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Tips for using the Shinkansen

Japan, precursor in terms of high-speed trains, can be proud of its Shinkansen network that runs all the way from Shin-Hakodate to Kagoshima, and links major cities in just a few hours.

the shinkansen

Each Shinkansen has its own name that allows aficionados to tell which line it is running on and how often it will stop until it reaches its destination.

Here are a few pointers to help you understand how the network is organized and the names of all the bullet trains.


 Shinkansen in Japan
First of all, it is important to know that the Shinkansen network is divided in 2 sectors: one that goes south fromTokyo to Kagoshima (Kyushu), itself divided in 3 successive main lines, the Tokaido line, the San'yo line and theKyushu Shinkansen line :

- How to go from Tokyo to Nagoya ? 
- How to go from Nagoya to Kyoto ? 
- How to go from Kyoto to Okayama ? 
- How to go from Okayama to Hiroshima ? 
- How to go from Hiroshima to Fukuoka ? 
- How to go from Fukuoka to Kumamoto ? 
- How to go from Kumamoto to Kagoshima ?

The second sector, which also starts from Tokyo, but goes north along the Tokyo-Shin-Hakodate axis, with branches that run inland, going as far as Nagano and Kanazawa, Niigata, Shinjo, Akita and Aomori.

Click here to learn more about the new Hokkaido Shinkansen


The shinkansen Hokuriku
On each Shinkansen line there are express, semi express and local trains. They all bear a different name. For example, the one linking Tokyo toOsaka on the Tokaido Shinkansen line is called the Nozomi (It's the fastest train, but keep in mind that the Japan Rail Pass does not give access to it). On the same line, the Hikari stops at 1 to 4 train stations more than the Nozomi and is available for Japan Rail Pass holders, as is the Kodama which stops at all train stations.

It is a similar idea on the Shinkansen line that goes North to Shin-Hakodate. The Hayabusa leaves from Tokyo and only serves the following train stations : Omiya, Sendaï, Morioka, Shin-Aomori and Shin Hakodate. The Yamabiko, a slower train, goes as far as Morioka, and then the Nasuno, with an even shorter route ending at Koriyama. The Hayate trains operate one return service per day between Morioka and Shin Hakodate and one return service per day between Shin Aomori and Shin Hakodate. TheHokuriku Shinkansen has many types of train to reach Kanazawa.


Hayabusa(peregrine falcon) the name of Shinkansen
What is the meaning behind these names? Do they help us understanding the destination and speed of the different trains? Yes and no.It does when the name conjures up the idea of speed. It is easy to understand that the Hayabusa (peregrine falcon) or the Hayate (gust of wind) are faster than the Yamabiko (moutain spirit).It also does when the name refers to a cultural element of the region crossed. For instance, the Komachi, that serves Akita, is named after a poetess who is said to have lived there.

When buying a Shinkansen ticket it is good to know that the total includes two elements : a basic fee depending on the destination and an extra 'express' fee that depends on the speed of the Shinkansen used.


Tips for Japan Rail Pass holder by japan-rail-pass.co.uk
The Japan Rail Pass holders can of course use all these Shinkansens except the Nozomi and the Mizuho that are the fastest express trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, and for which you will have to pay the integral fee.

The Japan Rail Pass entitles free reservation on all trains that are covered. You may find that having a specific seat is more convenient than looking for empty seats on unreserved cars.

All the JR lines are very practical but the Tokaido line, linking Tokyo and Kyoto, the new and the ancient capitals of Japan, is the line most frequently used by the Japan Rail Pass holders.

Please note that starting from May 2020, a seat reservation near the luggage area will be MANDATORY in the shinkansen of the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu lines if the sum of the dimensions of your luggage exceeds 160 cm.

In addition, the total height + width + depth of each item must be less than 250 cm.

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the Hokkaido  shinkansen extension

Since March 26,2016  the Hokkaido Shinkansen takes travellers to Hokkaido in 4h from Tokyo.Ten return services Tokyo-Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto are scheduled daily.Once in Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto you can reach Hakodate with the Hakodate Liner (around 20 minutes) or reach Sapooro with the Limited Espress Hokuto or the Limited Express Super Hokuto ( aound 3h30).

introducing the gran class

In March 2011 the new 'Hayabusa' shinkansen E5系 was introduced between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori.

There will still be the 'non reserved' seating system - jiyuseki- as well as reserved seats - shiteiseki - in normal and 'green' class, as well as the new 'Gran Class - グランクラス' standard, shown here.