June 21, 2024

With the New Year’s holiday season over, it’s back to work for people in Japan, and so also back to daydreaming about the next vacation period. That’s coming up in a few months with Golden Week, a string of holidays that straddle the end of April and the beginning of May.

You won’t want those daydreams to be too abstract if you’re looking to travel during this year’s Golden Week period though. That’s because JR Central and JR West, the two Japan Rail companies that jointly operate the Tokaido and Sanyo shinkansen lines, will be getting rid of unreserved seats on Nozomi (the fastest bullet train class) shinkansen trains during Golden Week, so if you want a seat, you’ll have to purchase a reserved seat ticket, which carries an extra fee.

JR Central and West alluded to this back in September, when they announced they would not be offering unreserved seats on Nozomi trains during the then-upcoming New Year’s period and were planning the same for other heavy travel times. The policy has now been officially formalized for April 26 through May 6 of this year and affects all Nozomi trains along the Tokaido and Sanyo lines, the most popular shinkansen route which connects Tokyo and Hakata (Fukuoka), with stops in Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima along the way.

▼ Those seats may be empty, but that doesn’t mean they’re not taken.

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Ordinarily, cars 1 through 3 of Nozomi trains are classified as having “unreserved seats,” which can be used by anyone holding a Nozomi shinkansen ticket for that route on that day. In addition to being purchasable right up until the time the train departs, unreserved-seat tickets offer extra flexibility in your departure time. Found an enchanting hidden temple in Kyoto the day you’re supposed to leave the city and want to spend an extra hour or two there? No problem, just catch a later train. On the flip side, if you’ve wrapped up your sightseeing in one town earlier than you’d expected, you can hop on an earlier train and have that much more time to spend in the next city you’re headed to. Unreserved-seat tickets are also slightly cheaper than reserved-seat tickets.

In their announcement, JR Central and West are framing the Golden Week removal of unreserved Nozomi seats as a plus for travelers, saying that the lack of non-reserved seats “allows you to travel comfortably by being able to board the train without having to wait in long lines on the platform,” referring to the possibility of having to wait on the platform for the next train if there aren’t enough unreserved seats for everyone wanting to board.

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This benefit, however, was already available through the reserved-seat tickets offered for Nozomi cars 4 and up, so it’s much more likely that such removing unreserved Nozomi seats during Golden Week is a decision based on supply and demand, profit potential, and crowd control. Even with the higher price of reserved-seat tickets, JR Central and West should have no problem selling just about every seat during the peak travel season, and eliminating the lines of people waiting on the platform for non-reserved Nozomi seats will make stations easier to navigate.

For those looking to keep their schedules as flexible, and their expenses as low, as they can, unreserved seat tickets will still be offered on slower classes of shinkansen trains. Oddly enough, there still is one way to take the Nozomi during this Golden Week with an unreserved-seat ticket: by standing in the “deck” area, the interior connecting space between cars’ seating areas (excluding the decks of the first-class “green cars”). JR Central and West explicitly mention that this is allowed in their press release, but make no promises of how many people will be allowed in the deck, so it’s probably best not to count on being able to travel this way, and even if you can, you’ll be standing for the entire trip, so there really are no unreserved Golden Week Nozomi seats.

Source: JR Central via IT Media

Images: Pakutaso

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

— Nozomi Shinkansen bullet train abolishes low-priced unreserved tickets during peak travel seasons

— Free Shinkansen tickets for kids travelling with parents during special JR promotion

— Tokaido Shinkansen ending in-train food/drink sales for all non-first-class-passenger cars

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