Japan train stations: useful tips

JR station ticket gate

If it is your first, second or third time travelling to Japan, this article offers great survival tips and guidance on everything you need to know about the train stations in Japan, including how to purchase single train tickets, how to make a seat reservation, how to find your train, store and transport your luggage.

Exchanging your JR Pass voucher

First of all, remember that in order to activate your Japan Rail Pass, you can go to any of the JR (Japan Railways) offices. You can find them on any Japanese international airport as well as on all the main train stations, located across the country.

Once at the office, you will be asked to show your passport (the JR staff will look for the Tourist visa stamp or sticker) and your exchange order. After all your personal data has been verified, you will be asked to select the activation date of your pass, which can be within 30 days of the exchange date. Once your pass has been activated, you will be able to use it on all JR trains, buses, and ferry services.

How to make a seat reservation

JR ticket office
Japan Rail Pass exchange offices are located at airports or at major train stations.

Making a seat reservation is easy and free of charge for all Japan Rail Pass holders. Passengers who don’t hold such a pass will be charged a small commission to book a train seat. Following are the best travel tips on booking your seat on Japanese trains:

  • You can go to any ticket office to make a seat reservation, and in stations like Tokyo Station you can even make a seat reservation at the Exchange counter.
  • Making an online seat reservation is not recommended, as foreign nationals as the process requires a Japanese credit card.
  • Japan Rail Pass holders are entitled to booking a seat free of charge. However, this cannot be done online before exchanging and activating the pass.
  • You cannot make a group seat reservation. To book a seat each passengers will need to show their individual Japan Rail Pass to the staff member for authorization.
  • To reserve a seat on a Japanese train you will need to know your intended travel date and departure time.
  • Making a train seat reservation over the phone is not possible.
  • Seat reservations can me made up to a month in advance.

How to use the train ticket machines

Buying an individual train ticket at a Japanese station might not come naturally to first-time visitors. For an easy-to-understand explanation take a look at our train travel in Japan guide. You will find everything you need to know to use the Japanese ticket vending machines.

An ever-popular alternative would be to go to a ticket selling office and purchase your individual tickets there. However, using ticket machines tends to be the preferred and faster option.

Following are our top tips regarding the single ticket buying process at Japanese stations:

  • All ticket vending machines have both Japanese and English translations. There are no other languages available.
  • There are two different prices indicated on the map above each ticket vending machine. The top price written in black is for adults (12+ years). The price written below in red is the one for children (ages 6 through 12).
  • Use the ticket vending machines for short distance trips only. It is recommended to purchase your long distance tickets and make seat reservations at a JR ticket office.
  • Typically, most machines accept coins of 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen as well as bills of 1000 yen. Larger bills are also accepted. The common price range for short distance trips is between 200 and 600 yen.
  • Make sure to have cash when purchasing a ticket. Most machines don’t accept credit cards.
  • Ticket vending machines give back change so don’t worry if you don’t have the exact amount.

How to find your train

Following is an image of a Tokyo Station monitor, displaying train departure information:

shinkansen-departures-screen
Train departures information screen at Tokyo Station

The screen shows all the information you will need to locate you train and car number. The train departure screen displays:

  • Train name
  • Train number
  • Departure time
  • Final destination
  • Platform number
  • Reserved cars number
  • Non-reserved cars number

Follow the instructions on the screen to find your train. Car numbers will be clearly indicated on the outside of each train car. It is important to know how to queue while waiting for the train. There are yellow indications on the floor of each train platform, showing exactly where the door will open.

Furthermore, there are waiting line floor indications, showing passengers where to stand. Following this order is very important, especially during rush hours. The Japanese have created a perfect line organization, allowing all arriving passengers to exit the train quickly before anyone enters or blocks the exit flow.

Storing and moving your luggage

Even though many people prefer to travel to exotic distant countries with as little luggage as possible, Japan offers plenty of options to those who decide to come with large suitcases.

From station lockers through on board luggage compartments to baggage transportation service, you will surely find the one option that fits your needs. Following is a detailed description of all transportation and storage luggage options available in Japan.

Luggage forwarding services

If you don’t want to carry large suitcases with you, while traveling from point A to point B, there is a simple solution to the problem, called Takuhaibin in Japanese. Yamato Transport’s is the most popular door to door parcel delivery service that offers great luggage transportation options. You can easily plan everything online and have your belongings delivered to you anywhere in Japan.

Train station lockers

Japanese major and suburban train stations, Tokyo metro, department stores and airports offer automatic coin lockers. The coin locker concept is widely spread around Japan, which makes it very convenient for passengers. There are three types of coin lockers:

  1. Small size – around 300 yen per 24h rent.
  2. Medium size – around 400 yen per 24h rent.
  3. Large size – around 500 yen per 25h rent.
Coin lockers
Automatic coin lockers at Nippori station, Tokyo

Please note that due to their sizes, there are fewer large size lockers than small ones. For this reason, we recommend traveling with a standard, medium size suitcase. This will ease your transportation through Japan.

Storing your luggage on Japanese trains

The on board space for luggage compartments highly depends on the type of train. Shinkansen bullet trains, the Narita Express and local trains all have different luggage-storing capabilities as follows:

  • On Shinkansen bullet trains: You can carry up to two large pieces of luggage with you on the shinkansen. The total height+width+depth of each one should not exceed 250 cm in total. The maximum weight allowed per suitcase is 30kg.
  • On local trains: The only space designated for luggage on the local trains are small overhead compartments. It is probable that your bag will be bigger than that. Your only option in this case is to place it next to you, while on the train.
  • On Narita Express: This train offers airport connecting service, which is why it is designed to have large suitcase spaces to transport your luggage. Usually, you will find the designated space behind the end row of seats on the train. If this area is already full, you can easily place the suitcase in front of you, while seated. There is an ample foot space in front of each seat, which can also be used as luggage space.
Interior of a Narita Express green car
Interior of a Narita Express green car – Photo by DAJF @ Wikimedia

Note: for more information, please refer to our complete guide about Japanese trains.

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