If you are in a hurry, the five fast Shinkansen facts are:
- The first Japanese bullet train started operating in 1964, shortly before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics
- Enjoying an Ekiben bento box is a must for any Shinkansen traveller and an affordable way to experience Japanese cuisine
- Travelling on a Shinkansen bullet train is super safe and extremely reliable
- Themed Shinkansens can sometimes make an appearance on Japan’s rail network
- Japan’s bullet trains can reach speeds between 240-340 kilometres per hour!
1. The original bullet train had the slowest of beginnings
Despite being one of the oldest high-speed rail lines in the world, it is still the most heavily used today with ridership figures often exceeding 140 million passengers annually! You’ll get to experience this Shinkansen first-hand on our popular, Japan Discovery small group tour.
Photo by The Asahi Shimbun on Getty Images
2. Eating on a Shinkansen? No problem!
While it’s typically not recommended to eat on most other trains in Japan, it’s perfectly ok to do so on a Shinkansen! Being home to some of the world’s best culinary experiences, it’s no surprise that Japan excels in this department. Much like flight attendants on a full-service flight, Shinkansen staff members will come down the carriage aisles and offer all sorts of in-car foods like fresh sushi, beer and ice cream. But, to take heed of the full Shinkansen experience, feasting on an Ekiben bento box is the way to go.
An Ekiben bento or ‘railway meal’ can be purchased at most train stations around Japan and offers a convenient and affordable way to experience Japan’s delectable cuisine. Perfectly prepared meals lie in wait to delight your tastebuds and are often presented in beautifully decorated boxes – at Ekibenya Matsuri station you can receive a box that is shaped like a bullet train itself!
Photo by Chisanu Liengpan
3. Travelling on Japan's bullet train is super safe and extremely reliable
We should also take a moment and acknowledge how reliable these mechanical wonders are when it comes to keeping a schedule. According to data released by Japan Rail in 2014, the average delay of a Shinkansen train was just 54 seconds! That’s across all routes - weather affected or not – for the entire year. Delays due to natural disasters were also considered for this statistic – incredible!
Photo by Zhipeng Ya on Unsplash
4. Themed Shinkansens
It is well known that riding on a Shinkansen is as much a cultural, social and culinary experience as it is a mode of transportation. In Japan, trains are a way of life for everyone so it’s little wonder that they decided to get a bit creative and produce some over the top, ‘themed’, Shinkansen trains. While some may operate for only a limited time, keep your eyes peeled for regulars: Hello Kitty and Doctor Yellow Shinkansen.
Quintessentially Japanese, the Hello Kitty Shinkansen not only has a fetching pink paint job and Hello Kitty decals, carriage two sports an appropriately themed interior giving off some serious kawaii vibes and carriage one has a fully decked out Hello Kitty souvenir shop!
Photo by RSA
Photo (top & bottom) by Kusano Seiichirō
On the other hand, Doctor Yellow is so aptly named because its purpose is to diagnose any problems with the track while travelling at its near-warp speeds. The schedule for Doctor Yellow is not known to the public so if you happen to spot it zooming down the railway, the Japanese believe a healthy dose of good luck will follow.
Photo by Tetsuji Koyama on Flickr
5. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a Japanese bullet train!
For the speed demons out there, the Tohoku Shinkansen line is the one to catch as it currently represents the Holy Grail of the Japanese bullet trains with a consistent top speed of 320 kilometres per hour. This train will get you from Tokyo to Sendai – 304 kilometres – in an astounding 90 minutes!
Photo by Sira Prabhasanont on Adobe Stock