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.

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.

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

  1. Hi,
    I was told by one person about the type of bullet trains, one being super-express. It’s my understanding that all the bullet trains in Japan are super-express trains.

    Is this not correct?

    1. Hi Roger,

      All bullet trains are called “Super Express”. But some trains skip many stations and others stop at all stations. For example, on Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-osaka, there are three kinds of trains which are Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. Nozomi is the fastest train and it stops at Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Shin-Osaka only. Hikari stops more and Kodama stops at all stations. But these three trains are called Super Express. As long as train runs on Shinkansen (bullet train) track, it’s called Super Express.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi,
    I will like to travel to Gujo Hachiman in the Gifu Prefecture from Kyoto. I understand that I can take JR Tokaido to Nagoya then transfer to Gifu.

    If I am using JR Pass, which is the most direct route i should take? I am confused on which transport to take at Nagoya.

    Thank you very much.
    Regards,
    Matthew

    1. Hi Matthew,

      The easiest route is taking Wide View Hida. You can get Minoota directly without any transfer.
      https://jprail.com/trains/sort-by-type/limited-express/limited-express-wide-view-hida.html

      There is only one trip running from Kyoto which departs from Kyoto at 8:34. You can find this schedule at Hyperdia:
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/basic-informations/timetable-and-reservation/hyperdia-perfect-guide-train-timetable-and-route-search-engine.html

      If you cannot take this train, you can proceed to Nagoya by Shinkansen (bullet train) and take Wide View Hida from Nagoya. Wide View Hida depart from Nagoya almost every hour.

      After arrival at Minoota, you will take Nagaragawa railway to Gujo-Hachiman. JR Pass does not cover Nagaragawa railway.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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