Did you get a JR pass and ready to travel around Japan? JR pass entitles unlimited ride with JR trains across Japan during your pass’ duration, it also includes seat reservation fee. Once you activate your JR pass, you can make seat reservation for free at JR ticket office. Normally, Shinkansen (Bullet train) and JR Limited express trains have non-reserved car, you can hop on the trains without advance reservations. However, some trains are all-reserved car so you need to make reservation in advance before you get on the train.
JR pass holders should know how to make seat reservations, when you should do it, what trains you have to reserve and so on. That helps you to travel Japan with JR pass easily.
If you don’t know what the JR pass is, please read previous article here ↓.
How to make reservation with JR pass
Making seat reservation is free so it’s good to have assigned seats for trains and make schedule of your trip. After you activate your pass, simply bring your JR pass to JR Ticket office to book seats for trains. It depends on where you activate your pass and how crowded it is, exchange counter might be able to book seats after activation, so simply ask the counter! Please specify your traveling date, time, and destination so staff will get your seats for the trains. When you want to change reservations, bring your the reserved seat ticket and JR pass and request your changes at counter.
Seat reservation opens one month before the travel date, so if you have 21 days pass and if you organize your trip well, you could get reserved seat tickets at once. If you make seat reservations, you will get reserved seat ticket which shows the date, departure time, destination, car number and seat number.
① Departure and Destination
② Date of departure
③ Departure Time and Arrival Time
④ Train Name
⑤ Assigned car and seat number for your train
The reserved seat ticket above is a sample. Some counters issue the tickets only in Japanese. But information of the ticket is same so it would be helpful for your if you get Japanese ones!
Attention: The reserved seat tickets for Japan Rail Pass cannot be gone through automated gates, remember that you need to show your actually JR pass to staff at the gate every time you go inside of the gate. Reservation tickets will be checked on the train when conductor comes.
You can make seat reservations on the day of your travel. As long as you can make catch the train, tickets can be issued in last minute! But ticket office is often crowded especially in the big stations so take your time when you book seats. If you are not sure the route how you travel to the destination, especially if it’s a long distance, you can ask ticket office staff how you can reach there by JR pass. Making reservation helps you to organize your trip and guides you how to travel by JR pass. Some ticket counter staff may not speak English well though, they are professional about the JR trains.
If you want to go with the flow and don’t want to plan your trip in advance, you can hop on the non-reserved car of the train. Non-Reserved Car is first comes, first serve, so you can sit wherever on an empty seat. However, not all Bullet trains and Limited Express trains have non-reserved car, please remember that some of the trains require advance booking for a seat.
What trains are required to reserve seats in advance?
Most of the JR Shinkansen Bullet trains and Limited Express trains have non-reserved cars so you can travel without seat reservations in advance. However, some of them are all reserved car so you need to reserve seats before you get on the train. There are so many JR trains in Japan and rules change often so here is the list of the Bullet trains and limited Express from Tokyo you should know of, as of January 2019,there could be more in other area too.
(*Izukyu Shimoda station is not a JR station but it connects from JR line to Izukyuko line and you can travel without transfer the trains. JR pass holders needs to pay additional fee on the train if they ride on the train in Izukyuko line)
If you are thinking to travel to Aomori, Akita and Hokkaido with JR pass, and also taking Narita Express to Narita Airport, make sure to book seats before you get on the train. In addition, Limited Express Azusa and Kaiji from Shinjuku to Matsumoto (Nagano) will be all reserved seats from spring 2019. There are some special over night trains and rapid trains required seat reservations too.
If you accidentally get on the all non-reserved trains, you can still travel either standing or get a empty seat, but it might be hard sometimes.
Recommended period for seat reservations
Even though many JR Bullet trains and Limited Express have non-reserved car, there are some recommended time of the year to make reservations in advance as soon as possible. Many Japanese travel a lot at once during our vacation time. We have 3 big vacations when especially bullet trains are often booked out and super crowded. Be prepared if you travel to Japan around the period.
Before and After New Year – After Christmas often around December 28th to January 3rd
Golden Week -Around last week of April to first week of May
Obon -Around August 13th-August 16th
There is no additional charge for making reservations so make plans ahead when you travel around Japan with JR pass! You can still travel if all the seats are booked out but you don’t want to travel standing for a couple of hours…
There is also a way to make reservation online before you are coming to Japan(not all bullet trains), I’ll write about it in different article!