Vegetarian's Japan Guide

How to Buy a Bullet Train Ticket and Ride the Shinkansen

You must have heard of the term ‘bullet train’. In Japan, the bullet train is called the Shinkansen. It is Japan’s fastest and most comfortable way to travel long distances. The Shinkansen in Japan has comfortable seats and ample legroom, even in ordinary carriages! If these all sound good to you, the next step is knowing how or where to purchase a Shinkansen ticket, as well as what you will need to consider when boarding the bullet train.

Table of Contents

What Is Shinkansen

Shinkansen is Japan’s bullet train. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen, which started operating in 1964 on occasion for the Tokyo Olympics, was the world’s first commercial high-speed rail.

At the time, the top speed had reached 210 kilometers per hour. Since then, the Shinkansen has been through numerous upgrades, with the current maximum speed reaching over 300 kilometres per hour, depending on the route!

Tohoku-Shinkansen-Yamabiko-Japan
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Types of Shinkansen Service

In Japan, bullet trains are given different names depending on the regions/routes they travel, the frequency, and the number of stops they make.

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For example, Nozomi, the Shinkansen that many Japanese people use to travel between Tokyo and Osaka, only stops at Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, and Kyoto before reaching Osaka. The bullet train, Hikari, also serves the same region but only stops at Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Toyohashi, Nagoya, Gifu-Hashima, Maibara, Kyoto, and Osaka.

So while it only takes 2.5 hours to travel from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka by taking Nozomi, it will take around 3 hours by Hikari.

This system caters to passengers traveling for different purposes. Those in a hurry can take the bullet train with the least stops, whereas tourists can get off the train at a station closer to the destination they want to visit.

Shinkansen Route/ServiceTrain RouteShinkansen’s Names
Hokkaidō Shinkansen (北海道新幹線)Shin-Aomori (新青森) to Shin Hakodate-Hokuto (新函館北斗)Hayabusa (はやぶさ)
Hayate (はやて)
Tōhoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線)Tokyo (東京) to Shin-Aomori (新青森)Hayabusa (はやぶさ)
Hayate (はやて)
Yamabiko (やまびこ)
Nasuno (なすの)
Akita Shinkansen (秋田新幹線)Morioka (盛岡) to Akita (秋田)Komachi (こまち)
Yamagata Shinkansen (山形和新幹線)Fukushima (福島) to Shinjō (新庄)Tsubasa (つばさ)
Jōetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線)Ōmiya (大宮) to Niigata (新潟)Toki (とき)
Tanigawa (たにがわ)
Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線)Takasaki (高崎) to Kanazawa (金沢)Kagayaki (かがやき)
Hakutaka (はくたか)
Asama (あさま)
Tsurugi (つるぎ)
Tōkaidō Shinkansen (東海道新幹線)Tokyo (東京) to Shin-Osaka (新大阪)Nozomi (のぞみ)
Hikari (ひかり)
Kodama (こだま)
Sanyō Shinkansen (山陽新幹線)Shin-Osaka (新大阪) to Hakata (博多)Mizuho (みずほ)
Nozomi (のぞみ)
Hikari (ひかり)
Kodama (こだま)
Sakura (さくら)
Kyūshū Shinkansen (九州新幹線)Hakata (博多) to Kagoshima Chūō (鹿児島中央)Mizuho (みずほ)
Sakura (さくら)
Tsubame (つばめ)
Nishi Kyūshū Shinkansen (西九州新幹線)Takeo Onsen (武雄温泉) to Nagasaki (長崎)Kamome (かもめ)
A List of Japan’s Shinkansen Service

Would I See Mt. Fuji When Traveling Between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto

Yes, you can see Mt. Fuji when traveling on a train between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto. Regardless of the direction of travel, choose the “E seat” on the ordinary carriages. If you want to take the green carriage, reserve the “D seat“.

Would I See Mt. Fuji When Traveling Between Tokyo and Nagano/Kanazawa

If you plan to visit Nagano and/or Kanazawa from Tokyo, the good news is you can also see Mt. Fuji on the train. While the view isn’t as magnificent as what Tōkaidō Shinkansen offers, Mt. Fuji can be seen between Ōmiya Station (大宮駅) and Kumagaya Station (熊谷駅) when the weather is good.

Remember to sit on the left-hand side of the train if the train’s travel direction is from Tokyo to Nagano/Kanazawa.

The Best Timing to Take a Photo of Mt. Fuji on a Bullet Train

While you can see Mt. Fuji from the train regardless of the direction of travel, the view is better when the train drives from Osaka to Tokyo as fewer things will block your sight. Get your camera ready when the train passes Shizuoka Station. The best photography opportunity is after the train has exited the tunnel and passes the Fuji River.

If you take Nozomi, the timing is approximately an hour and 45 minutes after the train departs from Shin-Osaka Station.

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If the train travels from Tokyo to Osaka, get your camera ready after it passes Atami Station. The best photography opportunity is shortly before and after the train passes Shin-Fuji Station. If you take Nozomi, the train will get to Atami around 45 minutes after departing from Tokyo Station.

Shinkansen Seat and Train Carriage Types

Like airplanes, Japan’s bullet train carriages have different classes available.

Shinkansen’s Ordinary Car/Carriage

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The ordinary carriage is equivalent to flying economy, except the seats in Japan’s ordinary bullet train carriages are much more comfortable! Each seat in the Shinkansen ordinary carriage has ample leg room that can fit a medium-sized suitcase or a table tray. USB port is also available to charge your devices.

Therefore, upgrading to a seat in the Green Car is usually not necessary!

Shinkansen’s Green and Premium Green Car/Carriage

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The Green and Premium Green carriage is equivalent to flying business class. Compared to the seats in the ordinary car, the seats in the green car are wider and more comfortable with fancy footrests. The seats can also rotate 180 ​​degrees, suitable for group travel.

Instead of 5 seats in a row, the green cars have 4 seats in a row with an aisle in the middle. In addition to the table tray, it also has a personal reading light.

Furthermore, the green carriages are usually quieter, perfect for a good rest or working remotely.

Shinkansen’s GranClass Car/Carriage

The GranClass carriage is equivalent to flying first class. This service is only available on Hokkaidō Shinkansen (Series E5 and H5), Tōhoku Shinkansen (Series E7 and W7), and Jōetsu Shinkansen (Series E7).

There are only three seats per row, giving you a more open and somewhat private space for a relaxing trip. The reclining feature is better than those in ordinary and green carriages. Beverages and light meals may be provided depending on which train you take.

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Refer to the JR Gran Class official website HERE for more information.

Different Types of Shinkansen Tickets

There are two types of Shinkansen tickets: reserved and non-reserved.

  • The seats on ordinary carriages can be reserved. If all reserved seats have been booked, non-reserved carriages allow you to board the Shinkansen you wish to take. However, please note that:
    • The reserved seat tickets are more expensive.
    • Not all Shinkansen have non-reserved carriages.
  • Green and Gran Class carriages are reserved-only carriages.

What Tickets Do I Need to Take a Shinkansen

A base fare ticket is required when boarding all trains in Japan. Different from the local, rapid, and express services, limited express and Shinkansen require an additional super (limited) express train ticket for boarding. You will need to show both tickets when taking a bullet train in Japan. When you pass through the ticket gate, insert both tickets for the gate to open.

A base fare ticket covers the charges calculated based on the distance traveled. The super express ticket includes the speed and service charges.

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  • To board an Ordinary Shinkansen Carriage:
    • A base fare ticket and a Shinkansen super express reserved seat ticket are required to board an Ordinary Reserved Carriage.
    • A base fare ticket and a Shinkansen super express non-reserved seat ticket are required to board an Ordinary Non-Reserved Carriage.
  • To board the Green Shinkansen Carriage, you will need a base fare ticket, a Shinkansen super express reserved seat ticket, and a Green Car ticket.
  • To board the Premium Green Shinkansen Carriage, you will need a base fare ticket, a Shinkansen super express reserved seat ticket, and a Premium Green Car ticket.
  • To board the Gran Class Shinkansen Carriage, you will need a base fare ticket, a Shinkansen super express reserved seat ticket, and a Gran Class Car ticket.

Important: No extra tickets are required for the non-reserved carriages if you have a JR Pass. If you use the JR Pass to reserve a seat on the bullet train, you will only get one reserved ticket to be inserted into the ticket machine.

Can I Take Japan’s Bullet Train Without a Reservation

You can only sit in the Shinkansen’s ordinary non-reserved carriages without reservation. Note that not all bullet trains in Japan have a non-reserved carriage.

Do I Need to Reserve a Seat on the Shinkansen

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Train services in Japan are frequent. Unless the train you want to take is reserved-only, reservation is generally not required and not even necessary. The only exception is if you plan to travel during Japan’s long public holidays. This includes:

  • During the New Year period from the end of December to the beginning of January
  • Japan’s Golden Week from the end of April to early May.
  • The Obon Festival in mid-August
  • For other parts of the year – you might want to reserve a seat on a bullet train during cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons.

That being said, a reservation guarantees you will have a seat on the train, so make a reservation whenever possible for a pleasant train ride. You should be able to reserve your preferred seat on the train one day beforehand unless your travel period is during Japan’s peak travel period.

A Reservation Is Essential to Board the Bullet Train, Nozomi, During the Peak Seasons

From 28th December 2023, the fastest bullet train traveling between Tokyo, Osaka, and Hakata will become a reserved-only train during the New Year period, Golden Week, and the Obon Festival. Although you can still board Nozomi without making a reservation, no seats will be available for non-reserved ticket holders during peak periods.

Through the online bullet train platform smart-ex.jp, you can reserve your seat one year or one month in advance!

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How Many Luggage Can I Bring When Boarding a Train in Japan

You may bring up to two luggage with a total length, width, and height of up to 250 cm (up to 2 meters in length) and a weight of up to 30 kg. If you have more than two luggage, a separate ticket (普通手回り品きっぷ) needs to be purchased for any additional luggage that you wish to bring onboard. Currently, the cost is 290 yen per luggage.

Do I Need to Reserve the Oversized Babbage Area on the Bullet Train

If you plan to take the bullet train with baggage with a total dimension between 161 cm and 250 cm, you need to reserve the oversized baggage area behind the back-row seats. If the total dimension exceeds 250 cm, you need to reserve a seat for that baggage.

The above rule applies on the below train lines (all bullet trains traveling between Tokyo and Kyūshū):

  • Tokaidō Shinkansen, Kyūshū Shinkansen, and Nishi-Kyūshū Shinkansen
    • Between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka
    • Between Shin-Osaka and Hakata
    • Between Hakata and Kagoshima
    • Between Takeo-Onsen and Nagasaki

Refer to the Official Pamphlet for more information.

Important: You might be fined if you didn’t reserve the oversized baggage area but left your belongings there.

Tip: If your belonging’s total dimension is less than 160cm, put it on the luggage rack above your seat.

Reserving the Oversized Baggage Compartment (特大荷物コーナー)

From the 24th of May 2023, the Tokaidō Shinkansen, Kyūshū Shinkansen, or Sanyō Shinkansen you board might have an oversized baggage compartment. It is the same type of compartment commonly found in airport express trains, such as the Narita Express. Currently, only 16 bullet trains have this facility. They are located in carriages 4, 6, 9, 13, and 15.

The compartment has two stories. If your baggage can fit into the oversized baggage compartment, make a reservation when you purchase the bullet train ticket by choosing the seats with the right to use the oversized baggage compartment. The ticket prices for these seats are the same as other seats.

  • The upper compartment space can fit baggage with a dimension of 80 x 60 x 50cm.
  • The upper compartment space can fit baggage with a dimension of 80 x 60 x 40cm.

Luggage cable locks are available. If you want to use it, your transportation IC card can be used to lock and unlock the luggage cable locks. The bar in the middle of the compartment is also locked. The 4-digit pass code is the carriage number + your seat’s row number.

Important: You might be fined if you didn’t reserve the oversized baggage compartment but left your belongings there.

How to Reserve the Bullet Train’s Oversized Babbage Area and Oversized Baggage Compartment

Because the number of seats with an oversized baggage storage space attached are limited, it is best to reserve the seat as soon as possible using the official website, such as smart-ex.jp.

Other reservation methods include using the ticket vending machine at a station or from a ticket office.

What if I Missed the Shinkansen That I Reserved?

Besides the discounted ticket, such as Hayatoku (お先にトクだ値, EX早特, 九州ネット早特), you can still use it to board the bullet train’s non-reserved carriages on the same day. However, if you want to sit in a reserved carriage, you must purchase another reserved-seat ticket.

If the train you want to take is reserved only, you can still take the next train, but you need to stand for the entire journey.

How to Purchase a Shinkansen Ticket

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Before taking a bullet train, you will first need to purchase a Shinkansen ticket or have a JR Pass that covers the entire journey. You can purchase a Shinkansen ticket from a ticket office, a Shinkansen ticket machine, or online.

Note that JR’s ticket office, Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口), and Shinkansen ticket machines are not available at all JR stations.

Where to Purchase Shinkansen Tickets Online

As each region has a different reservation website, purchasing your Shinkansen ticket via Klook is far more convenient. Plus if you plan to board the Shinkansen serving the JR West region, purchasing from Klook means you can get it at a cheaper tourist price!

Refer to the below for the official website for each region and the regional JR Pass that you can use to reserve and board the Shinkansen for free.

Important: Unless you use the smart-ex app, remember to pick up your Shinkansen ticket at the dedicated ticket vending machine or from a JR ticket office. Note that you cannot use the app to reserve a ticket for all stations in Japan. Read on for more details.

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Tip: You can link your Suica/ICOCA IC card with your Shinkansen reserved ticket once you have purchased it online or at the station’s ticket office or ticket machine.

Your Destination is in Eastern Japan, including Tokyo, the Central Region, the Northeastern Region, and Hokkaidō

eki-net.com is the official bullet train reservation website for Eastern Japan, including Tokyo, the Central Region, Northeastern Region, and Hokkaidō. If your destination is between Tokyo and Hakata in Kyūshū, you can also use smart-ex.jp, the official bullet train reservation website for Western Japan. It also has a phone app that you can download.

If you have already made a reservation, simply scan your phone’s app screen to pass the ticket gate on the day.

The JR Passes that you can use in this area are:

RegionPass NameValid PeriodMain Covered DestinationsPurchasable WebsitesTerms and Conditions
Northeastern and EastJR EAST PASS (Tohoku Area)5-dayAomori, Akita, Mt. Zaō, Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, Sendai, Nikkō, and Tokyoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Hokkaidō and NortheasternJR Tohoku-South Hokkaido Rail Pass6-dayHokkaidō, Aomori, Akita, Mt. Zaō, Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, Sendai, Nikkō, and Tokyoklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
East and CentralJR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)5-dayTokyo, Nagano, Karuizawa, Niigata, Matsumoto, and Hakubaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Hokkaidō, Northeastern, and EastJR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass6-daySapporo, Aomori, Akita, Mt. Zaō, Oirase Gorge and Lake Towada, Sendai, Nikkō, and TokyoklookTerms and Conditions
NorthwesternHokuriku Area Pass4-dayKanazawa, Toyama, Unazuki Onsen, and Kaga Onsenklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
East, Central, Northwestern, and WestHokuriku Arch Pass7-dayTokyo, Kanazawa, Toyama, Kyoto, and Osakaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
A List of Regional JR Passes for the Eastern Japan Region

Your Destination is in Western Japan, including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Kyūshū

smart-ex.jp is the official bullet train reservation website for Western Japan, including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Kyūshū. smart-ex also has a phone app that you can download.

If you have already made a reservation, simply scan the QR code on your phone’s app to pass the ticket gate on the day.

The JR Passes that you can use in this area are:

RegionPass NameValid PeriodMain Covered DestinationsPurchasable WebsitesTerms and Conditions
NorthwesternHokuriku Area Pass4-dayKanazawa, Toyama, Unazuki Onsen, and Kaga Onsenklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
East, Central, Northwestern, and WestHokuriku Arch Pass7-dayTokyo, Kanazawa, Toyama, Kyoto, and Osakaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Central and WestTakayama-Hokuriku Area
Tourist Pass
5-dayNagoya, Osaka, Shirakawagō, and Takayamaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Northwestern and WestKansai-Hokuriku Area Pass7-dayKanazawa, Unazuki Onsen, Toyama, Tottori, Osaka, Kyoto, and Naraklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
WestKansai Wide Area Pass5-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Amanohashidate, Wakayama, and Takamatsuklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West and Sanyo/San’inKansai-Hiroshima Area Pass5-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, and Hiroshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West and Sanyo/San’inSanyo-San’in Area Pass7-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Shimane, and Hiroshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern KyūshūJR-West All Area Pass7-dayTottori, Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, and Hiroshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern KyūshūSanyo-San’in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass7-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Yufuin, and Beppuklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern Kyūshū Setouchi Area Pass7-dayKyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Matsuyama, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, and Hakataklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Sanyo/San’inHiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass5-dayHiroshima and Fukuokaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
Sanyo/San’inOkayama-Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass5-dayOkayama, Hiroshima, and Fukuokaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
KyūshūAll Kyushu Pass3-day, 5-day or 7-dayFukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Kagoshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
KyūshūNorthern Kyushu Pass3-day or 5-dayFukuoka, Yufuin, Beppu, Kumamono, Okura, and SagaTerms and Conditions
KyūshūSouthern Kyushu Pass3-dayNagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and KagoshimaTerms and Conditions
A List of Regional JR Passes

Your Destination is in Kyūshū

jrkyushu.co.jp is the official bullet train reservation website for Kyūshū.

The JR Passes that you can use in this area are:

RegionPass NameValid PeriodMain Covered DestinationsPurchasable WebsitesTerms and Conditions
West, Sanyo/San’in, and Northern KyūshūSanyo-San’in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass7-dayOsaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Yufuin, and Beppuklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
KyūshūAll Kyushu Pass3-day, 5-day or 7-dayFukuoka, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Kagoshimaklook
kkday
Terms and Conditions
KyūshūNorthern Kyushu Pass3-day or 5-dayFukuoka, Yufuin, Beppu, Kumamono, Okura, and SagaTerms and Conditions
KyūshūSouthern Kyushu Pass3-dayNagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and KagoshimaTerms and Conditions
A List of Regional JR Passes

Can You Get on and off Japan’s Bullet Train?

Whether you can get on and off Japan’s bullet train depends on the situation. If your Shinkansen ticket meets the below requirements, then you can get on and off the bullet train.

  • The total travel distance of the base fare ticket exceeds more than 101km.
    • An easy way to confirm if your base fare ticket allows you to get on and off a Shinkansen is to check if the wording “下車前途無効” is printed on the ticket. If not, then you can get on and off with the base fare ticket.

Important:
☛ While the base fare ticket may still be valid, the super express ticket must be purchased separately for each leg of the train trip.
☛ You cannot travel backwards.

Tip: The base fare ticket is valid for 2 to 6 days, depending on the distance traveled. Please confirm with the station staff if you are unsure.

The Shinkansen Ticket That Does Not Allow You to Get On and Off

  • Reserved-seat Shinkansen ticket.
  • A booklet of Shinkansen tickets (these are usually sold as a set of 10 tickets).
  • If the base fare ticket and super express ticket are combined into one ticket.
    • This might be the case if you have purchased a booklet of tickets.
  • A ticket that was purchased at a discount rate under specific conditions.
  • A ticket that allows you to depart to and from specific metropolitan areas instead of a specific train station.

Getting a Better Understanding of Tokyo’s Train System

JR-Shinjuku-Station-Tokyo-Japan
Click the photo for a guide to Tokyo’s Train System!

If you had a chance to look at Tokyo’s train map, you might be startled at first glance. With so many train companies owning train lines and stations in Tokyo, the city’s train map may look too confusing to follow for many tourists.

So if you want to understand Tokyo’s train system better, refer to our Guide to Tokyo’s Transportation System and Train Routes!

The Most Useful Apps for Traveling in Japan

In this day and age, smartphones are our new maps, translators, and guides. It is the most useful tool that helps us navigate when traveling to a foreign country like Japan.

But for it to be useful for your Japan trip, there are a couple of apps that you need to download. For more information, refer to our Most Useful Apps for Traveling in Japan article!

The Most Useful Apps for Traveling in Japan