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Shinkansen - How To Buy Bullet Train Tickets

Shinkansen - How To Buy Bullet Train Tickets

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by MATCHA

2019.11.15 Bookmark

The Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train, is a fast train that allows passengers to travel comfortably over long distances in the shortest time possible. This article provides information on how to purchase Shinkansen tickets online or at the station in all areas of Japan.

How to Buy Shinkansen Tickets

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If you want to travel in Japan fast and in comfort, use the Shinkansen (bullet train). It offers comfortable seats and a pleasant ride to major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, as well as cities and towns in the Tohoku and Kyushu regions.

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This is the route of Shinkansen lines in Japan. Check the area you wish to visit, which Shinkansen you need to ride to get there, then purchase your ticket. This article introduces the Shinkansen ticket types and how to buy them online or at station counters in Japan.

Table of Contents:

1. Seat Types on the Shinkansen
2. Shinkansen Ticket Types
3. How to Buy Shinkansen Tickets Online
- For Kanazawa, Hokkaido, and Eastern Japan
- For Kyoto, Osaka, and Western Japan
- Save Yen on Shinkansen Travel
- All Areas of Japan and JR Pass
- Making Shinkansen Ticket Reservations
4. How to Buy Shinkansen Tickets at the Station
- Midori no Madoguchi (JR Ticket Office)
- Using Ticket Machines
5. How to Use Your Shinkansen Ticket

1. Seat Types on the Shinkansen

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There are three types of seats on the Shinkansen: reserved seats, non-reserved seats and green seats.

If you wish to buy a reserved seat ticket, you need to purchase it in advance. The great advantage of this type of bullet train ticket is that you won't need to worry about not being able to sit during the ride. If your travel itinerary is already decided, we recommend purchasing a reserved seat ticket.

On most Shinkansen train, the non-reserved seats are located in the first three cars, and passengers can sit wherever they prefer. The fare is cheaper (by about 500 yen) than for a reserved seat. However, during the peak travel seasons, such as at the end of December, New Year holidays, and the Golden Week in spring, all the non-reserved seats may be taken and some of the passengers may have to stand until they reach their destinations.

The Tohoku Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo to northern Japan, does not have non-reserved seats, so be sure to check in advance which Shinkansen you need to ride.

The number of green seats is limited on each train, and the fare is more expensive (by a few thousand yen) than for a reserved seat. A green seat is wider than a reserved/non-reserved seat, so passengers can enjoy a pleasant, quiet ride.

2. Shinkansen Ticket Types

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There are two types of tickets: a passenger ticket and an express ticket.

The passenger ticket indicates the car and seat numbers along with the arrival station. The express ticket is required to ride particularly fast trains such as the Shinkansen.

To ride a Shinkansen and/or an express train, you will purchase the two types of tickets mentioned above, although there is also a single, integrated type of ticket for some trains.

As shown in the photograph above, passengers will be asked to present their tickets to the train attendant, who will come to check your tickets during the ride.

3. How to Buy Shinkansen Tickets Online

The Shinkansen will be crowded during the New Year period, Golden Week in the spring, the Obon Festival in mid-August, and on national holidays. Additionally, reserved seats may even be fully booked on weekends, so we suggest making reservations in advance.

Visitors planning to travel in eastern Japan, western Japan or anywhere else in Japan can make reservations directly with Japan Rail (listed below). Another way to buy tickets for your trip is online via Voyagin.

For Kanazawa, Hokkaido, and Eastern Japan

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Higashi Chayagai in Kanazawa

Visitors planning to travel to destinations in eastern Japan, including areas like the Hokuriku Region where the city of Kanazawa is located, the Tohoku Region, and Hokkaido, can make reservations via the official website of JR East. The website offers regular tickets and cost-saving travel passes.

JR East Official English Website: JR East

For Kyoto, Osaka, and Western Japan

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Townscape in Kyoto

There are various discount travel passes for cities in western Japan such as Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, as well as for the Kyushu Region. Reservations can be made via the official website of JR West.

JR West Official English Website: JR West

If you plan to travel from Tokyo to Hakata in Fukuoka, try Smart EX, a convenient reservation app. By using this app, you will be able to go through the ticket gates using only your smartphone. Please note that the app may not be available in some countries.

Smart EX Official Site: Smart EX

Travel Between East and West Japan and Save Yen

Shinkansen - How To Buy Bullet Train Tickets

For those looking to heighten their experience in Japan while using the Shinkansen, JR Tokai Tours is a suggested travel platform that lets visitors reserve their destination in advance and provides a discount coupon for food, activities, and more. See the link below for more details.
JR Tokai Tours

All Areas of Japan and JR Pass

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If you wish to travel all over Japan, we recommend the Japan Rail Pass. This pass allows the user to ride various trains, including the Shinkansen. The price for a seven-day pass is 29,110 yen. For comparison, the regular Shinkansen fare for a one-way, reserved seat from Tokyo to Osaka is 14,450 yen, so purchasing this Japan Rail Pass makes up for the cost of a round trip.

However, there are some exceptions, as this pass cannot be used on the Nozomi train, the fastest train between Tokyo and Hakata on the Tokaido-San'yo Shinkansen line. An additional charge will be required for the Nozomi, so most Japan Rail Pass users ride the Hikari or Kodama trains.

To obtain the Japan Rail Pass, you need to purchase an Exchange Order in your own country from designated sales offices and travel agencies. After you arrive in Japan, present your order at one of the exchange offices. Making your Japan Rail Pass purchase online via Klook is a quick, no-hassle way to get your exchange order and pass.

Voyagin is another website that offers various Shinkansen tickets. It has a page with feedback from its customers, so first-time users can check the site in advance. Voyagin also offers ticket delivery to your hotel, so definitely check the website for more information.

Voyagin Official Site: Purchase Shinkansen Tickets

Making Shinkansen Ticket Reservations

To make Shinkansen ticket reservations, just follow the website guide: choose the Shinkansen train you need to take, the seat type (reserved or non-reserved), seat location and the number of passengers.

Please note that in most cases, you have to receive the ticket at the station where you will board the train, either at the Midori no madoguchi (Shinkansen ticket office) or the ticket machine. Making reservations is only the first step. Be sure to obtain the ticket in advance and arrive early at the station on the day of departure.

4. Buying Shinkansen Tickets at the Station

If you plan to buy Shinkansen tickets at the station after your arrival in Japan, go to the Midori no madoguchi (JR ticket office) or use the ticket machine.

Please be aware that the Shinkansen bullet train is operated by Japan Railways (JR) only, so make sure that the station of purchase is a JR train station. Shinkansen ticket cannot be purchased from stations operated by other railway companies than JR.

Midori no Madoguchi (JR Ticket Office)

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The Midori no madoguchi at Ueno Station

Midori no madoguchi is a ticket office located at major stations in the JR network.

Pro: You will be able to talk to an attendant who can offer additiona information for your trip.
Con: You may have to wait in line. The attendant may speak only Japanese.

Using the Ticket Machines

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The Shinkansen ticket machine at Kyoto Station

The photograph shows the ticket machines located at Shinkansen stations, which handle tickets for reserved, non-reserved, and green seats. The ticket machine display can be switched to English.

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You may not have to wait in line at the ticket machine, but have your itinerary ready, as operating the machine can be complicated at times.

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The timetable for the trains is displayed on one of the monitors, so be sure to check it at the time of purchase.

Pro: The display can be switched to English. It is less crowded than the Midori no madoguchi ticket office.
Con: The operation can be slightly complicated.

5. How to Use Your Shinkansen Ticket

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There is an exclusive ticket gate for Shinkansen trains at the station, which is separated from other ticket gates. Just slide both tickets at a time into the gate.

Check the electric bulletin board, which displays the timetable, and head to your Shinkansen platform. If you have a non-reserved seat ticket, find where the non-reserved cars are located in the train, and wait in line.

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There are kiosks nearby the ticket gates selling beverages and bentos (packed lunch boxes). It's a good idea to buy some snacks before boarding the train. Food and beverages can also be purchased aboard the Shinkansen.

After boarding the train, there will be nothing left to do but relax and enjoy the scenery.

Enjoy Your Ride on the Shinkansen

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The Shinkansen makes traveling in Japan so much easier. Be sure to make all the necessary preparations and then enjoy your trip to the fullest!

Original text written by Miki Takeshita
This article is a revised version of the original, which was published on April 15, 2014.

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The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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