A-Z of Japan: S is for…

When thinking about what to write for S in my A-Z of Japan, I’m really spoilt for choice. I could write about sushi (寿司), soba (蕎麦) or shochu (焼酎). Shinto (神道), shukubo (temple lodging), or shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine). Sapporo (札幌市), Shibuya (渋谷区) or Shizuoka (静岡県). Sakura (桜), sumo (相撲) or shrines (神社). All of those would be good topics, but I’ve decided that this week…

S is for… Shinkansen!


I should start this by saying that I am not an expert on trains, Japanese or otherwise, and I’m not a “densha okaku” (train freak) either. However, I did find myself strangely fascinated by shinkansen while in Japan.

“Shinkansen” (新幹線) actually means “new main line” (or “new truck line”), but we refer to shinkansen as “bullet trains” in English. The first shinkansen line was the Tokaido Shinkansen in 1964. Now there are six shinkansen lines: Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Tokyo to Shin-Osaka), Sanyō Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka to Hakata), Tōhoku Shinkansen (Tokyo to Shin-Aomori), Jōetsu Shinkansen (Ōmiya to Niigata), Nagano Shinkansen (the first part of the Hokuriku Shinkansen) (Takasaki to Nagano), Kyūshū Shinkansen (Hakata to Kagoshima-Chūō), and two more, known as Mini-shinkansen, in the process of being built: Yamagata Shinkansen (Fukushima to Shinjō) and Akita Shinkansen (Morioka to Akita).

Shinkansen are famous for being super high-speed trains, with maximum speeds of 240–300 km/h (149–186 mph). Surprisingly, despite the high speeds, they are incredibly comfortable to ride. Seats recline, there’s loads of space, and the ride is always smooth. I have written postcards while riding on a shinkansen train – something that I’ve discovered is not possible on ordinary British trains!

Inside the bullet train

It’s probably a bit geeky to say this, but one of the “things you have to do” in Japan is ride a bullet train. They are quite expensive to ride, but they’re the fastest way to really travel around and make the most of Japan. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can ride shinkansen trains, except the fastest kind called Nozomi. (For more about the JR Pass, click here.) There really is nothing like kicking back with your bento box and a can of beer on a high-speed bullet train, watching Mount Fuji whizz by.

Shinkansen are really easy to use, even if you don’t understand any Japanese. Everything is in English, and it’s very easy to understand which train to get. Shinkansen trains are famous for being on time, safe and immaculately clean. I’ve never seen a messy or dirty train, and my only complaint would be that they still have smoking carriages – but you can avoid those by booking your seat elsewhere.

Although shinkansen technology does exist outside of Japan, everyone thinks of the shinkansen as being a Japanese symbol. So much so, that there is even a Sanrio shinkansen character:

(Image source)

A special shinkansen-shaped Kit Kat box was also made. It’s probably the coolest packaging design I ever saw in Japan!

Kit Kat Shinkansen

It came with these cute stickers too:

Kit Kat Shinkansen

So, when you’re in Japan, make sure you take a ride on a shinkansen train! It might be tempting to save money by using local trains, but riding a shinkansen train really is an experience that shouldn’t be missed! (^_^)v

6 thoughts on “A-Z of Japan: S is for…

    • It’s impolite while walking or on the subway, but it’s almost expected behaviour on the shinkansen! You’ll see all the commuters sit down and crack open a beer before they open up their bento (then they’ll fall asleep and miraculously wake up in time for their stop). 😉


  1. There is no better way to travel in Japan than on a Shinkansen. If you plan to do a lot of travelling in Japan then it is worth getting the Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on almost all JR trains, including the shinkansen (excluding the Nozomi superexpress). This pass can only be purchased outside of Japan.

    Japan Australia


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