THE Japanese bullet train, otherwise known as the Shinkansen, is a popular mode of domestic travel and arguably the best way to explore Japan.
For starters, taking a bullet train feels more connected and more door-to-door if you take having to trudge to the airport and going through multiple levels of checks and security into consideration. There is also the compulsory need to be at the airport at least two hours before the flight and the dwell time prior to boarding.
Nozomi, the country’s speediest bullet train, will get you from Tokyo to Osaka in two hours and 30 minutes for about US$136 one way. Comparatively, a flight from Tokyo to Osaka on All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline, will take you an hour and 15 minutes and cost you upwards of US$109 one way.
The train operates every 10 minutes during the daytime between Tokyo and Osaka. If you’re not starved for time, that’s really quite competitive. Passengers can quite literally get on the Nozomi at Tokyo Station at breakfast and arrive in Osaka for a lunch of takoyaki – all the while staying on the ground.
The Shinkansen has undoubtedly made it easier for travelers to experience all that Japan has to offer as not only is it super speedy, it also takes travelers on some of the country’s most scenic routes.
Additionally, Japan has been putting the effort into keeping its super-efficient Shinkansen travels interesting by dressing up its trains in joyful characters such as the Evangelion anime series, the iconic Sanrio feline Hello Kitty, and more recently, entertainment powerhouse Disney’s trademark, Mickey Mouse.
But before you jump on the next Shinkansen available, there are some things you need to know about traveling on one.
The Shinkansen trains offer both non-reserved seats (jiyūseki) and reserved seats (shiteiseki) in separate cars/cabins. You will need to make an advance reservation to use a seat in a reserved car and this will cost you more.
Most train sets offer the Green Car, which is comparable to business class on airplanes. It is less crowded. has larger and more comfortable seats than the ordinary seats. and offer more foot space.
Some of the newer train seats along the Tohoku Shinkansen, Hokuriku Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen, and Hokkaido Shinkansen boast the Gran Class, which is comparable to first class on airplanes. It has seats that are more spacious and comfortable than Green Car seats, on top of additional amenities and services.
There are currently no restrictions on luggage carried on board but that will change starting next year. From May 2020 onwards, you will need to make a prior reservation for large suitcases which exceed 160cm (up to a maximum of 250cm).
Reservations can either be made online or on the spot at the Shinkansen station service counter for free and failure to do so before boarding will incur a JPY1,000 (USD9.35) penalty. On your ride, your luggage will be kept safe in a locked compartment of the train.
The routes affected by this change include Tokaido Shinkansen (Tokyo to Shin-Osaka via Kyoto), Sanyo Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka and Hakata, with stops in Shin-Kobe, Himeji, and Hiroshima), and Kyushu Shinkansen (Hakata to Kagoshima-Chuo).