Have you heard of Japan’s crazy fast “Japanese Shinkansen,” aka bullet trains? Riding these beasts totally lives up to the hype, lemme tell ya. Reclining seats… check! Blazing countryside views…. check! Umami-loaded Ekiben feasts… oh heck yes, check! But as exciting as it sounds, there’s no denying tourists can be apprehensive to hop on one. I get it – the confusing maps, signs, and the Japanese language are enough to make anyone think twice!
But let me let you in on a little secret: mastering the Shinkansen is easier than you think! This casual Japan expat has got ya covered. After countless bullet train trips for work a few years back, I got navigating the Shinkansen down to a science. Need to know where to get tickets? Want the scoop on the best train snacks? Or maybe you’re just dying to know what earth-shattering speed feels like!
Read on below as I answer everything you need to know about these iconic 新幹線 or Shinkansen trains.
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What Are Japanese Shinkansen Trains?
Shinkansen (新幹線) refers to Japan’s high-speed railway network and the railway lines included in it. These speedy bullet trains connect major cities in Japan and enable incredibly rapid transportation for both commuters and tourists.
Also called the “bullet train” in English, shinkansen travel along dedicated standard gauge tracks that allow for speeds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour (200+ miles per hour). That is what enables journeys such as Tokyo to Osaka in 2.5 hours despite the great distance.
While Shinkansen tend to crisscross less populated areas at high speeds, they do make key stops in major metropolitan hubs. This allows travelers to efficiently access destinations like the Tokyo Skytree, Kinkaku-ji, Osaka Castle, and more. Riders can walk on board from dedicated platforms without passing through security checkpoints.
With frequent departures, reserved seating, and plenty of amenities like cafe cars and ekiben bento boxes sold on board, the shinkansen remains a remarkably tourist-friendly way of traveling across Japan. The high speed, comfort, and scenic views make them hugely popular with both visitors and residents alike.
Why Take The Shinkansen?
Well, for starters, it’s all about the unmatched speed. It’s as if Japan’s countryside will zoom by in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blur of awesomeness. And if you’re traveling towards Nagoya, you might even get to see a pretty outstanding view of the Mout Fuji!
But aside from livin’ that craving for speed, Shinkansen travel means showing up relaxed to your destination. None of that hectic airport security nonsense to deal with. Just hop on board, stash your gear, grab a seat, and let those state-of-the-art locomotives whisk you across the islands in mere hours. We’re talking Tokyo to Kyoto in just two and a half hours with freakin’ reclining seats! Now that’s luxury travel done right if ya ask me.
The Shinkansen train is also known for its punctuality, with average delays of just 36 seconds! So once you hop aboard, sit back and relax, knowing you’ll zip safely to your destination right on schedule.
Oh, and did I mention these iconic bullet trains are also super eco-friendly? We’re talking less carbon footprint than your average train thanks to electric engines powered by hydraulics and regenerative breaking systems. Pretty innovative if you ask me!
What Are The Types Of Shinkansen Train Carriages
So, by now, ya got the gist – Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains are the gold standard when it comes to modern locomotives. But get this: even in one single train, you can choose from different classes and experiences! Wild, I know.
Let’s break it down, starting with the most common “standard class” carriages, aka economy seating. This is what the majority of travelers and locals book since it’s the most budget-friendly pick. We’re talking rows of comfy reclining seats packed in sets of either two or three per side.
Standard class cars definitely make the most of space without compromising on comfort. And with epic countryside views out of huge windows and access to onboard ekiben bento box meals, standard class is no slouch when it comes to enjoying the Shinkansen perks!
But then there’s the spendier and more exclusive “Green Car” option too, which is basically business class. What you get here is a guarantee of just one passenger beside you, plus even more legroom to really stretch out and relax. The seats themselves are also plusher and cozier too – we’re talking first-class quality!
The Green Cars provide a bit more peace, quiet, and personal space. So if you value privacy or need room to work, it’s definitely worth splurging on. And the newest Shinkansen trains even have a premium “GranClass” for an ultra-luxurious bullet train experience!
Shinkansen Train Travel Tips
Now let’s get into the good stuff – my best bullet train travel tips for visitors! I’ve accumulated all kinds of insider knowledge over countless trips, so get ready to take notes.
Purchase Your Tickets In Advance
First things first: Lock down those Shinkansen tickets nice and early! Demand for bullet train seats is bonkers in Japan, so reservations fill up faster than you can say “ekiben.” Luckily, scoring tickets is pretty straightforward as long as you come prepared. There are ticket offices in every major and minor train station across Japan that accept cash or credit cards. Just walk up and provide key details like:
- Number of passengers
- Date of travel
- Departure and arrival stations
- Whether you want standard or Green Car seats
- Whether you want to reserve a special seat
If reserving specific seats, also have the train name, number, and departure time handy. Hikari and Kodama are some popular bullet train routes tourists book.
Having trouble with Japanese translations? There’s also the option of ticket machines, which have handy English menus! Just be warned – buying Shinkansen tickets on those can get confusing fast. Oh, and some don’t take foreign credit cards, so bring cash just in case!
Pay Attention To Train Schedules And Platforms
Rule numero uno when it comes to the Shinkansen: pay super close attention to those train times and platform numbers displayed everywhere! The absolute last thing you want is to space out and miss your departure. Once that sleek beast leaves the station, there’s no hitching a ride.
So to avoid tragic missed train scenarios, double, even triple-check the precise departure time shown on tickets, screens, and signs. Then get yourself to the right platform well beforehand. Nothing worse than a mad, sweaty dash down the concourse because you lost track of time or got mixed up!
Even once you’re in place on the correct platform, keep your eyes glued to the clocks and screens for last-minute changes. Japan’s bullet trains adhere to regimented timetables, with departures precise right down to the minute.
Reserve Your Luggage On Time
So when booking your seats, also inquire about reserving spots for luggage at the same time. There are special train cars with huge shelving units to stash larger suitcases, backpacks, and travel gear safely for the duration of the trip. Arrive ahead of departure to check in baggage – then it’s smooth sailing!
If you missed out on luggage reservations, fear not! There are storage options for smaller bags, too. Once aboard, feel free to utilize the shelves above the seats or special backpack hooks along the walls. Space comes at a premium during peak travel times, so remain courteous and only occupy what you need.
Got a pretty large item? While the Japanese bullet train officials may allow that, you might be asked to pay a fine.
Learn The Train Etiquette And Rules
Before settling into those comfy reclining seats, there are a few essential cultural rules you gotta know to keep the harmony. One major point that you need to know when riding Japanese bullet trains is that you always need to use inside voices only on board. I do not mean telepathically, of course! I mean, chat softly with your squad and keep phone calls on the down low or non-existent.
Priority seating near the doors is reserved for the elderly, pregnant, disabled etc. Be ready to vacate these spots politely if needed. And with luggage space tight, only small bags above and larger ones stowed below.
Now for the fun part…the shinkansen bento boxes! Digging into those umami-loaded goodies is totally encouraged. Just keep spills and mess contained since these cars stay in service all day. And while adult beverages like beer and sake are allowed, moderation is key so things don’t get rowdy.
Japanese Phrases For Your Bullet Train Adventure
Riding the iconic Shinkansen is a must for any visitor to Japan! And while the English transit signage improves each year, mastering a few key Japanese ticket-buying phrases will ensure the smoothest bullet train experience.
To start, when approaching the ticket counter, say:
“Shinkansen no kippu o kudasai”
Pronunciation: Shinkansen no key-pu oh koo-da-sigh
Translation: Please give me Shinkansen tickets.
Next, indicate your destination by saying:
“Tokyo yuki no kippu”
Pronunciation: Toe-kee-oh yuh-key no key-pu
Translation: Ticket for Tokyo-bound.
Specify the date with:
“Ni ju yokka”
Pronunciation: Neen joo yoh-kah
Translation: For the 24th.
And lastly, confirm the number of tickets needed:
Pronunciation: Sah-nn-neen deh-soo
Translation: Three people.
Ready To Ride High-Speed Trains In Japan?
And that’s a wrap on my top tips for mastering Japan’s amazing Shinkansen bullet trains! Getting the most out of this iconic travel experience is easier than you think with just a little insider knowledge. Whether you’re a backpacker, family on vacation, businessperson or train fanatic, I hope this casual guide gets you pumped to embrace the Shinkansen lifestyle.
If all these insider details just made you want to learn even more Japanese before your trip, I highly recommend downloading the Ling app!
Ling has awesome bite-sized audio lessons and quizzes so you can pick up key travel phrases at your own pace. Getting conversational with locals at train stations and tourist hot spots will bring the journey to life even more! Anyway, that about wraps it up – time to get packing and start planning that ultimate Japan rail adventure.