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.

*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.

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

    1. Hi Ellie,

      You have to take two Shinkansen, Tokaido Shinakansen (Shin-Osaka to Tokyo) and Akita Shinkansen (Tokyo to Akita).
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-tokai/nagoya-toyohashi/what-is-shinkansen-bullet-train.html
      http://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-departure-arrival-stations/stations-in-kanto/tokyo/ueno/akita-shinkansen.html

      You can book a ticket at “Midori no Madoguchi” that is reservation window. You can find it at most of JR station.

      Fare and timetable can be found at Hyperdia.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/hyperdia-perfect-guide-train-timetable-and-route-search-engine.html

      I recommend you to use JR pass. Total fare is almost same as 7 days pass price.
      http://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-visitors/japan-rail-pass-user-guide-how-to-use-jr-pass-to-its-maximum.html

      Cheers.

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  1. I am senior citizen of India. I want to go japan in next September 2015.In this connection some trips from you.have senior citizen concession in japan railway.Name of the list Gaust house and address where I live chiefly.

    1. Hi Rathindra,

      Unfortunately most of railway companies do not have any senior discount. A few companies offer discount but you have to deal with them in Japanese and must register member in Japanese, not realistic.

      There are too many accommodations in Japan and I’m sorry but I cannot tell it to you.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JP Rail

  2. HI,
    When checking route from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori on Hyperdia website, I seem to be taken via Akita? Do you know if JP rail pass allows direct train from Tokyo to Aomori without need to change.

    Thanks

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

    1. 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

  5. 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

    1. 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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