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I am planning to travel to Japan and have recently bought a JR-Pass.

I am looking into making free seat reservations for some of the trains beforehand, but could not find a way to do this. I did some research on this topic and the most common answer seems to be that only JR East provides an online reservation system with English interface. This seems to imply that there is a website that allows to reserve seats in Japanese.

Is there a way for a non Japanese speaker to book seats (notably for JR Central and JR West)?

I am thinking maybe an illustrated manual on how to use the website in Japanese which makes it possible to use it or something along those lines.

  • I think if you use chrome, it will give you the option to translate the site however the quality might not be top notch. You might need to reserve seats asap once you get to Japan if you are worried. For the romance cars it is usually very hard to get the good seats. – Huangism Feb 2 '15 at 17:16
  • You are not making it clear whether you want to "pay" for your seats with your JR Pass. If yes, I'm fairly certain no such service exists. If no, you can of course book directly from the operating company's website (actually, from any JR Group company's website). And by the way, JRPass.com is not at all official, it is just the website of one JR Pass seller and is not affiliated with JR. – fkraiem Feb 2 '15 at 19:46
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    @drat JR Central's reservation system is highly impractical to impossible to use overseas. See: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/26482/… – lambshaanxy Feb 3 '15 at 2:14
  • As an aside, I was there in summer last year for 3 weeks and never reserved a single seat, and our group of 3 was almost always able to sit together onboard. – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Feb 11 '15 at 7:57
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+150

TL;DR: No, there isn't.

JR is a group of independent companies that do a pretty good job of running trains together, but don't really collaborate on ticketing and reservations, so there is no centralized all-JR reservation system.

The closest to this is JR East's Ekinet, which allows booking tickets more or less anywhere in the country, but it's Japanese-only, has a moderately complicated sign-up process that requires a credit card and a Japanese address, and above all, requires that any reserved tickets be physically picked up at JR East stations, meaning the Tokyo area and points north only. If you're starting your trip outside Tokyo, as I presume you are since you're asking about JR Central & West, tough cookies. Now Ekinet does have a little English section aimed at overseas visitors, which has less hoops to jump through, but only allows booking JR East trains. As far as I'm aware, this is the only English-language service available.

JR Central and West have a similar Express Yoyaku service, covering the Tokaido & Sanyo Shinkansens only (no non-Shinkansen express trains). However, the same limits apply and it costs ¥500/1000 per year to boot. Plus you need to pick the more expensive service if you want to book tickets for people other than yourself.

Last but not least, JR West, JR Kyushu & JR Shikoku operate another shared service with the catchy name of e5489 (read ii goyoyaku, or "good reservation"), which lets you book the Sanyo & Kyushu Shinkansens plus all express services in the tri-JR area. And I'm sure you'll be astonished to hear that this, too, requires signing up to be a "J-WEST Net" member in Japanese with a Japanese address.

All that said, I wouldn't fret too much. You can make reservations for any JR train in Japan quite easily in person at any JR station once you've landed. More importantly, though, reservations are only necessary at absolute peak periods (New Year's, Golden Week, Obon, maybe Friday nights for Tokyo<->Osaka), 99% of the time you can get unreserved seats or, for reservation-only trains, reserve a seat on the spot.

  • The reason I am asking is because we will be travelling end of March/start of April, which are going to be school holidays. You don't think this is going to be a problem? – drat Feb 12 '15 at 6:17
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    Not really, we usually visit Japan around that timefram and have never bothered to reserve trains in advance. Golden Week in late April/first week of May is a bigger deal. – lambshaanxy Feb 12 '15 at 10:15
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You cannot do this online. You can do it for free at any JR station's "Green Window."

You'll find that in high-tech Japan, with tap-IC cards at every train turnstile, the JR Pass is entirely analogue. It's a total anachronism - you have to use it at physically manned turnstiles, not with any of the automatic ones.

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