Last Updated: Jan 30, 2024
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise given how much I travel, but I take a lot of bullet trains. In fact, when people ask me where I live, I often say that my official address is in Tokyo, but I actually live on the Shinkansen. Over the course of my many years traversing the countryside, I’ve come up with a plethora of little tricks and hacks that can be used here and there to eke out a bit more value from your ride. Today, I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned while on the road.
In this article, we’ll mainly be taking a look at what is called the Jiyuseki in Japanese. Essentially meaning ‘free seating,’ the Jiyuseki are those seats at the front of the bullet train that don’t require a reservation. Though these seats can be had for a few hundred yen less than their reserved counterparts, sitting in the Jiyuseki area often comes with a major downside — namely, you might not be able to snag a good seat (or even get one at all on the busiest of days).
Now, when sitting in the Jiyuseki, it’s wise to be waiting on the platform a good 10–15 minutes before your departure. The reason for this is that the Jiyuseki is on a first-come, first-served basis. Thus, to ensure you get a seat, you want to be one of the lucky people at the head of the line. Note that this tactic generally only works when you are at the starting station or trying to hop on somewhere that is known for being a place that many people tend to get off at (e.g., Kyoto or Osaka).
No Reserved Seats
Generally, I suggest that people reserve a seat for themselves when taking the bullet train. After all, few things suck more than having to stand for the entirety of your Shinkansen trip. That said, just because you have an assigned seat doesn’t mean you actually have to sit there. Occasionally when options are sorrowfully sparse, I’ll book whatever seat I can find and then go line up for the Jiyuseki. If I can grab a good seat, I’ll use that for the duration of my travels instead of what I reserved.