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Reserving Shinkansen seating one month ahead


22 Jun 2003
One of the guide books I have been reading suggests that seats on the Shinkansen services should be booked one month ahead of travel.

The other guide books give the impression that you can usually make booking the day before travel without having any problems of availability.

I am not sure which is correct. Could someone advise?

I understand with the Railpass, no bookings can be made until it is exchanged.

We are travelling as a group of four between 18 September and 3 October.
According to the JR information I have under my nose at the moment, seat reservation (not strictly restricted to Shinkansen) can be made up to a month in advance and as late as two days in advance between 11:00 and 22:00.

Thus, your first guide book just worded it's instructions wrong and the second is a bit loose. You can usually find seats on shinkansen the same day, but it's really touch and go for certain destinations.
Perhaps the up-to-two-days in advance are for phone reservations or something. I'm quite certain you can make seat reservations up until departure time at the train station ticket window.

The answer to the original question is that it depends. Depends on the season, time of day, etc. I think in most cases a couple of days is plenty.

By the way, every train (except maybe Nozomi) has jiyuu-seki (free seating) cars. So even if the reserved seats are full, you can ensure a seat by standing in line early on the platform (probably 60 minutes in advance of departure would be more than sufficient) at the appropriate jiyuu-seki car entrance. Worst case is that some or all of you won't have seats and you'll have to stand or sit on the floor for part of the way (it helps to have luggage you can sit on!) However I think this is not likely to happen in your case.
The two days ahead applies to online and phone reservations, but as I said in my post, you can find seats on the day, but it's touch and go. There is no free seating on shinkansen that I know of.
Shinkansen definitely have free seating except, as I said, Nozomi (which the rail pass doesn't cover anyway). I'd bet my entire yen bank balance on this. ;-)

I found a reference for you:
JAPAN RAIL PASS | ジャパン・レール・パス
"Shinkansen and most limited express and ordinary express trains have reserved Green car seats and both reserved and nonreserved ordinary car seats."
In many cases you can just flash the JR pass and jump on but if there is a group you will want to be a bit more organised. If there is 4-5 of you, then no problems.

Don't worry too much as there are shinkansens leaving every hour. Plan your journey but leave some wiggle room as you will have to get your passes before you can make a booking but you can do it at the same time as you get them.

if there are no seats left there you can always stand..

And mdchachi you are right - no JR passes on Nozomi.
I abdicate on the point of free seating--I've always boarded the shinkansen with reservations so, as far as I knew, there was no free seating. But fdKen's question was about reservations, which is as I stated in my original post. I agree with Enfour, when he says that one shouldn't worry too much about reservations as you can just jump on the train and they have hourly departures. But standing or sitting on your bag all the way to Kyoto must be a real pain... I've done it a couple of times on the Tokyo/Kofu Azusa and from that experience, I would rather go through the pain of making a reservation and sit comfortably all the way to my destination... But that's just me.
You're totally right, there is definately no unreserved seating on Nozomi - I take it very frequently to visit my girlfriend's family. I believe however that there is another Shinkansen service which follows the same route as Nozomi but is something like an hour slower. It's also a little cheaper. There may be unreserved seating on this one, but don't quote me on it.

Tasuki is also right in pointing out that you can only book Shinkansen a MAXIMUM of a month in advance.
I also book every time, and would probably recommend doing so to be sure, although a couple of days in advance should defintely be ok unless it's Golden Week.

If you want to head down south, a fun alternative to the Nozomi is the Izumo sleeper. It's quite reasonably priced (especially if you don't want a private cabin - but this is well worth the extra few thousand). I've had several extremely entertaining nights sat in the bar coach, drinking the night away and singing before staggering back to my cabin to watch the world go by. Don't even think about trying to sleep though! It's completely impossible.

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