Shinkansen Network, Punctuality & Safety
Shinkansen stations are literally in the middle of the major cities, making Shinkansen one of the most efficient ways to travel in Japan. 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 the Tokaido Shinkansen, which connects the three biggest metropolitan areas of the country: Tokyo to Yokohama, Osaka to Kyoto, and Nagoya. The Shinkansen network offers a few train categories: fast trains, semi-fast trains, and local trains. The fast trains only stop at the major stations; the semi-fast trains make a few more stops; and the local trains stop at every station along the way.
Traveling with the Shinkansen is incredibly reliable when it comes to being on time. According to JR Central (the 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 not been 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 a generous amount of legroom, some travelers may find the size and foot room insufficient. Ordinary class comes in rows of 3+2 seats (image).
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 (image).
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 (image).
Shinkansen’s Seat Types
Shinkansen trains have three types of seats: reserved seats, non-reserved seats, and green car seats. The fare for reserved seats 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 the Hokuriku Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo with Nagano and Kanazawa, do not have non-reserved seats, so make sure you make a reservation in advance. All seats in Green Cars are reserved seats as well. The number of Green Car seats is limited, and the fare is higher by a few thousand 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 groups.
How To Buy Shinkansen Tickets
If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass, you can buy bullet train tickets individually. Shinkansen tickets (image) can be purchased in major railway stations in Japan, from ticket offices "Midori no Madoguchi" (image), ticket machines, or online. When buying a ticket from a ticket office or ticket machine, you need to have the following information ready:
Nowadays, people can purchase Shinkansen tickets online from travel activity and service booking platforms such as Klook Travel and Rakuten Travel Experiences.
A QR Code voucher for your tickets is issued up to 1 month in advance and at least 1 day before the travel date. You'll receive the QR code in your booking confirmation email. To collect your physical tickets, simply go to your departure train station and get the QR code scanned at the Reserved Seat Ticket Machine.
One benefit of purchasing Shinkansen tickets online through a travel agent is that some allow you to combine them with other travel goods and earn points and/or discounts. Purchasing Shinkansen tickets online from these multilingual websites can also help to skip the line and bypass language barriers at the station. This would help you plan your day and ensure that you can board and be seated on a specified service. Your seat and car number will be indicated on your ticket.
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 at the airport, you can travel light without a problem. To make the trip more comfortable, it is recommended that travelers with a lot of luggage 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 kilograms, with collective length, width, and depth measurements of 250 centimeters.
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 oversized luggage will be required to make a seat reservation in the last row of seats. There is a special space behind the last row of seats in each car for a couple of large suitcases.
Luggage with collective length, width, and depth measurements between 160 and 250 centimeters is described as oversized 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 tickets at ticket offices, ticket machines, or online.
Using Japan Rail Passes
The Japan Rail Pass can be used only by individuals with visitor visas and must be purchased outside Japan. If you are planning to travel to multiple cities in Japan within a short timeframe, the Japan Rail Pass can make your trip cost-effective.
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. Rail pass holders can make seat reservations at no cost at ticket offices.
There are a 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 also be purchased online from travel activity and service booking platforms such as Klook and Rakuten Travel Experiences.