Hi! This is Sakura, just a typical Japanese mom living in Japan.
Are you planning to take the Shinkansen with your kids? It would surely be a fantastic opportunity for your family! But using the bullet train with kids may not be as simple as you imagine, especially if this is your first time with Shinkansen or not used to traveling with public transportation in Japan.
Today, I will give you a complete guide on how to safely and smoothly take the Shinkansen with your kids, from a native Japanese mom’s point of view!
Shinkansen with Kids Basics
Useful Japanese words
If you are unfamiliar with Japanese language, you should check some basic words when using the Shinkansen. It will be useful when you buy the tickets.
Adult (middle school age or older, 12 yr old and above): おとな（大人, otona）
Kids (Elementary school age, 6 -12 yr old): こども（子供, kodomo）
*Kids fee is commonly written as 小児 （しょうに、shouni）which is a formal way of indicating kids.
Toddlers (Before elementary, 1 yr – 6 yr old): ようじ（幼児, youji)
Infants (0 yr old): にゅうじ（乳児、 nyu-ji）、or あかちゃん（赤ちゃん, akachan）
Types of Shinkansen seats
Basically there are 3 types of seats (or cars).
- Non-reservation car: Seats are not reserved. Travelers can sit on a first come first served basis. Called じゆうせき（自由席、jiyu-seki）
- Reservation car: All seats are reserved. If you want to sit in this car, you must pay for the reservation seat. The cost is usually 520 yen, but may fluctuate according to season. Called していせき（指定席、 shitei-seki）
- Green car: Luxury car. You must have a Green Ticket to use this car. Called ぐりーんしゃ（グリーン車、 guri-n sha）
Shinkansen kids fares
Kids fee are half the price of adults.
Toddlers and babies are free, but must follow certain rules:
- Toddlers and babies without tickets cannot have their own seats. Must sit on the adult’s lap.
- Only up to 2 toddlers/babies will be free per adult. For example, if you are traveling with 1 adult and 3 toddlers, the cost will be [1 adult ticket + 1 kids ticket]. If you are traveling with 2 adults and 3 toddlers, the cost will be [2 adult tickets only].
- If you want to reserve a seat for your toddler, you must buy a kids ticket.
- If you are using the non-reservation seat, you do not need to buy a toddler/baby seat.
Best Shinkansen Seats to Sit with Kids
First and foremost, you must understand that many Japanese people are not tolerant with noisy kids. Especially in a quiet place, like public transportation. So when you travel, it is important to plan how to get around without disturbing other people.
I know, this is pretty sad and I wish Japanese people would become more generous with kids and babies. But this is the truth.
Best seat to reserve: Seats in the #11 car
If you are reserving a seat, try reserving car #11! It is well known among Japanese moms that “#11 shinkansen car is the best for using with kids.” Why? This is because the #11 car (11号車、ju-ichi gosha）is a wheelchair and handicapped priority car. Therefore, there is a multipurpose room available for nursing, bathroom space is wider and the deck area (space between the cars) is much more spacious than normal.
However, note that this is not a “family” priority car. For example, if the handicap user must use the multipurpose room, you must give it up.
Best seat to reserve: Seats in the #12 car
The second best car to reserve is the #12 car. This is because this car is connected to the #11 car, so the wide deck area, multipurpose room, and the wide bathroom can be used. The bests seats are 1A to 1E seats, because these are the closest to the #11 car.
Other best seats for families: Seats close to the deck
You are free to walk around in the deck (space between the cars), so many families use this area to give kids some fresh air and some time to move around. Shinkansen cars are quite long, so if you sit in the middle of the car, it may not be easy to move from the seat to the car multiple times.
Bathrooms, garbage cans, sink, and vending machines are available in these deck cars areas.
If you are traveling with a baby, it is also a good idea to move to the deck if your baby starts crying. Again, many Japanese people are very uncomfortable with crying babies.
Other best seats for families: Aisle seats
If you can choose between window seats an aisle seats, get the aisle, so you can get up and move around easily. If you sit by the window and a stranger sits by the aisle, you will have to ask him/her to move every time you want to stand up, which can be stressful for both.
Other best seats for families: Front row seats
Shinkansen seats are just like an airplane. If your child moves around or start kicking the front seats, it can be very disturbing for the passenger sitting in front of you. So get the most front row seats! There will be a wall in front of you so your child will be able to move around more.
Worst Shinkansen Seats to Sit with Kids
All shinkansen seats are comfortable, however there are some that I recommend you avoid if you are traveling with kids.
#3, #7, #10 (green car), #15 are not recommended because these car have smoking areas. Therefore, people using these cars might smell like cigarette. Also, many smoking users tend to smoke several times during the travel, and will stand up often. If you happen to sit by the aisle, you may need to move out of the way every time.
Depending on the car, the smoking area is right by the bathroom, so the bathroom area could smell like cigarettes too.
Can Kids Use the Green Car?
Can kids use the shinkansen green car (luxury car)? The answer is yes, as long as you reserve a seat.
However, I personally do not recommend using the green car if you are traveling with young kids because this car is very quiet, and is often reserved by people who want to relax and have quiet time.
If your child is old enough to sit quietly, then the green car should be no problem. But with a toddler or baby who constant make noises or cry or move around, it could be stressful. Also note that the level of “quietness” ideal for a typical Japanese is strict! Regular talking voices may be considered noisy.
Other Tips of Kids and Shinkansen
1. Change diapers before boarding: Small diaper beds are available in shinkansen car bathrooms, but the space is tight and may tremble. It is easier to change diapers while you are at the station. Do not change diapers at your seats!
2. Avoid peak season: Simply said, peak seasons are awful. It is extremely crowded, and even reservation cars will have standing passengers. The deck area will be filled with people so it may be extremely difficult to walk to the bathroom. Peak seasons in Japan are typically Golden Week (around first week of May), Obon (mid-August), and during the end of the year to new years holiday.
3. Eating and drinking is allowed in cars: Each seat has a small table, like those in an airplane. Bring a lot of snacks to keep your kids busy! But make sure you clean up after your mess.
4. Try to keep quiet: Again, this is typical for public spaces in Japan but noise is considered inappropriate. This include shouting kids and crying babies. So if your child decides to cry or shout, quickly move to the deck! Walking in the aisle is fine, but do not run around or play in the aisle. Of course, don’t jump on the seats! If you plan to use your smart phone or laptop to keep your kids busy, make sure you keep the volumes very low.
5. Have fun! Taking the shinkansen will definitely become an experience for your kids. Enjoy the view too! Mt. Fuji may be visible if you are traveling between Osaka and Tokyo.