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What is Shinkansen (bullet train)? Most convenient and the fastest train service throughout Japan.


Shinkansen

Shinkansen (新幹線) is high speed train service that is operated by JR. It is one of the fastest train in world and sometimes called “Bullet Train”. JR has this high speed train network throughout Japan. You can save lots of your trip time by using this train system.

Most of you use this train system in your trip. I would like to share the basic information about this train system, Shinkansen.

Rakuten
Rakuten

What is the difference between Shinkansen and regular trains?

Shinkansen is completely different railway system from conventional trains that is called Zairaisen (在来線) in Japanese. regular track of JR lines). Shinkansen runs on the different tracks and Shinkansen have fewer stations than conventional lines because this is a long distance intercity train service.

ex) between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto.
No stations on Shinkansen
13 stations on conventional line (JR Kyoto line)

Shinkansen does not share the track with other conventional trains. Because Shinkansen’s rail gauge (1435 mm) is much wider than other JR line (1067 mm). So technically Shinkansen cannot run on the conventional railway track.

And Shinkansen has a different fare system. When you transfer from Shinkansen to conventional trains, even though both trains are same JR trains, you have to go through Shinkansen transfer gates.

Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen is shown by blue and Tohoku and other four Shinkansens are shown by Green.

The signage of Shinkansen transfer gates. Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen is shown by blue and Tohoku and other four Shinkansens are shown by Green.

So you need to change the platform in the station when you transfer among Shinkansen and other JR trains. So please expect to spend at least 10 minutes to transfer and sometimes need more in the mega station, like Tokyo, Shin-Osaka.

All Shinkansen routes

JR has now six Shinkansen lines.

Click to enlarge the map image. (C) Hisagi (氷鷺) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Click to enlarge the map image. (C) Hisagi (氷鷺) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Tokaido Shinkansen (東海道新幹線) Train names are Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama.
    It runs between Tokyo (東京) and Shin-Osaka (新大阪). It is connected with Sanyo Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka. Nozomi cannot be used by Japan Rail Pass.
  • Sanyo Shinkansen (山陽新幹線) Train names are Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama.
    It runs between Shin-Osaka (新大阪) and Hakata (博多). Since many trains go through from Tokaido Shinkansen, we call Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. Sanyo Shinkansen is connected with Kyushu Shinkansen at Hakata as well. Many direct train services, Mizuho and Sakura run to Kagoshima-Chuo on Kyushu Shinkansen.
  • Kyushu Shinkansen (九州新幹線) Train names are Mizuho, Sakura and Tsubasa.
    It runs between Hakata (博多) and Kagoshima-Chuo (鹿児島中央). All Mizuho and most of Sakura are operated between Shin-Osaka (新大阪) and Kumamoto or Kagoshima-Chuo. There is no direct train service from Tokyo (東京) to Kyushu. Mizuho cannot be used by Japan Rail Pass.
  • Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線) Train names are Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabikoo and Nasuno.
    It runs between Tokyo (東京) and Shin-Aomori (新青森). This Shinkansen line will be extended to Hakodate by 2016. Tohoku Shinkansen does not connect with Tokaido Shinkansen at Tokyo (東京). You have to transfer the train at Tokyo station.
  • Joetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線) Train names are Toki/Max Toki and Tanigawa/Max Tanigawa.
    It runs between Tokyo (東京) and Niigata (新潟). This Shinkansen share the track with Tohoku Shinkansen between Tokyo (東京) and Omiya. The train name that has “Max” is operated by “Max” double decker train.
  • Nagano Shinkansen (長野新幹線) Train name is Asama.
    It runs between Tokyo (東京) and Nagano (長野). This Shinkansen share the track with Joetsu Shinkansen between Tokyo (東京) and Takasaki. This Shinkansen line is officially called Hokuriku Shinkansen. Because this line will be extended to Kanazawa in Hokuriku area by 2015.
Double decker train that is called "MAX". It runs on Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen.

Double decker train that is called MAX. It runs on Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen.

And also there are two more Shinkasen lines. These lines are sometimes called “Mini Shinkansen”. Because these lines are upgraded from the exist conventional lines and rail gauge are changed to 1435 mm from 1067 mm. But other rail standards are same as previous conventional line. So these Shinkansen trains share with the local train in upgraded section but cannot run at high speed.

  • Yamagata Shinkansen (山形新幹線) Train name is Tsubasa.
    It runs between Tokyo (東京) and Shinjo (新庄) via Yamagata (山形). This Shinkansen train are coupled with Yamabiko on Tohoku Shinkansen between Tokyo and Fukushima (福島). And it runs on the upgraded regular track with the local trains from Fukushima to Shinjo.
  • Akita Shinkansen (秋田新幹線) Train name is Komachi.
    It runs between Tokyo (東京) and Akita (秋田). This Shinkansen trains are coupled with Hayabusa or Hayate on Tohoku Shinkansen between Tokyo and Morioka (盛岡). And it runs on the upgraded regular track with the local trains from Morioka to Akita.

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6 Comments to “What is Shinkansen (bullet train)? Most convenient and the fastest train service throughout Japan.”

  1. Kathy says:

    Would u please help me to confirm that I can take the train from Aonori to Ueno 新幹線はやぶさ32号 no extra charge as long as I have JR pass? Thank u very much.

  2. Elisa yu says:

    Hi JPrail. I will be in fukouka this sept 10 to 13. What is the best way to go to Osaka from Fukuoka? By plane or by bullet train? Thank you for your help!

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Elisa,

      I think Shinkansen is better. In travel time, flight is much shorter than Shinkansen. But you will spend the time to get airport and check in. Total spending time for taking flight is almost same as Shinkansen trip time. Shinkansen can connect both downtown core of Osaka and Fukuoka. Taking Shinkansen makes you more convenient and less stress.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JP Rail

  3. jj says:

    Hi JPRail,

    I wonder what is the luggage size permitted to carry in japan train?
    I am thinking to bring a 28 inch suitcase.

    Regard,s
    Joane

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Joane,
      They don’t have any restriction. You can carry any size of baggage. But most of trains do not have any luggage space except Narita Express, Haruka (Kansai airport express) and some of resort trains. So basically you can keep your baggage at your seat. I recommend you to minimize your luggage. Otherwise you have to leave your baggage at the entrance deck.
      Takeshi / JP Rail

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