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Everything You Need to Know About Buying Shinkansen Tickets in Japan

Traveling by Shinkansen (bullet train) is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to explore Japan. Whether you are zipping from Tokyo to Osaka or heading north towards Hokkaido, the Shinkansen network offers a seamless travel experience. In order to assist you in smoothly navigating the purchase of Shinkansen tickets for your upcoming trip to Japan, I have curated an in-depth and informative guide on all things Shinkansen.

Introduction to the Shinkansen: Japan's Bullet Train

Before we jump into how to purchase Shinkansen tickets, it is important to gain an understanding of Japan's high-speed rail system. Japan's Shinkansen, or bullet trains, epitomize modern engineering, revolutionizing rail travel since their debut in 1964. Connecting major cities from Hokkaido to Kyushu, these high-speed trains achieve speeds up to 200 mph (320 km/h), dramatically reducing travel times between Japanese cities. Renowned for their punctuality, with delays averaging mere seconds, and an impeccable safety record, the Shinkansen offers an unparalleled travel experience. Passengers enjoy spacious seating, onboard amenities, and various service classes, all while benefiting from the trains' environmentally friendly electric power. Beyond transportation, the Shinkansen is a cultural icon reflecting Japan's innovation and engineering excellence, making it an essential experience for local commuters and tourists alike.


Shinkansen Rail Lines

Japan’s Shinkansen network, known for its high-speed and efficient rail services, comprises several different rail lines, each serving various regions of Japan. Purchasing Shinkansen tickets can be quite daunting and confusing due to the fact that each rail line is operated by a different company. By familiarizing yourself with the different rail lines, you can navigate the ticket purchasing process more efficiently and ensure a smooth and enjoyable travel experience. Here is a comprehensive overview of the nine Shinkansen lines in Japan:

1. Tokaido Shinkansen
  • Route: Tokyo to Shin-Osaka
  • Key Stops: Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka
  • Services: Nozomi, Hikari, Kodama
  • Highlights: The Tokaido Shinkansen is the busiest and oldest Shinkansen line, inaugurated in 1964. It connects Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas (Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka) and serves as a crucial transportation artery. As a tourist in Japan, this is most likely the Shinkansen rail line that you will use if you are planning to visit Japan's Golden Triangle (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) by rail. Additional information on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, including a route map and a full list of stations, can be found on the JR Pass website
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Tokaido Shinkansen can be purchased via the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service. 
2. Sanyo Shinkansen
  • Route: Shin-Osaka to Hakata (Fukuoka)
  • Key Stops: Shin-Osaka, Shin-Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kokura, Hakata
  • Services: Nozomi, Hikari, Kodama, Mizuho, Sakura
  • Highlights: The Sanyo Shinkansen line extends the Tokaido Shinkansen westward, providing high-speed access to the Chugoku region and Kyushu. Additional information on the Sanyo Shinkansen line can be found on the JR Pass website.
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Sanyo Shinkansen can be purchased via the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service.
3. Kyushu Shinkansen
  • Route: Hakata (Fukuoka) to Kagoshima-Chuo
  • Key Stops: Hakata, Kumamoto, Kagoshima-Chuo
  • Services: Mizuho, Sakura, Tsubame, Kamome 
  • Highlights: The Kyushu Shinkansen connects northern and southern Kyushu, significantly reducing travel times across the island and enhancing regional connectivity. The Kanome services also connect Takeo-Onsen to Nagasaki on this line. Additional information on the Kyushu Shinkansen line can be found on the JR Pass website.
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Kyushu Shinkansen can be purchased via the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service
4. Tohoku Shinkansen
  • Route: Tokyo to Shin-Aomori
  • Key Stops: Tokyo, Sendai, Morioka, Shin-Aomori
  • Services: Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko, Nasuno, Komachi, Tsubasa
  • Highlights: The Tohoku Shinkansen gets its name from the Tohoku region, translating to "North East" in Japanese. This Shinkansen line, therefore, services the northeastern region of Honshu from Tokyo. The Tohoku Shinkansen line reaches as far as Aomori and connects with the Hokkaido Shinkansen for travel to Hokkaido. The Hayabusa service is the fastest of all Shinkansen services, reaching speeds up to 200 mph (320 km/h). Additional information on the Tohoku Shinkansen can be found on the JR Pass website.
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Tohoku Shinkansen can be purchased via the JR-East Train Reservation website.
5. Hokkaido Shinkansen
  • Route: Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto
  • Key Stops: Shin-Aomori, Kikonai, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto
  • Services: Hayabusa, Hayate
  • Highlights: This line includes the Seikan Tunnel, the world's longest undersea tunnel, connecting Honshu with Hokkaido. Plans are underway to extend the line to Sapporo by 2030. Additional information about the Hokkaido Shinkansen line can be found on the JR Pass website.
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Hokkaido Shinkansen can be purchased via the JR-East Train Reservation website.
6. Jōetsu Shinkansen
  • Route: Tokyo to Niigata
  • Key Stops: Tokyo, Omiya, Echigo-Yuzawa, Gala-Yuzawa (Seasonal), Niigata
  • Services: Toki, Tanigawa
  • Highlights: The Jōetsu Shinkansen line connects the capital, Tokyo, with the Niigata Prefecture, known for its rice production, scenic landscapes, and winter ski resorts. This line allows you to get from Tokyo to the Japanese Alps for a day of skiing and/or snowboarding during the winter months in less than 90 minutes. Additional information about the Jōetsu Shinkansen line can be found on the JR Pass website 
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Jōetsu Shinkansen can be purchased via the JR-East Train Reservation website.
7. Hokuriku Shinkansen
  • Route: Tokyo to Tsuruga
  • Key Stops: Tokyo, Omiya, Nagano, Toyama, Kanazawa, Fuki, Tsuruga 
  • Services: Kagayaki, Hakutaka, Asama, Tsurugi
  • Highlights: The Hokuriku Shinkansen links Tokyo with the Hokuriku region, passing through scenic areas and the historic city of Kanazawa. Future extensions aim to reach Osaka by 2046. Additional information about the Hokuriku Shinkansen can be found on the JR Pass website.
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Hokuriku Shinkansen can be purchased via the JR-West Online Train Reservation website.
8. Yamagata Shinkansen
  • Route: Tokyo to Shinjo
  • Key Stops: Tokyo, Omiya, Fukushima, Yamagata, Shinjo
  • Services: Tsubasa
  • Highlights: This "Mini-Shinkansen" line features narrower tracks allowing the Shinkansen to travel on conventional rail lines, providing direct access to the Yamagata Prefecture. Operating at a slower speed than other Shinkansen, the Yamagata Shinkansen line provides easy access from Tokyo to popular ski resorts and onsens in Yamagata Prefecture in approximately 150 minutes. Additional information about the Yamagata Shinkansen line can be found on the JR Pass website
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Yamagata Shinkansen can be purchased via the JR-East Train Reservation website.
9. Akita Shinkansen
  • Route: Tokyo to Akita
  • Key Stops: Tokyo, Omiya, Sendai, Morioka, Akita
  • Services: Komachi
  • Highlights: Similar to the Yamagata Shinkansen, this line is a "Mini-Shinkansen," facilitating travel to the Akita Prefecture. It connects with the Tohoku Shinkansen at Morioka. Additional information about the Akita Shinkansen can be found on the JR Pass website.
  • Shinkansen tickets for the Akita Shinkansen can be purchased via the JR-East Train Reservation website.

Types of Shinkansen Services

Before purchasing Shinkansen tickets, it is helpful to know the different types of Shinkansen services available. I will not dive into every type of service available, but the ones serving the most popular tourist routes are below. As always, book the type of service that works best for you and your travel plans. 

  • Nozomi: Nozomi trains are the fastest and most prestigious services on Japan's Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines, which run between Tokyo and Fukuoka, passing through major cities like Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. Introduced in 1992, the Nozomi trains are designed to minimize travel times by making fewer stops compared to other Shinkansen services. For example, the Nozomi cuts the travel time between Tokyo and Osaka to approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, significantly quicker than other services on the same route. Note that the Japan Rail Pass is not valid for Nozomi trains.
  • Hikari: A bit slower than Nozomi, but still very fast, with more stops along the way. While Nozomi trains are faster with fewer stops, Hikari trains offer a good balance of speed and accessibility, with the added benefit of being JR Pass-compatible.
  • Kodama: Kodama trains serve as the local trains, stopping at all stations along a route. As a result, Kodama trains are the slowest of the three primary Shinkansen services (Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama). For cost-conscious travelers, Kodama trains offer a cheaper alternative to faster Shinkansen services, while still providing a comfortable travel experience. You will more than likely take a Kodama train if you are traveling to smaller cities between Tokyo and Fukuoka.  
  • Hayabusa: Hayabusa trains are the fastest Shinkansen in Japan, connecting Tokyo and Shin-Aomori on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, as well as  reaching speeds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h). Non-reserved seating is not available on Hayabusa services. As such, a seat reservation is required for all passengers.
  • Mizuho: Mizuho trains are the fastest service operating on the Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, connecting major cities like Osaka, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka with Kagoshima. Known for its speed and efficiency, the Mizuho service makes fewer stops compared to other services, significantly reducing travel time. However, it is important to note that the Mizuho trains are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass, making them a premium option for travelers seeking the quickest journey between these destinations.

Seat Classes

All Shinkansen trains offer both Ordinary and Green Car seating. Some newer trains, traversing long distances, also offer Gran Class which is the highest level of luxury travel on Shinkansen trains in Japan. 

  • Ordinary: Standard seats, comfortable and fine for most travelers. We traveled in Ordinary for all of our Shinkansen journeys and it was more than sufficient. The seats were large and quite comfortable, equipped with outlets to charge electronics. 
  • Green Car: First-class seats offering more space and comfort, with larger seats which recline.
  • Gran Class: Gran Class seating is available on select Shinkansen trains and offers the highest level of luxury and comfort, featuring spacious, reclining seats, premium amenities, and personalized service. A step above the Green Car. Available on select routes like the Tohoku, Hokuriku, and Hokkaido Shinkansen, Gran Class provides an exceptional travel experience akin to first-class air travel. Food and beverages are also included at no additional cost. Additional information on Gran Class seating can be found on the JR Pass website.

Shinkansen Seat Reservations 

Seat reservations on the Shinkansen in Japan offer flexibility and convenience for passengers, with various options to cater to different needs and preferences. There are three main types of seating: reserved seats, non-reserved seats, and Green Car seats, with the additional option of Gran Class seats on certain lines. Reserved seats (指定席, Shiteiseki) require booking in advance, guaranteeing a seat and allowing passengers to choose their preferred seat location. These seats are available in both Ordinary Cars and Green Cars. All Green Car seats are reserved and must be booked in advance.

Non-reserved seats (自由席, Jiyuuseki), on the other hand, operate on a first-come, first-served basis and are generally cheaper, but may require standing during busy periods. Oversized luggage storage is typically not available for non-reserved seats.

Reservations can be made at JR ticket offices, ticket machines, and online. Japan Rail Pass holders can reserve seats at no extra cost, although the pass does not cover Nozomi and Mizuho train services. Early booking is recommended, especially during peak travel seasons, to ensure seat availability. Specifying preferences, such as window or aisle seats, and traveling during off-peak hours can enhance the travel experience. 


Purchasing Shinkansen Tickets

Once you have mapped out your travel plans and have a clear idea of the seating class you prefer for your Shinkansen journey, it is time to purchase your Shinkansen tickets. I will dive into the various ticket purchasing methods shortly, but first, let's talk about some information to keep in mind when it comes to Shinkansen tickets.

  • Refundable Fares: Shinkansen tickets can typically be refunded prior to their intended use, but the specifics may vary based on the ticket type. Generally, Shinkansen tickets are refundable if they are unused and the refund is requested before the train's scheduled departure time. It is important to check the terms and conditions of your ticket and contact the appropriate railway authority or ticket vendor to initiate the refund process. Keep in mind that there may be cancellation fees or restrictions depending on the ticket type and timing of the refund request. Additional information about refundable fares can be found on the smartEX website.
  • Changing Train Times: Changing Shinkansen train times after purchasing your Shinkansen tickets is generally straightforward. You can modify your reservation by visiting a JR ticket office, using self-service machines at train stations, or using the smartEX app or website. Unused Shinkansen tickets that are valid can be changed once to a ticket of the same type without any additional charges, assuming the change is for the same type of fare on the same date of travel. However, commuter, multi-ride, and discounted Shinkansen tickets are not eligible for free changes. If you change your Shinkansen ticket to a more expensive ticket, you will need to pay the fare difference. If you switch to a Shinkansen ticket of lesser value, you will receive a refund for the remaining amount. We recommend that you make changes well in advance of your original departure time to ensure seat availability on your preferred train. 
  • Hold onto your Shinkansen Tickets: Be sure to keep your Shinkansen tickets handy as you will need them both to enter and exit the train stations. This is especially important if you have physical paper tickets. 
  • English Translations: Shinkansen tickets are available in English, ensuring ease of use for tourists navigating Japan's high-speed rail system. Additionally, signage at train stations is multilingual, making it straightforward to find your platform, train car, and seat. This user-friendly approach helps international travelers enjoy a smooth and stress-free journey through Japan via the Shinkansen.

Purchasing Shinkansen Tickets Online

We opted to purchase most of our Shinkansen tickets in advance before departing for Japan, leveraging the convenience of the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service. While not mandatory, this approach allowed us to secure preferred seats with designated oversized luggage space and our desired departure times. (More on the oversized luggage space later...)

Creating an account is necessary before purchasing Shinkansen tickets on the website, and using a credit card with 3DS technology is a requirement3DS technology, short for 3-D Secure, is a security protocol designed to enhance the security of online credit and debit card transactions. It provides an additional layer of authentication for cardholders, helping to prevent fraud and ensuring that the transaction is being made by the legitimate card owner. Not all U.S. credit and debit cards have 3DS technology. From our experience, none of our Visa cards worked on the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service website. However, our Discover card worked smoothly! (According to a helpful article from The Points Guy in March 2023, American Express Platinum cards are also reported to work for online Shinkansen ticket purchases before your trip to Japan.)

If you successfully purchase your Shinkansen tickets online ahead of your trip, you are going to want to bookmark the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service website or download their app, called smartEX. The app is available for both iPhone and Android smartphones. Your train ticket(s) will be a QR code generated through the app or website and will be necessary for your Shinkansen journey. 

If you are looking to purchase Shinkansen tickets for other lines and routes that are not covered by the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service, we recommend waiting to purchase your Shinkansen tickets at the station after you arrive in Japan. We found the JR-East website to be confusing to navigate when we tried to purchase our tickets to Gala Yuzawa and instead purchased those Shinkansen tickets at the station without any issue.

A warning about using third-party online booking services...

We do not recommend booking your Shinkansen tickets via third-party providers, such as Klook. Booking directly through official Japan Rail (JR) channels ensures you receive accurate information, up-to-date train schedules, and the best prices for your Shinkansen tickets without any extra fees. Additionally, purchasing directly allows for easier ticket modifications or cancellations if your travel plans change.

Gala Yuzawa_Shinkansen Station

Purchasing Shinkansen Tickets at the Station

In the event that you do not have a valid credit or debit card to purchase your Shinkansen tickets online or you are looking to visit areas of Japan not covered by the Tokaido Sanyo Kyushu Shinkansen Online Reservation Service, you can always purchase your Shinkansen tickets at the station upon your arrival to Japan. 

Not all ticket machines in Japanese train stations sell Shinkansen tickets, so you are going to want to look for either the blue ticket machines (which only sell Shinkansen tickets) or the green ticket machines (which sell other train passes as well). Inside Kyoto has a really fantastic post about buying Shinkansen tickets in greater detail, including step-by-step instructions for booking your Shinkansen tickets using the automated ticket machines. Most of the ticket machines allow you to pay with cash, credit card, and/or IC card. Machines that only accept credit cards are labeled as such. The ticket machines also offer English translations making it easy to purchase your Shinkansen tickets. In the event that you have difficulty operating the ticket machines, you can also purchase Shinkansen tickets from the in-person ticket sales windows. We did not run into any difficulty finding staff at the ticket sales windows who spoke English, but just know that this is not a guarantee. 

If you buy your Shinkansen tickets at the station, be sure to buy a base fare. The machines will give you the option of purchasing only a limited express ticket, but a base fare is still required for the Shinkansen. We inadvertently made this mistake when we went snowboarding in Niigata and could not figure out for the life of us why our Shinkansen tickets would not let us through the turnstiles at the train station. Thankfully a very kind staff member was able to assist us in purchasing the base fare and we were still able to make our train as scheduled. 

Shinkansen Tickets for Children

Shinkansen tickets for children are discounted, making travel throughout Japan more affordable for families. Children aged 6 to 11 are eligible to receive a 50% discount on standard fares. Children under 6 years old can travel for free on the Shinkansen and do not need their own Shinkansen tickets if they do not occupy a separate seat. Children under 6 years old will need Shinkansen tickets if they are sitting in a reserved seat or a Green Car seat. To buy Shinkansen tickets for children, you can purchase them at JR ticket offices, automated ticket machines, or online through official JR websites. When purchasing, be sure to specify the number of child tickets needed to ensure the appropriate discount is applied.

Shinkansen tickets are not discounted for children in Green Cars. 

Shinkansen Tickets for Students & Elderly Adults

Shinkansen tickets are generally not offered at a discount for students or elderly adults visiting Japan as tourists. The exception is for Japanese university students, including foreigners with a student visa, who can save up to 20% on Shinkansen tickets with an official certificate, known as a gakuseishō, from their university. 

Japan Rail Pass

The Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) is an exclusive ticket for foreign tourists, providing unlimited travel on most Japan Railways (JR) trains, including Shinkansen and local lines, for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days. The pass must be purchased outside Japan and is available to those with "Temporary Visitor" status. Seat reservations are recommended, and while not mandatory, they are particularly beneficial during peak travel seasons. With various types, including regional passes, the JR Pass is a popular choice for exploring multiple cities and regions, allowing convenient and flexible travel throughout Japan. While we personally found that the JR Pass did not make financial sense for our trip to Japan, as it was cheaper to buy our Shinkansen tickets individually, it may be worthwhile for those planning extensive train travel throughout the country.

Additional information on the JR Pass can be found on the JR website. If you are contemplating purchasing the Japan Rail Pass, we highly recommend using the JR Fare Calculator tool that can help you assess if the JR Pass is worthwhile for your trip to Japan. This tool provides a breakdown of the expenses for each of your planned train trips, allowing for a straightforward comparison with the cost of a JR Pass.

As previously mentioned, the JR Pass is not valid for the Nozomi or Mizuho trains. However, a supplemental ticket can be purchased, in addition to the JR Pass, that covers the fare on the Nozomi and Mizuho trains. The cost of the supplemental ticket depends on your destination. The cost ranges from ¥4,180 to ¥8,140 (or $26.31 to $51.23 USD). Additional information on the supplemental ticket for the Nozomi and Mizuho trains can be found on the Japan Rail Pass website.

Tips for Traveling via Shinkansen with Luggage 

One of the biggest benefits for booking your Shinkansen tickets online, in-advance of your trip to Japan is the ability to make a seat reservation. This is particularly pertinent if you are traveling with large luggage. 

Taking Your Luggage Aboard the Shinkansen 

If you have large luggage and you are planning on taking it on the Shinkansen, you will need to make a reservation in-advance for a seat with oversized luggage storage. Luggage sized between 62-inches and 98-inches (or 160-250 cm), when you add together your luggage dimensions (the length + width + height), require a reservation for a seat with oversized luggage storage. This requirement does not apply to sports equipment, musical instruments, or strollers. Typically, seats with oversized luggage storage can be found in the first and last row on each train car. These seats do not cost any extra to book and we found that they provided plenty of space for large checked luggage, as well as smaller roll-aboards (we do not tend to travel lightly). Backpacks, duffle bags, purses, and small roll-aboards can fit easily above the seats on the Shinkansen and do not require oversized luggage storage. More information about traveling with oversized or large luggage can be found on the JR website.

Since an advance reservation is required for oversized luggage storage, and the storage space is limited to the designated seats with oversized luggage storage, if you are planning on traveling with your luggage via Shinkansen, we definitely recommend booking your Shinkansen tickets prior to your arrival in Japan. 

Ski & Snowboard Gear

Winter sports are hugely popular in Japan and a popular draw for tourists during the winter months. The Shinkansen trains running to ski resorts in Japan, such as the Jōetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Gala Yuzawa which we took, are equipped to handle winter sports equipment. These trains feature designated storage areas for skis, snowboards, and other bulky gear. Passengers can also find luggage racks and overhead compartments to accommodate additional winter sports accessories, making it easy to travel directly to popular ski destinations without hassle. You do not need to make a specific reservation when booking a Shinkansen to a ski resort for your ski gear. 

Luggage Handling & Delivery Service

We found that the train stations in Japan were easy enough to navigate with luggage and we had plenty of time to board our trains with our luggage in-hand. However, if you are nervous about traveling with your luggage, have difficulty managing your luggage, or are traveling with small children, know that there is also the option of having your luggage sent ahead to your next destination while traveling through Japan. 

Yamato Transport's luggage handling service, also known as "Kuroneko" or black cat in Japanese, offers travelers in Japan a convenient way to transport their belongings without the hassle of carrying heavy bags. With options for pickup from various locations, including hotels and airports, travelers can arrange for their luggage to be delivered to any destination within Japan reliably and efficiently. The service provides flexibility with delivery options, including next-day, same-day (in select areas), and delivery to convenience stores or other pickup points. The service is especially beneficial for those traveling with ski gear, golf clubs, or small children. 

More information on this service can be found on the Yamato Transport website. If you are interested in using the Yamato Transport service, ask your hotel for assistance. 

What to Expect Traveling via Shinkansen

In addition to purchasing your Shinkansen tickets, there are a few more things to be aware of before embarking on your journey via Shinkansen which we will cover below.


Bento Boxes & Food

While it is typically a faux paux to eat while using public transportation in Japan, eating on the Shinkansen is the exception. Buying bento boxes for the Shinkansen is a popular and fun part of the travel experience in Japan. Known as "ekiben," these bento boxes are sold at train stations (eki) and feature a variety of regional specialties, offering a taste of local cuisine. They are beautifully packaged and often include a balanced meal with rice, fish or meat, and vegetables. Passengers can purchase ekiben from train station kiosks.

Part of the fun of bento boxes, at least from our perspective, is trying to discern what exactly you are getting in each box. The boxes are entirely in Japanese and while Google Lens is extremely helpful when traveling throughout Japan, it is not perfect at providing accurate translations. We tried a few different bento boxes during our train travel, some delicious and others not so much.

If bento boxes are not your cup of tea, feel free to pack your own snacks for the journey. We did this a few times, grabbing sandwiches, onigiri, and beverages from konbini (Japanese convenience stores) before hopping on the Shinkansen. Whatever treats you bring, make sure to dispose of any waste properly. Trash bins are conveniently provided in each train car for your convenience.


Arrive Early 

Many of the train stations in Japan are huge! For example, Tokyo Station is a labyrinth of platforms, shops, and restaurants, serving as a central hub for various Shinkansen lines. Similarly, Kyoto Station is vast and modern, with multiple levels and a wide array of facilities, including a shopping mall. We actually got lost in Kyoto Station while trying to find our train platform, underscoring the need for plenty of time to navigate these large stations. Therefore, it is essential to arrive well in advance if you intend to purchase your Shinkansen tickets in person before your trip, wish to pick up a bento box for your journey, or are traveling with luggage to ensure you have sufficient time to navigate the station. We always tried to arrive to the station an hour before our scheduled departure when we were traveling with luggage, giving us plenty of time to find our train platform, grab a bento box, and relax before our train arrived.

In the event that you are already familiar with a particular train station or are departing from a smaller station within Japan, you should still arrive at least 15 to 20 minutes before your Shinkansen is scheduled to depart. Shinkansen trains are almost always on-time and will not wait for you to board if you arrive late.

Platform Etiquette 

When you arrive at your Shinkansen platform, you will notice designated areas to line up in front of each train car on the ground. Be sure to check your Shinkansen tickets for your train car number and join the appropriate line. The Japanese board trains very orderly, patiently waiting for all passengers to disembark before boarding in an organized manner. This orderly process ensures a smooth and efficient boarding experience for everyone. Simply be patient and wait your turn in line, as there will be ample time to board and settle in before the train departs from the station.


Shinkansen trains are renowned for their comfort, making long journeys in Japan a pleasant experience. One notable feature is that all of the train seats are turned at the end of the line to face the correct direction, eliminating concerns about facing backward if that bothers you. The trains are equipped with plenty of amenities such as outlets, large tray tables, armrests, and coat hooks to enhance your comfort throughout the journey. Even in Ordinary Class, we found the seats to be large and comfortable, with ample legroom for stretching out. Additionally, clean bathrooms are available on the Shinkansen.

Shinkansen trains are always kept in a pristine condition for passengers. The meticulous cleaning routine at the end of the line includes sanitizing seats, wiping down tray tables, and picking up trash. This commitment to cleanliness not only enhances the overall travel experience but also reflects the high standards of quality and service that are synonymous with the Shinkansen and Japan as a whole.


If you are traveling on the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka, then keep your eye out for Mt. Fuji! The winter months offer the best chance to catch a glimpse of the majestic Mt. Fuji on cold, clear days. Although summer clouds may obscure the view, do not lose hope – seeing the iconic peak is still a possibility, albeit with slightly lower odds! You can catch this incredible view about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Tokyo. For the best views, book a window seat (seat E in the ordinary cars). If you are unable to snag a window seat, no problem! You can also head between cars, like we did, to capture a quick snap as you speed by!


Even if you happen to miss catching a glimpse of Mt. Fuji during your Shinkansen journey, fret not, as the scenic beauty of the Japanese landscapes that unfold before you is nothing short of spectacular. From lush green countrysides dotted with traditional villages to the incredible mountains of the Japanese Alps, each passing moment offers a window into the beauty of Japan. As you glide through the changing scenery, be sure to keep your camera ready to capture the essence of this mesmerizing journey. The Shinkansen not only provides a fast and convenient mode of transportation but also serves as a unique vantage point to witness the natural and cultural wonders that Japan has to offer. 

Final Thoughts on Shinkansen Tickets & Travel in Japan

Traveling by Shinkansen is a quintessential Japanese experience, combining speed, efficiency, and comfort. By understanding the types of services, options for Shinkansen tickets, and purchasing methods, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. Whether you are exploring cities like Tokyo and Osaka or the scenic countryside, the Shinkansen offers a remarkable way to see the beauty of Japan. The convenience of ticketing in multiple languages and the reliability of the service make it a preferred choice for both locals and tourists.

Safe travels and enjoy your Shinkansen journey!


Looking for more Japan travel tips? From money matters, to etiquette, train information, shopping in Japan, and more - we have it all in our Japan Travel Guide

Are you planning an upcoming trip to Japan? We would love to hear from you!