Fully Explained: How to ride the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train)

I remember being scared about riding the Shinkansen! Not that I’m frightened of vehicles that travel at the speed of light (Disclaimer: hyperbole used), but I hadn’t had much experience in traveling by train, let alone the famed Shinkansen!

I believe Shinkansen is operated by JR (there are many different companies involved in the metro scene, as discussed here).

Let me tell you about my super comfortable and enjoyable bullet train experience in Japan. Even as I write this, I can remember the palpable excitement I felt during my first ride.

I rode the shinkansen twice. Once from Tokyo to Osaka. From Osaka, I took the regular metro to get to Kyoto, and stayed in Kyoto for 8 nights. I took shinkansen from Kyoto back to Tokyo.

Flashing my tickets; about to enter Platform 18. English and Japanese on display.20170306_101754.jpg 20170306_101751.jpg

Buying the ticket

Do NOT go to the machines – they are for people who actually know the system. Unless you’re a Japanese local, or a shinkansen connoisseur who knows what he’s doing, be humble, and go to the service desks. All the employees at the desk speak adequate English to be able to help you with purchase, and any questions. I had done some research beforehand about getting on the shinkansen, and I still had surprises!

Two fare tickets that will get me from Tokyo station to Shin-Osaka station (You would think it would take you to Osaka station, but nope, it goes to Shin-Osaka station; “Shin” means “new”). 20170306_102022 nozomi super express to Hakata edite.jpg

What’s written on the ticket?: I got the “Super-Exp”(ress) that only stops at major stations. You’ll also notice “(Reserved)” on the ticket; I let loose and bought a premium seat, which I heard has more leg room. Paid a total of 14,310 yen. Approx $200 CAD! Yup, it’s expensive as fuck (but it was worth it). The price difference between reserved vs. non-reserved was 830 yen (approx. $10 CAD). If I’m already spending around $200 bucks for a 2.5 hour ride, I wasn’t going to sweat about an extra $10. Fare price changes very frequently, depending on the time.  You can choose between window and aisle seat when you buy the ticket, and your seat is written on the ticket. The window seat gets sold out quickly.

The first thing the shinkansen desk employee asked me for was my used metro ticket stub, that I had used to get to Tokyo station in the first place. I gave it to him, and it seems that he deducted the 140 yen service charge, which he crossed out at the bottom of the second ticket. Thanks, man.

Why are there two tickets?: Beats me why they had to split into two tickets. I got stuck at the platform entry machine, because I didn’t know which ticket to put into the feed of the machine. Turns out you feed both, overlapping each other, at the same time, and the machine somehow knows to accept both tickets and let you enter. Don’t forget to grab the tickets when the machine feeds it back to you after you pass through the machine!!!

How fast is it? Car vs. Shinkansen vs. Bus: By car, it would have taken 6 hours, but the shinkansen only takes 2.5 hours to get to Osaka. The trains come pretty frequently. I bought the tickets at service desk on the day of travel, but I heard you should buy tickets in advance for long weekends and such, as the locals are also on the move during those golden times. There also express buses, and most people take the night buses that take about 6 hours one-way. Buses are a LOT cheaper, I think they were half the price of the shinkansen! However, I am not a fan of bus rides, and I was set on riding the shinkansen and eating ekiben inside the train.

Getting on the train

My train at Platform 18! 20170306_101915.jpg

But before getting on, of course, I had to purchase an ekiben. Ekiben is the standard term for a bento box eaten on the train. There are many shops in the station, and booths at the platform right by the trains, that sell a variety of ekibens. The contents of each box is on display, so you can just look and choose.

Finding my seat and admiring the Japanese bullet train culture

My ticket said Car 13, Seat 10-D, so I found my seat in Car 13 of the train. Super clean!20170306_103041 reserved seating shinkansen.jpg

And very roomy.20170306_103057 super roomy.jpg

Brah. REversiBle seatS!!! If you’re traveling in a group, you can make seats face each other!!!! See how the chairs in the middle of this picture is facing towards me, when all the others are facing the front? It was a group of 6 school boys (looked to be in high school) that blew my mind when they reversed the seats. I’m guessing they were on an exciting all-boys trip to Osaka. They played cards and spoke quietly during the whole ride so as to not disturb others.20170306_103759 brah, REVERSIBLE SEATS.jpg

It was a quiet 2.5 hours. What really floored me was how, before Japanese locals inclined their seat back, they would turn around and notify the person sitting behind them. “Is it OK if I put my seat back?”. Of course, it’s not really a question; it’s a polite notification. The answer is always “yes”, or a nod. I thought it was a simple, but courteous gesture that oozed with etiquette. I’ve never seen that before! So I did the same when I was about to put my seat back a bit. Hehe.

So much leg room.20170306_104423.jpg

Maps in the train to tell you where everything is. There are smoking sections, garbage disposals, washrooms, etc. They are spread along the 16 cars of this train. You might have to go to another car to go to the washroom. The washroom was spotless and odorless. Similar to airplane washrooms, but everything was motion-activated, so that you don’t have to touch any buttons.20170306_110002.jpg

Eating in the train

Train personnel come around to sell snacks, drinks and sandwiches. I’m pretty sure I saw beer as a choice, just like in airplanes. Not too surprising since it’s legal in Japan to consume alcohol on streets. 20170306_112133 selling snacks.jpg

After much deliberation, I had settled on very fishy ekiben called “Fukagawa-meshi”…20170306_113903.jpg 20170306_113910.jpg

Tasted great. It was pretty smelly and I wondered if it was bothering other passengers, but I consoled myself because it was sold at the ekiben store right by the train. I mean, it’s not just some gross, alien thing I had brought from home!20170306_114038 this was 980yen at the platform.jpg

Lots of people had brought bottled drinks, ate snacks and simple meals, like rice balls (onigiri), and katsu sandwiches. The ride is only 2.5 hours long, so you don’t necessarily need to eat a full meal on the train, unless you are famished. I’m always famished for ekiben. There’s just a nostalgic, peaceful feeling about eating a carefully packaged bento box in the quiet shinkansen train.

So that is the fully explained shinkansen experience.

Kyoto-to-Tokyo ride was a similar experience.

Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station. Only one ticket this time. 13,901 yen. It’s slightly cheaper than Tokyo to Osaka, since Kyoto is a bit closer to Tokyo. I got reserved seat on Nozomi again. The price difference is less than 1000 yen between reserved vs. non-reserved seat.20170318_113852 티켓두장이 한장에. 나즁에 jr chuo line도 공짜로 탐

Gotta catch the 12:05 at Platform 11. I gave myself 20 minutes to find an ekiben, hehe. 20170318_114337.jpg

The Hikari (in red) is the non-express; it stops at more stations than the Nozomi.20170318_115517.jpg

On Car 13 again20170318_120256.jpg

Ekiben again!!!!20170318_121139.jpg

The sensation I felt on these rides are indescribable. I felt flooded with possibilities and exhilaration when I got on the train. Traveling can be a real bitch sometimes, but there are these rare moments of rainbows and unicorns and butterflies that keep me coming back for more.


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