June 13, 2024
Navigating Japan's Shinkansen Network: Your Ultimate Bullet Train Guide
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The notion of wasting time on commutes is foreign in Japan, thanks to its high-speed bullet trains, or Shinkansen, which zoom along at a top speed of 320 km/h (199 mph). Operating on a well-organised high-speed railway network, these trains adhere to a punctual schedule throughout the week. With travellers’ convenience at the fore, Japan’s bullet trains delight with amenities like vending machines, food carts serving meals, drinks, and snacks, as well as informative announcements delivered in multiple languages.

Types of bullet trains in Japan

Bullet Trains In Japan: Shinkansen
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Bullet trains plying on a Shinkansen line come in various types, catering to different travel preferences. These include fast trains, making only essential stops; semi-fast trains, with a moderate number of stops; and local trains, halting at every station. For instance, on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, the fast train makes six stops, the semi-fast trains make seven to 12 stops, and local trains stop at each of the 17 stations.

Passengers can opt for different types of trains, each offering a unique travel experience:

Nozomi Trains: These ultra-high-speed trains reach 300 km/h, with minimal stops, connecting the Tokaido, Kyushu, and Sanyo lines. Covering the distance from Tokyo to Hiroshima in just 4.5 hours), these trains are the fastest.

Hikari Trains: Operating at the same speed as Nozomi Trains but with more stops, Hikari Trains serve the Tokaido and Sanyo lines.

Mizuho Trains: These high-speed trains have minimal stops and operate on the Sanyo and Kyushu lines.

Kodama Trains: Operating on the Sanyo and Kyushu lines, Kodama Trains make a greater number of stops.

Hayabusa Train: Emerging as the shining star of Japanese Shinkansen, these trains operate at 320 km/h, making them the fastest in Japan. They serve the Hokkaido and Tohoku Shinkansen lines.

Sakura Trains: Serving the Sanyo and Kyushu lines, the Sakura Trains offer a comfortable and efficient travel experience.

Shinkansen or bullet train lines

Bullet Trains In Japan: The Country's Supersonic 'Shinkansen'
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The Japanese rail network features nine Shinkansen lines extending across the country. Heading south from Tokyo, the Tokaido Shinkansen line connects the capital to Osaka. Further, the Sanyo Shinkansen travels from Osaka to Fukuoka, serving as the base station for the Kyushu Shinkansen Line, which spans Kyusha Island from north to south.

The other six lines — Akita, Hokkaido, Hokuriku, Joetsu, Tokoku, and Yamagata — run northwards or inland from Tokyo, with the Hokkaido Shinkansen line reaching the northernmost point, extending to Hokkaido Island.

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Bullet train tickets

Bullet Trains In Japan: The Country's Supersonic 'Shinkansen'
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To explore Japan’s diverse landscape via bullet trains, you can choose from three passes: Japan Rail Pass, JR East Pass, and Kyushu Rail Pass.

Japan Rail Pass: This pass allows travel on various bullet trains, limited express, and local services, covering all Japan Railway lines and Shinkansen bullet train lines. However, it excludes Nozomi and Mizuho trains operating on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu lines.  The pass can be pre-booked up to three months in advance and is available to Japanese nationals, tourists classified as ‘temporary visitors’, and those with an acknowledgement form.

JR East Pass: A five-day consecutive pass offering unlimited travel aboard trains like Tohoku Shinkansen, Yamagata Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen and Hokuriku Shinkansen. This pass is suitable for journeys between Tokyo and the central area of the main island, including destinations like Niigata and Nagano. It is available to passport holders from any country other than Japan (visa type is not checked) and can be pre-booked up to three months in advance.

Kyushu Rail Pass: Valid on the Kyushu Shinkansen bullet trains, limited express trains, and ordinary trains of the Kyushu Railway Co. This pass is exclusively for non-Japanese passport holders under the ‘temporary visitor’ category. It comes in three options: three-day, five-day, or seven-day consecutive passes. The pass can be pre-booked up to three months in advance, and the e-ticket must be exchanged within three months from the date of issue.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– What are bullet trains in Japan?
Bullet trains in Japan, also called Shinkansen, are high-speed passenger trains that reach speeds of up to 320 km/h, providing a unique and efficient travel experience.

– How fast do bullet trains in Japan travel?
Bullet trains in Japan can reach speeds of up to 320 km/h.

– Is the Japan Rail Pass valid for Shinkansen travel?
Yes, the Japan Rail Pass is valid for Shinkansen travel. Other rail passes that also cover bullet trains in Japan include the Kyushu Rail Pass and JR East Pass.

– Is there Wi-Fi available on bullet trains in Japan?
Yes, Wi-Fi is available on most bullet trains in Japan. Specifically, it is accessible on the following Shinkansen lines:

  • Tokaido shinkansen
  • Sanyo shinkansen
  • Kyushu shinkansen
  • Hokuriku shinkansen Series E7
  • Hokuriku Shinkansen Series W7
  • Yamagata shinkansen
  • Akita shinkansen
  • Joetsu shinkansenTohoku shinkansen
  • Hokkaido shinkansen

– Can I bring luggage on the bullet trains of Japan?
Yes, passengers boarding a bullet train in Japan can bring up to 2 pieces of baggage for free. However, each bag’s total length, width, and height combined should not exceed 250 cm, the length should be under two metres, and the weight should be under 30 kg, adhering to the specified regulations.

Written By

Yashita Vashishth

Yashita Vashishth

Writer by day, reader by night, Yashita has a flair for all things travel, wellness and food. She has previously worked at Condé Nast India and Times Internet. When not working, you can catch her binge-reading the latest thriller on the block, re-watching Friends, trying a new recipe or hosting her friends.


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