Shinkansen Tickets: How to buy and use

Traveling around Japan using Shinkansen bullet trains is an absolute pleasure. They’re comfortable, convenient, luxurious, and above all, super-fast! However, at first it can be difficult to know where and how to buy Shinkansen tickets.

Everyone wants to get the best value tickets possible but without doing extensive research it can be tricky. This guide to Shinkansen tickets will explain all their different types, where to buy them from, how to use them, and how you can save money by getting the best-value tickets.

Shinkansen ticket types

To ride a Shinkansen you need 2 types of tickets. Firstly, you need a passenger ticket which indicates the car and seat numbers along with the destination station. Secondly, you need an express ticket to ride Shinkansen trains (and other types of fast ‘express trains’).

There is no single, integrated ticket so you need both types of tickets. Train attendants routinely check for both types of tickets during the journey.

Shinkansen ticket fees and prices

Passengers can buy Shinkansen tickets from ticket counters, ticket machines or online. Foreign visitors are entitled to buy a JR Pass which offers unlimited access to all Shinkansen trains (except Nozomi and Mizuho trains) for a great-value price.

The final price of a Shinkansen ticket is a sum of the base fare + shinkansen supplement + seat reservation fee (if applicable)+ green car fee (if applicable).

Base fare

This fare depends on the distance of your journey. The fee goes up incrementally the further you travel.

Shinkansen supplement

The supplement fee for catching a Shinkansen bullet train. This fee also increases with the distance you travel.

Seat reservation fee

This doesn’t apply to non-reserved seats. Depending on whether it’s high, regular or low season, the seat reservation fee is either 720, 520 or 320 yen respectively. For Mizuho, Hayabusa, and Komachi trains, there is another part of the fee which depends on the distance traveled (between 100 and 620 yen).

Green car fee

This supplement only applies for people riding in green cars (equivalent of first class). This increases with the distance traveled too.

Child discount

Children (under 12 years old) are entitled to a discount depending on how young they are. Anyone who is 12 or over pays full price.

Children 6 to 11 years old

Children in this age bracket pay 50% of the adult fare. Green car fees are still charged at full price.

Young children (1 to 5 years old)

Up to 2 young children can travel for free when accompanied by an adult. Additional children, or young children you occupy a reserved seat, are charged the regular child’s price (50%of full fare).

Infant (less than one year old)

Infants travel for free. The regular child fare (50% of full fare) applies if the child occupies a reserved seat.

shinkansen ticket
Information that appears on a shinkansen ticket

How to buy Shinkansen tickets

Passengers can buy regular Shinkansen tickets from ticket counters, ticket machines or online. The Japan Rail Pass is available to order online in advance of your trip.

JR ticket offices

Ticket office in Ueno Station (Tokyo)

There are JR ticket offices at every major and most minor train stations throughout Japan. Credit cards are accepted at the vast majority of ticket offices. You need to provide the following information to buy a ticket:

  • Number of passenger
  • Journey date
  • Departure station
  • Destination station
  • Regular or green car
  • Reserved or non-reserved seat

For a seat reservation, passengers also need to provide the following additional information:

  • Train name (e.g. Hikari)
  • Train number
  • Departure time
  • Smoking or non-smoking

Also, in the JR offices you can always activate your JR Pass and make the related seat reservations.

Ticket machines

You can use most ticket machines in English. The machines are very useful if you’re familiar with them but they can be confusing. Not all machines are the same as some only offer shinkansen tickets, others only offer seat reservations, and some do not accept foreign credit cards.

How to use Shinkansen tickets

There are special Shinkansen gates at train stations for the bullet trains. You just need to slide both tickets at the same time into the gate to pass through.

You can then check the electronic timetables to find out which platform your Shinkansen train departs from. If you have a non-reserved seat ticket, you can find where the non-reserved cars and wait in line. If you have a reserved ticket you can board your train.

Single tickets vs Japan Rail Pass

If you’re planning to spend more than than a few days in Japan and visit multiple locations, it is probably much cheaper to buy a Japan Rail Pass rather than single tickets. It is rarely worth buying single tickets even if you’re planning to visit just 2 places.

The cost of a round-trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs 26,160 yen by Shinkansen train. This is almost the cost of a 7-day Japan Rail Pass (29,110 yen). Therefore, you don’t have to do much traveling to make big savings with the JR Pass.

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4 thoughts on “Shinkansen Tickets: How to buy and use”
  1. Question:

    I want to get tickets online. I’m arriving at Narita Airport on November 16. I want to take Narita Express and the Shinkansen to Toyama the same day. The web site says that I have to pick up the tickets the day BEFORE the travel. I can NOT do that.

    Can I reserve tickets on line and print them own my printer?
    – Waguih Ishak

    1. Hi Waguih Ishak! Seats can only be reserved once you have already exchanged your Japan Rail Pass, which as to be made in Japan. Once you have exchanged your pass, you can either process the seat reservation in any JR Ticket Office or online. However please note online seat reservation is limited to certain lines and requires you to pick up the seat reservation tickets in the JR Ticket Office. Happy travels!

  2. We are a family of 6 our first time visiting Japan. We are arriving in Haneda Airport and plan to spend the first 2 days around Central Tokyo, 3rd and 4th day to see Kyoto and Osaka and on 5th day to return to central Tokyo area or as close to Narita airport for our 5th day in preparation for our departure at noon time the following day.

    Should we buy JR Pass for this itinerary? Should we go to Kyoto and Osaka for our first 2 days and the remaining 3 days in Central Tokyo?

    Will the JR pass be the good means to transport us to Kyoto, Osaka, and Narita airport?

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