The Japanese Bullet Train – what’s it like?

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By Jen

I get excited just seeing a cloud in the shape of an elephant, so this morning on my way to catch the bullet train I was about to burst.

Bullet trains, or Shinkansen, travel at speeds of up to 320km per hour. Their punctuality is great – 36 seconds average arrival delay over the year in 2012 – because they use a separate rail system which doesn’t have to accommodate slower moving trains.   More than 150 million passengers are carried every year.

I left from Tokyo station at 8.30am on the first of three trains to Nagasaki.

Shinkansen bullet train Japan standard class
Standard class on the first Shinkansen.

The first nice surprise was that there was enough legroom for…. legs, something which has been somewhat forgotten on air and rail transport elsewhere. So much room that when the seats were reclined to half-lying, there was still plenty space. This train was nice but otherwise fairly normal (except it had a heated toilet seat, and separate hand washing booths; take a mini towel, as there are no hand towels). Japanese people carry their own on transport or to work or restaurants.

Shinkansen washroom
Nice Handwash cubicles. Take a wee towel.
Mount Fiji from bullet train
Zooming past mount Fiji.

Seats can be reserved in advance (and it’s a good idea to do this; free if you have a Japan Rail Pass). There are several carriages for unreserved seats per train, but I don’t know how busy they are. The reserved section was completely full. All the seats face forwards, like on a flight, although you can swivel them round to face the other way if you are travelling in a group.

The next leg of the journey was lush! The sleek-as bullet train called Sakura pulled up about 20 minutes before departure. We weren’t allowed to board immediately. Once all arriving passengers had alighted, a crew of cleaners got on. I watched from the platform through the glass as they polished the handles and the insides of the windows.

Shinkansen clean Japan
The windows got a clean between the passenger getting off and the new ones getting on.
Bullet train Japan
Special lines only for the fast trains.

Then we boarded. There’s a place marked on the platform for you to stand waiting for the train, one line for each carriage. It was all very orderly.

Shinkansen japan
Waiting to board.
Bullet train Sakura Japan
Sakura Shinkansen from Osaka going South.

After my run-ins with the impolite staff of DB Bahn in Germany, the Japanese staff brought a smile to my face. Passengers are treated like royalty. Each time a guard or the service trolley got to the end of the carriage, they turned and bowed to all the passengers. The girl who served my tea was the most polite train trolley person I have ever met. This was all in normal class, nothing fancy.

Bullet train Japan
Standard class, lush!

There were two girls in fact who served up my coffee. Each as polite as the other. My cup, sugar and milk were laid down as if they were about to be presented in an exhibition, with the utmost of care. I had to take a photo it was so neat. Then the girls bowed and moved on.

On the Shinkansen Japan
Served with perfection.  A “coffee serving ceremony”, the milks were turned to face the front and the sugars parallel to one another.

The seats were big velvet armchairs and the polished wooden seat-tray Was coffee stain and chewing free.

I was a bit surprised there was no wifi, but you can’t have everything.

Bullet train japan
Just got off. Too slow to race to the front to take a picture.
Shinkansen Japan
Barriers to keep you off the line.

My third train had parquet wooden floors and leather seats on the inside, and looked like a sparkly white spaceship on the outside.

Bullet train japan
Front of train 3.
Shinkansen Japan
Posh leather seats and parquet flooring


The journey from Tokyo to Nagasaki is 1300km.  It flew by!

Why can’t we have such efficient, clean, fast and comfortable trains in Europe?

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4 Replies to “The Japanese Bullet Train – what’s it like?”

  1. This looks like an amazing experience! FYI, some of the pictures are upside down… Thanks for sharing!

    1. It was! Which pics Jess? We seem to be having an upside down problem but it’s very random and we have no idea how to fix it 🙂

  2. Most of the interior shots are upside down or rotated to the left. The pic of Mt. Fuji is normal. I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s how they are saved on your computer or how they are uploaded. Still. Very cool. 🙂

    1. Thank you Jess. Still not got to the bottom of why. The photos are fine here but spin around before they arrive with other people. Will keep working on it!

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