Beautiful views aside, the bullet train really is one of those must-do Japanese experiences. It can feel a bit daunting to try and figure out how to use it, but don’t worry – we’ve got a few tips on how to get the most out of Japan's bullet trains.
Bullet trains also have plenty of “why don’t all trains have this” features, like seats which you can turn around (to make space for your luggage, or sit in a group with your friends), and they look pretty space age.
If you have planned a shinkansen ride from Tokyo, take care of a place to stay in Tokyo and enjoy exploring the city.
You’ll pay extra for a seat reservation (reserved seats are called shiteiseki; non-reserved are jiyūseki), and a whole lot extra if you want to go in the Green Car (first class).
Overall, an average Tokyo to Kyoto fare – one-way, regular class – would be about 13,000–14,000¥ (around US$140).
There are a few other money-saving options, too. Perhaps the most useful is the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, which gives you reduced-price tickets on the Tōkaidō line (Ōsaka–Tokyo). For instance, you can buy a ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto for 10,100¥, when a regular fare would set you back 13,600¥.
If you don’t have a pass, you’ll need to buy a ticket. You can buy these from the same places as the seat reservations, and can reserve a seat at the same time if you’d like. It’s worth looking up routes and prices ahead of time – Hyperdia is a useful site.
On the train just be generally mindful of the other passengers, and you shouldn’t go too far wrong. Oh, and don’t expect even a thirty second grace period if you’re running late: Japanese trains are ruthlessly punctual.
Do ask about which seats have the best views when booking; the most famous is of course the view of Fuji-san when heading from Tokyo to Kyoto or Ōsaka, which you’ll get if you sit on the right-hand side (ask for a yama-gawa or “mountain side” seat).
Because apparently 275mph isn’t fast enough, new Maglev trains with current top test speeds of 375mph are going to be in use in the not-so-distant future. The name comes from “magnetic levitation”, and yes, they are real life hover trains. They will be wheeled out (pun intended) on a new line between Tokyo and Nagoya by 2027, continuing to Ōsaka by 2045.
A final note for anyone slightly concerned at the thought of travelling so fast: since starting in 1964, the whole bullet train network has had a total of zero fatalities due to crashes or derailments. Yes, you read that right – zero.
Rebecca flew between London and Tokyo with Finnair. If you want to do some research before you go, try checking your nearest JNTO office, and explore more of Japan with The Rough Guide to Japan. Compare flights, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Top image © Natee Meepian/Shutterstock