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[Special Edition] A Complete Guide on Japan’s Bullet Train, the Shinkansen

The shinkansen (bullet train) is a fundamental mode of transportation to travel around Japan. It is a high-speed railway, fast and always on time, that lets passengers travel in full comfort. It connects the islands of Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Kagoshima in the south. This article will focus on how to use the convenient and useful shinkansen.

What Is the Shinkansen?

The shinkansen is a high-speed railway managed by the JR Group. The main route is the Tokaido Shinkansen line, which connects Tokyo Station and Shin-Osaka Station. If you want to travel to eastern Japan, you can take the Tohoku Shinkansen line (includes the Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen lines) that heads north from Tokyo Station and the Hokkaido Shinkansen line that connects the Tohoku region with Hokkaido. There's also the Joetsu Shinkansen line and the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, both of which run towards Kanazawa and Niigata on the Sea of Japan side. The western Japan lines are the Sanyo Shinkansen line which connects Shin-Osaka Station with Kitakyushu's Hakata Station and the Kyushu Shinkansen, which departs from Hakata Station and goes until Kyushu's Kagoshima-chuo Station. The whole country can be visited easily using the shinkansen, the railway system that connects all of Japan's islands from the north to the south, in combination with transfers to regular train lines.

How to Buy Tickets

To ride the shinkansen, you need two kinds of tickets: the Basic Fare Ticket and the Limited Express Ticket. In addition, the Limited Express Ticket can be a Limited Express Non-Reserved Seat ticket or a Limited Express Reserved Seat Ticket. Tickets can be bought from various places, such as JR counters, automatic ticket machines in train stations, through a travel agency, or from the internet. It is recommended for tourists to get the Japan Rail Pass, a value deal available only for foreign tourists that allows the holder to use any regular train line of the JR Group and the shinkansen (Nozomi and Mizuho are excluded) for a designated period of time. Buy the pass from outside Japan and, after entering the country, turn in your Exchange Order at one of the exchange offices (present in all the main JR stations) to obtain your Japan Rail Pass.

Useful Shinkansen Trivia

・Train Facilities
Restrooms with toilets and washbasins are present at the end of each carriage. Garbage cans can also be found in this area. The trains also offer a multipurpose restroom and multipurpose room which can be used by people that are not feeling well or for breastfeeding.
・On Board Food Sales
A food cart filled with drinks, light meals, snacks, and more, makes rounds down the aisle (some of the carriages do not have on board food service).
・Free Wi-Fi Service
Carriages with free Wi-Fi are also present. The Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines offer the Shinkansen Free Wi-Fi, while the Tohoku, Akita, Yamagata, Joetsu, and Hokuriku Shinkansen lines provide the JR-EAST FREE Wi-Fi. The carriages where free Wi-Fi is available are marked with dedicated stickers, so check to see if they are present.
・Highlights of the Tokaido Shinkansen line (between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka)
Mt. Fuji can be seen from the train - on the right side if departing from Tokyo, and on the left side if departing from Shin-Osaka. If you can choose the seat, then it is recommended to choose the E row window seat (D row in a Green Car). If taking the Nozomi train, Mt. Fuji appears 44 minutes after departing Tokyo Station, or 1 hour and 40 minutes after departing from Shin-Osaka Station. Lake Hamanaka is another very popular scene that can be observed when going between Hamamatsu and Toyohashi.

Shinkansen Etiquette

When reclining your seat, warn the person behind you first. Before getting off the train, return the backrest to an upright position and bring the table in front of the seat back to its original position. For telephone calls, it is considered good etiquette to talk while in the end section of the carriage. Garbage should be thrown away in the garbage cans in the same section or on the train station platform. Big suitcases or carry-ons should not protrude in the aisle or be placed on adjacent seats. Instead, they should be placed in the overhead luggage rack or at one's feet. Depending on the carriage, there are also bigger spaces to leave luggage in the end section.

The shinkansen is a method of transport that lets passengers enjoy a fast, comfortable, safe, and smooth trip. Use this iconic high-speed railway to enjoy your Japan trip to your heart's content.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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