Shinkansen: The Pride of the Japanese Railway

Japan is a country known for its efficiency and perfection in all things they do. This reputation rolls over to things like food, art, development, and many other things. Their railway system is another solid example of how much they value development and efficiency. The Japanese railway system is one of the best, if not already the best, train system you will see in the world. It is obvious that the engineers and designers that made this system really planned everything in advance to make sure that everything was placed in the best location for optimum performance and service.

Each station you will find in the Japanese railway map is close to or is the center of that area. Imagine a body with veins connecting certain parts to other parts which ensure that all parts of the body get blood pumped into it. That is how these stations are placed. All stations cater to a certain area to make sure that all areas are more easily accessible. Surely, this is one of the biggest reasons for why Japan’s transportation system gets the attention it does. However, this isn’t the only reason why these transportation systems are talked about as much as it is. It is one thing to have all connections in the right place. It is another thing to be able to provide an enhanced traveling experience due to the quality of the actual trains that the commuters ride.

The Shinkansen is living proof of this which is why this specific network will be the focus of this article. This special railway network was one of the first high-speed railway lines to be made in the world, which comes as no surprise because of how the Japanese are always so progressive in all things they do. As a tourist, to be able to ride such a creation is definitely an experience you’ll never forget and if you’re open to gaining that experience, keep reading to know more about the Shinkansen.

The Shinkansen Speed and Other Details like the Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama

The Shinkansen may not hold the record for being the fastest train in the world but it does, however, hold the title of being the world’s busiest high-speed rail line. It was recognized as such in the year of 2008 when a study of passengers per year was done on this line. Results showed that in that year, the original Shinkansen, known as the Tokaido Shinkansen, carried an astounding amount of 151 million passengers per year. This particular Shinkansen is the one that connects the largest cities in Japan, namely Tokyo and Osaka. It is able to cater to that amount of people by implementing a schedule that puts more cars per train and working with a quicker headway between trains in the period of its peak hours.

Of course, the fact that it runs at speeds that reach 320 km/h also helps in providing great service to more people. This, however, is not what the Shinkansen is known for. The Shinkansen is recognized more for its consistent punctuality. It has been proven that this particular series of railway connections are punctual to the very last second. This means that if the schedule or timetable says the train leaves at 7 AM, it will leave at 7 AM on the dot.

The majority of the world now uses a prepaid card that acts as your ticket, not only to all train lines but also to bus lines that the provider of that prepaid card caters to. Using this saves you time because you would not have to line up to get a ticket anymore and money because of the discounted rates. A similar system is implemented for the Shinkansen network and that card is called the Japan Rail Pass. As you may already know, the Shinkansen network is operated by Japan Railways. They manage all JR lines which are actually what the “JR” stands for. Because Japan Railways manages the whole Shinkansen, having the Japan Rail Pass is a huge convenience. It allows you to charge your fee to the card to gain access to all lines of the Shinkansen. There are limitations to this card though. An example of this is that it is limited to giving access to all Shinkansen lines except for the lines of the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen, also known as the Tohoku Shinkansen line.

The unique things about this train network are how it has categories for the trains that they use. There are 3 general categories. The first being the slowest of the three because these trains are the ones that stop at every station. This particular train car is called the Kodama. The second being the moderate of the three because its trains stop at every 3 to 4 stations, depending on the destination of that particular Shinkansen. It is known as the Hikari. The third and final category is obviously the fastest of the three. One can think of it as the express train or somewhat of a direct flight to the station you need and want to be at because it only serves major stations. This train car is called the Nozomi. There are other categories to be found in other Shinkansen lines but generally, these three will be all you need to make a well-informed decision on which train you would want to ride.

The Breakdown of Shinkansen Ticket Prices and Classes

The prices for the tickets vary because of multiple things. The first to be considered is your destination. The longer distances will cost more than just a trip to a neighbor station and vice versa. When booking online packages, tickets generally cost roughly around 3000 yen to 20000 yen because of the included lounging with the packages. Buying regular tickets is an entirely different thing.

The travel ticket itself is made up of many fees. There is the base fare which is the cost of getting you from your origin to the desired destination. Then there is the Shinkansen supplement fee which is only applied to your cost if you buy a limited express fee ticket. Seat reservation also adds to the possible cost if you want to reserve a sure seat on the train. This extra service would cost about 320 yen when it's low season, 520 yen when its regular season, and 720 yen when it’s high season like in the month of March. These seasons are somewhat the peak months of the year for tourism and such alike. It is quite a wide range of prices but considering that the Shinkansen caters to practically the entire land of Japan, these prices come as no surprise for the services of one of the best railway networks in the world.

If you are staying in Japan for a longer period of time, it would save you a lot of money to invest in a Japan Rail Pass. This already acts as your ticket if you are riding a non-reservation car. If you wish to get on the reservation car, this pass allows you to do it for free. As mentioned above, the only major limitation this pass has is that it is not applicable for the Nozomi and Mizuho trains which are the fastest and moderate train cars and the Shinkansen lines of Tohoku Shinkansen. There are many other regional passes that have the same function as a Japan Rail Pass. These other passes, though, do not provide admission to all Shinkansen lines.

This network is a world class system which is why seat classes also exist here. This is another defining factor to the price of your trip. You can choose from three seat classes. The first and cheapest of all are the ordinary seats. These seats are still comfy seats and are, in no way, described as a cramped space. The second is what they call the Green Car.  Obviously, fewer people can be accommodated in the Green Car because they want to give more luxury to those in this car. It is very comparable to the business class on airplanes, not just because of the extra luxury it provides but also because the seats here come in a 2x2 manner, much like on any business class on a plane.

The third and final class isn’t available on all trains yet. The majority of the trains that have this particular class are the newer trains along Shinkansen lines like the Tohoku, Hokkaido, and Hokuriko Shinkansen. This is what people can compare to the first class on an airplane. It is called the Gran Class and it offers its customers more space with additional amenities and service that each of them can avail off. If you have money to spend, riding any of the premium classes isn’t a bad way to the money. It really is an experience to ride any of these trains.

The Shinkansen Map and Routes like the Tokyo to Osaka or Tokyo to Kyoto with the Schedule and Timetable

The center for all Shinkansen lines is Tokyo. From Tokyo, travelers can get on any of the 7 Shinkansen lines. Some directly while other lines would need a connecting train to another station. Nevertheless, if you want to get to Tokyo or the other way around, taking the Shinkansen would be an efficient way to do so.

The Shinkansen lines that you can get on directly from Tokyo are the Tokaido, Hokuriko, Joetsu, and Tohoku.The Tokaido line passes the stations of Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. In other words, if you desire to go to Osaka or Kyoto from Tokyo, you need only ride the Tokaido line. Because Osaka and Kyoto are major stations along with Nagoya, it is a viable option to take a Nozomi to either destination. This ride from Tokyo to Osaka would take at least 2.5 hours and since Kyoto is nearer to Tokyo than Osaka is, the travel between the two could be estimated at around 2 hours. Trains here are said to leave every hour. Generally, the rides start from 6 AM and the last rides of the day go at 10 PM. There is more than one train that leaves per hour though. These schedules vary per weekday, weekend, and holidays so it would be best to double check the available departures on their official website prior to the actual visit or ride on the Shinkansen.

From Osaka via Tokaido, passengers can alight the Sanyo Shinkansen line which passes through the cities of Hiroshima and Fukuoka. Fukuoka is a linking city of the Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines and the Kyushu Shinkansen line presently only tends to Fukuoka and Kagoshima. The same goes for the Hokuriku Shinkansen and the Joetsu Shinkansen that also only cater to the cities of Tokyo to Kanazawa and Tokyo to Niigata, respectively. The Tohoku Shinkansen links Tokyo to the cities of Yamagata, Sendai, Morioka, Akita, and Aomori. This specific Shinkansen line is also the most complex of all line because it branches out more than it connects the cities in a straight line. This isn’t a bad thing. It is just a fun fact about this particular line. From Aomori, you can get on the Hokkaido line to reach the city of Hakodate.

It is honestly an easy map to maneuver around once you get a picture of it. You won’t even need to understand anything else but the names of the stations to be able to get from one place to the other. It is amazing how well constructed this railway network is and how efficient of a mode it is from all walks of life. For both tourists and locals, this railway network provides such a great service that it has become one of the biggest role models in transportations system modeling in the world. This network will continue to expand and improve the quality of service and will eventually give access to every single destination in Japan. Until then, appreciate its genius by experiencing the comfort and luxury that this dream railway network offers to all its customers.