Japan Train Travel: How To Use Trains In Japan

Taking trains is the most common way to travel in Japan, so knowing how to do it properly will be useful for your future trips.

This article is a detailed guide on how to travel by trains in Japan, including information on Japan Rail Pass, train types, seats, how to buy train tickets and make reservations.


Japan Rail Pass

Japan Rail Pass is handy for those who travel in Japan for an extended period, at least 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days.

Transportation costs Japan is high, so it can be costly if you travel to many places.

The JR rail pass is the ultimate solution for all trips in Japan.

Advantages of the JR rail pass

  • Unlimited use of all trains under the management of the JR Rail Pass (green JR logo) from Hokkaido to Kagoshima.
  • You can try out Shinkansen!
  • It will save you lots of money. Imagine if you get on trains in the wrong direction, it does not cost extra money.
  • No hassle at buying train tickets, you can show your pass to the train operators when passing the gate.
  • You can use on buses operated by JR

Important note when using Japan Rail Pass

  • The cardholders don’t go through the automatic ticket gate but through a paper ticket counter.
  • The expiry date is calculated until the last 24 hours. For example, if your expiry date is 26/5, it means that you can use until midnight before 27th
  • Don’t board Nozomi & Mizuho (2 types of Shinkansen). If you board them, you will be charged.
  • You can check this map for covered routes.
  • You should prebook Japan SIM Card to travel more comfortably.

train travel in Japan


Japan train types

There are different train types in Japan

  • Local train: It stops at all station, usually slow
  • Rapid train: It runs to major stations in the city, or links the city with the suburbs. Price is not much different from Local train.
  • Express train: Similar to the Rapid, it stops at some major stations, but the speed is faster
  • Limited-express train: stop at the main stations. Similar to Express, the price is higher and has long routes.
  • Shinkansen: It’s the fastest option, connecting cities and large residential areas. Stations have their waiting areas for Shinkansen.


Japan train seats

There are two classes: Non-reserved (Jiyū-Seki) and Reserved (Shitei-Seki)

  • Non-reserved: all types of Subway, Local train, Express, and Limited Express, are only Non-reserved. You cannot make a reservation when traveling on these trains.
  • Reserved: available for long-distance trains such as Shinkansen, and some Limited express.

While taking trains in Japan, you need to sit in the right cabin with the words non-reserved or reserved. If seated wrong, the ticket operator will ask you to move to another cabin properly. Signs at the train station also have class-area notes.

When traveling on Non-reserved types, you will probably have to stand if the train is crowded. Although reservation costs a little more, it’s better to do so if you travel long-distance.

Also, on the Subway, there is usually a seating area for the elderly, pregnant women, children, note to avoid these seats.

How to make train reservations in Japan

You can do it at the ticket counter. 


How to buy train tickets in Japan

Step 1: Compare train schedules and prices

Before going to buy a ticket, you need to know which train you’re going to use.

You can check trains and the schedule on Google Maps. The app also shows the ticket price.

Alternatively, you can use the site Hyperdia to check departure schedules for Shinkansen and Limited Express trains.

This site provides instructions for finding the type of train and the price so that you can compare and select the best option.

Step 2: Buying train tickets

a) At the counter

Although it will be simpler if you purchase tickets at the counters, some stations don’t have them. Also, it can be inconvenient if you travel a lot, so the easier way is to buy the tickets at the ticket machine.

If you decide to purchase tickets at the counter, you should prepare the information in advance. You should write the information on a piece of paper and give it to the ticket agent. 

  • Guest Numbers of travelers
  • Departure day
  • Departure station
  • Destination station
  • Non-reserved or Reserved class

b) At ticket vending machines

You can buy tickets at a vending machine when taking the MRT or local train.

After selecting the train route + train time, you go to the ticket vending machine and buy as follows:

  • Find your destination and the corresponding fare on the map. This map is posted on the wall or shown on the machine. Fares are displayed next to the stations.
  • Put money into the vending machine. Most machines accept 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen coins, and 1,000 yen banknotes.
  • Select the number of tickets you want to buy. The default is one, so if you’re traveling alone, you can skip this step.
  • Confirm the amount and pay
  • Get tickets and change if any


  • For long trips (Shinkansen), you should purchase tickets at the counter to avoid complications.
  • Short routes can be purchased at the vending machine
  • The ticket vending machines for the Subway and JR rail control counters are two different systems, and they are separated stations as well, so check the instructions carefully.


Train paying options

Paying by multi-purpose cards

In Japan, you can use multi-purpose cards to pay for different services: transportation, convenience store (7-eleven, Family Mart), restaurants, etc.

However, you should consider when purchasing these cards because

  • The cards are regional and cannot be used throughout Japan.
  • The deposit (usually 500 Yen – 1500 Yen) can not be returned.
  • Train payment is cheaper than you buy single tickets.

Therefore, unless you stay in one region for a long time to study or work, you should not buy these cards but purchase Japan Rail Pass or Daily Pass instead. 

Paying by 24-hour, 48-hour and 36-hour passes

With these passe, you can use them on subways or buses, or sometimes both, so please check the conditions carefully before purchasing. Some types of cards have additional discount promotion tickets when presenting the card at attractions.

These cards do not limit the number of trips within the specified range (not applicable to Shinkansen and JR rail passes)

Check out these travel cards

  • Tokyo
  • Osaka
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