What to Know About Japanese Train Tickets

Planning a Japan trip? Learn how to book Japanese train tickets for a seamless travel experience.
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Travel Japan: Train Tickets

Any vacation potentially promises incredible time, but you can't just sit, hoping that the stars align just right, and everything will come together on its own (unless you entrust organizing your vacation to a professional, of course). No, to have a great time, you need to spend at least a few hours researching such basics as a local emergency number, a few phrases in a host language, or the matter of the legality of your usual medications (if you take any).​

​One of the matters to pay attention to is the transport system of your destination. And if you are planning to visit more than one city - the railway system in particular. We've already covered the basics of what you need to know about the Japanese train system, now let's talk a bit more about rail tickets in Japan.

Japan Rail Tickets Fees

First of all, let's have a look at what makes up Japan train ticket prices. As we've mentioned previously, there are five main types of trains in Japan. To travel on short-distance trains, you need to pay only a basic fare for a ticket. ​Traveling by a high-speed train is a completely different question, but let's clarify right from the start: even though some tickets include several ticket fees, you don't have to buy them separately, as all can be purchased in one go at a railway station through a ticket machine or online!​​

A limited express train ticket costs more as its price composes of several fees. The first one is a basic fare you need to pay to take any Japanese train regardless of the type. The second is a limited express train ticket that can go with a reserved or unreserved seat (reserved seats are a bit more expensive).
Keep in mind that on very rare occasion when one of the short-distance trains offers two travel classes to choose from, and you want to travel in a Green Car, you need to get pay both the basic fare and a Green Car seat ticket. Gentle reminder that you don't have to buy them separately, just as you don't have to clarify that you need 3 tickets to travel in Shinkansen's Green Car when you purchase Japan bullet train tickets. The described fees are already included in the ticket price
​If you want to travel in a Green Car, you will have to top it with a Green Car reserved seat ticket fee. And if you plan ​traveling in a Premium Green Car, the price consists of the basic fare, the limited express tickets, and the Premium Green reserved seat ticket fee. Yes, seems like a lot to take in, but it's very simple once you grasp the idea.

The same rules are true for Shinkansen. Traveling in an Ordinary Car means paying a basic fare as well as for a super express train ticket (the second class offers both reserved and unreserved seats). First-class Shinkansen ticket = basic fare + super express ticket + Green Car reserved seat fare. A Gran Class ticket cost is made of almost the same components, but you will need to pay for a Gran Class reserved ticket instead of a Green Car one. See? Easy-peasy!

Reading Train Tickets in Japan

Train ticket image
You can't possibly think that a country with such an advanced railway system as Japan didn't think about making the railway tourist-friendly. And you are completely right, as not knowing the Japanese is definitely not an obstacle for traveling by train. The stations are clean, modern, and provide all the main information in both Japanese and English. Traveling by high-speed trains, a connection favored among locals and tourists alike, is not a problem even if you don't speak the language of your host, as everything significant is translated to English as well, and a bit of logic allows to fill the blanks. On this Shinkansen ticket, you can see that most things seem clear, but it's always better to know for sure what is what. So we've marked all sections of the ticket for you to see what is worth paying attention to. ​

Train ticket image
Of course, although all Shinkansen tickets are pretty much alike, there are variations in the layout of train tickets, depending on the train you take. But mostly, the system stays the same and, keeping what we've told you in mind, you can easily read all Shinkansen tickets. What is more, you can apply the same system to limited express trains, as railway tickets of both types are very much alike.
Train Ticket image
Apart from on-the-surface information like the date of the departure or the arrival time, we can easily deduce that this is a reserved seat limited express ticket (the passenger was assigned the 6th seat in the 1st car, 5th row) for a Tokiwa train number 55. ​
Ok, all is clear with high-speed travel, but what about other types of trains? To be honest, the picture is not so bright here. As tourists are rarely interested in exploring the villages nearby, some companies (especially small private ones) didn't translate even the basic information. So not all local railway tickets are understandable more or less intuitively as Shinkansen tickets are.

Plus, unfortunately, the layout of various tickets is not set in stone. In the picture, you can see a local train ticket issued by Chichibu Railway. Clearly, if you don't command the Japanese at least a bit, understanding anything without a Google Translate app is pretty much impossible.

Buying Train Tickets in Japan

Booking ticket image
Now, when everything is, hopefully, more or less clear with the types of train tickets and you have a general idea of how to read them, let's cover another very important question - how to book train tickets in Japan.

The old-school way is to purchase them at a train station before the departure. A valid option, of course, but not without several drawbacks, such as the possibility of already sold-out tickets and long lines at the check-out. So why spend your time on something so unproductive as queuing when you can buy everything online? The Rail Ninja booking platform is among the best online tools for the job, as it is incredibly easy to use and allows purchasing Japan train tickets in a matter of just a few minutes and several mouse clicks.
A man booking ticket
At the station, you won't need to spend half an hour of your holiday waiting in line and worrying that the train will take off before you board it. When you purchased your tickets online beforehand, all you need to do is printing a ticket via a ticket machine available at every station and enjoy the wide choice of in-house facilities to occupy yourself before the departure. Seem much nicer than queuing, right?
In order to print the ticket, you will need two things - the ticket machine at the departure station and a unique combination of login and password you receive with every confirmation of the seat reservation. When you enter the data in the machine, you immediately print your tickets and you are free to board your train or explore the station's facilities.

Q&A: Japanese Rail Tickets

Most Traveled Japanese Train Lines