For many people traveling to Japan, booking train tickets is a major problem. You can always head to a Japan Rail (JR) counter once you arrive or seek help from an agent and pay some extra bucks, however, did you know that you can also book in advance online? Find out how below!
Japan’s Shinkansen network is quite extensive, thus using it can get quite complicated. One thing you need to know is that not all trains can be booked online as rail companies have different reservation policies. Some do not even provide an opportunity for foreigners to book online from their own countries.
Many people argue that you do not actually have to do an advance booking for trains in Japan as there are many unreserved seats even if you purchase tickets on the same day. However, if you intend to travel during peak seasons such as the New Year and Golden Week, you may have to consider booking in advance as most of the public transportation systems get filled with people. Also, if you are traveling long distances and in large groups, it is better to book in advance.
Many JR Ticket Offices inside Japan allow you to book up to one month in advance, however, you may have to be physically present to collect the tickets. Most people use the Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass, which can be bought at JR Offices in major cities abroad (such as in London), with the help of private agents, or simply through the JR website. However, this pass is not valid on certain train lines such as the Nozomi on the Tokaido-Sanyo Line and other major lines.
— JR東日本（公式） (@JREast_official) April 13, 2017
To assist foreigners in reserving tickets beforehand, JR East has introduced a cool and easy-to-use online ticketing system in English. All you need to do after reserving the ticket online is show the electronic reservation to any JR East staff once in Japan, and get a physical boarding ticket. You can choose to buy any of the JR East Passes listed here.
So far, JR East and JR Hokkaido are the only major rail companies that have online booking platforms intended for foreigners living outside Japan. Some of the popular Shinkansen services, namely Akita, Tohoku, Hokkaido, Yamagata, Joetsu, and a few limited express services such as Narita, JR Tobu (Shinjuku – Nikko/Kinugawa), Chitose/Hakodate Rapid Airport, Izu Kyuko (Tokyo – Izukyu Shimoda), and others can be booked with/without a pass from the comfort of your home in your country. If you want to book using a JR Pass (or without any) for a specific train route, just simply follow the link here.
Also, if you are using a normal coach class pass, do note that it sometimes only covers the basic fare and additional charges could be levied for upgrades. You can actually choose between GranClass or the other categories in express trains while you book using the JR East Online Booking system.
スマートEX for IOS 、サービスの新規会員登録がアプリ外でしておく必要があるのってリジェクト対象ではなかったっけ？ pic.twitter.com/8aEtq3ETWd
— ふわこ (@yurfuwa) January 1, 2018
Now that you know how to buy tickets for the trains in Central and Northern Japan online, including Hokkaido, how do you reserve Western Japan high-speed trains?
The Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line is a highly popular line among tourists heading south from Tokyo, towards places such as Mt. Fuji, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka, and others. Until recently, there has not been an online reservation platform for it that could be useful for people outside Japan. However, with the advent of the smartEX app, that is gonna change. Now, you can reserve your Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen seats online using smartEX on any smartphone, be it Android or iOS.
Now, you know how to reserve train tickets in advance for you and your family. Also, the aforementioned services are available in English, so you do not have to worry about using them.