Your Essential Guide to Japanese Trains: 10 Practical Questions

our Essential Guide to Japanese Trains Tips

How do I get through the ticket gate?

Both entering and exiting the ticket gate require a ticket or an IC card such as Suica card.

automatic ticket gate

What is the best a app for train transfers?

Google Maps is good. Or I recommend City Mapper. There are several official JR apps released, but I don’t recommend them because they are all difficult to use.

Which stations can I take the Shinkansen?

tohoku shinkansen

The Tokaido Shinkansen bound for Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima trains go to Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station, and Shin-Yokohama Station.

Hokuriku Shinkansen bound for Nagano and Kanazawa: Tokyo, Ueno and Omiya Stations

Tohoku Shinkansen, Akita Shinkansen, and Yamagata Shinkansen trains going to Hakodate, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata are at Tokyo Station, Ueno Station, and Omiya Station.

In other words, only Tokyo Station is accessible to all Shinkansen trains.

What are “non-reserved seats”?

Some Shinkansen and limited express trains have non-reserved seat cars. A non-reserved seat means that you do not have to make a reservation, so you can ride at any time you like. They are slightly cheaper than reserved seats. (It depends on the section, but it ranges from 500 yen to 1,000 yen.)

However, there is no guarantee that you will be seated since seats are not assigned. If the non-reserved seats are full, it is possible to ride standing up. Even if there are empty seats, it is not possible to sit in a reserved seat. (In some cases, you can change to a reserved seat by paying an additional fee on board.)

I missed the Shinkansen! What should I do?

Most people can take the Shinkansen that comes later.

If all you have is a Japan Rail Pass  or individual ticket, you can take the bullet train that comes later.

However, some discount tickets are non-refundable if you miss the train, so check what kind of ticket you have.

No matter what kind of ticket you have, if you miss the train, you will not be able to reserve a new reserved seat. You can take a non-reserved seat.

Hayabusa, Komachi, Tsubasa, Kagayaki

The above Shinkansen trains do not have non-reserved seats, so if there are empty seats, you can sit in an empty seat, but if the seats are full, you will have to ride standing up.

It is best not to miss the train. So, please allow plenty of time for your trip.

Why do I have two tickets?

When using a train in Japan, a “basic fare ticket” is always required. This is the price you pay for transportation from station to station.

In addition, for limited express trains and the Shinkansen, you must also pay an “express ticket” as compensation for speed. A reserved-seat express ticket is for a reserved seat and speed. The green ticket is the price for higher facilities.

A basic fare ticket and an express ticket (reserved seat ticket) may be issued in two separate tickets.

Sometimes they can be combined into one ticket, but not always. If you are not sure what kind of ticket you have, please ask the station staff. If there is a shortage or excess, they will tell you.

Can I take a train with large luggage?

Within the bounds of common sense, of course, yes. Suitcases and backpacks? Of course, yes.

The regulations state that you can bring up to two pieces of portable luggage that total no more than 250 centimeters in length, width, and height (up to 2 meters in length) and weigh no more than 30 kilograms.

However, reservations for large luggage space are required for the Tokaido Shinkansen and Sanyo Shinkansen. For more information, check the website.

Reservations for Seats with an Oversized Baggage Area
From May 2020, passengers are required to reserve a seat with oversized baggage area when bringing baggage with overall ...

On other Shinkansen trains, there are luggage storage areas in each car, so you can leave your luggage there. Or, if you reserve a seat in the last row of the car, you can place it in the space behind your seat.

What if I lose my ticket?

If the ticket you lost is a Japan Rail Pass or other passes, you are doomed. For whatever reason, it cannot be reissued, so you have to bet on the lost-and-found office.

If it is an individual ticket, you will have to buy a new ticket with the same contents. If you find the lost ticket, you can bring it to the ticket office together with the newly purchased ticket and get a refund minus a handling fee.

In Japan, physical tickets are very important. Think of it as cash and keep it safe.

I have a balance remaining in my Suica or PASMO, but I can no longer use them! Why?

Suica card

IC cards such as Suica function as a pair of a record of entering and exiting a ticket gate. Therefore, if there is no record of your entry, you cannot exit. If there is no record of your exit, you will not be able to enter the next time.

There are several other possible reasons for this, but they are often unknown to you. If you have money remaining but cannot go through the automatic ticket gate, go to the ticket gate where there is a station attendant to have it checked.

I forgot something on the train, what do I do?

The three clues are: which station you boarded the train from, what time you boarded the train, and which car you boarded. Major stations have lost and found offices, so ask there. If it is a small station, ask the station staff at the ticket gate. I hope you find it safely.