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


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.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

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
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.

41 thoughts on “What is Shinkansen (bullet train)? Most convenient and the fastest train service throughout Japan.”

  1. Hello Takeshi, can please suggest me which railpass (-es) should I buy for my 2 week itinerary:
    Day1 Tokyo
    Day 2 Tokyo
    Day 3 Tokyo
    Day 4 Tokyo – Kobe – Himeji – Kobe
    Day 5 Kobe – Arima Onsen
    Day6 Arima Onsen – Nara – Osaka
    Day 7 Osaka – Tokyo
    Day 8 Tokyo – Koyasan
    Day 9 Koyasan – Kyoto
    Day 10 Kyoto
    Day 11 Kyoto
    Day 12 Kyoto – Hakone
    Day 13 Hakone – Tokyo

    Is it worth getting the 2 week Japan Rail Pass or just for 1 week and then get the local passes like Kansai 3 day and the rest.
    Thank you very much!

    1. Hi Leo,

      14 days JR pass is okay. But I’m curious. Why do you go back to Tokyo on day 7? It’s wasting time but this round trip to Tokyo make you get the worth of 14 days pass.

      If you don’t go back to Tokyo on day 7 and stay somewhere in Kansai area, both 7 days and 14 days passes do not work. Single ticket is okay for Tokyo-Osaka and local deals in Kansai area. Please think about it.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Hi Takeshi,
        thank you very much for your quick answer.
        I knew that you will ask about day 7. It’s very frustrating but we are returning back to Tokyo for 1 day beucase my gf wants to go to Ghibli Museum and we managed to get tickets only for 7th of May.
        It makes things complicated but….

          1. MR Takeshi, I’ve managed to reserve a seat on Limited Express to Nikko from Tokyo with the Nikko City area pass.
            Is there a way to reserve the Limited Expess from Osaka Namba to Koyasan if I bought Koyasan World Heritage Ticket?

            And also, is there a way to reserve seats on JR line online?
            Or my only option is to reserve them first thing at the kiost at Haneda airport?

            Thank you very much.

          2. Hi Leo,

            You have to reserve your seat for trip to Koyasan in Japan.
            You cannot book a seat for Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka either. You need to book it after you arrive in Japan too.


            Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hello Takeshi-san,
    We plan to take the shinkansen hikari 511 from Hakone-Yumoto to Odawara to Kyoto. Can you please refer me to a website which I can reserve tickets for non-Japanese nationals?
    Thank you.

  3. hi there,
    My partner and I are traveling to Japan late October and were wondering what would be the cheapest option and how would we travel between these places?
    Tokyo- Kyoto
    Hiroshima- Osaka
    Osaka – Nagano
    (day trip from Nagano to Snow Monkeys)
    Yamanashi- Lake Kawaguchi
    Lake Kawaguchi- Tokyo

    1. Hi Tait,

      14 days JR pass is the best choice. If 14 days pass is not enough to cover all part of your trip, you can start using when you leave Tokyo for Kyoto. And also you don’t need to include Lake Kawaguchi in 14 days period.

      You can use Shinkansen for Hiroshima, Osaka and Kyoto as you read the post above.
      For Osaka to Nagano, you can take limited express Thunderbird to Kanazawa and take Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano.

      Hokuriku Shinkansen also takes you to Tokyo from Nagano. You can access to Yamanashi, Lake Kawaguchi from Tokyo. Tokyo route is most convenient route to get Yamanashi. You can take Limited Express Kaiji or Azusa to get Yamanashi.

      You can access to Lake Kawaguchi from Otsuki. But JR pass covers until you get Otsuki. After Otsuki, you need to take Fuji Kyuko railway but it’s not covered by JR Pass. This is reason why I mentioned that you don’t need to include Lake Kawaguchi in 14 days period. If you can, that’s okay. Just pay additional to take Fuji Kyuko. Please see the link below:


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi there,

    I am planning a trip this Dec with my family of 4 adults + 1 child. Pls advice if taking passes or single trip would be better;

    Osaka – Kyoto
    Kyoto – Takayama
    Takayama – Osaka


  5. Hi,

    I will be travelling to Japan for 8 days with my family. Total we have 5 adults and 3 children.
    This is our itinerary.
    Day 1 -3 – arrival at Nagoya. Going around to town area and visiting the shrines (by train).
    Day 4 – travel from Nagoya to Takayama (1 day trip)
    Day 5 – travel from Nagoya to Osaka
    Day 6 – travel from Osaka to Kyoto (1 day trip)
    Day 7 – Osaka city to Kansai Airport

    Need your advice for the passes.
    Thank you.

  6. Hello Sir,

    My friends will be traveling on February 21, 2017 from Manila-Nagola-Manila. My question is what is the best way for them to get Tokyo as soon as possible? and how much it will cost? and how long is the trip? Your reply will be a big help for us as a first time traveler in Japan. Thank you!

  7. Hello Takeshi,

    I have some questions for our upcoming trip next month(Mid-October):

    First, I am planning to buy a shinkansen ticket through Platt Kodama (http://www.jrtours.co.jp/kodama/en/) for my trip going to Nagoya from Shin-Yokohama station. Will I be able to buy that ticket in the JR Tours office in Shinagawa station even if I will not be boarding the Shinkansen in Shinagawa station?

    Second, my friends will be travelling at this order:
    Shinagawa-Yokohama-Kyoto-Osaka-Nagoya. Would you recommend that they buy individual Platt Kodama tickets or they avail of a JR pass? Which one would be cheaper?

    Third, is there a limit as to the number of platt kodama tickets that you can purchase or are there no limit as long as there is availability?

    Lastly, if they would buy a JR Pass will they be more guaranteed that they will be able to get a seat in their preferred train schedule compared to when they buy individual platt kodama tickets?

    Thank you very much!

    1. Hi JR,

      1. Yes, you can.

      2. Platt Kodama is cheaper.

      3. You can purchase as many as you want as long as it’s available.

      4. JR pass gives you more chance to book. Some part of reserved seat is sold for Platt Kodama. But all reserved seat is available for JR pass. And JR pass covers both Kodama and Hikari. There are many more trains and many more seats for JR Pass.


      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. Hi there.
    We are visiting Japan at the end of Sept for 15 days. We would like your recommendation as to go with the rail pads or not for these journeys.

    Tokyo to hakone
    Hakone to kyoto
    Kyoto to Osaka
    Osaka to fukuoka
    Fukuoka to Osaka airport

  9. Helloo..
    I am planning to tokyo next month. If I want to go to toyama (alpine route) from tokyo. I am better use joetsu shinkansen or horuriku shinkansen? Which one is cheaper?

  10. Hello,
    I am planning a fortnights staying in Japan and I am getting lost with the Shinkansen and JR trains and passes.
    If I want to do the below itinirary what is the best pass to take?
    Tokyo-Hakone day trip
    Kyoto-Kanazawa day trip

    Thanks for yor help

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