Decoding the Shinkansen: An Easy Guide to Understanding the Japanese Bullet Train

Decoding the Shinkansen: An Easy Guide to Understanding the Japanese Bullet Train

Any traveller who’s been to Japan will tell you this tip: learn how to ride the shinkansen. The shinkansen or the bullet train is an efficient way to navigate the country while saving precious time. It moves at a high speed of 320 kph and you’ll easily find that the Japanese railway system is one of the best in the world. Here are just some of the things you need to know to better understand the shinkansen.

The Japanese railway system spans the country as far back from Hakodate in the north to Kagoshima in the south. The network consists of multiple interconnected lines and each station will be close or at the center of its area for easier transportation. The Tokaido Shinkansen which services the area of Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka is the oldest and most popular line for both tourists and locals. Maps will come aplenty in train stations and terminals but it’s best to bring a map of the railway system with you if you’re travelling by train for the first time. If you’re travelling a longer route, you may need to switch lines more than once to get to your destination.

To get your tickets for the train, simply walk up to the ticket counter or vending machines to purchase your ticket. Don’t be surprised if you receive more than one ticket as its common to get two. The jōshaken or the first ticket will be for the base fare and the second one or the tokkyūken signals that you’re taking the bullet train as opposed to the regular train.

Note that prices aren’t fixed and the fee depends on your location as well as seat class. Similar to airplanes, there will be an ordinary section of the train and the one similar to business class is called a green car. Other trains even have a gran class which is even more upscale than the green car with its wider leg room and additional amenities and services.

If you’re travelling during a busy holiday, reserving your train seat prior will be a good idea as trains can become fully booked during peak seasons. Note that seats are numbered and you get assigned seating based on your ticket. Other lines and trains also require advanced reservation. A fee of about 100 to 700 yen normally applies to prebook your seat, but this fee could be waived if you’re getting a Japan Rail Pass.

Getting a JR Pass can save you a lot of cash if you think you might be doing a lot of travelling. You can get a JR Pass for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days of validity. For a fixed amount starting at 29000 yen, you can gain unlimited use of the shinkansen train system to make travelling between towns and cities even more convenient. Signs and announcements inside the train are multilingual with Japanese and English languages used at the bare minimum.

The shinkansen may be overwhelming at first but it will be easier to understand and navigate once you get the hang of it. Riding a bullet train will be an experience that’s one for the books.

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