Purchasing a Japan Rail (JR) Pass not only provides unlimited access to the Shinkansen, Japan's iconic bullet train, but also grants you the freedom to ride it as often as you like during the pass's validity period.
In this guide, we'll explore how to get Shinkansen tickets using the JR Pass. While the method is quite similar to standard ticket buying, the advantage is that there's no need to pay a second time if you have this pass.
It's wiser to plan ahead by purchasing Shinkansen tickets in advance rather than waiting for the day of departure. Tickets for popular routes during weekends or holidays can quickly sell out, leaving travelers without a seat.
JR counters, also known as "Midori no Madoguchi," are widely available at most JR train stations across Japan. Recognizable by a green symbol featuring an image of a person leaning over a chair and the words "みどりの窓口" in Japanese script, here's how you can purchase your ticket:
Upon locating the Midori no Madoguchi, join the queue, if there is one. Lines can be lengthy during peak hours or holidays, so patience is key.
When your turn arrives, inform the clerk that you intend to buy a Shinkansen ticket using your JR Pass. You'll be asked for your JR Pass and passport, along with details such as your departure station, destination station, and date and time of travel.
The clerk will provide options that match your criteria, and the carriage class will correspond with the type of JR Pass you hold. Shinkansen offers three classes of carriages:
As the most economical option, the Non-Reserved Seat class allows you the freedom to choose any available seat. You won't be assigned a specific seat number, so it operates on a first-come, first-served basis. But don't worry; even though seats are not reserved, all ticket holders in this class are guaranteed a seat.
Providing the same facilities as the Non-Reserved Seat class, it additionally assigns a seat number to passengers. You'll have the assurance of knowing exactly where you'll be sitting. This added convenience comes with a slightly higher cost, but with the JR Pass, this class can also be booked for free.
For those looking for a more luxurious travel experience, the Green Car class offers enhanced amenities. With more comfortable seats, extended legroom, and other premium features, this class is considered the executive or first-class level of the Shinkansen.
It's accessible for free with a JR Green Pass. If you possess a standard JR Pass, however, this class won't be available to you.
Once you've selected your Shinkansen line and class, the staff will print out the tickets and hand them to you. Make sure to keep these tickets handy until your departure time, as they contain essential information about your trip, including the car class, departure date and time, arrival station and time, train name, car number, and seat number.
Tip: When redeeming your JR Pass, you can also directly book Shinkansen tickets at the exchange point. Just inform your travel plans to the staff there.
In addition to JR counters, ticket machines offer another convenient way to purchase Shinkansen tickets with the JR Pass. These are found at many JR stations, particularly in larger ones.
Ticket machines provide the flexibility to buy tickets anytime, unlike JR counters, which have specific operating hours. They can also be a faster alternative when the JR counter is crowded.
These green-colored machines are marked with "JR Ticket Machine" and usually display a logo of a person sitting on a chair, akin to the JR counter.
Start by changing the machine's language to English by selecting the "English" option in the top right corner. Next, choose the Japan Rail Pass option and then "Select train to use now" as you will be buying a new Shinkansen ticket.
Specify the number of people (1 to 6) for whom you wish to buy tickets, remembering that each individual must possess their own JR Pass.
Scan your JR Pass's QR Code on the red-lit scanner located at the bottom right of the screen. Then, input the passport number associated with that JR Pass. If buying for multiple people, repeat this process for each person's JR Pass and passport.
Identify your departure and destination stations by typing a few letters of the station names and selecting from the list that appears.
Next, determine your desired departure or arrival date and time. The Shinkansen booking system allows you to select trains based on either criterion. Ensure you click "Departure" or "Arrival" based on the time you've entered.
After entering your details, the machine will present several train options matching your criteria. Swipe right or left to explore all available options, examining key information such as duration, departure and arrival times, train name, and available carriages. Select your preferred train and confirm your choice.
Now, choose the carriage class suitable for your pass. Regular JR Pass holders can opt for Non-Reserved Seat and Ordinary Car, while JR Green Pass holders can access all classes, including Green Car.
If you select Ordinary Car, you must also choose a seat type, especially if carrying large luggage. Here are the options:
Located in the back row of each carriage, this seat offers an area to store oversized luggage behind it.
Found near a special compartment in the carriage, this seat enables you to store large suitcases. Opt for this if you intend to use the compartment.
This is your standard choice which doesn't have space to store large suitcases. Fear not, though; standard-sized luggage can fit snugly in the compartment overhead.
Once you've chosen the seat type, you can then select the specific seat number you'd like to occupy. If you prefer to choose your seat number personally, click on the "Select from seat map" option.
If you'd rather leave it to chance, the "Any Seats OK" option will do. For those who wish to be close to the smoking room, the "Near Smoking Room" option is available.
When you opt to choose your own seat, the following screen presents you with a list of available carriages. You'll notice that some carriages are marked with both toilet and smoking room symbols, signifying the presence of these facilities.
Should you anticipate needing easy access to the restroom, pick a carriage close to the toilet. However, even if the carriage you select lacks a toilet, rest assured that you can access restrooms or other public facilities in neighboring carriages.
Keep an eye out for a green round sign at the bottom of each carriage; this symbolizes that there are empty seats available. Conversely, a red cross symbol indicates that the carriage is fully occupied or that tickets are unavailable for purchase.
For those who prefer a more spacious environment, selecting the carriage marked "Less Occupied" beneath the green circle would be ideal. This will provide greater flexibility in choosing your seat location.
Having chosen the carriage, the ticket machine will display the seating arrangement within it. Vacant seats are marked with a black color and a green circle, while occupied seats are gray.
Train carriages may have different seat formations, such as 2x2 or 2x3. Select your desired seat by clicking on the green circle, and once you've finalized your selection, hit the "Confirm" option located at the bottom right corner of the screen.
Tip: A directional arrow at the screen's bottom indicates the train's direction of travel. If you're taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, select the seats on the right to enjoy a view of Mount Fuji. When traveling in the opposite direction, the left row of seats would be the better choice.
After seat selection, the screen will exhibit a summary of the ticket details, from the departure station to the chosen seat number. It's crucial to scrutinize this data for accuracy, and if everything looks good, press the "Confirm" button.
Upon confirmation, the machine will print out the shinkansen ticket, which you should take and keep safely. The ticket includes various essential details about your journey, as reflected on the screen.
So, that's the complete process for purchasing shinkansen fast train tickets using the JR Pass. For those unfamiliar with ticket machines, I recommend buying your tickets at the JR counter, though if it's crowded, don't hesitate to try the machine.
Once you have your ticket in hand, and if the departure schedule aligns, you can immediately board the shinkansen train. For guidance on boarding the fast train, please refer to the following article.