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.

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.

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.

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

  1. Hi Takeshita,

    We have had no trouble reserving all of our Shinkansen seats during our stay and have found the JR Rail Pass to be great value. For our last journey we will be travelling all the way from Hiroshima to Narita for the last day of our trip to Japan but have not been able to reserve two seats on the Shinkansen Sakura 542 from Hiroshima to Shin Kobe. I wondered whether it’s likely to be difficult to get unreserved seats and whether you have any tips. I think that’s the station it originates at so it sounds like it might be a little easier.
    Thanks for any sugggestions.
    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Takeshi,
    I plan to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on 12/27/2019 on Shinkansen. I will not buy JR Pass, only buy single ticket. Will the trains be busy? Can I purchase online in advance or only when I arrive in Tokyo? I worry I will not get seats on train because of holiday. I also go from Kyoto to Osaka on 12/31/2019. There will be four of us. Any advice is very much appreciated!
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Julie,

      December 27th is still okay. Please see the link below:

      You can take a local train from Kyoto to Osaka, such as Special rapid. You cannot book a seat anyway:

      Even if you want to take the Shinkansen, it’s easy to book on December 31.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thank you Takeshi! I feel much better. My family would like to extend 1 day stay in Tokyo. If we leave on 12/28/2019 Saturday from Tokyo to Kyoto, will trains be busy?

  3. HI Takeshi-san

    I am travelling from Kyoto to Nishimaizuru in April. Can I use Icoca for the trip? And how to book the reserved seat? Pls advise.

    Thanking you in advance.

    Best Regards

  4. Hi Sir,

    Im so much in love with Japan. I gonna visiting in June so will you please help me out? actually, i’ll land at Osaka and i want to Kyoto, Nagoya, Takayama, Toyama and Kanazawa so one of my friend suggested me that i should go for Takayama Hokuriku JR pass. Now my query, does this pass gonna work for me also i want to travel on shinkasen and i think it cover a route between Kanazama and Toyama.

    Also suggest if any other way to explore these places?

      1. Thank you for the quick response.

        I was so confused but thank god you are here. By the Im from India and if you need any help regarding, i’ll always here for you.

  5. Hi Takeshi-san, i want to ask about fare that stated in Hyperdia.
    If i use Tokyo Wide Pass for my trip, is it covers unreserved seat fare for Shinkansen ride? For example, if i want to go to Echigo-Yuzawa from Tokyo Station, it state base fare ¥3,350 with seat fee unreserved seat ¥2800. Am i need to pay ¥6,150 or only ¥3,350 with Tokyo Wide Pass? If i have to pay separately for unreserved seat, do we need another ticket? and how to pay it?

    Thank you, takeshi-san.

    1. Hi Dessy san,

      Actuall all fares (base fare and seat fee) are covered by Tokyo Wide Pass. You don’t need to pay any extra. And even the reserved seat fee is covered. You can secure your seat by Tokyo wide pass without any extra charge.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hi, oh wow, your website is so fantastic and you are amazing providing this service. Thank you. I have many questions but will try to leave each one under the appropriate heading. So, this one is related to Golden Week:
    We will be travelling from Sendai/Fukushima area to Tokyo on the 26th of April. We are doing a tour of the Fukushima Nuclear exclusion zone (should be very interesting) and so I expect that will conclude late in the daylight hours. How bad do you think it would be returning to Tokyo at that time on that day? Do you have a suggestion of a particular train type I should take? I am trying to find out when the tour is likely to finish so I can perhaps book a train, but if not – one of us uses a walking stick. Are there likely to be ‘disability’ type seats available on a non-reserved car? Thank you so much in advance.

  7. Thanks.. so if I am on the Kansai Wide Area Pass, and take the Kinosaki Ltd Express from Kyoto to Kinosaki Onsen, this would mean that I have to pay the full Unreserved Seat fee? Thanks in advance.

  8. Hi Takeshi,

    My enquiry concerns the JR West Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass. It’s stated that it covers all “… Sanyo Shinkansen (incl. Nozomi and Mizuho, between Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima) …” does this mean other trains under Sanyo Shinkansen, take for example – Hikari, are not covered by this pass from Shin-Osaka to Kyoto? Or does the Shin-Osaka Hiroshima limitation apply to Nozomi and Mizuho trains only?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Nasuha,

      All trains on Sanyo Shinkansen are covered by Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass. The Shinkansen line between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto is not Sanyo Shinkansen but Tokaido Shinkansen. This is not covered by Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass. You have to take other trains on the conventional line, such as Special Rapid, Haruka.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. Konnichiwa Takeshi
    We’re interested in the SL from Kushiro to Sibeca 8/02/19
    Is it still running and if so, how do I book please?

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