Buying Tickets for Shinkansen Tokyo to Kyoto

Firstly some photos:

So anyway, I knew we had to get tickets to go to Kyoto from Tokyo on the train. I had no idea how to do this. Today our plan was to go up north a very short distance to Nippori, where we were planning to explore some graveyards and shrines. This meant we were to depart from Tokyo station, which seemed an ideal opportunity to buy those tickets.

In preparation, I wrote down all the words I though I would need, since I had no idea how much English the ticket guy would speak. We wanted to go on the Nozomi train (the fastest), in “green” class (First Class), with reserved seats in non smoking. This extravagance was why we did not get a JR pass, since I though you could not go in green class. However it turns out that you can get a green-class JR pass, which is valid for all trains except for the Nozomi. Drat!

So, I wrote the following on a piece of paper:

Ofuku (round trip)
Futatsu Kippu (two tickets, although I’m not sure if I’m using the right counting words)
Tokyo -> Kyoto (luckily the names are the same in Japanese :)
Shinkansen, Nozomi, (The bullet train, the fast one)
Gurinsha (green class = first class, about 50% extra)
Kinensha (non-smoking, very important)
Shiteiseki (reserved seats – although I suspected gurinsha was reserved anyway).
I then wrote the dates of travel, 3/28 and our hoped for time of departure 08:30
Suiyobi (Wednesday)
I then added the day and time for the return trip.
Kinyobi (Friday)

With this piece of paper in had we strode to the Tokyo station, a short walk from our hotel. There we spotted the “Ticket office”, and entered. When our turn arrived I approached and said “do you speak english?”, and the ticket guy said what I assumed was the Japanese for “No, but let’s see what we can do here”.

So, plan A (speak english) failed, and plan B (speak Japanese) swung into action. I pulled out my piece of paper and basically just said all the words above in order, pointing at the date and time. This worked slowly, but quite well. There was some initial difficulty as he indicated something to do with the time was a problem. This turned out to be that the train departed three minutes later than I asked, at 8:33. So I okayed that. Then he asked if I also wanted the the return trip gurinsha, and I said “hai“. Actually I said a lot of “hai”.

So, it seems arranged. I whip out my credit card and say “credito carto?”. He says “Oh! Credito carto!”, and punches a few buttons, swipes my card, and apparently it does not work. I get out another card, that does not work either. He says something about a “travelo office” an gesticulates elsewhere. But after ten minutes of building up to this point I was not about to go elsewhere, so Holly and I pool our cash and pay for our tickets the old fashioned way, leaving us with very little money. But we have the tickets!!! Nice ticket guy point out the date and our car and seat numbers. We say “hai” a lot. The tickets are entirely in Japanese except for numbers, which is basically the date, the train car and the seat numbers. I stick the tickets in my wallet, and we are off to try to get to Nippori.

Advice for fellow travellers: don’t expect any English speakers at the station, not even slightly. Figure out exactly what you want before you enter the ticket office. If possible figure out the train times. Take cash – I’ve no idea why my credit card was not acceptable, I used it at the hotel later to buy some drinks. Write everything down before you go. If possible get someone to write it down in Japanese. Do it in advance of your trip, or you may miss your train while buying the tickets. And really you should have a JR pass if you are doing a trip like we did. It’s a lot cheaper, and only limits your train choices slightly.

Here’s what happens when you actually come to ride the train.


  1. //

    How much did it cost roundtrip? We’re planning to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo-Kyoto-Tokyo in December. /thanks!

  2. //

    You can see more details of this trip here:

    The one-way cost was 18,160 yen, 7980 for the ticket, 5,030 for reserved seat, 5,150 for green class. You can get it a lot cheaper that that by not going green class, and not getting a reserved seat. Getting a JR pass is probably the most cost efficient way of doing it, just limits you to slightly slower trains (an extra 20 minutes, I think).

  3. //

    We are going from Tokyo to Kyoto in October. We fly into Tokyo around 3:45 PM and hope to take the Shinkansen that afternoon to Kyoto. Do you know how often it departs from Tokyo? Any idea how we would coordinate getting from the airport to the train station with luggage? Thank you.

  4. //

    I’m probably not the person to ask about this I’m afraid. But two points

    1) As I remember there are trains from Tokyo to Kyoto about every 20 minutes.

    2) There is (I think) train service from Narita Airport to Tokyo. If not, there is bus service that will take your lugggage

  5. //

    non-smoking, first class, super express ,YES and NO, “Please” , one, two, three…. are VERY popular words for Japanese, even though he/she say “I can’t speak English”.

    So you may be say ,for example

    “One, Shinkansen ‘Oufuku’ ticket please.
    From TOKYO to KYOTO.
    non-smoking, green-sha.”

    And you maybe buy ticket by vending machine.
    I wrote about it on my blog just Today. ;-)

    ( So I googling such kind of pages.)

    > Futatsu Kippu (two tickets, although I’m not sure if I’m using the right counting words)

    Oh , it seems difficult for you. It is not wrong, but not natural sentence.
    Usually we say “ni-mai no Kippu”, but it’s difficult because it is irregular conjugation.
    So I recommend only say “two ticket please”.

  6. //

    Hello all,
    I came down to Hiroshima today (2-14-2010) on the Shinkansen Nozomi. As mentioned above the ticket purchasing requires a little planning on your part. I thought I had it wired and wound up with an unreserved seat. Then I made the mistake of getting on a reserved car. When I presented the conductor with my tickets he explained my mistake. It only cost another 1010 yen to get a reserved seat. I used a couple of websites for estimating travel time and cost. and
    Both sites were very accurate with time and cost. Regarding the payment issue. Yen is the easiest and least troublesome way to go. I have found Japan ATM’s to be a pain. However if you need to get cash a co-worker turned me on to using the ATM’s at the post office. That one worked with both my credit card and debit card. That being said, the experience left me giddy and wanting more, more, more … 3 1/2hours from Yokohama to Hiroshima (with stops). I’m going to spurge and go GREEN on the return trip. I’ll post about that experience too.

  7. //

    Just about to go and buy 2 tix so this is great advice – many thanks!

  8. //

    I visited the picture link and I like the photo with a dragon-looking statue. You shared nice advice when entering ticket office. I wish I could go to Kyoto someday.

  9. //

    Fly in on 28th dec and plan to spend few days in Tokyo. Then want to head to Kyoto maybe for new years then in to kurume. Any suggestions on the best rail tickets?
    I would appreciate any suggestions.


  10. //

    I’m afraid I’m even less knowledgeable about the subject now than I was when I wrote the above post. Sorry!

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