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

Travel Tips
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 are Non Reserved seat and Reserved seat

You can secure your seat if you take reserved seat. If you use a reserved seat, seat number, car number and train are fixed. Your seat is secured but you have to take the 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 seasons, there are many standing passengers in a non reserved car. You may have to stand in a car for a few hours.

If you want an 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

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

Differences 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 a reserved seat and a non reserved seat offer the 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.


  1. Daphne says:

    Hi Takeshi san,

    We will be arriving into KIX on Saturday morning 23 November at about 8am, with a group of 5 adults (including 2 old folks) and 1 toddler.

    Considering to get the ICOCA + Haruka package (one way) to go straight to Kyoto. I understand from other comments that there is no way to upgrade/top up extra to change the unreserved seat ticket to a reserved seat ticket.

    Would it be crowded on the train, considering peak of red leaves, Saturday and a Public Holiday in Japan?

    We would very much prefer to sit near each other considering the group dynamics and its the first time the old folks are in Japan. Would this ICOCA + Haruka package be doable, or any other suggestions for us please?

    *We would prefer to not take the limousine bus for the way to Kyoto due to the more limited tinings and pricing, also we need the ICOCA card anyway too.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Daphne,

      It is hard to say how busy Haruka will be. It depends on the flight arrival. If many flights arrive at same time, it will be crowded. Sometimes some passengers will stand because of all seat full. The flight arrival time is varied. So nobody can say how busy Haruka will be.

      If you really want to secure your seat, give up using ICOCA and Haruka. And you can use a regular ticket and book a seat online. However if your flight will be delayed, you cannot get refund of the reserved seat fee. You still can take Haruka but you have to use non reserved seat.

      That is why the deal does not include reserved seat fee. If you want to take Haruka and sensitive the cost, you have to accept the risk of non reserved seat. Haruka runs every 30 minutes. If the train is full, you can wait at the platform and take the next one. You can get a seat on the next train.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Demelza says:

    Hi Takeshi,
    My family and I (3 adults and 1 child) are travelling to Japan arriving on 30/11/19 at Kansai Airport.
    I would like advice on which pass to purchase as we need to take the Haruka express from Kansai airport to Kyoto as we are staying in Kyoto for 3 nights, then hoping to do sightseeing in Kyoto and possibly Nara and Kobe (time permitting). On 3/12/19, we are travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo, then staying in Tokyo for 3 nights.
    Is it worth purchasing JR West + ICOCA pass or Kansai 3-day pass, or any other alternative? Then purchase single trip JR ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo.
    Thank you for your advice,

  3. Yijing Lee says:

    Dear Takeshi,

    I will be traveling to Japan Nagoya area by the end of this November till early December. Is this peak season?

    For the train from Osaka to Fukui, I found only one route option which is thunderbird. Can I buy reserved seat one day before departure? If not can I buy unreserved seat on the day of departure?

    For the train from Fukui to Kanazawa, I found that there are two options available- JR Hokuriku and JR limited express. I tried to book JR Hokuriku online but it’s not possible. Is it because it can only be booked on the spot? Does JR Hokuriku have unreserved seats or is it a standing train?

    Thank you so much and hope that you can kindly help to clear my doubts.

    • Hi Yijing Lee,

      It’s not a peak season. So usually it’s not hard to book a seat. If you cannot make it, you can buy non reserved seat ticket one day before or on the day of the travel.

      Hokuriku line train is a local train. It’s a sort of the local commute train. You cannot reserve a seat. You may have to stand up.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. catherine OSullivan says:

    Thanks Takeshi

    I purchased the JPRail 5 day pass over 14 days the us all on your advice. I think we will try for skyliner into Ueno as a one off and enjoy the rest with JPRail. You were most helpful. Thanks again.

  5. catherine OSullivan says:

    Hi Takeshi

    We are family of 4 (2 teens) staying near the Ueno station in Tokyo for 3 days and hoping to purchase the Shinkansen Hakutaki 561 to Iiyama in those days prior to 17 January 2020. Wanting preferably the 11.30am but sometime that day anyway. Would you imagine there would be some seats available over the duration of the trip that we wont have to reserve seats or do you suggest its important to reserve as this could be a busy train. I notice you dont suggest non reserve from Ueno?
    Also we would like to get to Narita Terminal 1 for a 6.30pm flight on 26 Jan from Iiyama via Shinkansen. But thought if we travelled early that day we could stop somewhere for 4 hours along the way. Do you have recommendations? Again do you suggest reserved seats for this journey also? We see this is best to purchase in Japan. Please notify us otherwise. Many thanks for your great tips above.

  6. Ryan says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    We’re planning to go Kamikochi from Tokyo and then from there make our way to Shirakawago and then the Alphine Route. What would be the best option to travel given the current situation in Japan? I went through many japan rail official site and are getting more and more confused on the schedules of the different trains. Thanks in advance.

  7. Maria Santos says:

    Hi Takeshi. Our hotel is near Kintetsu-Nippombashi station (350m). If from JR Namba (Namba OCAT building), it is 1.4km from where we are staying.

    We are 2 females, and we would like to go to Universal Studio by train with reserved seats, I’m so sorry and don’t want to offend anyone, but I’m afraid of the “groping” issues in crowded trains, so I would like to know your suggestion on which express train to board in. ( JR namba to USJ and vice versa).

    Thank you so much.

  8. Celine says:

    Hi, I am a bit confused because several websites are saying different things about this. I have bought Kansai Wide Area Pass and I would like to travel from Osaka station to Tottori station. May I know whether is the Super Hakuto train covered by my pass? Because some websites are saying that I have to pay extra fees for the journey if I use super hakuto from Osaka to Tottori.

  9. Lorijn Metten says:

    Dear Takeshi-san,

    Can I order a shinkansen ticket at the departure station on the same day I want to leave?

    Thank you in advance and kind regards,
    Metten Lorijn

  10. Lilis setiana says:

    Hai Takeshi….

    I am planning to visit Japan with my family. I try to make an itinerary based on Hyperdia. When i search trip from Kanazawa station to Toyama station, i found result :
    Total 3,330 Yen ( Fare 970 Yen, Seat fee 2,360 Yen)

    My question is :
    1. If i choose non reserve seat, how much cost that i should pay? 970 Yen or 3,330 Yen ?
    2. Can i pay that cost with ICOCA?

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