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Shinkansen, High-speed railway of Japan

Shinkansen train running around Mt.FujiPhoto by photolibrary

Shinkansen is the high-speed railway of Japan.
It means "New trunk lines".

Most lines have the tracks for Shinkansen only and the stations are constructed only in main cities.

It is very available for your travel in Japan because it is very fast, punctual and safe.

Short History of Shinkansen

After Japan was defeated in the World War II (1945), the engineers of the Japan National Railway planned a high-speed railway because the main lines of railway almost reached their limits of transportation capacity.

Railway had already been a declining industry, but the Japanese government approved the construction project of Shinkansen in 1958.

Though they overcame many difficulties, the engineers developed with the technologies which had been accumulated for a long time.

At last, just before the Tokyo Olympic Game in 1964, Shinkansen opened on October 1st. (The opening day of the Olympic was October 10th.)
The realization of the train running at a speed of 200km/h surprised the world.

At that time, the route was only between Tokyo and Osaka.
Since then, some main routes have been constructed.
Shinkansen has changed completely the transportation by railway in Japan.

Over half century have passed since the start of Shinkansen.
But, no fatal passenger accident has occurred.

Only three times, Shinkansen ran off the track by great earthquakes (2004 Niigata, 2016 Kumamoto and 2022 Tohoku). But the passengers were safe.
Even when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in 2011, all Shinkansen trains stopped automatically and safely.

Now, the development of new high-speed train system "Maglev" started. (The Japanese name is "Linear Chuo Shinkansen".)
It will complete in 2027.
The max speed is 500km/h and it will run only in 40 minutes between Tokyo and Nagoya (about 285km).

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Western Japan

Route Map of Shinkansen in Western Japan

From Tokyo, there is a Shinkansen route to Kagoshima-Chuo in the Kyushu Island.

It is the most important route in Japan, and passes several big cities such as Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka, Hiroshima and Hakata.

Between Honshu Island and Kyushu Island, the trains run through an undersea tunnel.

In addition, in Kyushu Island, a branch line to Nagasaki partly opened in 2022.

By the way, some station names have "Shin-".
"Shin" means "new", so the stations are placed a little bit apart from the central station of the city.

The distance and the time by the fastest train from Tokyo:
Nagoya = 342km, 1H 40M
Kyoto = 476km, 2H 15M
Shin-Osaka = 515km, 2H 30M
Hiroshima = 821km, 4H 00M
Hakata = 1069km, 5H 00M
Kagoshima-Chuo = 1326km, 1H 20M from Hakata

Shinkansen Nozomi
Shinkansen Nozomi, Photo by

Between Tokyo and Hakata, the fastest train is "Nozomi" and stops only at some main big cities.
The second fastest train is "Hikari" and stops at more stations than Nozomi.
And "Kodama" stops at all stations.

Especially, many trains are operated frequently between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka.
Nozomi is operated 5-7 times, Hikari is operated 2 times, and Kodama is operated 2 times an hour.
That's like commuter train. (In fact, The trains leave at intervals of 3 minutes to 10 minutes.)
So, when you move between Tokyo and Kyoto or Osaka, you can catch the train easily at any time.

Between Hakata and Kagoshima-Chuo, the fastest train is "Mizuho" and the second fastest train is "Sakura". Many of the trains run from Shin-Osaka.
And "Tsubame" stops at all stations.

Between Hakata and Nagasaki, limited express trains are operated from Hakata to Takeo-Onsen and Shinkansen "Kamome" runs from Takeo-Onsen to Nagasaki.

On these routes, three JR companies operate the trains.
Of course, you need not to worry about that when you use this route.
But, it is good to know the formal names of each section.

Tokyo - Shin-Osaka : Tokaido Shinkansen (by JR Central co.)
Shin-Osaka - Hakata : San-yo Shinkansen (by JR West co.)
Hakata - Kagoshima-Chuo : Kyushu Shinkansen (by JR Kyushu co.)
Takeo-Onsen - Nagasaki : Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen (by JR Kyushu co.)

Please check the website of each company.

JR Central JR West JR Kyushu

Shinkansen from Tokyo to Eastern Japan

Route Map of Shinkansen in Eastern Japan

From Tokyo, a Shinkansen route is set up toward north.
It branches some lines. Therefore, we can travel to various areas in Eastern Japan by Shinkansen.

The main route is Tohoku Shinkansen.
It passes Sendai, Morioka and Shin-Aomori.

And it reaches Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto in Hokkaido Island.
Between Honshu Island and Hokkaido Island, the trains run through the world's longest undersea tunnel (Seikan Tunnel, 53.8km).
The section between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto is called as Hokkaido Shinkansen.

The distance and the time by the fastest train from Tokyo:
Sendai = 325km, 1H 30M
Morioka = 497km, 2H 10M
Shin-Aomori = 675km, 3H 00M
Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto = 824km, 4H 02M

Shinkansen Hayabusa
Shinkansen Hayabusa, Photo by

On this route, the fastest train is "Hayabusa" and stops only at some main cities.
The second fastest train is "Hayate" and stops at more stations than Hayabusa.
These trains run at 320km/h which is the fastest speed in Japan.

"Yamabiko" and "Nasuno" stop at many stations.
Nasuno is the train running for a short distance from Tokyo.

There are two short branch lines.
One is Yamagata Shinkansen from Fukushima to Yamagata and Shinjo.
Another is Akita Shinkansen from Morioka to Akita.

On these routes, Shinkansen train runs on regular JR lines.
Therefore, the max speed is 130km/h.

The names of train are "Tsubasa" for Yamagata Shinkansen and "Komachi" for Akita Shinkansen.
Of course, these trains depart from Tokyo and enter these lines directly.

Toward northwest from Tokyo, there is Joetsu Shinkansen.
It branches at Omiya station, and passes Takasaki and Echigo-Yuzawa, then reaches Niigata.

The names of train are "Toki" and "Tanigawa".
Tanigawa is the train running for a short distance from Tokyo.

At Takasaki station, Hokuriku Shinkansen branches.
It passes Nagano and Toyama, and reaches Kanazawa.

The fastest train is "Kagayaki" and the second fastest train is "Hakutaka".
And the train for Nagano is "Asama" and the train within Hokuriku area is "Tsurugi".

Shinkansen Kagayaki at Tokyo station
Shinkansen Kagayaki at Tokyo station

The distance and the time by the fastest train from Tokyo:
Niigata = 301km, 1H 40M
Nagano = 226km, 1H 25M
Kanazawa = 454km, 2H 30M
Tsuruga = 579km, 3H 30 M

As described above, Shinkansen trains to eastern Japan have various name and destination.
And two different trains are often connected and depart at Tokyo, then are divided at the branch station.
So, you must check the platform to take the right train.

All of these routes in eastern Japan are operated by JR East company.
And the west part of Hokuriku Shinkansen is operated by JR West company.
Please check the website of each company.

JR East JR West

How to buy Shinkansen ticket

All Shinkansen trains are operated by JR companies.
JR companies are originally the Japan National Railway, and have the nationwide railway network.

Because Shinkansen is a limited express of JR, you can use Shinkansen by JR ticket.
When you transfer from Shinkansen to a JR line, you can pass the transfer gate by the ticket.

You can buy the ticket at any JR station.

A Shinkansen train have some "Reserved Seat Cars", a few "Non-Reserved Seat Cars" and a few "Green Cars".

When you want to get your seat surely, buy the reserved seat ticket.

In non-reserved seat car, you can sit on your favorite seat. But when the car is crowded, you may be forced to stand until any seats is open.
The fare is a little cheaper than reserved seat.

Green Car is like business class of airplane.
Of course, the seat is reserved but the fare is more expensive than the other reserved seat.

If you use Japan Rail Pass, you can board a Shinkansen train. Because, it is sold by JR companies.
But, you can't use "Nozomi" and "Mizuho" by the pass.

No sleeping car and dining car

Shinkansen is operated from 6:00 to 24:00.
So, it has no sleeping car.

And, Shinkansen has no dining car.
Therefore, when you must stay in the car at mealtime, it is a way that you buy a box lunch and enjoy it in the car.

You can see Mt.Fuji in Tokaido-Shinkansen in winter

Seats of Shinkansen
Seats of Shinkansen, Photo by

You can see Mt.Fuji when it is fine and the air is clean in winter.

After about 40 to 50 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen Nozomi, you can see the mountain on the right hand.

In the Shinkansen car, 3-seats and 2-seats are installed on both sides.
"A","B","C" are assigned to the 3-seats side and "D","E" are assigned to the 2-seats side.

And the seat that you can see Mt.Fuji directly is "E" (window seat) of 2-seat. (Of course, you can see it on the other seat.)
When you buy the reaserved-seat ticket, you can request "E" seat.