7 Wonderful Ways to Enjoy Bullet Train “Shinkansen” in Japan

7 Wonderful Ways to Enjoy Bullet Train "Shinkansen" in Japan

(flickr By Takuma Kimura)

Since its birth, just in time for the ’64 Tokyo Olympics, the Bullet Train has not only become a widely recognised Japanese icon, but has had a profound impact on Japanese society and commercial life, enabling travel between the country’s main metropolitan centres to be reduced considerably.

For foreign visitors to Tokyo, it offers a convenient option to take in other parts of Japan, such as Kyoto, as day trips and excursions without having to check in and out of hotel after hotel. But more than that, taking the bullet train is an experience in itself, the closest most of us will ever get to riding in a rocket ship! So, if you’re coming to Japan, please add a Shinkansen trip to your itinerary; you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve bought a (JR) Japan Rail Pass ahead of your trip, it can be used on all Shinkansen trains (except Nozomi and Mizuho trains) and covers all fees. Seat reservations can be made for free at ticket counters, and major stations have information centres with English guidance and some English speaking staff. But if you want to research the Shinkansen network for yourself, Japan-Guide.com has an excellent page on the subject, while JR offers on-line services in English too. Otherwise, here are my suggestions for journeys to make and ways to enjoy our fantastic Shinkansen.



 

7 Wonderful Ways to Enjoy Bullet Train “Shinkansen” in Japan

 

1. Go to Kanazawa in Winter!

The Hokuriku Shinkansen runs from Tokyo to Kanazawa via the spectacular Japan Alps of Nagano, which is why I suggest this as a winter trip. ‘Kagayaki’ is the fastest train category used each way, mornings and evenings, for the 2.5 hour journey. Kanazawa, with its 16th century castle, celebrated Kenrokuen Garden and beautifully preserved Edo Period districts is very pretty in winter, and if you get tired of trudging in the snow, visit the busy indoor fish market.

 

2. Go to Kyoto

The Tokaido Shinkansen links Tokyo/Yokohama with Nagoya and Osaka/Kyoto. ‘Nozomi’ is the fastest train category, making the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2hrs 20mins. Beautiful, historic Kyoto is easily Japan’s most popular tourist destination and its many temples and shrines look particularly impressive late March to early April when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and in the Autumn when the trees are a blaze of red and gold.

 

3. Go to Hokkaido

In March, 2016, the new Hokkaido Shinkansen service will start operating between Aomori, and Hakodate in Hokkaido, via the 53.85km undersea Seikan tunnel. Using the fastest ‘Hayabusa’ trains, and linked to the already established Tohoku Shinkansen line, the journey from Tokyo to Hakodate will take just over 4 hours. Hakodate is a charming port town where you can see the fleet of squid boats, whilst the picturesque Onuma national park is just 20km away.

 

4. See Mt Fuji

Travelling west from Tokyo through Shizuoka prefecture, towards Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka or Kobe, you will be able to view Mt Fuji from the right side of the Shinkansen, assuming the weather is clear. Obviously, it will be visible from the left side seats on the return journey.

 

5. Have a Bento

It is customary for Shinkansen travellers to enjoy a bento meal (Japanese-style lunch box) on their journey. You can buy a bento on the train, though the selection will be limited, so I suggest getting a bento at the station. At Tokyo station you can find just about every type of bento imaginable. Look out for the Matsuri, Odori and Nippon stores and you will surely see something that appeals.

 

6. Try the Fastest Train

Currently, the fastest Shinkansen train is ‘Nozomi’ (type N700) bound for Hakata, which reaches speeds of up to 300km/h on the stretch around Himeji (between Kobe and Hiroshima). However, the proposed Ch?? Shinkansen maglev line between Tokyo and Osaka, expected to be fully completed by 2045, will have a top operating speed of 600km/h!

 

7. Check the Speed

When ‘Nozomi’ or any bullet train really starts to floor it, the sensation for passengers can be like that of taking off in an aircraft. You won’t need the electronic sign board to tell you you’re at 300km/h, you’ll feel the g-forces! But these days you can check the train’s speed at any time if you have a mobile device and one of the many GPS speedometer apps available for download.

 

Conclusion

For me, travelling by rail has always seemed a more relaxed and altogether more civilised way to go anywhere. Certainly, it beats all the queues, delays and being poked, prodded and x-rayed at airports, or those 40km tailbacks on the, so-called, expressways. That we can take long journeys in such comfort and with such hi-tech, high speed efficiency is surely one of the great wonders of the world.

 

7 Wonderful Ways to Enjoy Bullet Train “Shinkansen” in Japan

1. Go to Kanazawa in Winter!
2. Go to Kyoto
3. Go to Hokkaido
4. See Mt Fuji
5. Have a Bento
6. Try the Fastest Train
7. Check the Speed