Overnight trains are a very special part of Japan’s train services. Both a retro throwback and a complete novelty, these trains are rapidly becoming rare as they lose business to airlines and bullet trains.
However, these night trains are wildly popular.
It’s important to note that reserving a seat on a night train can prove to be very difficult for foreign travelers and JR Pass holders. Generally, ticket sales
start one month before departure and sell out very fast. Reservations must be made in Japan, in person or on the phone (although the phone lines get busy quickly), and there is no way to reserve night train seats online.
The best scenario if you wish to reserve a seat with your rail pass is if you are in Japan for more than 30 days. You can set the start date of your rail pass up to 30 days in advance (for example, if you physically exchange your pass on January 1st, you can set it to start as late as January 30th). Once your voucher is exchanged, you can take it to a ticket office to make reservations for seats during the period that your pass will be active.
The type of seating available on overnight trains depends
on which night train
you are taking. Some of these trains do not have normal seats at all, and their simplest, cheapest option is a carpeted area for you to stretch out in. There are also shared compartments and private compartments, the most luxurious
of the remaining night trains offering special suites
Riding night trains with your Japan Rail Pass
The Japan Rail Pass
will cover your base fare
on the night trains, but it will not cover the “limited express” fee or the lodging fee. In other words, your rail pass will give you a discount of around 10,000 to 20,000 yen. If you choose a normal seat or a bare minimum carpeted area, however, you may not need to pay a supplemental fee.
When purchasing your ticket, please ask the ticket agent for details, as these fees are subject to change.