Shinkansen (bullet train): more fabulous features

Four fun features of travelling by shinkansen (bullet train) were featured in Part 1. This post adds five more fabulous qualities.

unique seats on Kyushu shink

elegant seats on a Kyushu shinkansen

Reserved or unreserved?

If you have a Japan Rail Pass, reserved seats are included but you still have to book them. Some trains, like the JR East Komachi, only have reserved seats. Getting a reserved seat means a trip to a JR ticket office.

reserved sign outside bullet train car

reserved car sign on outside of Sakura shinkansen

Unreserved seats cost a little less but you may have to stand in the aisle or near the doors, especially during holidays or on popular routes. Depending on the length of your trip, this can be horrible! If you don’t want to risk it, get a reserved seat.

If you decide to take an unreserved seat or can’t get a reserved one, don’t panic if you see what seems to be never-ending lines of people. This happened to us in Hakata going to Nagasaki and I was unpleasant to be around until we got seats. If the train looks packed, get on and wander through the unreserved cars to try your luck.

waiting for the bullet train at Tokyo Station

waiting for the shinkansen at Tokyo Station

Hitoshi and I had a system for getting on the unreserved car on packed trains. We would find a car with the shortest line and try to be first. As soon as the door opened, Hitoshi would dash on and grab the first two seats he saw. I would come later with our bags, which included our snowboard bags on one occasion! You don’t have to be a wild woman (or man) to do this though. Depending on the route, there is usually at least one person getting off at each stop so you can hope.

There are no differences in the cars or seats for reserved or unreserved. It is simply how the cars are labelled. Unreserved cars are usually at the front of the train.

If you are a celebrity, politician, CEO or have extra cash, check out the Green Cars.

Green Car from the outside of a bullet train

Green Car from the outside of a shinkansen


My husband and I usually snooze through cell phone warning alarms on vibrate only to miraculously awake before our stop. If you miss your stop, get off at the next one, hope that a shinkansen going your way is coming soon and ask for help. You may be able to get on the next train in an unreserved car or stand in the aisle or doorway. If this is not possible, buy another ticket for a local or express train to backtrack. To estimate travel time on local trains, double or triple the time it takes to travel the same distance on the shinkansen.

Oops! Wrong destination.

If you want to change your stop, ask the conductor. You will get a new ticket and pay any difference. On a rail pass, simply ask. If you are in a reserved car, you may have to move seats if someone has your seat booked beyond your original destination.

I did this when I made a mistake booking my tickets to Osaka when I was travelling with my sister. She had a rail pass so it was no issue for her. I fumbled my way through changing my ticket and paying extra and the only change was having to move seats in the same car.

Okayama Station sign from the bullet train

Okayama Station sign on the tracks from the shinkansen

Discount Tickets and Other Rail Passes

If your rail pass has run out or you are living in Japan, discount tickets are an option. There are also alternatives to the Japan Rail Pass available in Japan.


Mount Fuji from the shinkansen

Fuji-san from the shinkansen

On trains heading west from Tokyo to Osaka, mention Mount Fuji or that you’d like to sit on the right side of the train. If the sky is clear, you will have outstanding views, like this one! I had no idea that Fuji-san had a crater until the day we got to snap this picture.

Seach query: arm rests

A perk of having this blog is seeing search terms used by visitors. One question was: “can you lift the armrests in the bullet train?” The answer is, yes! If you asked this question and want to know more, feel free to ask away.

Enjoy your shink travel and feel free to share your ideas in the comments section!

2 thoughts on “Shinkansen (bullet train): more fabulous features

  1. When you book a Tokaido-Shinkansen, get a seat E!! You will get a Mt. Fuji view. Remember always seat E. either from Tokyo to Osaka or vice versa.

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