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I want to book a Kyoto-Tokyo Shinkansen ticket for a trip in 10 days, because Shinkansen will be very crowded and probably impossible to board without a reservation.

How can I book it from Seoul?
Surprisingly I cannot find JR's online booking system, is there one?

JR's website says:

Tickets can be purchased at JR Ticket Offices, JR TOKAI TOURS, and major Japanese travel agencies.

If Internet is not an option, can one of the "major Japanese travel agencies" be found in Seoul for this booking?

Getting the ticket instantly would be the best, as I will leave Seoul in 4 days.
Japanese language is not a problem.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Short answer: You can't. (Sensibly, anyway.)

JR is not a single company, but whole bunch of them, and their integration is less than stellar. The Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto is operated by JR Central (Tokai). While they do offer an online booking service, it's -- rather incredibly -- a paid, members-only service that requires registration and a yearly fee (500 to 1000 yen), and it's Japanese-only; probably more hassle than its worth.

The second option would be the all-Japan Ekinet service, but this too is Japanese only and requires signing up, and its (bizarre) Achilles heel is that you can only pick up your tickets at JR East stations like Tokyo. Kyoto is in the JR Central zone, so you're out of luck. Also, there used to be an English version of this, but it's been shut down. (Why? I have no idea.)

Third option, and this is going to be a long shot, is to contact Lotte JTB, the Korean branch of Japan's largest travel agency JTB. They offer an English service, but they appear to focus almost entirely on selling stuff in Korea, so I doubt they'll be able to reserve a seat for you. But give 'em ring, it won't hurt.

The one silver lining to this is that even during Golden Week, the trains don't fill up entirely, you should be able to find a seat even at short notice if you're flexible with your travel times and/or willing to upgrade to Green Car. And if not, you can always get an unreserved ticket and stand -- not particularly pleasant, but it's only a bit over two hours.

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+1 That's also what I read on this (2 years old) blog post: insidekyoto.com/2012/01/… I am not sure to understand the "two hours wait" Paul and you are talking about, is there really a mandatory 120 minutes wait, or did you both give 2 hours as an example of the length I might have to wait, but it can as well be 1 hour or 4 hours? –  nic Apr 28 at 1:21
    
I meant that you can always buy an unreserved ticket, get on the next train (they run every 10 min or so), and stand inside the train for two hours as it travels from Kyoto to Tokyo. You can also get off at random stations for a break and keep going after a bowl of noodles etc. –  jpatokal Apr 28 at 1:26
    
Oh I see! During Golden Week I imagine there are a lot of people willing to stand for 2 hours in the train, actually. And I imagine JR staff does not allow unlimited numbers of people to stand inside Shinkansen trains, as it would make it very inconvenient for people getting off. So we might have to wait in line at Kyoto for a very long time, I guess? –  nic Apr 28 at 1:31
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Yes, the conductors limit the number of people, but there are orderly queues for unreserved seats at stations and the blog above estimates a wait of 30 min max. This is serious mass transport: each 700 series train packs 1,323 people, and there are ~6 departures per hour, operating ~18 hours a day = >140,000 seats per direction every day! –  jpatokal Apr 28 at 1:36

10 days from now is May 7, the tail end of Golden Week. Highly unlikely you will get a reserved ticket on anything heading for any major city. Japanese people reserve their Golden Week tickets many months in advance.

You can, however, get an unreserved ticket at Kyoto station and just wait in line. You will likely end up standing the whole way as trains do not usually start their run at Kyoto. But it's only 2 hours. Get up early, the first train leaves at 6:14.

JR's online booking system is http://www.eki-net.com/ . All in Japanese, and you must register for an account before checking availability.

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About eki-net.com: Unfortunately, tickets from eki-net.com can NOT be withdrawn in Kyoto: "お受取り不可能な駅 JR東日本以外の駅 新大阪・京都・名古屋・静岡・札幌など". I suspect eki-net.com is only for JR East. A similar website for JR West would be a valid answer though. –  nic Apr 27 at 13:06

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