I've never been on a bullet train,


On say a Saturday afternoon: if I understand that page there are seven or so per hour in the afternoon (more per hour in the morning).

I will be traveling from Shinagawa (or perhaps Shinyokohama) to Osaka. At an unknown time say 1100 - 1600.

My question, can one just arrive, credit card in hand, buy a ticket at the machine or counter, and get on a train?

Or, are they typically packed and one has to buy a ticket (a few days? or?) ahead of time?


As an aside, that doesn't seem to be an honest-to-God Japan Rail web site, but it seemed to be the most convenient to display the times.

  • By the way, nowadays you have to reserve a special seat if you intend to travel with a large suitcase (if the overall sum of the dimensions of the item is greater than 160cm): global.jr-central.co.jp/en/info/oversized-baggage Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 1:46
  • right! i did read about that. quite a nuisance. fortunately on this trip i just have a carry on! it looks like its easy enough to choose that option when using a machine, or the kiosk?? this is very valuable info for anyone googling here
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 13:45
  • I wonder if you have two carry-on sized, do you need to do that ?
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 12, 2023 at 19:44
  • 1
    They should fit just fine in the overhead racks. I even put a full-size suitcase (it would be over the 160cm with the new reservation requirement) in the overhead rack and it fit with a little overhang, so carry-on should be fine. Pic for reference. Re your previous comment (I missed it before - sorry!): I imagine you can choose it on the machine, but it has been a long time since I've travelled by shinkansen. My wife told the ticket office staff that she had large luggage when she booked a ticket in January. Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


On an average day, there is absolutely no need to book for travel between Tokyo and Osaka, you can just rock up, buy a ticket and get on board. The vending machines can be a bit complicated, so I recommend buying a ticket in person from the ticket office, there are no fees for this.

You will, however, want to book ahead during major holiday periods like New Year's and Golden Week. The trains are also busier on Friday afternoons from Osaka to Tokyo, and Sunday afternoons in the opposite direction.

Also, while Japanese trains have historically had fixed pricing, they have become more and more dynamic in the last decade and there are now some pretty good discounts to be had if you book ahead. However, this usually requires committing to a specific train, so if you don't know when you're leaving, this is not going to be a great option.

Finally, there is no one Japan Rail website because JR is actually a loose consortium of a number of notionally independent regional companies. JR Central is the one that operates the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka: https://global.jr-central.co.jp/en/info/timetable/

  • 3
    Thank you so much for this - a flawless answer! TY.
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 20:39
  • Great answer! But "notionally" not really: they're actually fairly independent now both operation- and business-wise.
    – xuq01
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 7:55
  • 2
    @xuq01 They're all still effectively controlled by the Japanese government, but that's another story. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 10:00
  • @lambshaanxy I clicked a small bounty. it's good to see new users getting a couple of points together. :)
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 20:15

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