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Booking individual train tickets for Japan

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As many of you know, in a few weeks time, we'll be heading back to Japan for our second trip. I think half the Fodors Japanophile club is there too!

Our main train journeys will be from Tokyo to Kyoto, from Kobe to Kumamoto and from Hakata/Fukuoka back to Tokyo.

Q1: Am I best to book these train tickets now, and include reserved seating?

I can't quite get a handle for how important reserved seating is... On the plus side, we'll have seats together and no hassles about finding space. On the negative side, we'll be committed to a specific train time. Should I book tickets only and add reservations later or do it all now? I know it's a busy period.

Q2: Second question, what's the best way for me to make these bookings? Can I do so easily online (as an English language speaker only) or do I need to use an agent in my own country.

Thank you again,

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