Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train, is Japan's high-speed railway network that covers almost the entire country. Shinkansen 新幹線 means 'new main line', and started operating in 1964.

Shinkansen trains

Japan probably has one of the best railway systems in the world. During regular operation, Shinkansen can reach speeds of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour. It's also very reliable, as it was reported that Shinkansen's average arrival time was within six seconds of the scheduled time. A lot of Japanese people set their watches according to train times.

Shinkansen is the best way to travel across Japan, but also the most expensive. The seats are so plush and comfortable, and the trains go so fast, it's a real treat to ride them. A Shinkansen ride from Osaka to Tokyo takes a little over two hours, while the same route in local trains would take over five or six hours. It's also the safest way to travel: during 45 years of operation it never, even once had the slightest crash, derailment, or passenger fatality. The trains themselves look quite modern, even though they date from the sixties.

Shinkansen has a few types of trains: the fastest is called Nozomi, and it barely stops between Tokyo and Osaka. The other one is Hikari, and it stops a bit more frequently, but it's a very slight difference in time.

Japan Rail Pass

If you take a trip to Japan, I highly recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass. It's the least expensive way to travel all over, because it allows unlimited access to Shinkansen trains. The JR Pass costs 28,300 ¥ (around 300$) for a week of unlimited access, or 45,100 ¥ (around 500$) for 2 weeks. It seems like a steep price tag, but keep in mind that a single Shinkansen round-trip between Tokyo and Osaka is about 300$ alone!

I reside in Japan, so unfortunately I'm not allowed to use the JR Pass. Also, it's important to note that the JR Pass can only be purchased outside of Japan, so you need to buy it in your home country, at certain travel agencies, and then validate it in Japan. If you have the JR Pass, you're not allowed on the Nozomi train, only Hikari.

I heart Shinkansen

Since I moved to Japan, I've only used Shinkansen once or twice to go to Tokyo, because I really cannot afford it... therefore I've been traveling the low-budget way, highway buses and local trains.

I have a weird fascination with Shinkansen. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it feels so luxurious and unattainable. Or maybe because bullet trains are one of my favourite images of Japan. Either way, whenever I go to a bigger city that has Shinkansen tracks, I just stand there and watch them zoom by. If you travel to Tokyo, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on a clear day.


Miyan said...

This was such an interesting post! Great photos of the train :)


{lovely little things} said...

I wish we had these trains in the states!

Tee, Passports and Postcards said...

I've heard about these trains and they sound like something to experience at least once!

Thanks for your lovely comment! I do hope you come visit Thailand again in the future.

Coffee_c said...

I had the JR pass last time in Japan and it is seriously the best way to go! As you said, it's comfy and you can enjoy the scenery, plus it's ALWAYS on time. Very reliable.
I miss Japan so much!!!

Existential in Japan said...

I absolutely love the Shinkansen. I got the chance to ride it and use a JR pass once- on my first trip/visit to Japan.

If you haven't seen it yet, there is an adorable character by Sanrio called "Shinkansen" too. :)


Kangjono said...

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