Japanese Train Tickets Explained

Bullet Train Tickets in Japan

There are quite a few things that can cloud any travel experience, such as inflated prices if you happen to go somewhere during the peak of the tourist season or not very agreeable weather. And the language barrier is definitely among those things. Japanese writing system differs so much from the variations of Latin alphabet common in America and Europe, that even trying to guess what's written somewhere is pretty much pointless if you don't command the language at least a tiny bit.

Reading Japan Train Tickets

Luckily, beautiful Japan is incredibly tourist-friendly and so is its railway system. You won't find yourself in a situation when you stand in the middle of a train station utterly lost, having no clue where to go, and feeling like you are all alone in this world. You can rest assured that all significant information is offered in both Japanese and English, making navigating really easy (and even if you have some questions - don't hesitate to ask. People around you - be it fellow tourists or local citizen - will gladly point you in the right direction).

​The same is true for the rail tickets in Japan, at least when it comes to Shinkansen and Limited Express Trains. You can rest assured that all vital information will be also indicated in English, so if you suddenly forget when your train departs or where you are going at all, a quick glance at your ticket will clear any doubts.​
But we all know the old saying, forewarned is forearmed, so to be on the safe side, we've prepared a quick guide on how to read train tickets in Japan. Hopefully, this insight will help you to feel even more comfortable during your railway adventure.

How to Read Shinkansen Tickets

As this resource is dedicated to everything Shinkansen travel-related, we will explain the magic behind the Japanese train tickets, using a Shinkansen railway ticket as an example.
As you can see, we haven't lied to you. The most important data is provided in both English and Japanese, but not everything becomes clear right away.

Although Google Translate can do marvels, you have to agree that it's still safer to have at least a general understanding of what each element of the ticket stands for, To help you out, we've marked every important segment on the picture below.
Shinkansen train ticket explained

Other Types of Japanese Rail Tickets

Everything is pretty intuitive when it comes to Shinkansen tickets. But what about other trains? The beauty of traveling by Limited Express trains, for example, is not just in wider coverage than Shinkansen provides, but also because the trains tickets for both trains are very-very similar. You can see for yourself.

​Using the same scheme as we applied to reading Shinkansen tickets, you can see right away not just where and when this particular train departs, but also that this ticket is for Tokiwa train #55 and that the seat #6 in 5th raw in the first car is reserved for the lucky owner of the tickets.
It gets more complicated when trains, less renowned for their fast travel times (but serving many more destinations than the renowned Shinkansen), are concerned. Local train tickets can be less friendly towards non-Japanese speakers. Unfortunately, there is no standard system that you can apply for any train ticket. The tickets for local trains from various private companies and JR Group will be all different (the one in the picture was issued by Chichibu Railway). So if you happen to travel to less public destinations, it's better to have either a Japanese-speaking friend with you or Google Translate ready.

Buying Japan Train Tickets Online

Of course, there is more than just one way to buy a train ticket. The old-school one is to grab one right at the station before departure, but there are certain drawbacks like endless queues or sold-out tickets. Today, the smartest way to buy Japanese train tickets is online. This way, there is no need to wait in line and waste precious time that you could have spent exploring the country. ​

​With Rail Ninja, you can buy your tickets in a matter of minutes. All you need to do is choose the date of the journey and the departure/arrival stations, select the seats you would like to be yours for the ride, fill out a few forms with personal data, and voila!

Book Train Tickets in Japan

I Booked a Ticket Online. What's Next?

Booking your Japan rail tickets online means that that the seat on a train of your choice is reserved for you, but you will need to have an actual paper ticket to enjoy a ride. It can be easily achieved by printing a ticket at the station.

The process is very fast and easy. Together with the confirmation of the seat reservation, you will get a unique login and password. At the station, you need to go to the nearest ticket machine, enter the data corresponding to the ticket you need at the moment, and the machine will print it for you quickly and easy. The interface has both Japanese and English commands as you can see in the picture, so you will get the job done very quickly and with no problems at all.
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