Limited Express Kuroshio or rapid train from Wakayama to Tennoji and then take subway to Shinsaibashi. Subway is not covered by Kansai wide area pass.
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/how-to-get-kansai-airport-and-wakayama-kansai-airport-rapid-service-and-kishuji-rapid-service.html
          https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/station-information/tennoji-station-guide-how-to-transfer-jr-kintetsu-railway-and-subway-lines.html

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi,

    I am planning to purchase the Kansai WIDE Area pass. I’ll be in Osaka for a week and will visit cities like Nara, Kobe, Kyoto, Himeji, and Okayama. I tried searching in Hyperdia and it mentioned about paying 2,480 Yen for an unreserved seat for a trip from Shin-Osaka to Okayama. Does this mean I still have to pay said amount even when I have the JR pass?

  7. Hello, we will be landing in Kansai on 28th April and need to take the train to Kyoto. I am looking to book the non reserved seat for the Haruka from Kansai airport to Kyoto. Is it possible to do this online as I can’t seem to find the page to book? I understand the non reserved is better as it gives us more flexibility and we can decide the time and train. Thank you for your help.

    1. Hi Nishna,

      You cannot book a seat on non reserved car. That’s why it’s “non reserved car”. It is first come first serve basis. In worst case, you need to stand up or wait for next train if you want to take a seat. Unfortunately even if you want to book a seat in reserved car, you cannot book it online.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. Hi! 🙂

    If I’m using the Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass, do I still need to exchange/ obtain tickets at the Shin-Osaka Station (to travel to Hiroshima), or do I just show the pass at the gantry/ gates?

    Secondly, since we will be on “unreserved seats”, are there specific cars/ carriages we need to go to? Or we can get on any car/ carriage and sit on any seat that is empty?

    Many thanks!

    Cheers,
    Mag

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