The Shinkansen, often known as the "bullet train," is a premier mode of transportation in Japan, connecting cities swiftly and efficiently. A forerunner in the world of high-speed rail, the Shinkansen has revolutionized intercity travel in Japan.
When visiting Japan, riding the Shinkansen is truly a must-experience. This train links numerous cities including Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and even Hakodate in Hokkaido.
In this article, I'll walk you through the steps to try Shinkansen. If you're a first-timer, this will help ensure a safe and pleasant journey.
The journey begins with purchasing your tickets. Tickets can be bought up to one month before the travel date. If you know your travel date, I'd suggest buying in advance.
Avoid purchasing on the day of travel. Tickets might sell out, particularly on weekends or holidays. For instance, we once missed out on tickets from Osaka to Hiroshima, despite booking two days ahead.
Tickets can bepurchased in three ways:
Known as "Midori no Madoguchi", these counters are found in many JR stations. Recognizable by a green logo featuring a person on a chair and the words "みどりの窓口", these counters offer assistance in English, so language won't be a barrier. Just approach them with your travel details and they'll help you get your ticket.
Selain di konter JR, pembelian tiket shinkansen juga dapat dilakukan melalui mesin tiket. Kita bisa menemukan mesin ini di berbagai stasiun JR. Biasanya letaknya berada tidak jauh dari konter JR. Mesin ini juga memiliki logo yang sama seperti yang terdapat di konter JR.
Located near the JR counters in many stations, these machines also support ticket purchasing. They offer a quick way to purchase or pick up tickets without having to wait in line.
Finally, the official website also allows online bookings. However, e-tickets need to be exchanged for physical ones at JR stations, either at the counter or ticket machines.
For a more detailed guide on ticket purchase, particularly with the JR Pass, refer to our article below. The process is quite similar, minus the payment step for JR Pass holders.
When the day of your journey arrives, ensure you make your way to the station. Remember to carry your shinkansen ticket that you've previously purchased. Once you reach the station, you can proceed directly to the entrance gate that leads to the platform.
Shinkansen stations can be categorized based on the positioning of the shinkansen gates—direct shinkansen gates and the one where you have to pass through a regular train gate before accessing the shinkansen gate.
If you're at a station that has a direct shinkansen gate, like Nagoya Station or Shin Osaka, your steps are simple. Insert your shinkansen ticket into the appropriate slot at the gate. Ensure you're using a gate that doesn't display the red stop sign, but rather, one without a green arrow.
Your ticket will pop out from the other side of the gate. Make sure to retrieve it, as you'll need it again to exit at your destination.
If you have a JR Pass, insert both the JR Pass and the shinkansen ticket simultaneously. They'll come out together from the other side.
Stations like Tokyo Station and Kyoto Station have a two-gate system. So, begin by entering the regular train gate. Here, you can either tap your IC card or insert your JR Pass.
Once you're through, approach the shinkansen gate. Insert your shinkansen ticket and if you're using an IC card, tap it on the card reader above the ticket slot.
Retrieve your shinkansen ticket as you proceed. For JR Pass holders, remember to insert both your JR Pass and shinkansen ticket when accessing the shinkansen gate. This procedure is the same if you're using any pass other than the JR Pass.
If ever in doubt, don't hesitate to seek assistance. There's usually a helpful attendant at each gate ready to assist passengers with any difficulties.
Once inside the shinkansen station area, your priority should be to locate the platform from which your train will depart. You can find this information on the screens dispersed throughout the station.
Cross-reference the train number, train name, and departure time found on your shinkansen ticket with the details displayed on the screens. Typically, this information is delivered in Japanese and English.
After checking your platform number, you can head straight to it to await your train. Some stations, like Nagoya Station, even offer special waiting areas exclusively for shinkansen passengers.
These waiting rooms are comfortably furnished with enough seating. Additionally, you can find food stalls, drink counters, and souvenir shops. For those keen on utilizing their wait time, there are tables that can be used as a makeshift workspace.
If you prefer waiting directly at the shinkansen platform, I suggest you to stand close to the door of the car you'll be boarding. Identification for the car number can be found on the guardrails, poles, and train departure information boards.
Moreover, the platform provides seating options for those who'd rather sit. You'll also find vending machines and snack stalls, perfect for grabbing a quick bite or a bento box for your journey.
When you think of bento in Japan, it's common for those boarding the shinkansen to buy a bento at the station beforehand to enjoy during their train journey.
This special bento is referred to as "Ekiben," with "eki" meaning train station and "bento" signifying a packed lunch. Every shinkansen station features at least one ekiben kiosk, with some even located directly on the shinkansen platforms.
The cost of Ekiben can vary, generally starting around 1000 yen, based on its food. While many opt for this traditional choice, some travelers, like us, often prefer to grab snacks from convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or Family Mart due to more affordable prices.
As your departure time draws close, make sure to be prepared to board. Given that shinkansen trains typically stop for only a few moments at each station, it's crucial to be on the platform and ready to board to avoid missing your train.
Once the train pulls in and the doors swing open, it's time to board in an organized fashion. If you've bought extra space for a larger suitcase, there's a designated storage area at the end of each carriage.
Otherwise, luggage can be stowed in the spacious compartments above the seats, which can fit cabin-sized suitcases comfortably.
Seats are numbered, with the number displayed above the corresponding window. It's essential to find and sit in the seat that matches the one listed on your ticket. Each seat comes equipped with:
Within the train carriages, passengers have access to a variety of facilities they can try. Some are present in every carriage, while others might be specific to certain ones:
On certain shinkansen routes, you might also encounter staff members selling food and drinks. This is especially convenient if you didn't get a chance to purchase an ekiben or snacks before boarding.
Each time the train approaches a station, an announcement is made over the intercom. If you're nearing your stop, it's wise to gather your belongings in preparation to disembark.
Before leaving, ensure that seats and tables are returned to their original state. Should you have any trash, please take it with you. Platforms usually have trash bins where you can dispose of waste.
Given the brief stops of shinkansen trains, it's recommended to stand near the doors as the train halts. When the doors open, exit in a calm and orderly fashion.
Next, follow signs directing you to the shinkansen station's exit gate. Here, the process will mirror your entrance, whether you're at a station with direct or double gates.
Typically, the exit gate will retain your shinkansen ticket. However, some gates might return it, allowing you to keep it as a keepsake.
And that wraps up the guide on how to navigate the shinkansen experience. Simple, right? If you ever find yourself in Japan, seizing the opportunity to ride one of the world's fastest trains is an absolute must. Safe travels!