Japan Shinkansen-Bullet Trains and Traveling Japan

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Traveling between the major cities in Japan is relatively simple, fast and cost effective with the country’s network of bullet trains, or shinkansen.  The network, operated by Japan Railways (JR), runs almost to the second, with comfort and speeds up to 185 MPH (or 300 KPH).  Almost all of the six shinkansen lines have track exclusively designated for bullet trains (the exceptions are the Akita and Yamagata lines), making the system extremely safe and extraordinarily punctual.

Types of Service
Classes of Service
Cost
Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass
Shinkansen Busy Season
Lines

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Types of Service

Most lines have three general types of service: the express (or Nozomi stopping only at major cities) and the local service (or Kodama stopping at all stations along the route).   Hikari is an intermediate service in between the Nozomi and the Kodama.  Each shinkansen line may have a different name for the different types of service; all types of service will fall under one of these, however. The Japan Rail (JR) Pass is available for the Hikari and Kodama.

Classes of Service

There are multiple seat and tickets classes on most lines.  First, there is a choice between which type of service class: Ordinary, Green (equivalent to normal business class on airlines), and Gran (equivalent to normal first class on airlines).  While the seats in the Ordinary class provide a reasonable space for seating, each step up in class provides more space.  The Ordinary class offers rows of 3 x  2; the Green offers 2 x 2; and, the Gran offers 2 x 1.

Cost

Reserved vs Unreserved

One can purchase either a reserved seat (shiteiseki) or an unreserved seat (jiyūseki), each with its own type cars.  Hayate and Komachi trains along the Tohoku Shinkansen are fully reserved and carry no non-reserved seating.  The cost of reserved seats is generally a few hundred yen, generally around $5 to $15 depending on the length of travel, line and normal traffic load for that day or season.

Class of Service

The cost based on class of service based on length of trip, time and season.

Japan Rail Pass  or JR Pass

  • The JR Pass is for tourists and Japanese nationals who live abroad.  The passes must be purchased outside of Japan.
  • Children between the ages of 6 and 11 pay half.  Children under 6 are no charge if they do not occupy their own seat and accompanied by an adult with a JR Pass.
  • The passes are good for the Ordinary and Green car classes.  The Nozomi is one of only a few JR trains that cannot be used with the Japan Rail Pass.
  • Passes can be purchased for 7, 14 and 21 days.
  • The JR Passes must be purchased in advance.  An Exchange Voucher will be sent by mail.  The voucher can then be exchanged at any of the following stations in the exchange office.
    Purchasing JR Passes in North America or Internationally.
    Cost of the current JR PassesCurrent U.S. dollar and Japanese exchange rate.
  • JR Passes must be used at one of the manned gates and not the automated ticket reading gates.
  • Seat reservations: To use the JR Pass unreserved, simply show your pass at the gate.  To make a seat reservation, visit any Travel Service Centre or reserved-seat ticket office called “Midori-no-madoguchi” at a JR station.
  • Seat reservation and train usage goes up significantly during weekends and holidays.  The following holidays are significantly difficult to get reserved seating:

o       April 29 to May 5 when there are a number of consecutive Japanese holidays.

o       August 13 to 15 during the O-bon season.

o       December 29 to January 5 during the New Year period when many Japanese return home for the holiday.

o       Avoid traveling during the morning and evening rush hours (7:30-9:30 am and 5:00-8:00 pm) in the major cities.

  • The Japan Rail Pass is also valid for the following buses: local lines of JR bus companies (JR Hokkaido Bus, JR Bus Tohoku, JR Bus Kanto, JR Tokai Bus, West Japan JR Bus, Chugoku JR Bus, JR Shikoku Bus, JR Kyushu Bus) and some of JR highway bus services (Sapporo-Otaru; Morioka-Hirosaki; Tokyo-Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka,Tsukuba Center; Nagoya-Kyoto, Osaka; Osaka-Tsuyama, Kasai Flower Center), and ferry: the JR Miyajima ferry.

Lines

Bullet
Shinkansen Lines

Area Served

Types of Service

Tokaido Connecting Japan’s three largest metropolitanareas:Tokyo/Yokohama, Nagoya andOsaka/Kyoto Nozomi, Hikari, Kodama
Sanyo Connecting Osaka with the island of KyushuAreas:Shin-OsakaHiroshimaHakata on the island of KyushuFukuoka
Some Sanyo trains provide thru service to the Tokaido via Tokyo and to the Kyushu via Kagoshima.
Mizuho, Nozomi, Sakura, Hikari, Kodama
Tohoku Connects Tokyo with Aomori at the northern tip of HonshuTwo branch lines connect directly with Akita and Yamagata Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko, Komachi
(Akita), Tsubasa
(Yamagata)
Joetsu Connects Tokyo with Niigata, commonly known as JR East.Joetsu provides access to hot spring and ski resorts in Gunma and Niigata during the winter months. Toki,Tanigawa,
Nagano Nagano is formally known as the Hokuriku Shinkansen.Oerates between Tokyo and Nagano Asama
Kyushu Connects Fukuoka in the north with Kagoshima in the south island of Kyushu.  Eventually, Nagasaki is planned to be serviced a branch line. Nozomi,Asama

Map of Japan Shinkansen-Bullet Trains System

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