How to Ride The Shinkansen (Japan’s Bullet Train)

A few years ago I was visiting Japan and knew there was one absolute thing I wanted to do. Riding the Shinkansen across the Japanese countryside had long been on my to-do list. In Tokyo, for the last week, I had my chance. My excitement was at a fever pitch and here, one of my ultimate Japan goals was in sight.

My excitement quickly turned to frustration and confusion. Buying tickets and planning the journey quickly became more complex than I realized. I made a new goal to learn the process of buying, riding, and enjoying the trip rather than feeling embarrassed and confused.

Here’s almost everything I learned about making the journey on the Shinkansen with little to no mistakes. Hey nobody’s perfect….right?

If you are visiting Japan or plan to do so, it will not be complete without a trip on the Shinkansen. The high-speed Shinkansen services are the most convenient and fastest way to take you around the whole country.

As a tourist, you might not know much about the service. So in this article, I will provide a complete guide on how to ride the Shinkansen.

If you want to ride the Shinkansen, the best way you can take out all the confusion is to buy a Japan Rail Pass. Depending on the duration of your trip, you can get it for 7-days, 14-days, or-21 days. With this pass, you get unlimited and discounted access to Japan Rail Network, including most bullet trains. You can also buy a ticket on the spot or online. 

But for tourists with limited or no ability with the Japanese language, it may take a lot more information to figure out how you can ride the bullet train without difficulty. In the rest of the article, I will answer any questions you might have about the service. So without further delay, let’s get straight into it.

How Do I Get a Shinkansen Ticket?

To purchase a Shinkansen ticket, you will need to book a reservation at the station or in advance. It’s recommended that you book in advance if you plan to travel during the Japanese holidays.

Whether you wish to book a ticket for your Shinkansen trip in person or not, there are different methods to go about it. The various ways you can book your seat reservations are:

1. Ticket Desk Reservation

You can easily make your seat reservations at the ticket office of all major JR stations in Japan. Japan Railways (JR) operate all the Shinkansen bullet trains except Nozomi and Mizuho services.

Any Shinkansen train ticket can be easily reserved from all Midori no Madoguchi or JR ticket offices. If you decide to get the ticket in person, you can get additional info from the attendant.

2. Machine Reservation

Machines are a faster way to book your train ticket if you want to avoid long lines at the counter. Some ticket machines will have English menus as well.

While you don’t have to wait in line, sometimes the machine can be a bit complicated. Make sure to check the timetable for trains on the monitors when you are buying your ticket.

3. Online Reservation

For those traveling the east of Japan, you can use the JR East website to book your tickets. If you plan to travel the west of Japan, you can buy tickets from the JR West website.

Both websites allow you to book tickets online. Then you will need to pick them up in person from a train station in the respective area.

How Much Does It Cost to Ride a Shinkansen?

The prices for the Shinkansen will vary depending on the 3 types of seats. The regular non-reserved seat is the cheapest. The next level is the regular reserved seats. The most expensive ones are the Green Car reserved seats.

I would recommend the Japan Rail Pass if you wish to travel all across Japan. You get access to the Shinkansen and various other trains. The price of a 7-day pass for an adult is 33,610 yen and 16,800 yen for a child.

But if you plan to buy tickets instead, I have compiled how much the prices might be for a one-way trip from Tokyo to other large cities of Japan. However, do take note that the prices may vary depending on the season.

TripsBase PriceExpress Rate for Reserved SeatExpress Rate for Non-Reserved SeatExpress Rate for Green Seat
Tokyo to Osaka¥8,910 + express ratestarts from ¥6,010starts from ¥4,960starts from ¥10,680
Tokyo to Kyoto¥8,360 + express ratestarts from ¥6,010starts from ¥4,960starts from ¥10,680
Tokyo to Nagoya¥6,380 + express ratestarts from ¥5,120starts from ¥4,180starts from ¥8,580
Tokyo to Fukuoka¥14,080 + express ratestarts from ¥9,510starts from ¥8,140starts from ¥16,570
Tokyo to Hiroshima¥11,880 + express ratestarts from ¥7,760starts from ¥6,500starts from ¥14,820
Tokyo to Nagasaki¥15,510+ express ratestarts from ¥9,510starts from ¥8,140starts from ¥16,570
Tokyo to Kanazawa¥7,480 + express ratestarts from ¥7,100starts from ¥6,370starts from ¥11,620

How Do You Ride Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto?

If you want to ride the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, it can be quickly done with a Japan Rail Pass. You need to take the Shinkansen Hikari train from either Shinagawa station or Tokyo station and arrive at Kyoto station.

No doubt, Kyoto is one of the most beautiful and historically rich cities in the whole world. Filled with many temples and treasures, it’s a must-visit when you are planning for your trip to Japan.

Via the Nozomi train, it will take only 2 hours and 2 minutes and costs 14,370 yen. But the JR pass doesn’t cover the Nozomi Shinkansen. So you will need to pay extra for the ticket.

Can I Ride Shinkansen without a Reservation?

You can ride the Shinkansen if you don’t reserve a seat. Without a reservation, you will need to sit in the non-reserved car, where the seats are distributed according to the “First come, first serve” rule.

Shinkansen will often run under full capacity. Passengers with no seat reservations will line up where the non-reserved cars stop. During the regular and low seasons, it’s easy to find a seat, but it’s always difficult to sit together in a group. Do note that some Shinkansen will not provide non-reserved seats.

Can You Eat On the Shinkansen?

You can eat and drink with ease when you are on the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen will have a drop-down tray and cup holder for every seat. Snacks will be sold inside the train from a vendor trolley as well. At the shinkansen station, there will be KIOSKS nearby that sell a vast selection of bento boxes, sandwiches, and beverages.

It’s always a great idea to buy some food before you board the train to enjoy them during your trip. The bento boxes are a traditional and tasty way to enjoy the high-speed train ride. They are portable packages with meat, fish, rice, vegetable, and other varieties of foods. Every box is different, and it can add wonderful flavors to your trip.

What Happens If You Miss Shinkansen?

If you miss a booked seat on the Shinkansen, nothing will happen to your seat, and it simply goes unused. If you don’t have a JR pass, it’s a loss on your side, but you can get on the unreserved section of the next available Shinkansen.

But if you have a JR pass, you can get on the next available Shinkansen, where the pass is valid. When you know you may miss the train, it’s best to cancel the reservation. This way the seat will be available to someone else.

Can I Take Luggage On Shinkansen?

You should face no problem in bringing up to two pieces of luggage on the Shinkansen, and it will be free of any charge. The condition is that the height, length, and weight of luggage should be a total of 250 centimeters (98.43 inches). The total length of the luggage cannot exceed 2 meters (6.5 feet) and should not weigh more than 30 kilograms (66 lbs).

If the luggage pieces have less than 160 centimeters (62.99 inches) when you add up the length, height, and width, you don’t need to reserve it before bearding. Prior reservation is a must if the luggage pieces are between 160cm-250 cm (62.99 – 98.43 inches). The reservation is completely free and can be made via the Eki-Net App.

If you have a JR Pass, both seat reservation and luggage reservation can be made simultaneously. If you don’t make a reservation, you will need to pay a ¥1000 fee, and your bag might be stored or moved by the train conductor.

Can You Get Off Shinkansen Early?

If you plan to get off the Shinkansen at an earlier station than your designated one, you should face no problems. The fare you pay for your ride is valid for all JR stations within your actual location.

For example, if you buy a ticket for a trip from Tokyo to Osaka, it lets you get off at any station within Osaka no matter your original destination. Usually, the prices for both tickets are quite the same as well. So, it’s fine if you want to get off at an earlier station.

Tokyo Station

Are There Bathrooms on Shinkansen?

All long-distance trains in Japan, including the Shinkansen, will have bathrooms. They are pretty similar to airline bathrooms. The controls of the toilet are quite simple and are labeled in English.

In the bathroom, you will see two large buttons. One is to call for help and the other to flush. The smaller buttons are to start the front and rear water sprays, stop them and raise or lower the toilet seat. Shinkansen also have single urinals. They have transparent frosted glass panel so that you can quickly check whether or not they are occupied.

Can You Buy Shinkansen Tickets on the Same Day?

If your location is very far from JR stations, it may be a bit hard to book tickets in advance. But don’t let it hold you back, as you will have no problem purchasing a ticket for a reserved seat on the same day. You can always visit the ticket machines or JR office and buy your tickets.

During the non-travel seasons, Nozomi Shinkansen will run almost every 10 minutes, and the reserved seats are always available. But during high seasons, it’s tough to find reserved seats available. So during such times, it’s best to book a ticket in advance.

Do I Need to Reserve Shinkansen?

Seat reservations are a convenient way to have a secure seat and travel with peace of mind on the Shinkansen. But they are not a mandatory option if the train has a non-reserved section. While it may not be required to reserve a seat, it’s recommended to do it if you are traveling in a group or during the Japanese holidays.

3/2 Seat Configuration

Some Shinkansen trains don’t have non-reserved sections, and you must reserve a seat before boarding. The Hayabusa, Komachi and Hayate trains along the Hokkaido Shinkansen and Tohoku Shinkansen and Kagayaki trains along the Hokuriku Shinkansen will need you to book a seat beforehand.

What Is the Difference Between the 3 Classes of Seats On the Shinkansen?

The higher the class, the better the seats and experience. Higher classed Shinkansen seats usually provide much more comfort and are less crowded.

The seats available on the Shinkansen can be broken up into three types: the reserved seat, non-reserved seat, and green car seat. The reserved and non-reserved seats belong to the ordinary car. The green car seats can be compared to the first-class seats of Japan Rail Lines.

Each type of seat has its own perks and setbacks. Let’s take a look at how each class of seats on the Shinkansen are different from each other:

1. Non-Reserved Seat

Non-reserved seats are the cheapest of the three and have a first-come, first-serve policy. Whichever seat you occupy will be considered your spot till you arrive at your destination.

During peak-traveling seasons, it’s best to prepare to face crowded lines when you want to board the train. If you are traveling in a group, it may not be possible to sit together. These seats will be comfortable and have an area to store luggage. 

2. Reserved Seat

The most commonly available ticket you will find is the reserved seats. These seats are usually a lot more peaceful than non-reserved ones. Same as the non-reserved seats, you will get a comfortable seat and place for luggage storage, but you will find a lot fewer people in the line.

These seats will cost more than non-reserved ones. But you get to have a secured seat on your designated train.

3. Green Car Seat

First-class cars are considered green cars on Japan Rail lines. Compared to the other two types of seats, green car seats are more expensive. All of these seats will be reserved and usually very spacious and comfortable.

In the green car, only four seats per row are available versus the 5 seats per row in the ordinary car. Green car seats tend to be more on the luxurious side. You will find much more legroom in these seats and impressive features such as in-seat reading light, electric reclining, and a few more perks.

Which Shinkansen Cars Are Non-Reserved?

If you are looking to travel by non-reserved seats on the Shinkansen, you can check out the Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama trains along the Tokaido Shinkansen. All of them provide non-reserved seats, and most foreigners will use the Tokaido shinkansen trains.

The fastest train in Japan, Nozomi, will have non-reserved seats between Car 1 – Car 3. The Hikari train provides these seats between Car 1 – Car 5. For the Kodama train, you will find these seats between Car 1 – Car 7 and Car 13 – Car 15.

Traveling by the non-reserved seats can be very beneficial if you are looking to travel without going over your budget. Another great benefit you might enjoy is that non-reserved seats are completely free for children under five years old. If you are traveling with children under five years old, the non-reserved seat may be a great choice.

Is Shinkansen Green Car Worth It?

If you have some extra money, the Shinkansen green car is worth it.  Green cars will usually be marked with the writing “Green car” in English and have the symbol of a four-leaf clover on the door. Compared to the non-reserved and standard reserved seats, they are a bit more expensive and a lot less crowded.

Green car seats are considered to be luxurious and come with various facilities. From the moment you enter the car, you will notice how the seats are all extra wide and 4 seats each aisle compared to 5 seats of the ordinary car. Even the floor will have soft carpeting.

You get to enjoy a double-wide armrest and fold-out footrest to accentuate the extra legroom you are getting. You get your in-seat reading light, electric reclining, and other plush features. So if you can afford it or just want to treat yourself to a nice comfortable trip on the Shinkansen, I’d say the few extra bucks are very much worth it.

How Do I Check Shinkansen’s Availability?

To check the availability of your Shinkansen train, you can visit JR Cyber Station. It is the only available online service that provides the service to check availability for all JR trains.

You can quickly check if the Shinkansen you wish to take is available or not. See the following steps:

  • Step 1: Access the JR Cyber Station Website. Make sure to check the time as the site is only available for access from 6:30 to 22:30 in Japan.
  • Step 2: Click on the first option that says “Available Seats.”
  • Step 3: Choose your date and time.
  • Step 4: Choose the type of train you want.
  • Step 5: Choose the type of Shinkansen you want.
  • Step 6: Enter your departure and arrival stations.
  • Step 7: Finally, you can click “Search,” and you can get your results.

What Does JR Pass Not Cover?

While Japan Rail Pass may be valid for almost all the Shinkansen services on all the Shinkansen lines, it’s not available for some of services. It is still one of the most convenient ways to help you travel all across Japan.

JR pass will give you access to all express trains, and JR group limited express trains, local, rapid ones, and even Shinkansen Bullet trains. But you cannot ride the Mizuho and the Nozomi Shinkansen services on the Sanyo and Tokaido lines with a JR pass.

How Do I Get a JR Pass In Japan?

You have the option to buy the Japan Rail Pass in person when you visit Japan or online. If you want to buy the JR Pass in Japan, it is available at a higher price at a handful of train stations and airports. It may be only available for a limited time, and it may not be possible to buy it in person if all seats are sold.

This is why the best way you can purchase your JR Pass is online and from the comfort of your own home. You can choose to order it through the official vendor JRail Pass. You just need to follow the following steps to get it:

  • Step 1: Visit www.jrailpass.com and order your rail pass. You will need to fill out your name, the length you want the pass for (7-day, 14-day, or 21-day), standard or green pass, and the estimated date of your arrival in Japan, and the address for the ticket voucher. Finish your payment, confirm your information and finish submitting your order.
  • Step 2: The JR pass ticket voucher should be mailed to your home or your hotel in about 2-14 days depending on your location.
  • Step 3: When you are in Japan, exchange your ticket voucher for the actual JR Pass. You can visit the nearest JR Exchange office and complete the exchange.
  • Step 4: Finally, you can reserve your seats at the same counter you got your pass, and you should be ready to explore all of Japan.

Does the JR Pass cover the Tokyo subway?

Japan Rail Pass does not cover any subways or other non-JR trains. The pass is only valid for trains in the Japan Railway Network (JR) and the Tokyo Monorail. You cannot ride any metros, subways, or non-JR trains with this pass.

But other than that, a Japan Rail Pass can be ideal for tourists. If you don’t know Japanese and are confused about your visit to Japan, a Japan Rail Pass can alleviate a lot of stress.

Which is Better Suica or JR Pass?

The better choice between a Suica card and a JR Pass will depend on the destination and how you plan to visit. If you plan only to visit Tokyo and take the intercity bus or trains, you need to purchase a Suica card. But if your plan consists of traveling all across Japan, your best choice is a JR Pass.

A Suica card will store an electronic money balance that you can use to quickly pay for buses, trains, and even some vending machines and convenience stores. It’s convenient if you are on the intercity trains or buses more often. You can purchase the Suica card in Japan or online. it saves you a lot of time by saving you from purchasing tiny tickets everywhere you travel.

A JR Pass, on the other hand, has offered international tourists the miraculous way to discover all of Japan. It gives you unlimited access to almost all the shinkansen lines. So for long-distance traveling, a JR Pass can be convenient in saving much of your time and money.

The better choice between the two will be up to you. Depending on where you are traveling and how you prefer to travel, either can be the better choice depending on your plans.

Operating Shinkansen speed is 300kph or 185mph

How Do I Book Shinkansen With JR Pass?

If you plan to book your seat at the Shinkansen, make sure to have it done before boarding the train. You cannot change your seat to a reserved seat once you have already boarded the train.

You will also need to trade your exchange ticket order for the actual JR Pass at the JR ticket office and select an activation date. To book a seat with a JR Pass, you need to follow a few simple steps:

  • Step 1: Take your Japan Rail Pass and visit any JR Ticket Office at any train station near you. You may also make a reservation at the ticketing machine in the train station.
  • Step 2: At the ticket office, you need to tell them your destination and preferred time for departure. You can reserve the train time beforehand or ask the staff members to find the most suitable option for you.
  • Step 3: Finally, you should have your ticket for a reserved seat. It should state the time of departure, time of arrival, train name, car type, and seat.

The Shinkansen is so iconic to Japan’s modern identity that no travel to the country is complete without experiencing the train. But trying to figure out how you can use it can be daunting.

A ride on the Shinkansen is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   I hope the article proves helpful to you during your travels.  Happy travels!

Be not Afraid of going slowly, Be afraid of standing still

Japanese proverb
MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.