Baby Traveler | How to book Shinkansen Tickets and Ride with a baby

Traveling in a foreign country is stressful enough in it of itself, but traveling with a baby in a foreign country with a complex railway system is on another level. I’ve been traveling to Japan for the past 10 years, and time I’m bringing back my baby solo to travel to the Hokuriku region, 2.5hrs Northwest of Tokyo on the Shinkansen. This is what you can expect in this blog posts: 
  • How to purchase and reserve seats for the Shinkansen (+baby friendly tips) 
  • Navigating the station, getting to the platform (+how to with large suitcase and stroller) 

Purchasing tickets 

Step 1: Figure out which trains you are taking 

|Which Region|
A quick overview on the Japan railway system: the long distance trains (non-subway systems) are run by the Japan Railway Company, also known as JR, just like their logo indicates. They are split by region from JR Hokkaido up north to JR East for Tokyo/other regions, JR West for Kansai/Osaka/Kyoto.. and so on, see map below. 

|Timing & Pricing|
Depending on which regional route(s) you are taking, you can buy regional or Japan-wide JR Rail Pass which will let you ride unlimited times for 7, 14, or 21 days starting from the day you wish for it to be activated. For example, a Japan wide JR Rail Pass in an ordinary cabin for an adult for 7 days costs 29,650 yen. Sounds like a lot? If you are planning to take the Shinkansen 2-3 times, it will cover that cost. Plus you can also use the pass for regular trains, busses, and ferries operated by the JR company which is pretty convenient. 

*Ordinary means a regular cabin with reserved seats 
*Green is the business class cabin with reserved seats 

Step 2: Purchase from your local agent 

Because the JR Rail Pass is a discounted ticket intended for foreigners, you will need to purchase your JR Rail Pass voucher overseas and then exchange for the actual pass in Japan. All you need is your name matching your passport, here are a list of agents that sell JR Rail Pass vouchers:

There are also online agents that sell and mail your JR Rail Pass exchange voucher to you, however I haven’t purchased from any of them before, so do your own due diligence on which ones are legit before purchasing online. 

When you purchase from overseas, you will get a voucher which states: 

- Your name as shown on passport 
- What JR Rail pass type you will be exchanging for (days/cabin type) 
- Expiry date of voucher, which is 3 months from the date of purchase 

Step 3: Pick up your pass in Japan and reserve your seats in advance 

| How to pick up your JR Rail Pass | 
You will need to do it in Japan with your passport at designated JR Ticketing offices, which is available at both Haneda and Narita International airport right at the arrivals hall. You can also pick it up at major railway stations such as Ueno, Tokyo, Shinjuku etc. Full list of offices here:

Haneda Airport's pickup point is on the far left corner (with your back to the luggage claim/customs exit),  right after the Tokyo Monorail ticket machines. 

| Reserving your seats in advance| 
Not all trains have cabins which have unreserved seats. For that reason, I usually reserve all of my journeys, because if the entire train is reserved seats only, you can’t get on with just your JR Rail pass. 

BEFORE you depart for Japan, look up the train schedule online. For example, I was taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen operated by JR-East, which goes from Tokyo via Nagano, Toyama, and ends its service at Kanazawa: 

Here's a more popular route, but you can also easily google the rest of the schedules:

Tokyo to Osaka via Kyoto is the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen operated by JR-Central.

Ok, I know. Just opening the timetable will cause your head to explode because it looks super complex. Follow these steps: 

- Find your start and end stop, make sure you are going the right direction eg East bound, West Bound, North Bound. 

- Find the time range you’d like to start your journey at, make sure the train stops at where your end point is, some express trains will skip stops in between 

- Generally trains that only operate on weekends/holidays/specific dates will be marked with a diamond or * shape on the train number in the schedule. If you are not 100% sure that it will operate on the day you’re going, I would just avoid it 

- Lastly, always have at least 2 options. Sometimes trains can be fully reserved, so make sure you look at the train departing before and after the one you wish to take 

Now that you know which trains you’d like to take, print out the form below and fill it out so it will be easier and quicker for the ticketing office in Japan to issue the correct train ticket for you: 

Source of form:

How to fill the form out:

When you exchange your voucher to pick up your JR Rail Pass in Japan, also show them this seating form to get your reserve seat tickets. Note that at the Airport they may only issue 1 ticket on your list to you because the lines are long, you may continue into the other stations in the city to reserve the remaining seats on your list. Look for the “Midori-no-Mado” as shown below which is the ticketing office in stations. 

How to read your Reserved Seat ticket: 

Tips on traveling with a baby on the Shinkansen: 
When booking your train ride

  • Reserve a seat on the train car/carriage near a baby changing station, you can indicate that on your seat reservation paper in the notes section as ベビーシートある車両 
  • Choose the train schedule according to your baby’s nap schedule. I always did the train rides during his naps so he could be asleep most of the way (less hassle for the adult), but you could also do the train ride just after a nap so the baby isn’t fussy. 
  • Try to avoid a departure time during rush hour, which is 7:30am – 9:30am 

Not only does the Shinkansen Train have multiple baby changing stations, the bathrooms are also equipped with baby seats! 


Before you go

  • (My personal preference) Book your hotel by the station, or at least a quick taxi ride away. This will save you hassle from trying to move luggage, stroller, and the kid to and from the station. 
  • Do a station walkthrough the night before: especially at big stations like Ueno or Tokyo station, it can get really complicated, and not all entrances have elevators. I spent plenty of time getting lost the day prior to my trip, so I made sure I did a walk through from my hotel, to the station, through the station, right up to the ticketing gate. 
  • Think about things you can bring to distract the baby, and pack them in an easily accessible location. For me that was 1 video downloaded onto my phone, several songs, white noise machine, a toy, snacks, and milk bottle. 

Why you should do a station walkthrough: the first pic below shows an entrance to the tracks with a sign in Japanese on tip that indicates no elevators or escalators. Even though this was the closest entrance for me, I couldn't use it. 

Pic below is the main entrance to the Hokuriku Shinkansen tracks in Tokyo station, as you can see it goes up to the exact train I was using. 

On the day of

  • Arrive early, for bigger stations I’d say no less time than 30min from departure. It takes time to move your luggage, stroller through the station and onto the platform. Elevators can also be further than you’d expect. I made it onto the platform in Tokyo station around 20min from entering the station, finding the big ticketing gate and correct elevator to my platform. 
  • Another reason for arriving early: you want to be first in line to get onto the train, mainly because there is very little space for luggage storage on the train, and you don’t want to be stuck with a baby, luggage, and stroller at your tiny seat for 2 hours.

Tokyo station on a Saturday morning below, pretty busy and overwhelming

When using the JR Rail Pass, you can't use the auto ticket gates. You need to go to the office on the far left or right of gates where there are station officers to physically show them your JR Rail pass, and the reserved seat ticket you are using that day, same for exiting the station. 

There are plenty of vending machines on the platform, also limited items on the trains itself. Not all trains have food & beverage carts, so do bring your own drinks and snacks. 

I hope this has helped you plan your trip to Japan better, safe and happy travels! Comment below if you have more tips and/or questions!

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