Shinkansen Stations are literally in the middle of the major cities, making Shinkansen one the most efficient ways to travel in Japan. If you are planning on doing more than one long distance train travel, Japan Rail Pass can also make your trip very cost effective as well. The JR Pass is offered exclusively to foreign visitors with tourist visa.
Shinkansen Network, Punctuality & Safety
The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed train lines connecting Japan’s major cities on the islands of Honshu, Kyushu, and Hokkaido. The oldest and most popular line is Tokaido Shinkansen which connects the three biggest metropolitan areas of the country: Tokyo to Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka to Kyoto. Shinkansen network offers a few train categories, the fast trains, semi-fast trains, and local trains. The fast trains only stop at the major stations, semi-fast trains make a few more stops, and local trains stop at every station along the way.
Traveling with Shinkansen is incredibly reliable when it comes to being on time. According to JR Central (operating company) in 2016, Shinkansen's average delay from schedule per train was 24 seconds. This includes delays due to uncontrollable causes such as Typhoon and Earthquakes.
It is also known for its safety. Since Shinkansen was introduced in 1964, carrying over 10 billion passengers, there has been not a single passenger fatality or injury due to train accidents.
Shinkansen’s Seats & Classes
Generally, Shinkansen trains offer seats in three classes; Ordinary, Green Car "first class" and Gran Class "premium first class" which are typically found in separate cars. Ordinary seats are the regular seats found on all Shinkansen trains. Although they are generally comfortable, offering generous amount of legroom, some travelers may find the size and food room insufficient. Ordinary Class comes in rows of 3+2 seats.
Green Car seats are available on most Shinkansen and limited express trains and on a small number of local trains. They offer more comfortable and spacious seats with more legroom. Depending on where you travel in Japan, Green Cars do have some little perks, like serving a free drink once you are on board. Green Car Class comes in rows of 2+2 seats.
Newer Shinkansen have introduced the Gran Class, offering ample seating room, as well as the constant attention of your host or hostess. If you are using Japan Rail Pass you must pay extra on some JR East Shinkansen Trains. Gran Class comes in rows of 2+1 seats.
Shinkansen’s Seat Types
Shinkansen trains have three types of seats; reserved seats, non-reserved seats and green car seats. The fare for reserved seat is higher by about 500 yen, and it assures you that you don’t have to worry about not being able to sit during the ride.
The Tohoku Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo to northern Japan, and also Hokuriku Shinkansen connecting Tokyo with Nagano and Kanazawa do not have non-reserved seats, so make sure you make reservation in advance. All seats in Green Cars are reserved seats as well. The number of Green Car seats are limited and the fare is higher by a couple of thousands yen. If you are traveling by Green Car, reserve your seat in advance.
Usually reserved seats do not get booked out, but on special occasions like New Year holidays, the Golden Week and Obon trains can get booked out. Generally, reservations are always recommended, especially when traveling in group.
How To Buy Shinkansen Tickets
If you don’t have a JR Pass you can buy bullet train tickets individually. Shinkansen Tickets can be purchased in major railway stations in Japan, from ticket offices "Midori no Madoguchi", and ticket machines or online.
When buying ticket from ticket office or ticket machine you need to have the following information ready:
Nowadays, visitors can purchase Shinkansen tickets online and have them mailed to your hotel even before you arrive in Japan. You should purchase the ticket online 2 to 5 days in advance before your traveling date.
People who live in Japan and are too busy, can use this service as well; buy your ticket online and similarly have it mailed to your home address. Purchasing Shinkansen ticket online can also help those who have difficulty communicating in Japanese language. You are buying the ticket on Rakuten Travel Experiences Website which is a multilingual online booking website offering tickets, passes, tours and activities in 30 countries including Japan.
Here are some of the popular Shinkansen route tickets:
Luggage And Charges
One of the major drawbacks of travel is luggage. But with the available door-to-door services in Japan you can travel light without a problem. To make the trip more comfortable, it is recommended that travelers with a lot of luggage to consider using these delivery services.
Besides small bags, travelers can bring up to two pieces of luggage onto a train. The maximum weight for each piece is 30 kilogram, with collective length, width, and depth measurements of 250 centimeters. There is a special space behind the last row of seats in each car for a couple of large suitcases. Ask for a seat near the end of the car when you make seat reservation.
Starting in May 2020, a new rule for over-sized luggage has come into effect in some parts of Shinkansen Network. Passengers on the Tokaido Shinkansen (from Tokyo to Osaka), Sanyo Shinkansen (from Osaka to Hakata in Fukuoka) and Kyushu Shinkansen (from Hakata to Kagoshima), with over-sized luggage will be required to make a seat reservation in the last row of seats.
The luggage with collective length, width, and depth measurements between 160 and 250 centimeters are described as over-sized luggage. Passengers who bring such luggage into cars without reserving a seat and space in advance will be charged 1,000 yen and asked to move to the designated area. Travelers can reserve luggage space when purchasing ticket at ticket offices, ticket machines or online.
Using Japan Rail Passes
The Japan Rail Pass can be used only by individuals with visitor visa, and must be purchased outside Japan. The Japan Rail Pass gives you unlimited access to all Shinkansen bullet trains except the two types of express trains: the Nozomi and the Mizuho. The rail pass holders can make seat reservation at no cost at ticket offices. Keep in mind that rail pass users cannot use ticket machines to make seat reservation.
There are number of Regional Passes that cover only parts of the country. Unlike the main Rail Pass, most of these can be purchased in the country "at any major JR station". The Japan Rail Pass and Regional Passes can be purchased online.