On Shinkansen trains and JR tokkyū (limited express) and kyūkō (express) services, there’s a choice of ordinary, or futsū-sha (普通車), carriages or more expensive first-class Green Car, or guriin-sha (グリーン車), carriages where seats are two abreast either side of the aisle (as opposed to three). There may be a choice between smoking, or kitsuen (喫煙), and non-smoking, or kinen (禁煙), cars; all JR East Shinkansen services are entirely non-smoking. On Nozomi Shinkansen it’s also possible to buy standing-only tickets for a small discount.

Each train also has both reserved, or shitei-seki (指定席), and unreserved, or jiyū-seki (自由席), sections. Seat reservations cost between ¥300 and ¥500, depending on the season; they are free if you have a rail pass. You cannot sit in the reserved section of a train without a reservation, even if it’s empty and the unreserved section full, although you can buy a reservation ticket from the train conductor.

If you don’t have a reservation, aim to get to the station with thirty minutes to spare, locate your platform and stand in line at the marked section for the unreserved carriages; ask the platform attendants for jiyū-seki, and they’ll point the way. If you have a reservation, platform signs will also direct you where to stand, so that you’re beside the right door when the train pulls in.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

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