How to Use a Non-reserved Seat on the Shinkansen

Non-reserved seats on the Shinkansen: How to book and how to use it

How to Use a Non-reserved Seat on the Shinkansen

Guide to riding the Shinkansen bullet train in a non-reserved seat! How to buy a ticket and tips on how to make sure you get a seat!

If you have never ridden the Shinkansen before, it is natural that you do not know how to buy a ticket or how to ride the Shinkansen. In this article, as a guide to riding the Shinkansen, we will extensively explain the features of unreserved seats, how to buy them, and how to ride the Shinkansen. Please read on, as it will eliminate any anxiety or resistance you may feel about riding the Shinkansen.

*Please note that this article contains affiliate links.

▶︎Book now your Shinkansen tickets!

What is a non-reserved seat on the Shinkansen?

Basically, when you buy a ticket for a Shinkansen bullet train you can buy one with reserved seating, or without reserved seating. Most Shinkansen trains have 1-5 cars marked as ‘non-reserved’ and operate on a first come, first seated basis. You don’t have a designated seat, so if the train is full you may even have to stand for the entire journey.

Advantages and disadvantages of a non-reserved seat

The main advantages and disadvantages of a non-reserved seat on the Shinkansen are as follows.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Can board any time on the same day
  • Cheaper than reserved seats
  • Free of charge to change the date and section of the train up to once
  • May be left standing.

Non-reserved seats are ideal for those who want to use the Shinkansen at any cost, or for those who do not know exactly when they will board the train on the same day. However, it is not suitable for people who have a lot of luggage or who want to be sure of a seat for a long trip.

Differences from Reserved Seats, Green Car and Grand Class

While unreserved seats don’t have fixed seating, reserved seats are reserved in advance, so you can be sure of a place to sit.

Green car does not refer to a seat, but a special car, and you can choose either unreserved seats or reserved seats as in the case of standard cars. It is recommended for passengers who want to ride in comfort, with more room between seats, etc., for a higher fare than the standard car.

Grand Class is a special seat available only on the Tohoku Shinkansen, Hokkaido Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, and Joetsu Shinkansen. The fare is higher than that of the Green Car, but the seats are more spacious and you can enjoy free snacks and drinks.

Cars with Non-reserved Seats

The cars with non-reserved and reserved seats on the Shinkansen are predetermined for each train type.

Nozomi (16-car train) Cars 1-3
Hikari (16-car train) Cars 1-5
Kodama(16-car train) Cars 1-613-16

Since it depends on which Shinkansen line you are boarding, research at station platforms or online to make sure you don’t make a mistake.

Please note that not all Shinkansen cars have non-reserved seats. Also, there may be no more non-reserved seats available during certain periods, such as during the year-end and New Year holidays. So depending on the line and train type, and time of the year, it may be easier to board if you book a reserved seat.

Shinkansen with all cars having reserved seats

Hokkaido Shinkansen: Hayabusa, Hayate

Akita Shinkansen: Komachi

Hokuriku Shinkansen: Kagayaki

How to Use a Non-reserved Seat on the Shinkansen
Platform display announcing that cars 1-5 and 1-7 are non-reserved

How to buy Non-reserved Shinkansen tickets

To use the Shinkansen, you need to purchase two tickets: a boarding ticket and a free seat express ticket. With this understanding, let’s check how to buy a nonreserved seat on the Shinkansen.

Buy shinkansen tickets at the station

Japan Bullet Train

If you want to buy tickets directly at the station, you can do it either at official JR ticket offices, called Midori no Madoguchi in Japanese or simply Ticket Office in English, or at ticket vending machines. Ticket Offices are located in all major JR stations as Shinjuku or Shin Osak (in some cases there even more than one office if the station is very large).

If you want to purchase tickets in the same way as on a conventional train, use a ticket machine. Ticket machine are also located in major JR stations and usually have an English version available, but the process can be equally long, especially if you don’t understand how bullet train tickets work in Japan. Also, some machine may not accept some foreign cards.

If it’s your first time and you prefer to buy tickets while consulting with a ticket agent, the ticket counter is more conveniente. At the ticket counter, even those who are not accustomed to riding the Shinkansen can buy tickets simply by telling the staff the date, time, section, and number of passengers. Please note that except in some tourist spots such as the airport, the staff usually don’t speak much English, but they know some basic words related to the job and are very patient.

Buy Shinkansen tickets online

If you prefer to buy your tickets in advance, the most recommended option is to buy Shinkansen tickets online. In Japan there are different online platforms depending on the area and the Shinkansen line you want to book, and some of these platforms offer discounts if purchased in advance. However, most of them are only in Japanese and may not accept foreign cards.

If you have a transportation system IC card such as Suica, PASMO or Icoca, we also recommend the ticketless service, which doesn’t require ticket pickup. If you register for this service in advance, you can use the Shinkansen simply by touching the automatic ticket gate without receiving a ticket, which is useful if you are concerned about ticketing time.

Japan Bullet Train

Japan Bullet Train is a new service launched by our partner company, which offers bullet train and express train tickets in Japan for tourists. All the service is in English (and 3 other languages), including customer service. They accept payments with all major credit cards, and the process is very easy and simple, especially compared to Japanese websites.

After your purchase, once your ticket is confirmed you will receive a QR code. You simply have to scan this QR code in the vending machines available at the main stations from where the bullet train departs and you will get your physical ticket, with which you can access the platform. All from the comfort of your smartphone.

▶︎Book now your Shinkansen tickets!

Buy shinkansen tickets at a travel agency

Although it’s often thought that travel agencies only sell packages that includes tickets and accommodation, they also offer separate Shinkansen tickets. However, there may be a handling fee, so check the travel agency’s website or ask them to see how much it will cost before making a purchase.

Is there any discount for unreserved seats?

Even for unreserved seats, you can use the round-trip discount offered by JR and get 10% discount if you travel more than 601km one way round trip. If you meet the requirements, you can also apply for a student discount.

How to Use a Non-reserved Seat on the Shinkansen

How to ride a non-reserved seat on the Shinkansen

Here is how to ride a non-reserved seat on the Shinkansen.

How to go through the ticket gate

Shinkansen Tracks

After purchasing a ticket, first go to the ticket gate marked as Shinkansen. When you arrive at the ticket gate, pass both the boarding ticket and the non-reserved seat express ticket through the ticket gate at the same time. Please note that you must collect both the boarding ticket and the limited express ticket after passing through the ticket gate.

If you are using a transportation system IC card such as Suica, PASMO, or icoca to use the Shinkansen, you can enter by simply touching the automatic ticket gate.

How to get on and off at the platform

When boarding, first check on the electric board which platform the train you plan to board will enter. Once confirmed, proceed to the correct platform. Once on the platform, check which cars are designated as ‘non-reserved’ (you can check it on the ticket you have, or on the electric board). Look at the indicators on the floor and go to one of the ‘non-reserved’ cars and wait for the train to arrive. Once the train has arrived, let it out before entering.

After boarding, it’s important to know the arrival time in order to ensure a smooth disembarkation. When the arrival announcement is made, please have your luggage packed and ready for immediate disembarkation. After getting off, pass the two tickets through the ticket gate.

How to transfer to a local train

If you wish to transfer to a local train after getting off the Shinkansen, pass both the boarding ticket and the limited express ticket through the transfer ticket gate (marked as 乗り換え in Japanese) at the same time. Only the boarding ticket will come out, so don’t forget to collect it and head for the conventional train platform. After arriving at the platform, pass the ticket that just came out through the ticket gate and you can board a conventional train.

Tips to ensure a seat in a non-reserved car on the Shinkansen

As I explained before, when you have a non-reserved seat on a Shinkansen train with no assigned seating, you run the risk of having to stand and move around. Here are 3 tips for ensuring a seat.

Ride from the first station

If you board from the first station, you have a better chance of securing a seat. If the first station is not far from where you plan to board, I recommend that you change your plans and go to the first station. For example, go to Tokyo station instead of Shinagawa station.

During busy seasons/peak times, line up early or skip one ride.

If you want to secure a seat during peak periods or peak hours when many people are boarding, it’s reommended to get in line at the platform a little earlier. However, if there are already many people in line, it’s more likely that you will be able to get a seat if you forgo one train and you get first in the next queue.

Line up avoiding the first car and the car with restrooms

If you want to increase your chances of getting a seat, it’s also effective to avoid the first cars with few seats and cars with restrooms. In most cases, the number of seats varies from car to car, so it’s recommended that you line up in a car more seats available.

Changing or Canceling a Non-reserved Seat on the Shinkansen

A free seat express ticket for the Shinkansen is valid for one day. Therefore, you can freely change or cancel your ticket within the day. Also, if you want to change the date or section, you can do so up to once free of charge. It is also possible to change from unreserved seats to reserved seats by paying the difference.

If you wish to cancel, you can receive a refund for the difference, minus a 220 yen handling fee, by following the appropriate procedures. If you have received a paper ticket, you can apply for a refund at the station counter. If you purchased the ticket online, you can apply for a refund on the website where you made your reservation.

Please note that regardless of the reservation method, unreserved seat express tickets become invalid after the validity period has expired, and cannot be changed or cancelled after the next day.

If you want to travel cheaper consider the highway bus option

If you are concerned about the loss in case you miss your ride, we recommend using an express bus, which costs less than the Shinkansen.

If this article has helped you understand the risks involved in missing the Shinkansen, please try to find the best transportation method for yourself, including express buses.

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▶︎Bus Guide between Osaka and Kyoto

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▶︎Bus Guide between Kyoto and Kansai International Airport (KIX)

From Tokyo to popular destinations: Train os Bus?

If you are not sure which is the best option to get from Tokyo to some of the most popular cities, and want to compare different options as train, bus, plane or private transport, here you have a few complete guides for the most touristic destinations.

▶︎How to Get to Hakone from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Nikko from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Mt.Fuji from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Osaka from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Kyoto from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get to Hiroshima from Tokyo

▶︎How to Get DisneyLand and Disney Sea from Tokyo

Also how to get to Tokyo from the two main airports, Narita Airport and Haneda Airport.

▶︎How to Get from Nartita Airport to Tokyo

▶︎How to Get from Haneda Airport to Tokyo


If is your first time in Japan and don’t know where to go, this article may help! ▶︎Shinkansen: A Complete Guide to the Japanese Bullet Train

▽Shinkansen Guide for Traveling in Japan ▽

▶︎How to Refund a Shinkansen Ticket

▶︎What to Do If You Missed the Shinkansen

Thanks for reading this far! I hope it has been helpful 🙂 For more tips and information about traveling in Japan, you have these articles too. And even more information in Japan Web Magazine!

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