5 facts that’ll have you boarding Japan’s bullet train in a hurry

  • Bunnik Tours
  • 02 Aug 21

There is no doubt that Japan's Shinkansen bullet trains have become a cult hit amongst die hard railway buffs, in fact, they’re almost universally known and you don’t have to be a railway fan to appreciate the allure of these world-leading rail networks. Check out these five fast and fascinating facts that will have you wanting to catch the next bullet train.

Photo by Henry-Perks on Unsplash

Photo by Henry-Perks on Unsplash

If you are in a hurry, the five fast Shinkansen facts are:

  1. The first Japanese bullet train started operating in 1964, shortly before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics
  2. Enjoying an Ekiben bento box is a must for any Shinkansen traveller and an affordable way to experience Japanese cuisine
  3. Travelling on a Shinkansen bullet train is super safe and extremely reliable
  4. Themed Shinkansens can sometimes make an appearance on Japan’s rail network
  5. Japan’s bullet trains can reach speeds between 240-340 kilometres per hour!


1. The original bullet train had the slowest of beginnings

While undoubtedly forming a large part of Japan’s cultural identity, it was in the 1930s that the concept was first proposed BUT, it was not until 1 October 1964, shortly before the opening of the Tokyo Olympic games, that the first Shinkansen – the 0 series – made its hasty debut on the Tokyo -Osaka circuit, the Tokaido Shinkansen.

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.

The first Shinkansen bullet train - the 0 series - made its debut in 1964

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!

Expect premium Japanese meats, rice or noodles, vegetables and sometimes even a small bottle of wine. There are hundreds of Ekiben options to choose from so be sure to get to the train station early and choose wisely.

An Ekiben bento box is a unique an affordable way to experience Japanese cuisine

Photo by Chisanu Liengpan

3. Travelling on Japan's bullet train is super safe and extremely reliable

Ever since the first near-warp speed intercity train was introduced back in 1964, there has not been a single recorded passenger fatality or injury to date! In a country where earthquakes and other seismic weather extremes go hand-in-hand, that’s pretty impressive.

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!

Japanese bullet trains are super safe and extremely reliable

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!

Hello Kitty Shinkansen bullet train

Photo by RSA

Inside Carriage 1 of the Hello Kitty bullet train

Inside Carriage 2 of the Hello Kitty bullet train

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.

Doctor Yellow Shinkansen bullet train

Photo by Tetsuji Koyama on Flickr

5. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a Japanese bullet train!

How fast do these things go!? Undoubtedly the burning question and, what these technological marvels are known for. Yes, they can travel at insanely fast speeds, like a bullet, as they are appropriately nicknamed (also because the first Shinkansen was noted for resembling that of a bullet). They are known to clock up speeds between 240 and a mind-blowing 340 kilometres per hour!

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!

Japan's Shinkansen bullet train

Photo by Sira Prabhasanont on Adobe Stock