How to use the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

The world-famous Shinkansen (bullet train) is one of the best ways to travel around Japan. Japan prides itself in being an extremely accessible country that is ideal for those who really wish to explore all that it has to offer. From brilliant subway systems to inexpensive local train routes, when it comes to public transport, Japan ticks all the boxes.

At the forefront of the Japanese rail network is the Shinkansen, most commonly known as the Bullet Train. Since 1964, this incredibly fast train has been connecting Tokyo to the historic region of Osaka. By using the Shinkansen, visitors can travel from Tokyo to Kyoto in just 2 hours and 20 minutes, a route popularly known as the Japan Golden Route.

In fact, the bullet train is so fast that it can reach speeds of 320 kilometers per hour, offering a quick and comfortable way to get around. If you are short of time and wish to see as much as possible, the bullet train is by far the easiest and most exciting option and this guide will show you exactly how to use the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).

Trains in Japan and how to use them

Shinkansen Train lines

The Shinkansen route is divided into two sections beginning at Tokyo. One section ends in Kagoshima whilst the second section terminates at a number of stations including Nagano and Kanazawa. Each section is divided into separate train lines – Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu. The route from Tokyo to Kyoto is on the Tokaido line.

Shinkansen Trains

Although it is called the bullet train, the Shinkansen network is actually made up of a number of different trains. The Nozomi is the fastest of the trains which connects Tokyo and Kyoto in only 2 hours and 20 minutes.

The only train that is available to Japan Rail Pass holders is the Hikari train which takes just 20 minutes longer. Each train offers plenty of room and comfortable seating, making it a relaxing journey. The general rule when purchasing Shinkansen tickets is the shorter the journey time, the more expensive the ticket.

Shinkansen Tickets

With an overwhelming amount of numbers and symbols, a Japanese train ticket may seem daunting at first but do not let this put you off. Upon reaching the train platform, insert the ticket into the gates with the black side facing down. Once you are through the gate, you can sit back and enjoy this scenic journey. Conductors check tickets during the trip so make sure to keep hold of the ticket.

Note: Many prepaid IC cards, including Suica and Pasmo in Japan, can be used to pay for Shinkansen trains on the JR East line and some other networks. These cards allow you to enjoy the benefits and convenience of paperless-ticket-travel. Make sure to read our guide to Japan IC cards for more information.

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