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We are currently using a Japan Rail(JR) rail pass in Japan. For many trains and all Green Cars, seat reservation is required. That's been a pain in the neck so far: Lines at the ticket offices are often quite long, English proficiency of ticket agents varies quite a bit, the machines have also long lines, and the machines are fairly difficult to use and I feel bad about blocking one for the considerable amount of time it takes.

So using the pass takes way more planning and prep work than is desirable. One potential workaround would be to just make a LOT of seat reservations in one go and than simply let the ones lapse that we won't be using.

Questions:

  1. Does JR (Japan Rail) allow making overlapping seat reservations? Can I reserve seats for, say, the 10:00 am, 10:30am and 11:00am train from Hakata to Osaka ?
  2. What happens if you have a seat reservation but you don't use it without cancelling it ? Does JR in any way "punish" you for this ?
  3. Is there a way to cancel a seat reservation that doesn't require you to physically go to the train station and stand in line for significant amount of time?
  4. What are good strategies for having travel flexibility and avoid hour long visits to the train station just to manage the stupid seat reservations.

Yes, I understand that reserving a seat and then not using it is a really crappy thing to do. I'd be more than happy to cancel a seat reservation that I won't be needing, but JR makes it exceedingly difficult to do so.

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    No way to do this online?
    – 8192K
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 8:45
  • @Sebastian You can, but it's a bit of mess because every JR company has its own site and registration hoops to jump through. Commented May 24, 2023 at 11:31
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    I sure as heck tried to do this online, but even as a reasonably experienced traveler I couldn't figure it out. As far as a I understand you MAY be able to make a seat reservation through the JR East website (provided your train is in the JR East network), but even if you do: you still only get a QR code that needs to be be converted to an ACTUAL seat reservation (green ticket) at a JR ticket office or ticket machine. And that's just about making a reservation, the process seems even more murky for changing or cancelling an existing one.
    – Hilmar
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 12:46

2 Answers 2

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Here is my own answer after dicking around in Japan for two weeks

  1. A good app to find trains is Jorudan. It can be configured to "rail pass only" searches

  2. The best way to reserve a seat is the ticket machines. Waiting times are mostly moderate. You need the physical passes of all passengers and their full passport numbers (but not the passports) themselves. You have the choice of "ordinary seat", "extra baggage seat" and sometimes "seat in car with smoking compartment". Any one will do.

  3. You have to re-enter the passport numbers for each reservation you make. Plan for sufficient time and it's a good idea to have the numbers readily available in an offline document

  4. The nice thing about the ticket machine is, that it gives you a seat map you can select from. That's important if, for example, you want to sit on the "Mount Fuji" or "ocean" side of the train. In the office they just give you whatever they want to give you.

  5. Some trains were full to the gills even way outside rush hour. Reservation is definitely recommended. In the one non-reserved train we took, quite a few people ended up standing.

  6. It's best to reserve at least a few days ahead. Same day reservation can be hit or miss.

  7. They are strict about baggage reservation. If you don't have one, they will force you to lift your bags in the overhead bins. That can be a problem for heavy bags and a some passengers clearly had problems with that.

  8. They DO detect overlapping itineraries. The machine will refuse to make an overlapping reservation and will send you to the ticket office.

  9. The ONLY way to cancel a seat reservation is to go to the ticket office.

  10. Lines at the ticket office can be all over the place. Wait times vary from none to over an hour.

  11. Bonus tip: the rail pass price is scheduled to increase by a whopping 70% in October.

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I also got a JR Rail pass for my trip in Japan. When I got the pass, I took the opportunity to reserve a bunch of seats which eliminates the need to wait in lines later.

Not sure why you say the machine is fairly difficult to use. It was very intuitive for me and comes in several languages. At big stations, there are many machines so I never had to wait long.

Changing or refunding a ticket is much harder. As far as I know, it has to be done at the ticket office. The lines for those are typically much longer.

Jorudan removed some features. I believe Navitime is the current app of choice. I found Google Maps sufficient and used it more than anything else.

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