How much does it cost to ride Japan’s famous bullet train? Shinkansen ticket prices are determined by a few different factors — and not just the obvious ones, like fare class or distance traveled. Fortunately, there is not too much fluctuation. Most surcharges — for reserving seats or traveling during peak periods — are minimal. Sadly, this is often true of discounts, too.

tl;dr A standard Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto could cost as much as ¥14,570, or as little as ¥13,320. To avoid paying prices on the higher end, avoid traveling during peak seasons (like Golden Week and cherry blossom season). You can also try taking your chances on unreserved seating.

The Shinkansen ticket prices we quote on Tokyo Cheapo are for a reserved seat during regular season travel. Depending on a few other factors, you might pay a few hundred yen more — or less. If this is neglible to you, then you might not want to bother with everything that comes next. It’s complicated!

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On the other hand, if you want to learn how to save money on Shinkansen tickets, and also learn a little more about Japan’s rail network, read on. Alternatively if you just want to buy a ticket, see our guide on where to buy Shinkansen tickets.

Check average ticket prices with our handy Shinkansen fare calculator.

How to calculate Shinkansen fares

A Japan Rail Pass with a reserved seat special-express ticket; rail pass holders can reserve seats at no extra cost. | Photo by Alex Ziminski

Train fares in Japan are calculated using a formula of base fare + total surcharges (and minus any discounts you can score). The base fare is calculated by distance traveled, and is the same for all trains — be they ordinary local trains or the fastest Shinkansen.

Instead, what makes the Shinkansen (and any Ltd. Express train) more expensive then regular trains is a hefty standard surcharge: the supplementary special-express ticket, which covers the premium experience of traveling on the nice fast trains. And yes, you have to pay it even if you have to stand.

For example, the standard price of a Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is:

Base fare (¥8,360) + super-express ticket surcharge (¥4,960) = total ticket price (¥13,320)

That’s from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station, on either the Hikari or Kodama service (as opposed to the faster Nozomi service), for a non-reserved seat during regular season. We’ll cover more scenarios as we go.

If you made the same journey to Kyoto on regular trains, the trip would cost just the base fare of ¥8,360, but would take all day (literally).

Pro-tip: You can now purchase Shinkansen tickets online through third-party resellers like Klook, in multiple languages. However, there is a service fee of ¥1,800 per ticket (or for a child’s ticket ¥1,300) for this convenience.

What’s a super-express ticket?

A supplementary super-express ticket, called a tokkyūken (特急券), is required to ride the Shinkansen, or any Ltd. Express train. The price of this surcharge is also calculated by distance traveled.

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This sounds overly-complicated, but it is useful to know. For example, if you buy paper tickets (from either the counter or a machine), you might receive two tickets. In which case, you should put both in the ticket gate at the same time (and make sure to hold onto both for ticket checks).

It’s also useful to know because some travel passes cover the super-express ticket surcharge and others don’t. For example, the Japan Rail Pass does, but the Hakone Free Pass doesn’t. Be sure to check pass policies before committing to avoid surprises.

You may also see the fare price broken down into base fare and super-express surcharge on navigation apps.

What’s a Ltd. Express train?

Ltd. Express trains are the next best train class after the Shinkansen. Like the Shinkansen, they have reserved seating, toilets, and other amenities; they also travel fast and make limited stops. Ltd. Express trains typically travel to destinations that the Shinkansen doesn’t (so it’s rare you have a choice between the two).

The Shinkansen is only operated by Japan Rail. JR runs some Ltd. Express trains routes, but others are run by private operators — like Odakyu’s Ltd. Express Romancecar, which travels from Tokyo to Hakone.

Additional Shinkansen surcharges

Additional charges are be added to the super-express ticket when:

  • Reserving a seat (required for luggage reservations)
  • Traveling during peak or super-peak season
  • Taking the fastest service, like the Nozomi on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen
  • Upgrading to GreenCar, GreenCar Premium, or GranClass

Standard Shinkansen discounts

There are a few standard discounts that you can net even outside special promotion periods. Note that some of these have eligibility requirements.

  • Round-trip discount: 10% off journeys over a certain distance
  • Student discount: 20% off with proper certification
  • JR East Shinkansen e-ticket discount: ¥200 off; sign up required

Paying extra to reserve a seat on the Shinkansen

Empty rows of seats on the Hayabusa service on the Tōhoku Shinkansen Line
Pay extra to choose your seat? Or leave it up to chance? | Photo by Maria Danuco

It costs an extra ¥530 to reserve a seat on the Shinkansen during regular season. This cost fluctuates by ¥200¥400, depending on the season. The extra cost is added to the super-express ticket surcharge.

Reserved and non-reserved cars

Shinkansen cars are classed as either reserved or non-reserved, in regards to seating. In the reserved seat cars, all the seats will be assigned. In the non-reserved seat cars, all of the seats are up for grabs.

  • Reserved seat: shiteiseki (指定席)
  • Non-reserved seat: jiyūseki (自由席)

There are standard patterns; for example, cars 1–3 are often for non-reserved seat ticket holders. But there are also variations, and the promise that JR can change this up whenever they feel like it.

A digital display — the same one that shows the car number — on the outside of the train will indicate whether it is a reserved seat car or a non-reserved seat car. Note that when using travel or navigation apps, you might need to indicate whether you are searching for reserved or non-reserved seats.

Shinkansen reserved seat extra charges

So, if you want to lock in a seat on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, your ticket price breakdown now looks like this:

Base fare (¥8,360) + reserved seat super-express surcharge (¥5,490) = total ticket price (¥13,850).

That’s during regular season travel; the surcharge fluctuates slightly during off-peak, peak, and super-peak seasons.

Reserved seat surcharges during peak, super-peak season

This is how much you’ll pay to reserve a seat on the Shinkansen, depending on when you travel.

  • Super-peak: ¥930
  • Peak: ¥730
  • Regular: ¥530
  • Off-peak: ¥330

So during super-peak season, that one-way reserved seat between Tokyo and Kyoto costs ¥14,250 (for Hikari or Kodama services). Meanwhile, the same ticket costs just ¥13,650 during off-peak season.

If you’re just making one trip, the price changes don’t make too much of a difference. However, if you’re planning something like a multi-leg journey, probably don’t do it during super-peak season. Or stick to non-reserved seating, where these seasonal surcharges don’t apply.

Important: While most Shinkansen services have both reserved and non-reserved cars, not all do.

Services with NO non-reserved seats

  • Hayabusa and Hayate services on the Tōhoku Shinkansen and Hokkaidō Shinkansen
  • Komachi services on the Akita Shinkansen
  • Tsubasa services on the Yamagata Shinkansen
  • Kagayaki services on the Hokuriku Shinkansen

For these services, the only ticket you can buy is one for a reserved seat, so there’s no ducking the seasonal charges. Even JR Pass holders will need to make seat reservations, though it does not cost extra to do so.

When is peak travel season in Japan?

The shinkansen bullet train passing Mt Fuji
How much you pay to reserve a seat depends on when you travel. | Photo by iStock.com/spyarm

Japan Rail has four designated travel periods: super-peak, peak, regular, and off-peak. These only apply to reserved seats on the Shinkansen (and JR Ltd. Express trains).

The dates for off-peak, peak, etc. vary slightly from year to year. They’re also slightly different between JR East, JR West, etc. But generally speaking, the travel times fall something like this.

tl;dr Travel on a weekday (except Fridays) during a slow month like February, June, or November for the cheapest Shinkansen fares.

Super-peak season

Peak season

  • Cherry blossom season (late March to early April)
  • Early August, and some July weekends
  • Silver Week (a few days in mid-September)
  • Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during Oct. and Nov. (fall leaves season)

Regular season

  • Early to mid-March, mid-April, mid- to late May
  • Most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays Jan.–Feb., June, September, Nov.–Dec.

Off-peak season

  • Most Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays Jan.–Feb., June, September, Nov.–Dec.

Japan Rail has an up-to-date peak season calendar, but it’s in Japanese.

Paying extra to take the fast train

Digital shinkansen departures board at Tokyo Station
Shinkansen departures board at Tokyo Station. | Photo by Maria Danuco

In addition to all of the above, if you reserve seats for either of the two fastest Shinkansen services, it will cost a little bit more.

This applies to:

  • Nozomi services on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Tokyo to/from Shin-Osaka)
  • Mizuho services on the San’yō Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka to/from Hakata)

Taking Nozomi or Mizuho services costs an extra ¥210¥1,060. Together, these two services offer the fastest rail connection between Tokyo, Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka) and points west — all the way to Fukuoka (Hakata Station) in Kyūshū.

The exact cost depends on how far you travel. Note that only some Nozomi services run all the way to Fukuoka. Otherwise, a transfer is required at Shin-Osaka Station (or maybe Okayama) for the San’yō Shinkansen leg of the journey. A few Hikari services run as far as Okayama; most Hikari services terminate at Shin-Osaka Station.

Nozomi/Mizuho fares from Tokyo

DestinationNozomi/Mizuho (express service) reserved seat priceHikari/Kodama/Sakura reserved seat pricePrice differenceTime difference between Nozomi/Mizuho and Hikari/Sakura
Nagoya¥11,300¥11,090¥21022 minutes
Kyoto¥14,170¥13,850¥32022 minutes
Osaka (Shin-Osaka Station)¥14,720¥14,400¥32027 minutes
Hiroshima¥19,760¥18,910¥85034 minutes + transfer time
Fukuoka (Hakata Station)¥23,810¥22,750¥1,06042 minutes + transfer time

Remember, this is only for reserved seats on these services; non-reserved seats on Nozomi and Mizuho services cost the same as they do on Kodama, Hikari, and Sakura services.

You can also take Kodama services on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen as far as Shin-Osaka Station; however, Kodama services take an hour longer than even Hikari services to do the same trip (but don’t save you any money when booking through JR).

Important: The JR Pass does not cover travel on Nozomi and Mizuho services; nor is it possible to pay the extra to upgrade. However, this might change along with the price hike annouced for the fall.

Peak season travel on Nozomi/Mizuho services

Right, so the same fluctations for off-peak, peak, and super-peak apply here as well. It’s a lot, we know!

Let’s look at our example trip from Tokyo to Kyoto again. Depending on the time of year (or day of the week), there are three different price points available. These depend on two factors: whether or not you opt for reserved seating and/or the faster Nozomi service.

Peak season Nozomi/Mizuho fares

SeasonNozomi reserved seating priceHikari/Kodama reserved seating priceUnreserved seating price
Super-peak¥14,570¥14,250¥13,320
Peak¥14,370¥14,050¥13,320
Regular¥14,170¥13,850¥13,320
Off-peak¥13,970¥13,650¥13,320

So that’s how we arrive at the Shinkansen journey from Tokyo to Kyoto costing a maximum of ¥14,570 — that’s for booking a seat on the fastest train during super-peak season. The cheapest ticket, on the other hand, is ¥13,320, for non-reserved seat any time of year.

Meanwhile, a reserved seat during regular season costs ¥13,850¥14,170, which is about average.

Reserved vs non-reserved seats

Even though it costs more, we generally recommend purchasing reserved seat tickets. It seems a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing exactly where to head when the train pulls up.

That’s if you have the option: Some slower services, scheduled primarily for commuters, might have only non-reserved seats. But these are generally short-haul services.

If all seats are sold out, you can still buy a non-reserved seat — though it’s entirely likely that you’ll wind up standing for all or most of the trip. And that’s only for the services that don’t require reserved seats.

Finally, according to the new Shinkansen luggage rules, you must reserve a seat if you want to also reserve space for a large suitcase. Failure to do so can result in an extra charge, or denial of boarding if no space remains for your luggage.

Pro-tip: Let the pros handle your luggage. You can use courier services to port your bags from one destination to another. In fact, that’s how many locals travel.

While we do our best to ensure information is correct, pricing and other details are subject to change.

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Filed under: Transport
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