The shinkansen (新幹線), also known as the Japanese bullet train, is by far the fastest way of land transportation in Japan. On shorter distances, the shinkansen can be faster and more convenient to use than the airplane.
The shinkansen’s track extend all the way from the southern part of the Kagoshima prefecture to the southern part of Hokkaido. It is thus possible to travel all the way through Japan’s main island (honshu), as well as part of Hokkaido.
Other tracks are being laid out and will extend its reach even further. A route going from Shin-Tosu (Saga prefecture) to Nagasaki, as well as another route from Kanazawa (Ishikawa prefecture) to Tsuruga (Fukui prefecture) have been scheduled for 2022. A third route going from Shin-Hakadote-Hokuto to Sapporo (both in Hokkaido) has been scheduled for 2030.
There is another route for a different maglev shinkansen, the chuo-shinkansen, that has been scheduled for 2027 between Shinagawa (Tokyo) and Nagoya to make the travel faster. This line will be extended to Shin-Osaka for 2045.
How to ride the shinkansen?
Buying tickets and seat assignment
You have the choice between three types of tickets. The cheapest one is to ride the shinkansen without assigned seat. With this type of ticket, you will have to queue at one of the few cars without seat, and take whatever seat is empty.
The second type is the usual assigned seat ticket. You can either purchase it from a vending machine or buy it from someone at one of the shinkansen ticket counters. If you want specific seats, the latter option would be the easiest. Both are located within the station.
The third type of seat are green seats, or the first class seats. They are the most expensive seats, but this price come with an additional level of comfort. Your seat have more leg room, can recline up to 40 degrees, and depending on your destination you can also receive a small hot towel called oshibori (おしぼり). These cars are usually less packed than normal cars, making them quieter and giving you more privacy.
In case you buy a normal or green seat ticket, you will have your car number, as well as your seat number written on your ticket. When you are on the platform, look above to see the car numbers and wait in line until your shinkansen arrives.
Going to your platform
Once you have your ticket, put them through the ticket gate, and go to your platform. There are several fixed signs written both in Japanese and English pointing out where which shinkansen goes. Once you are at your platform, there are other digital or LED showing when the next shinkansen comes and on what track.
The car number is written above on each track to make it easy to know where you have to wait. Non-reserved seats are usually the last few cars at the back of the shinkansen. Refer to your ticket to see the exact car to go on.
Inside the shinkansen
Once inside, continue to your assigned seat. In case you ride on a non-reserved car, you are free to take any seat you want. During the high season or rush hours, it is possible that no seats are available, meaning you will have to stand until someone gets off at a station. In case you have to stand, make sure you don’t block the aisle with your luggage for other passengers or passing train attendants.
Enjoy your ride!