Japan – The land of high speed Bullet Trains
Bullet Trains are one of the safest and fastest way to travel in Japan. It provides services to all over the country to reduce travel time between major cities.
Bullet Trains/Shinkansen in Japan
High speed bullet trains in Japan are an amazing invention done in early centuries to minimize the travel time between major cities. Bullet trains are also known as Shinkansens and it is operated by Japan Railway Company. Shinkansen has the possibility to increase its speed up to 320 Km/hr. Passengers can travel in Shinkansen comfortably although the speed of the train is so high. The bullet train has cafeterias, food carts with snacks and vending machines. Details of the train stations and other important announcements are made in both English and Japanese. Trains are punctual, efficient and one of the safest way to travel long distance. Therefore locals as well as foreigners can travel in Shinkansen trains without any hassle. The trains have two classes Ordinary seats (2nd Class) and Green Car Seats (1st Class). Reservations need to be made to travel in most of the trains.
This article contains information on the 7 Shinkansen Lines operate in Japan and the railway passes that can be used in Shinkansen.
There are 7 Shinkansen lines in Japan and most lines are served by multiple train categories, ranging from the fastest category that stops only at major stations to the slowest category that stops at every station. Three train categories which runs in most of the lines are Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama.
Nozomi train is the fastest train category and it stops only at the largest or main stations. Hikari is the second fastest category as it is slower than the Nozomi and the train stops at more stations than the Nozomi train. Kodama is the slowest among the Shinkansen trains as it stops in every station.
Tokaido Shinkansen line connects largest metropolitan areas in Japan such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto. Train usually runs at a speed of 285 Km/h. Tokaido Shinkansen starts from Tokyo and ends in Shin Osaka. This is the Japan’s best and mostly used Shinkansen line.
There are three categories in Tokaido Shinkansen line
The Nozomi Train is the fastest train and it takes about 2.5 hours to reach Shin Osaka from Tokyo. There are usually four departures per hour during non peak hours and in peak hours there are more than four departures per hour. The Nozomi is one of the JR trains that cannot use the Japan Rail Pass. Ticket cost of a Nozomi Train to Shin Osaka from Tokyo will be around 14,450 yen.
The Hikari train usually takes about 4 hours to reach Shin Osaka from Tokyo and there are two departures per hour.
The Kodama requires about 4 hours to reach Shin Osaka from Tokyo. There are usually two departures per hour.
Sanyo Shinkansen connects the cities of Osaka (Shin Osaka Station) with Fukuoka (Hakata Station) on the island of Kyushu. The train can increase its speed up to 300 km/h. Sanyo Shinkansen is operated by the JR West Company.
Five train categories operates on the Sanyo Shinkansen line are Nozomi Train, Hikari Train, Kodama Train, Mizuho Train and Sakura Train.
The Nozomi train takes about two and half hours to reach Hakata from Shin Osaka. There are three departures per hour during non peak hours and more than three departures during peak hours. Normally two trains travel to Hakata from Shin Osaka and other train travels to Hiroshima from Shin Osaka. Japan Railway pass cannot be used in Nozomi Trains however commuters can use JR Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass and JR Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass to travel in Nozomi Trains.
There are two types of Hikari Trains. The 16 car train travel to Okayama from Tokyo and stops in all stations between Shin Osaka and Okayama. The 8 car train runs between Shin Osaka and Hakata.
The Kodama which is the slowest Shinkansen train stops at all stations and takes about 5 hours to reach Hakata from Shin Osaka.
The Mizuho is the fastest train category in the Sanyo Shinkansen line and connects with the Kyushu Shinkansen from Kagoshima. There are few trains per day mainly in morning and evenings. Japan Rail Pass cannot be used in Mizuho train however travelers can use JR Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass and JR Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass.
The other train operates on the Sanyo Shinkansen line is the Sakura Train. The train operates between Shin Osaka and Kagoshima Chuo Station on the Kyushu Shinkansen. The Sakura train stops at few more stations than Mizuho train.
The Kyushu Shinkansen connects Fukuoka (Hakata Station) in the north with Kagoshima (Kagoshima Chuo Station) in the south of Kyushu. Kyushu Shinkansens are operated by the JR Kyushu Company.
There are three trains operate in Kyushu Shinkansen line
The Mizuho is the fastest train and stops only at Hakata, Kumamoto and Kagoshima Chuo stations. The train connects with the Sanyo Shinkansen from Osaka. However there are very few departures per day specially in the morning and evening. Kyushu Rail Pass can be used to travel in Mizuho trains and JR Passes are not covered for this train category.
The Sakura is the second fastest train category and stops few more stations than the Mizuho train. There are two departures per hour and some trains provide services to the Sanyo shinkansen from Osaka.
The Tsubame is the slowest train category and it stops at all the stations between Hakata and Kumamoto.
The Tohoku Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Aomori at the northern tip of Honshu. This is operated by the JR East Company.
There are six train categories in the Tohoku Shinkansen line.
The Hayabusa train is the fastest train category among all the bullet trains in Japan. Average speed of the train is around 320 Km/h. Some trains continue beyond Shin Aomori and travel upto Hakodate to provide services to the Hokkaido Shinkansen. Seat reservation is mandatory in the Hayabusa Trains.
The other train category in the line is the Hayate train which runs between Tokyo and Morioka. There are few trains per day and reservations should be made for this train as well.
The Yamabiko is the next fastest train category in the Tohoku Shinkansen line. Train runs to Morioka from Tokyo and some trains travel up to Sendai. Difference between the Hayate train and Yamabiko is Hayate train does not stop at any stations between Omiya and Sendai while Yamabiko stops in every station. Many Yamabiko trains are coupled with a Tsubasa train which travels between Tokyo and Fukushima.
The Nasuno is the slowest train in the line and it stops in every station. Train runs to Koriyama from Tokyo and target commuters from Fukushima and Tochigi prefectures.
The Komachi is the only train category of the Akita Shinkansen. The trains are coupled with Hayabusa trains between Tokyo and Morioka and run on their own between Morioka and Akita. Trains change directions between Akita and Omagari, the last station before Akita. Seat reservations are mandatory in the Komachi train as well.
The Tsubasa is the only train category of the Yamagata Shinkansen. Virtually all Tsubasa trains are coupled with a Yamabiko train between Tokyo and Fukushima and run on their own between Fukushima and Shinjo. Some trains terminate at Yamagata Station as Tsubasa trains are narrower than other shinkansen trains.
The Hokkaido Shinkansen connects Aomori on Honshu Island with Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido via the Seikan Tunnel. The trains are operated by the JR Hokkaido company. The fastest train reach Hokkaido in about four hours.
Most trains in the Hokkaido Shinkansen are the Hayabusa Trains which is a category of Tohoku Shinkansen. The train runs between in Tokyo and Hakodate.
Few trains of the Hayate trains also operates in this line in early morning and late evenings. However this train runs between Hakodate and Shin Aomori/ Morioka only.
The Joetsu Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Niigata. It is operated by the JR East company. The train provides opportunity to travel for hot spring and Ski resorts in Gunma and Niigata.
Two train categories operate on the Joetsu Shinkansen line are The Toki and The Tanigawa Trains.
The Toki is the fastest in the Joetsu Shinkansen and it runs between Tokyo and Niigata Stations.
The Tanigawa is the slowest train and the train stops at all stations between Tokyo and Echigo Yuzawa Stations. The Tanigawa train operates mainly during the morning and evening peak hours, targeting commuters from Gunma and Saitama Prefectures. During the winter season some trains stops at the Gala Yuzawa Station as there is a popular ski resort.
The Hokuriku Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Kanazawa. It is operated by the JR East and JR West companies.
The Kagayaki is the fastest train category in the Hokuriku Shinkansen and departs only in the mornings and evenings. The train takes about 2 and half hours to reach Kanazawa from Tokyo. The Kagayaki train stops only at Ueno, Omiya, Nagano and Toyama. Seat reservation is mandatory to travel in the train.
The Hakutaka is the slowest train and it skips many stations between Tokyo and Nagano, but stops at most of the stations beyond Nagano. The train will take 3 to 3 and half hours to run between Tokyo and Kanazawa.
The other train is the Asama and it runs only between Tokyo and Nagano.
The Tsurugi train shuttles between Kanazawa and Toyama Station, catering to local traffic between the two cities.
Accordingly the 7 Shinkansen lines cover most of the parts in Japan hence, travellers can travel throughout Japan with in a less time period. Following is the summary of start and last stations/destinations of each Shinkansens.
- Tokaido Shinkansen travels between Tokyo and Shin Osaka.
- Sanyo Shinkansen travels between Shin Osaka and Hakata
- Tohoku Shinkansen travels between Tokyo and Shin Aomori
- Joetsu Shinkansen travels between Omiya and Niigata
- Hokuriku Shinkansen travels between Takasaki and Kanazawa
- Kyushu Shinkansen travels between Hakata and Kagoshima Chuo
- Hokkaido Shinkansen travels between Shin Aomori and Shin Hakodate Hokuto
Commuters can find the ticket cost via https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/charge/
JR Rail pass
JR Rail passes allows commuters to travel across JR network. Railway psses can be obtained only by the foreigners who holds non Japanese passports and who have entered with a visa to stay less than 90 days. Bookings can be made before 3 months via online, ticket machines or ticket counters in Japan. Japan Railway pass is an economical way to travel throughout Japan with in less time period. Passes are available for 7, 14 and 21 consecutive days and can be used to travel in bullet trains, limited express trains, local trains, some JR buses etc. Ticket Prices of an ordinary passes for 7 days, 14 days and 21 days are 29,110 yen, 46,390 yen and 59,350 yen. Prices of Green Car passes are 38,880 yen, 62, 950 yen and 81, 870 yen.
Japan Rail Pass cannot be used to travel on Nozomi and Mizuho trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.
Apart from JR rail way pass there are few more area passes which allows commuters to access Shinkansen’s unlimitedly within a particular time period.
JR East Pass
JR East Pass can be used to travel in Eastern Japan including Tokyo, Nagano and Mount Fuji. This pass can be used to travel in Tohoku Shinkansen, Yamagata Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen and Hokuriku Shinkansen. Commuters can use this pass in any 5 days out of the 14 day period from the date of issue. Cost of the JR East pass would be 19,000 yen if you buy tickets from outside Japan and 20,000yen when purchasing from Japan.
The Sanyo pass can be taken to travel Osaka, Himeji, Okayama, Hiroshima and Hakata.
The Kansai area rail pass covers Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara and cost of a ticket is 19,000 yen for the tickets purchase via online.
JR Tokyo Wide Pass
The JR Tokyo Wide Pass provide unlimited travel on JR trains including Shinkansen and limited express trains and selected non-JR trains in the Kanto Region on three consecutive days. The pass was formerly known as JR Kanto Area Pass. Pass will be cost about 10,000yen.
Kyushu Rail Pass
Kyushu rail pass allows commuters to access five Shinkansens unlimitedly. The five Shinkansens are Tohoku Shinkansen, Akita Shinkansen, Yamagata Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen and Nagano Shinkansen. Kyushu is the third largest island in Japan and this 3 to 5 day pass allows passengers to travel throughout the Kyushu area.
Hokuriku Arch Pass
The Hokuriku Arch Pass provides unlimited travel on JR trains including Hokuriku Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka via the less traveled Hokuriku Region. The pass is valid for seven consecutive days and the cost would be around 24,000yen for online purchases and 25,000 yen for purchases via ticket counters and vending machines.
JR East Nagano Nigata Pass
The JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass can be used to travel in the Greater Tokyo area, Nagano, Niigata prefectures and in the Shonai region of Yamagata Prefecture on five days. Travelers can use this pass to travel in JR trains including Shinkansen and Limited express trains in the respective areas. Cost of a pass would be 17,000yen if purchased via online and 18,000 for purchases made from Japan.
JR Kansai Hokuriku Pass
The JR Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass allows pass holders with seven consecutive days of unlimited travel on shinkansen and limited express trains in the Kansai Region, Hokuriku Region and Okayama. It roughly combines the coverage areas of the Kansai Wide Area Pass and Hokuriku Area Pass into a single pass. Cost of a pass would be 15,000 yen for online purchases and 16,000yen if purchased inside Japan.
JR Kansai Wide Area Pass
The JR Kansai Wide Area Pass provides unlimited travel for five consecutive days on designated JR train lines including unreserved seats on Shinkansen and limited express trains in the Kansai Region. Ticket is 8,500 yen if purchased via online and 9,000 yen if purchased tickets from Japan.
JR Kansai Hiroshima Pass
The JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass can be used to travel five consecutive days in the designated JR train lines including Shinkansen and limited express trains in the Kansai Region and along the Sanyo Coast. Ticket cost is 13,000 yen to 14,000 yen.
JR Hiroshima Yamaguchi Pass
The JR Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass can be used to travel unlimitedly in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures and the shinkansen from Fukuoka. This is a five day pass and the cost of a pass is 11,000 yen for purchasing via online and 12,000 if purchased from Japan.
I hope this article will help you to select a suitable Shinkansen line according to your travel plans. Enjoy your ride in Shinkansen.