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As fast as a speeding bullet: Japan by Shinkansen

The Shinkansen never ceases to amaze MARK HARADA. On a journey between Tokyo and Kyoto, he explains why, and offers some essential TIPS for travelling on the bullet train.

Anyone who’s ever travelled around Japan - or even just Tokyo - by train will attest to its amazing rail network. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s the world’s best: it’s clean, comfortable, quick and safe. And did I say clean? 



As one of Japan’s famed Shinkansen (bullet trains) rolls into Tokyo Station, I watch a cohort of cleaners wait respectfully for travellers to disembark, before rushing onto the carriage to make already tidy carriages gleam. 


The gold standard in Japanese transportation, the train soon takes off again – punctual to the second– carrying at speeds of up to 300kph, wide eyed tourists, bleary eyed commuters and plenty of spare seats (which is in stark contrast to the nation’s famously crowded peak hour trains).


Armed with Japan Rail Passes from Rail Plus, we’re travelling from the Japanese capital across to Kyoto, the former capital and cultural centre of Japan. It’s a distance of around 500kms, but is covered from the comfort of our Shinkansen in just 2 hours and 40 minutes. 



The journey is an all-encompassing experience too. 


Outside, cities and scenery roll by, highlighted by an extended and clear view of Japan’s most famous landmark, Mount Fuji (which had heretofore alluded us). To capture the true experience (and speed) of the train, we set our cameras to video mode. 


Inside, an Australian accent announces the arrival into each station over the PA, while train conductors turn to bow at the front of the carriage each time they pass by.


In-between, food and beverage vendors carry delicious-smelling somethings down the aisle. In Japan, eating and drinking on trains is normally taboo, but on the Shinkansen it’s perfectly acceptable, and done more often than not. So don’t forget to bring on board a light meal (bento boxes that can be bought at almost any station are perfect for this) or buy snacks on board to make your trip even more memorable. 


With the sun setting, we roll into Kyoto, ready to take advantage of our JR Pass for local travel as well as side trips to Osaka, Nara and anywhere else we may fancy. But after such a joyful journey, we’re already looking forward to our trip back to Tokyo.



TIPS for travelling on the Shinkansen:

•         Get to the station and your platform early – this train leaves on time, without fail

•         Know your carriage number and class – these are longtrains

•         Keep quiet – like on all trains in Japan, enjoy your journey at a low decibel

•         Get ready to disembark early – unless the train is terminating, ensure you’re ready to alight promptly or you could miss your stop

•         Lay heavy baggage down – with overheads only capable of carrying cabin-sized luggage, you’ll need to place larger suitcases at the end of the carriage. If they’re on wheels, be sure to lie them down

•         Enjoy the ride – you won’t have another experience quite like it!


The best way to travel through Japan is with a Japan Rail (JR) Pass. While there are regional versions, the national pass will get you to almost every corner of the country (from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south) in comfort, and offers unlimited journeys (and therefore great value) on JR lines, which range from Shinkansen services to local rail routes. 


You can purchase your Japan Rail Pass through Rail Plus. A 7-day pass will cost AU$388, a 14-day pass $617 and a 21-day pass $790. 


In Tokyo, the writer stayed at The Capitol Hotel Tokyu. Read our review of the property.

In Kyoto, the writer stayed Hatoya Zuihokaku Hotel. Read our review of the property.


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Written by: Mark Harada
Published: 8 March 2019

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