The Bullet Train in Japan
For a long time, the bullet train, or shinkansen in Japanese, was one of the fastest trains in the world with a maximum speed of 320 km/hour. The network of high-speed railways in Japan was built to connect Tokyo with distant larger cities and more distant areas in order to boost economic growth.
The shinkansen is operated by JR, and it is a great way to discover many different areas in Japan without breaking the bank. While it is expensive to use the shinkansen for residents of Japan, foreign tourists can get the all-you-can-ride JR pass for a great price for the duration of 1, 2, or 3 weeks. As distances are quite far between Japanese cities, it is certainly recommended to make use of this pass.
Nearly all regions can be reached on the shinkansen network, including Hokkaido and Kyushu. The most-used line is the Nozomi, which is the fastest type of shinkansen. Unfortunately, this is the only line that cannot be used on a JR pass, but you can use the only slightly slower Hikari instead to travel between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Prices on the JR pass get updated regularly, but you can count on paying around 330 USD for a 1-week pass, 530 USD for a 2-week pass, and 660 USD for a 3-week pass. This would be for using the ordinary car, if you would like to be able to use the so-called Green Car (1st class) you would pay between 120-250 USD per pass extra. While the Green Car seats are a bit more comfortable and offer more space, the ordinary class also has plenty of leg space and comfortable seats.
If you get a JR pass, it is strongly recommended to get seat reservations for the trains you are planning to use. Especially in the high season, rush hours, or on weekends the train tends to get crowded. For some trains, it is even reservation-only. If you book a tour through us, your airport assistant or tour guide can help you with making these reservations.
If you’d have to make the reservations yourself, you can do this at most large JR stations, and at every international airport. The place you need to look for is called ‘Midori no Madoguchi’. It would be a good idea to write down what you want to book, so there will not be any misunderstandings. This is the information you would need to write down:
- From which station to which station you want to travel
- On which date you want to travel
- At what time you would like to leave
Making these reservations is free. If you travel with large luggage, you need to reserve space for your luggage as well. You can do this at the same time as when you make your seat reservations.
If you are not getting a JR pass but when you want to buy a regular ticket to travel on the shinkansen, you can use the vending machines on each JR station. These machines are multi-lingual, so as long as you follow the instructions on the screen it should work out. You can also choose to buy a ticket at the ticket office, employees don’t always speak English, but they are generally still able to help you.
Safe and Reliable
The shinkansen has a great safety record and hasn’t been in any accident involving passengers yet even though it has already been in operation for 50 years. All the people involved with the operation, maintenance, and the development of new technology are putting especially great efforts in safety. Japanese trains in general and the shinkansen, in particular, are also known for always running on time, no matter what the weather circumstances are and in spite of the very short intervals between trains. This is because of automatic train control and schedule management, and the great technical skills of the train operators.
Riding the shinkansen on your trip to Japan is not only a great way to get from A to B, but it is also a great chance to experience Japanese-style punctuality, reliability and service-mindedness.