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. Janinne H says:

    We are travelling Tokyo to Hakone to Kyoto to Osaka then we fly back to UK from Osaka. Is a JR Pass worth it? I don’t think it is. Would I need a reserved train from Hakone or Odawara to Kyoto? Is it the cheaper to book rail in advance or just get a ticket on the day?
    Many thanks

  2. Steve says:

    Hello Takeshi,

    I will be arriving May 25 at HND airport Tokyo 3PM and need to get to Kyoto.
    I was thinking of taking the express train to Shinagawa so as to catch the Nozomi bullet train to Kyoto station.
    I do not know how long customs take to process my arrival, so my dilemma is how do I buy a reserved seat for the bullet train? Or is my alternative to just travel further to the Tokyo station and take my chances that my wife and I can get seats together? We will have luggage to deal with also. Are the trains at that time of year packed so that we may not get a seat and have to stand for 2 hours?
    Thank you for your advice.


  3. Abri Aviguetero says:

    I am going to Amanohashidate from Kyoto by Ltd. Express Hashidate 2 as suggested by Hyperdia. I have a Kansai-Hokuriku area pass. Will there be additional fees to be expected or none? I am going for a NON-RESERVED seat. Thank you!

  4. Yunita says:

    Hello, thank you for the information. This is my first time to Japan with JR Pass. I’m a bit confused because some blogs said that if we have JR Pass and we reserve our seats before the day we board, it will be free of charge. And here said that the non-reserved seat cost is 520yen, and the reserved seat cost will be higher. Please give me information about this. Thanks in advance!

  5. si yoon says:

    Thank you. Your information good. I’m korean

  6. Samantha says:

    I would prefer to choose a reserved car since I can pick which side I would be setting. I always love window side.

  7. Melvin says:

    Hi Takeshi,

    Can I check if there is any pass you recommend for Osaka to Nissin Noodles Ikeda / Minoo Park ? Can the Osaka Amazing Pass work ?


  8. Azie says:

    I’m thinking of buying the Tokyo Wide Pass as it covers NEX and also Karuizawa. However, this pass can only be purchased when I’m there. I would like to reserve a seat on NEX and Hokuriku Shinkasen online but unfortunately I’m not able to collect the ticket at JR East Narita Terminal 1 on time as it closes at 7pm and I’ll be arriving in Narita around 8pm.

    I will arrive in Narita at 8pm on 30 November 2019. My plan is to overnight in one of the hotel in Narita Airport and I will buy the Tokyo Wide Pass next morning so that I can take the next available NEX to Tokyo Station around 915am on the same day and thereafter to take the Hokuriku Shinkasen to Karuizawa around 11am. My plan is to travel to Karuizawa from 1/12 to 3/12.

    Do you think that I will be able to get a seat on the non-reserved cabin for the NEX and the shinkasen as I’m travelling with a baby and 5 yr old toddler.


    • Hi Azie,

      You can reserve a seat on the day to travel. As long as the seat is available, the reservation is open until 10 minutes before the departure time. It’s usually not hard to book to get a seat on Narita Express and Hokuriku Shinkansen. Even if you cannot make it for 9:15 departure, the next will be available.

      And also Narita Express does not have non reserved seat. You must book a seat to take this train. But I’m very optimistic. You can make it.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  9. yotchan says:

    Domo arigatou gozaimashita. Tasukarimashita.

  10. yotchan says:

    Takeshi san
    I hold a JR EAST PASS (Tohoku Area) and I reserve seat on Yanagata Shinkansen. But in the confirmed reservation, the seat charge tab indicates 33,660 yen. What is that for? Do I have to pay that amount?
    Confirmed reservation >https://sv1.picz.in.th/images/2019/11/18/gHydVI.jpg

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