HOME Japan's New Year Peak is Approaching: Here's the Busiest Times to Travel (What to Expect + Tips for 2023-24)
Japan's New Year Peak is Approaching: Here's the Busiest Times to Travel (What to Expect + Tips for 2023-24)

Japan's New Year Peak is Approaching: Here's the Busiest Times to Travel (What to Expect + Tips for 2023-24)

Last updated: 15 December 2023

As the year-end and New Year holidays approach, Japan sees a huge uptick in train reservations. Here's when you can expect the rush to happen, as well as tips on booking a seat even during the busy period.

Here's when Shinkansen bullet trains are seeing peak reservations in 2023

Graph adapted from East Japan Railway Company press release (https://www.jreast.co.jp/press/2023/20231212_ho01.pdf)
Graph adapted from East Japan Railway Company press release (https://www.jreast.co.jp/press/2023/20231212_ho01.pdf)

According to information released by East Japan Railway Company and Central Japan Railway Company on December 12, 2023, peak Tokyo outbound date is December 30, and the peak Tokyo inbound date is January 3, surpassing previous years.

・JR Tokai (towards Osaka) Peak: December 29
On December 29, 'Nozomi' trains departing Tokyo in the mornings of Dec 29-30 are almost fully booked, with 'Hikari' showing congestion. Other trains have availability.
・JR East (towards Sendai) Peak: December 30
On December 29-30, particularly 'Hayabusa' and 'Komachi' are almost fully booked all day. Other dates and times still have seats available.

・JR Tokai Peak: January 3
Congestion on 'Nozomi' and 'Hikari' trains arriving in Tokyo in the afternoons of January 2-3. Other trains have availability.
・JR East Peak: January 3
Particularly on January 3, many 'Hayabusa' and 'Komachi' trains are fully booked. Other dates and times still have seats available

What can I expect during the busiest times to travel in Japan?

First, you can expect crowds at stations around peak dates and times. You may consider reducing the amount of luggage you are bringing to a particular destination, and storing the remainder in a station coin locker, with a hotel, or with a luggage storage service.

Also, for non-reserved cars, typically toward the front and back of the Shinkansen train, you can also expect long lines as passengers wait.

For this reason, even if you have a Japan Rail Pass or other discount train ticket, it is highly recommended that you make a seat reservation.

You can do this at a JR EAST Travel Service Center in major train stations (like Tokyo and Shinjuku stations) as well as at Narita and Haneda airports.

You can also purchase tickets and make seat reservations at the official Train Reservation websites below, as well as check how full different Shinkansen are at different times and dates.

Tip: Seat availability symbols in Japan
〇 Seats are available
△ To an extent, all seats in a row are sold out
✖ No seats available

What areas will be busiest during New Year in Japan?

You can expect Kyoto and Nara, in particular, to be busy on New Year's day because of “hatsumode” - the first shrine visit of the year.

Temples and shrines in these cities, as well as major shrines like Tokyo's Meiji Jingu, will see crowds of visitors.

How can I get a seat during a peak period?

Following are a few tips to get a seat even during busy travel seasons in Japan.

  1. Plan ahead and make reservations. Once you settle on your travel itinerary, try to book trains (and hotels and popular attractions) as soon as you can - especially in busy seasons. Reservations can be made up to a month before the travel date. Note that if you have a Japan Rail Pass, there is no charge for reservations for regular seats on trains covered by the pass.
  2. Leave much earlier (or much later). Many people probably don't want to wake up at the crack of dawn to hop on a train. This can work to your advantage, as seat availability may relax at these times as well.
  3. Take a slower train. Everyone wants to get to their destination as quickly as possible. So many of the faster Shinkansen (like Nozomi) might fill up faster than the local Shinkansen (like Kodama). If you can be flexible with your itinerary, this may be a way to go.
  4. Reserve a Green Car seat. These first-class seats offer more space than regular seats, but are more expensive as well. As a result, they can tend to fill up slower than regular cars. Depending on your circumstances, you may consider booking one of these seats.
  5. Book separate seats. Though not ideal, if you are traveling with someone, you may luck out and find separate seats on the same train. If you are booking in person, you mention this option to the agent if the train you want is reaching capacity.
  6. Roll the dice with a non-reserved car. Even in peak periods, don't despair: you may still be able to get a seat in a non-reserved car by arriving early and waiting in line. This is especially for a station like Tokyo, which is from which many Shinkansen start.
Book Shinkansen tickets now

The end of the year and New Year holidays are a busy season in Japan, and it can be difficult to make bookings for everything. By planning ahead and making reservations, you can have a more comfortable journey. Bon voyage!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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