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What's Japan like as a holiday destination?


The Birmingham train spotter

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The Birmingham train spotter

I'm back!) I've been interested in Japan and it's culture for years now and I'd like to hear about the members on this Forum about their time in Japan and would they recommend it

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Japan is a great for a holiday. There is something for everyone.

 

Although there are huge misconceptions about the country. Japan is not all technology and concrete that most would  hear about.

 

The people love to preserve history. Museums for just about everything. And you will still find 50-100 year old buildings scattered throughout the cities. More in rural areas.

 

And the cities are taller than they are wider. So the concrete jungles we first expect aren't actually that big. And they make gardens every where inside these cities.

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Japan is great place to visit and travel in. Super easy and very safe, lots of different things to visit and of course trains! And then there’s the food!

 

really I’ve traveled a lot of the world and japan really is up at the top of my list of places to go back to. It’s also reasonably priced destination for travel as well even though some think it expensive.

 

jeff

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I am often amazed by people who say "Oh isn't Japan an expensive place to travel in?"  I reply that if you want to stay in American style hotels, eat steak and catch taxis...yes it can be expensive!  However if you use Businessmen's Hotels, eat what the locals eat (especially seafood) and catch local public transport...then no it can be quite inexpensive!

 

One of the great travel bargains is the Japan Rail Pass available to non Japanese visitors.  While it may seem a little complicated, it involves buying a purchase order overseas and converting it to a rail pass once you arrive.  It allows you to travel on almost all JR trains (including Shinkansens) and free booking.   With the help of on-line timetables (Hyperdia), Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) travel info and on-line hotel bookings (I recommend Toyoko Inn) you can be your own travel agent.

 

As others have mentioned there is so much to see in Japan.  It is not just big cities with all their sophisticated offerings but small towns and rural villages, dramatic scenery, fascinating traditional architecture, amazing traditional arts and craft and wonderfully costumed folk festivals.  It of course depends on where your interest lies but for me (a retired Architect) its the traditional and modern architecture and for my wife (a retired Anthropologist) Japanese arts, culture and festivals.  Japanese food is another highlight with reasonably priced sushi and sashimi available almost everywhere and local hole-in-the-wall bars and food outlets packed around train stations.  And the beer is good and cheap! Oh and did I mention that you can pick up some really great second hand N scale rolling stock (if you know where)!!

 

As for hearing about my time in Japan...how long have you got?

Graeme

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railsquid
5 minutes ago, SL-san said:

I am often amazed by people who say "Oh isn't Japan an expensive place to travel in?"  I reply that if you want to stay in American style hotels, eat steak and catch taxis...yes it can be expensive!  However if you use Businessmen's Hotels, eat what the locals eat (especially seafood) and catch local public transport...then no it can be quite inexpensive!

 

I think part of that is a hangover from the bubble era and 1990s with the painfully high yen, when Japan really was expensive compared most other countries. However since then other "western" countries (at least the ones I've been to) have become a lot more expensive, while Japan has continued to "enjoy" relatively low inflation. Just avoid drinking coffee and buying watermelons in upscale Ginza department stores.

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32 minutes ago, SL-san said:

I am often amazed by people who say "Oh isn't Japan an expensive place to travel in?"  I reply that if you want to stay in American style hotels, eat steak and catch taxis...yes it can be expensive!  However if you use Businessmen's Hotels, eat what the locals eat (especially seafood) and catch local public transport...then no it can be quite inexpensive!

Cannot agree more.  Best Western double 300 usd a night.  Toyoko Inn double 75-150 usd a night.  I always use the English version website for Japanese hotel chains.  Super easy for a traveler.

 

33 minutes ago, SL-san said:

One of the great travel bargains is the Japan Rail Pass available to non Japanese visitors.  While it may seem a little complicated, it involves buying a purchase order overseas and converting it to a rail pass once you arrive.  It allows you to travel on almost all JR trains (including Shinkansens) and free booking.   With the help of on-line timetables (Hyperdia), Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) travel info and on-line hotel bookings (I recommend Toyoko Inn) you can be your own travel agent.

Agree and disagree.  Depends on the itinerary.  It can work in your favour, but I have seen so many travelers over pay when buying the Japan Rail passes.

 

Example 1 -> 2 week trip visiting only Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka. Someone buys a 14 day rail pass for 47,XXX yen.  Tokyo to Shin-Osaka and return, 14,400jpy for a reserved seat (not on the fastest train).  Still need to find 18,000jpy of value. Kinda sucks using it in Kyoto and Osaka.  So you'll still have a IC card for subway and private railway travel.

 

Example 2 -> Same 2 week trip visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima and return, 10,630jpy for a reserved seat.  Now the pass pays itself off.

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MeTheSwede

The great walkability of cities and world class public transport makes Japan a very pleasant country to travel in. Get a public transport app and an IC card and you're ready to go.

 

I've mostly been staying at places in the 2500-4000 yen per night price range that I've found through booking.com. I need a room with a bed and no fancy stuff. I remember before my first trip I was a bit suspicious about all those cheap places having consistently good ratings, but I've learned the reasons. All places I've stayed at has been exceptionally clean and well run.

 

I haven't used the JR Pass as I haven't been planning enough long distance travel in a short enough time frame to make it better than at best a break even thing.

 

"Being interested in Japan's culture" can mean a lot of things, so difficult to help there, but I guess you're going to visit Akihabara? 🙂

 

If you want to do lots of outdoor stuff, spring and autumn months are usually recommended.

 

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Tony Galiani

Great place to visit.  I would live there for a while if I could.

 

Transportation is easy, SIM cards can be inexpensive and make navigating around a breeze.  Hotels are a far better deal than in the US, even in Tokyo.  Check out the youtube videos of Solo Travel Japan or the I Will Always Travel For Food - they consistently use business hotels that run around US$50 to $60 and are far cleaner and nicer than many travel hotels in the US.

 

Eating might be a minor challenge depending on your food preferences but there are plenty of options.  The Life From Where I'm From guy has a video on finding food options for English speakers and that is really helpful.  And, of course, there is always Mr. Donut!

 

The biggest problem you will face is going back home!  I remember flying out of Haneda (which was spotless, well organized, easy to get around, had a flight viewing deck and very reasonable food options) into one of the USA's "best airports" which was a dump in comparison.  And you will ride on what must be the cleanest and best organized trains in the world.

 

And the most essential item:  train shops - check out the info on this group as there are video which can show you the locations of a lot of great shops.

 

You might also want to read the info posted previously in the Forum - there is quite a bit of useful content.

 

Cheers,

Tony Galiani

 

 

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Martijn Meerts

I'm usually not a fan of big cities, but I really like Tokyo.. It's big, crowded, busy, but never really chaotic, and with all the parks it doesn't feel like a big city either in my opinion. I've not really been outside of Tokyo (not very far anyway), so I can't really say much about other places. What still amazes me is how clean Tokyo is, you almost never find things like discarded tissues or cans or anything.

 

One of the best things I did was use https://www.nagomivisit.com/ to get in touch with a few natives. I met a couple of people through that site, and I'm still in touch with them to this day. 1 couple has invited me over for viewing the cherry blossoms a couple of times already, but with corona it hasn't really been possible. Another person I met through that site heads a group that travels across the world introducing people to Japanese culture. They gave us a private performance of their show once, including a complete tea ceremony where we were the guests of honour (which was slightly awkward ;))

 

Hotel wise I went with Citadines Shinjuku Tokyo both times I went there. It's not the cheapest, but they rent out small apartments rather than hotel rooms, so you actually have a small kitchen in your room, which I found rather nice. It's also walking distance from Shinjuku station, and there's a supermarket and several restaurants nearby. Staff is extremely friendly and helpful as well.

 

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I think the biggest hurdle with a trip to Japan is the cost of getting there from the UK, once you actually get there things are relatively cheap. We tend to go in Sept - Nov because it's past Typhoon season and isn't (to us at least) unbearably hot, if you do over heat though it's ok because between Conbini's. vending machines and other stores drinks are easy to access and cheap to purchase. You can do direct flights from the UK to Japan and from a stress point of view I recommend doing those, but indirect flights are much easier to find. 

 

Depending on what you want to do will heavily influence where you want to go and where you go will have an impact on how accessible things are to you. For the most part in the cities and bigger rural areas Romanji is pretty common and makes things much easier to translate, but for the smaller rural areas it's there but definitely less common. For the most part Japanese people are very willing to try and communicate no matter how little English they speak, and will often use translation software to help, the downside of that is that most of the translation software still isn't well equipped for translating full sentences/paragraphs and will often come out with stuff that needs thought about to work out what they are saying.

 

Travel around Japan is fairly easy even outside of Tokyo, but It's worth putting a decent amount of time and effort into working out if a JR Rail pass will work for you, it has some limitations that will influence how and when you use it and for us it's meant we've organized our trip to maximize the value of it. If you're prepared to do that though, it can save you a whole bunch, if you buy one and don't at least try to get your money out of it, it can work out being way more expensive. Local travel I found compared to the UK is pretty cheap, in Tokyo most places are (or were in 2018) ony a couple of hundred yen and it felt cheaper than using the tube in London. 

 

As for how and where to stay, we used a MyStays (I think it was) in Asakusabashi for our last stay, it was on the Chūō-Sōbu Line and is a 10 - 15 min walk (2 - 5 min train ride) from Akihabara it is (I think) essentially a business hotel, but it had a comfy bed, a shower and sink, clothes washing facilities and access directly into the combini below, it was also about a 5 min walk from the train station. We do occasionally stay at Ryokan and those can get expensive, but if you want that kind of experience there are plenty of great ones around Japan to go and stay at, just be prepared for them to work out the same cost as 2 - 4 nights at a business hotel.

 

My partner and I tend to split our trips between shopping and being touristy so we always go and visit Tokyo as it's where we do most of our shopping, but where you visit will depend heavily on what you're shopping for, for example we don't care much for Fashion or brands so we've never felt the need to visit Ginza for example as that's what it seems geared to, We tend to be more Video game and Train focused so we visit places with stores like Mandarake, Book off, Super Potato and even though it doesn't have the biggest selection, Yodabashi Camera. We do also usually have a few days travelling around the country though as different areas are famous for different things or specialize in different things and it's worth looking into the different prefectures to see what these things are, which can also help you decided if you need/which travel pass you need. Travelling is also a great excuse to pop on some cool trains as well, I've already lost count/track of all the different types we've been on in my 4 trips there. 

 

Something I would point out though, and you probably know it already, but it's worth pointing out. Japan has a much more relaxed attitude to sexual content than the UK does, and it's pretty easy to be in a store with Anime figures/DVDs with bare body parts on dispaly, so if you're sensitive to that kind of content you may run into it at some point. Most stores have it in a section clearly marked as for over 18s but I have been in stores before where it's just on the shelf. 

 

A lot of the stuff I heard growing up in the UK also didn't turn out to be accurate/prevelant anymore (if it ever was) in Japan, for example the trains do get busy, but I've never been on one where someone has been pushing the passengers into the train to force the doors to close, I've also never seen a vending machine selling used underwear. These things may happen, but they definitely aren't as common as I was led to belive, also Akihabara isn't 24 hour a day cosplay paradise, you'll see the odd one or two, but you're not going to be surrounded by them the moment you step off the train. 

 

Sorry I realise this has gotten kind of long now 🙂

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Yes whenever I speak to others who have been to Japan that say it was expensive, I ask where they stayed and it is always the expensive western style hotels! This sometimes seems to be because people get their trip organised by a travel company who of course have partnerships with the western hotel companies, but as well some people like to stay with what they know. If you can afford it why not but I prefer to save my money as the hotel is just used as a place to sleep. You can often find business hotel rates for very cheap anywhere, cheaper than the cheapest UK hotels and the rooms in a better condition. Also you can use some of the money you save from staying in business hotels to stay 1 or 2 nights in a Ryokan 🙂. I would agree with others to check if the JR pass is cost-efficient,  just remember to factor in the ease of use of having a JR pass, compared with having to buy tickets constantly.

 

As others from the UK stated above the real money barrier can be the cost of the flights. I've only ever been to Japan by indirect flights (I have taken emirates airlines changing at Dubai as they seem to be relatively cheap compared to direct flights and the service in-flight is very good). I have seen return flights for as low as £400 before with Alitalia, but I was scared off from taking them as I read that they were in financial trouble at that time. I would advise trying to fly into Haneda rather than Narita though, it's so much closer to the centre of Tokyo.

 

I would recommend getting up a bit earlier to visit some of the more touristy spots, I visited many of the famous sites at Kyoto at around 7am-9am and it was magical to see them at that time with only a few other people around. I contrast this with when I visited Asakusa temple at a later (or normal) time, and the sheer amount of people there just made the whole experience a bit unenjoyable. Some of these places you can also visit in the evening or at night.

 

In general though it's a great place to holiday as it's clean, the crime rate is low and the transportation links are excellent. Also I think unlike many destinations it really has something for everybody. I find the website https://www.japan-guide.com/ is very good for getting inspiration and has loads of travel tips and itinerary ideas, (and good for losing a couple of hours) and is a quite well laid-out and easy to navigate site. Train Cruise on NHK may also be good for getting ideas, and it generally looks at areas of Japan that aren't so well known and touristy.

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Eating is not really that big of a problem as most places have either picture menus or the plastic food in the window and you can always point.  My first time in Japan I was by myself and I speak no Japanese.  Was not married to my (Japanese) wife yet.  I ate at a few "hole in the wall" places thanks to the picture menu or plastic food, speaking english and pointing.  The people were more than happy to have a new face in the restaurant.

 

And there is always the western fast food places when all else fails.  I won't go in McDonalds in the US (food sucks) but in Japan usually go once or twice when the kids just want a change and it is a good step above the US McDonalds and easy to order at.   But we eat Japanese most of the time there and even when I am out with the kids alone (wife with her family) we have no issues.

 

Japan is amazingly fun.  As has been said, lots of things no matter your interest, to do/see/experience.  We go (before Covid) about every 2 years and have been doing so since 2003.  While part of our 2-3 weeks there is visiting family etc we always take a few trips out or I take the kids on day trips and we've barely scratched the surface.

 

I like to watch (my whole famiky including wife likes to watch) the "Only in Japan" youtube channel.  We've found lots of things there that we want to do and in many cases have gone on to do based on what we saw on the channel.

 

Just be aware if you are sensitive to hard beds, that most "business hotels" have pretty hard beds (in my experience).  But even the Hilton has less comfortable mattresses than their US hotels (for me who is sensitive).  We normally get low cost places to stay on our side excursions using booking.com or similar.  We also used AirbNB once (before the crackdown) and it was fine.  (Disclaimer:  about the only time we stay in Hiltons is when I have Hilton points to use and then only out by Disney or on Odaiba, as those often have sale priced rooms available.  We sometimes do a split cash/points thing depending on my points balance -- even if you are not doing DIsney as an attraction the Hilton there is available and is not bad)

 

 

Edited by chadbag
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MeTheSwede
3 hours ago, Arctic said:

I would agree with others to check if the JR pass is cost-efficient,  just remember to factor in the ease of use of having a JR pass, compared with having to buy tickets constantly.

 

I've never used a JR pass so have no personal experience, but isn't travel somewhat more cumbersome with a JR pass as you always have to show it to a person?

 

When traveling local trains I just swipe my IC card at the ticket gates like the locals, can't get any easier than that. When going with Shinkansen that requires a seat reservation, I just use the ticket vending machine to get a ticket, while a pass holder has to go stand in a ticket queue and tell a staff to enter into a computer the information I just enter myself into the vending machine. Then the ticket+pass has to be show for someone at the gates.

 

 

 

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MeTheSwede
6 hours ago, TimWay4 said:

 I've also never seen a vending machine selling used underwear.

 

Neither have I. I did however at one time pop into a small store that I had passed multiple times on my way between the place where I stayed and the train station and couldn't figure out from the look of it what they were selling. Pretty much the first thing I saw after having navigated some stairs to enter the place, were plastic bags containing used female underwear for sale. As for the rest of the small store it was packed from floor to ceiling with stuff that I'd better not mention. 😆

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35 minutes ago, MeTheSwede said:

 

I've never used a JR pass so have no personal experience, but isn't travel somewhat more cumbersome with a JR pass as you always have to show it to a person?

 

When traveling local trains I just swipe my IC card at the ticket gates like the locals, can't get any easier than that. When going with Shinkansen that requires a seat reservation, I just use the ticket vending machine to get a ticket, while a pass holder has to go stand in a ticket queue and tell a staff to enter into a computer the information I just enter myself into the vending machine. Then the ticket+pass has to be show for someone at the gates.

 

 

 

 

I mean I've had no problems as the station attendant was always standing or in the ticket office next to the ticket gate, and it's hardly that they do a detailed inspection of it just a quick glance at the dates. I showed one and was let through plenty of times in a matter of seconds even though the attendant was dealing with another customer at the same time with a more detailed query with just a glance.  If it was such a thing in the UK then it'd probably result in mad rushing around looking for someone who's on a smoking/tea break though...

 

Reserve seat only shinkansens aren't that common, and aren't they most often seen on the non-JR pass Nozomi/Mizuho anyhow? I suppose having to reserve a seat at the counter instead though is slightly longer, though when I've taken the shinkansen I have reserved seats at least a bit beforehand, though I don't think any of them were reserved only.

 

I was mainly comparing cost efficiency of getting a JR pass vs not, but yes IC cards are probably the most convenient, and good to get one for the non-JR lines you plan to use even if you get a JR pass, I used it a lot for underground systems in Kyoto and Tokyo.

Edited by Arctic
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We usually get our reserved seats for Shinkansen not at the last minute and usually it doesn't take long.   In fact, on our last trip, we were able to book them online for JR-East and when we got the pass itself they also printed all our reserved seat tickets at the same time.  Unfortunately, at least at the time, JR-West/JR-Central didn't have reserved seating online booking for pass holders (this was 2019 -- no idea what it is now).

 

For local trains with JR Pass I jiust hold it up and walk through.   Never had an issue.  I don't wait for them unless they look me straight in the eye.   I just hold it up and walk by.

 

 

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My last trip in 2017, I did not reserve one seat using my JRP.  I just picked starting stations/locations of trains and jumped on unreserved seats.  We always arrived 15-20 minutes before departure, and lined up in the painted queuing areas.  I just planed my trains so I didn't need to reserve seats.  This trip allowed the luxury of doing this.

 

Tokyo to Kyoto (Hikari)

Shin-Osaka to Hakata (Sakura)

Hakata to Kagoshima-Chuo (Tsubame)

Kagoshima-Chuo to Hakata (Tsubame)

Hakata to Nagasaki (Sonic)

Nagasaki to Hakata (Sonic)

Hakata to Kagoshima-Chuo (Tsubame)

Kagoshima-Chuo to Hakata (Sakura)

Hakata to Okayama (Kodama)

Okayama to Tokyo (Hikari)

 

Once I did get asked if I wanted the Shinkansen while going through the Shinkansen gates.  Guess he was expecting reserved seat tickets to be shown to him.

 

I honestly found anything west of Osaka not to be too busy.  The peak travel times link 9-11am were busy, but all others really didn't need a reserved seat.  Kanto to Kansai was always busy.  First time traveler, I'd book a seat if unsure.  Cannot comment for north of Tokyo.

 

 

 

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7 hours ago, chadbag said:

And there is always the western fast food places when all else fails.  I won't go in McDonalds in the US (food sucks) but in Japan usually go once or twice when the kids just want a change and it is a good step above the US McDonalds and easy to order at.   But we eat Japanese most of the time there and even when I am out with the kids alone (wife with her family) we have no issues.

 

McDonald Japan is my fav.  They have many seafood options I cannot get in oz.  McShrimp was my fav.  Only option in oz is Fillet-o-fish.

YUM:- https://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/products/1090/

Edited by katoftw
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The advantage of the reserved Shinkansen seating is, as I understand it, they use 5 across (JR Central -- and maybe JR East) while the unreserved cars are 6 across?                                                                                                                                                                               

 

We are almost always riding as a family or partial family so get the reserved seats so we can be together if possible.  We've been able to get there 20 min before the train leaves and walk in and get reserved seat tickets.

 

unreserved is always an option and one that usually works.  Especially for individuals or couples and especially outside the busy times.

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Yavianice
5 hours ago, chadbag said:

The advantage of the reserved Shinkansen seating is, as I understand it, they use 5 across (JR Central -- and maybe JR East) while the unreserved cars are 6 across?                                                                                                                                                                               

For the normal Shinkansens, Max is 5 (3+2) across for ordinary class (including reserved). There are some trains (such as the Sakura) where reserved ordinary class is 4(2+2). Mini-Shinkansens is always 2+2.

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JR 500系
3 hours ago, Yavianice said:

For the normal Shinkansens, Max is 5 (3+2) across for ordinary class (including reserved). There are some trains (such as the Sakura) where reserved ordinary class is 4(2+2). Mini-Shinkansens is always 2+2.

 

Dont forget the 2+1 Grand class for that ultimate experience! 

 

There are so MANY things one can like about Japan. I LOVE the culture the MOST, Japanese are always thinking for others and trying their best not to trouble others, plus Omote-nashi (Hospitaility) is REALLY nice... The Mrs love their deserts and cosmetics, along with the beautiful scenery of both really urban and really rural. Of course, then there is the trains that we all LOVE about... Be it taking photos of them, riding them, watching them, listening to them and even collecting and running models of them ~

 

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Tony Galiani

 I just hope Japan opens up this year!

 

And that travel gets a bit easier.  I am currently doing all the required hoop-jumping for my trip tomorrow and it is a hassle.  Even the process of downloading my negative Covid test results and getting the info to the airline is time consuming and not easy.  I shouldn't complain as my  University provides the tests for free but getting a copy for the airline is a production due to the way the tests results are delivered.  And then there are the test results required to return to the USA.  I have already scheduled - and paid for them - but haven't left the USA yet.

 

Of course, I will happily (?) do all this for a trip to Japan.

 

Ciao,

Tony Galiani

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railsquid
9 hours ago, chadbag said:

The advantage of the reserved Shinkansen seating is, as I understand it, they use 5 across (JR Central -- and maybe JR East) while the unreserved cars are 6 across?    

 

If memory serves correctly, the only 3+3 seating was on the E1 and E4 Shinkansens. I don't recall there being any differences in layout between reserved/unreserved seating anywhere; the advantage with reserved seating is that you are, well, guaranteed a place to sit and don't run the risk of having to stand in the aisle.

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19 hours ago, Yavianice said:

For the normal Shinkansens, Max is 5 (3+2) across for ordinary class (including reserved). There are some trains (such as the Sakura) where reserved ordinary class is 4(2+2). Mini-Shinkansens is always 2+2.

 

Maybe I was thinking of the JR West Sakura where the reserved have fewer seats across than the unreserved.  I remembered there is one case like that (South of Tokyo and in this case South of Osaka).    Thanks for the correction.

Edited by chadbag
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