The Japanese bullet train is one of the most famous modes of transport in the world but it can be tricky to choose the correct ticket for your journey as you will need to pay the right fee and reserve a seat.
What is Shinkansen?
Shinkansen is what is better known around the world as a ‘bullet train’, is the fastest passenger train in operation to date as well as one of the most reliable ways to travel around the country. Its reputation is not for nothing and it truly is an experience to ride aboard Japan’s bullet train network.
In addition to its best feature, its speed, the bullet train also offers a type of luxury unavailable on many other passenger trains as well as being both comfortable and convenient.
However, one issue that many foreigners and tourists have when looking to ride the bullet train is the tickets.
The system for choosing and purchasing your ticket is not as straightforward as it is in many other places in the world, or even in comparison to other Japanese trains.
So, to find out how to choose the best fare and seat for your trip, keep reading.
The types of tickets
Whereas many other trains will only require you to purchase a single ticket for your journey, with the bullet train you will need to purchase two different types of tickets: a passenger ticket and an express ticket.
The passenger ticket will indicate your final destination along with your car number and seat number.
Your express ticket will allow you to ride on the Shinkansen (this is the same for other express trains as well).
Unfortunately, there is no ticket that encompasses both of these. So, you will need to make sure that you have purchased both tickets before embarking upon your journey.
Where can I buy Shinkansen tickets?
In most train stations you are able to buy tickets for the bullet train in person. This can make the process much easier than attempting to figure everything out online.
In most train stations there will be a kiosk that is manned by an attendant. You should look for the ticket offices for JR, other ticket offices may also sell Shinkansen tickets.
Here your attendant will be able to help you along with the process and make sure that you have both parts of your ticket.
However, unfortunately, these ticket offices can get very busy, especially during peak hours, and so you may find that there is a very long wait.
Most train stations will also have dedicated ticket vending machines for the bullet train, and you can also purchase your ticket from here.
Most of these vending machines are available to use in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and English, making the process perhaps even easier than using the ticket office.
Once you have set your preference to English the ticket vending machine is very easy to use. However, please note that you cannot pay with a card at these machines, you will only be able to pay in Japanese yen in cash.
When purchasing your ticket you will need to give the following information: the number of passengers, the date of your journey, your departure station, your destination, whether you want to travel in a green car or a regular car, whether you want to reserve a seat or opt for non-reserved seating.
If you would like to reserve a seat on your trip then you will also need to provide: the name of the train, the train number, your departure time, and whether you would like a non-smoking or a smoking carriage.
What do the tickets cost?
There is no set price when it comes to the tickets for the bullet train as the price will depend on several factors such as your starting point and final destination, your choice of car, and seat reservation fee.
There is a base fare for the journey and naturally the further you are planning to travel on the bullet train the higher the price of your ticket will be.
There is also a supplement for riding on a bullet train and this will also go up in price the longer your journey is.
You can get both non-reserved seating as well as reserved seating. The price for reserving a seat on the bullet train will depend on the season, for example, if it is peak season or low season. The price for the high season is 720 yen, for the midseason, it is 520 yen and for the low season, it is 320 yen.
In the non-reserved seating cars, passengers are free to sit wherever they desire and in peak hours or in high season these cars can become very crowded.
So, if you are planning on traveling a fair distance on the bullet train, or you simply want to be as comfortable as possible, it is recommended that you reserve a seat in order to guarantee that you have a preferred place to sit down and relax for the entirety of your journey.
Please note that some routes do not have non-reserved seating and so you will need to book a seat in advance before boarding the train. An example of this route is the Tohoku Shinkansen.
If you plan on traveling in style then you will want to book a seat in a “green car” as this is the equivalent of first-class.
You will also pay an extra fee to ride in this car and this will rise with the distance traveled. The seats in the green cars are typically wider than those in the other carriages.
Please note that child discount is only applicable up until age 12. Beyond 12, everyone is considered an adult and will need to purchase a full-price ticket. Children under 12 are entitled to a discount depending on their age.
For example, if your child is between the ages of 6 and 11 they are entitled to a 50% discount on their ticket. However, if they are traveling in the green car then there is no discount and they must pay full price.
If your child is between the ages of 1 and 5 then they are able to travel for free (a maximum of 2 children) went traveling with a full-paying adult. If you have more than 2 children at this age then they will pay 50% of the ticket price.
If your child is less than 1 year old their travel is free unless they occupy a seat. In this case, their ticket is 50% off.
How do I use my ticket?
Once you have purchased your tickets for the bullet train you will need to keep hold of both of them. When going through the electronic gates you will need to enter both tickets before you will be allowed through.
You will also need to make sure that you use the correct gates as your tickets will not allow you to enter through the regular gates, only the ones for the shinkansen.
In order to check where your train is departing from you will need to check the departure board. If you have not reserved a seat then you will need to wait on the platform for the non-reserved carriages.
However, if you have reserved a seat then you will be able to board when the train arrives.
What is the difference between a JR pass and a single ticket?
Train tickets in Japan can be very expensive which is why it is often worth looking at getting a JR rail pass. Even if you plan on visiting just two places in Japan then consider the JR pass.
For example, if you are planning a return trip from Tokyo to Kyoto then this can cost you 26,160 Japanese yen for a bullet train ticket.
However, if you purchase a one-week JR pass this will cost you 29,110 Japanese yen and this will allow you to travel on other trains and see more of the country.
If you would like to further explore the country, or your planned travel days fall outside of a 7-day window then do not worry as the JR pass is available for 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days, allowing you complete freedom to travel around and explore the country as you wish.