Japan’s iconic bullet trains, known as the Shinkansen, are world-famous—and for good reason. The Shinkansen high-speed trains are fast, futuristic, efficient, safe, and comfortable, making them arguably the most famous trains globally. More than just a means of transport, the Shinkansen is a must-see tourist attraction that has become synonymous with Japan.

Traveling on a bullet train in Japan is a bucket-list experience for many visitors, akin to visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York. It also offers the added benefit of enabling you to reach destinations across this spectacular country.

In our complete guide to experiencing Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed trains, we’ll provide everything you need to know about traveling by rail in Japan. From reserving seats to exploring the most cost-effective ticket options with the JR Pass for unlimited travel, the newest routes, fun facts, and much more—All aboard!


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We highly recommend getting the JR Pass for unlimited train travel in Japan. Here’s why:

Unlimited Travel: Enjoy unlimited access to most JR railways, including high-speed Shinkansen, local trains, and buses.

Cost Savings: Save significantly on travel costs, particularly beneficial for long-distance and multiple journeys.

Simplicity: Avoid the hassle of purchasing individual tickets by using your pass to easily access trains.

Flexibility: Experience the freedom to explore spontaneously without worrying about extra ticket costs.

Additional Benefits: Benefit from extras like free reserved seat bookings and discounts on other JR transport services.

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What is the Shinkansen High-Speed Train?

The Japanese word for ‘bullet train,’ Shinkansen, translates directly to ‘new trunk line’. It also references the Japanese term ‘dangan ressha’ (弾丸列車), as well as the bullet-shaped nose of the very first Shinkansen train series. Although originally meaning ‘new trunk line,’ the term Shinkansen has been more commonly used for decades to refer to both the trains and the tracks they operate on.

Operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group, the country’s Shinkansen trains connect Japan’s main islands from Sapporo in the north to Kagoshima in the south. These incredible high-speed trains stop at nearly all major Japanese cities—Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and many others—across various interconnecting Shinkansen lines and train categories. With very few exceptions, these lines are exclusively for Shinkansen trains, making virtually no city off-limits, especially when paired with a Japan Rail Pass. This special ticket offers unlimited travel on the entire national JR network, including the high-speed Shinkansen lines.

The Tokaido Shinkansen, arguably the country’s most popular line, travels from Tokyo through Kyoto to Osaka, servicing several major cities along a route of historic significance since feudal Japan, originally vital for trade. Today, the line features three categories of trains, each differing in terms of speed and availability.

Another key line is the Sanyo Shinkansen, traveling through Okayama and Hiroshima, and known as the ‘backbone of the JR railways’. It offers five types of trains, also varying by speed and availability. The Nagasaki Shinkansen, officially the Nishi Kyushu or ‘West Kyushu’ Shinkansen, which began operations between 2022 and 2023, connects Nagasaki City to Fukuoka with a new high-speed train named ‘Kagome’, meaning ‘seagull’.

Finally, an extension to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, extending the line to Tsuruga, offering journeys to Fukui Prefecture.

The Evolution of Shinkansen

Ever since its launch, Japan’s Shinkansen has been celebrated for its record-breaking speed, efficiency, and safety. The iconic design has continually evolved since the 1960s, and more recently, it has been refined into various aerodynamic nose shapes, including a duck-billed design, to mitigate the noise issue caused by sonic booms when passing through tunnels.

One of the latest models is the N700S ‘Supreme’ Shinkansen, operated by JR Central on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines. This train boasts an impressive new top speed of 362 km/h (225 mph).

Shinkansen high-speed trains in Japan

Tips For Traveling on the Shinkansen High-Speed Trains in Japan

If you’re visiting Japan for the first time, navigating the country’s exceptional rail network might seem daunting, but it is much simpler than it appears. Nonetheless, it’s still crucial to do your research before your journey. We’re here to assist with a selection of the best general Shinkansen travel tips to ensure a smooth experience.

Highspeed trains in Japan

List of Shinkansen Lines

  • Tokaido Shinkansen
  • Sanyo Shinkansen
  • Tohoku Shinkansen (plus Yamagata and Akita)
  • Hokkaido Shinkansen
  • Joetsu Shinkansen
  • Hokuriku Shinkansen
  • Kyushu Shinkansen
  • Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen
Bullet train at the train station in Japan

Shinkansen Seat Classes

Shinkansen trains offer three main seat classes: Ordinary, Green Car, and Gran Class.

Ordinary seats are akin to economy class, providing basic comfort. Green Car seats resemble business class with added amenities and space, while Gran Class offers a luxury experience similar to first class. All seat classes allow the seats to be rotated 180 degrees to ensure passengers can always face the direction of travel.

Additionally, seats can be adjusted to face each other, which is ideal for groups. Seat configurations typically are 2×2 in Green Car and Gran Class, with a 3×2 configuration more common in Ordinary Class.

Shinkansen highspeed trains in Japan

How to Reserve Seats on the Bullet Train

Shinkansen trains offer both non-reserved and reserved seating in separate cars. Certain services require reservations, and some may switch to fully reserved during national holidays such as the New Year, Obon, or Golden Week, so it’s crucial to check before you travel.

If you are traveling with a Japan Rail Pass, one of the great advantages is the ability to make advance seat reservations at no additional cost. Seats can be reserved at Midori no Mado Guchi ticket offices, which are identifiable by their green signs, or at Travel Service Centres and JR-associated Travel Agencies.

For several years, JR East has been the only service providing an online English language reservation system accessible from outside Japan, while all other lines require reservations to be made in person once in Japan.

To reserve a seat, simply present your JR Pass at the Midori no Mado Guchi, specify your train and preference for smoking or non-smoking, and you will receive your reserved seat ticket. Just show your Japan Rail Pass at the ticket gate, proceed to your platform, and be sure to keep hold of your ticket as you might need to present both your JR Pass and seat reservation to the ticket inspector.

Boarding the Shinkansen

Boarding a Shinkansen is straightforward: upon arriving at the station, pass through the regular ticket gates, head to the Shinkansen platform, and pass through the Shinkansen ticket gates to your platform.

Your carriage number will be indicated on your ticket, with carriage numbers also marked on the ground and on signs overhead (non-reserve carriages are typically numbered 1-5). Line up behind the white line and wait for your train. Upon its arrival, enter and find your seat (seat numbers are indicated above the windows).

If you’re in an unreserved carriage, you may sit in any available seat. Once settled, simply relax and enjoy your journey!

Shinkansen highspeed trains in Japan

What is the Luggage Allowance on the Shinkansen?

When boarding the Shinkansen, passengers may bring up to two pieces of baggage on board free of charge. The combined length, width, and height of each bag must not exceed 250 centimeters, with no individual side longer than two meters, and the weight must not exceed 30 kilograms.

Bags measuring less than 160 cm (combined dimensions) can be brought on board without prior reservation. For luggage between 160 cm and 250 cm, a prior reservation is required, which can be made at no cost. Failure to reserve in advance may result in a 1,000 yen fine, and the luggage may be relocated by the train conductor. Luggage exceeding 250 centimeters is not permitted on the train and will require alternative transport arrangements.

Reservations can be made via the Eki-Net App, at ticket machines, or in person at ticket counters. If you are using a JR Pass, it’s advisable to make both your seat and luggage reservations simultaneously.

General Shinkansen Rules

Traveling on the Shinkansen, like any public transportation, comes with its own etiquette:

  • Free Wi-Fi: Most Shinkansen trains offer free Wi-Fi access (learn more about Wi-Fi access in Japan)
  • Bento Boxes: A selection of trains provide boxed meals (bento) for purchase.
  • No-Smoking: Smoking is prohibited on all Shinkansen trains.
  • Queueing: Passengers are expected to form orderly lines to facilitate safe and efficient boarding.
  • Phones on Silent: Keep mobile phones on silent mode and avoid taking calls in the seating area. If you must take a call, use the designated spots between cars.
  • Use of Headphones: To maintain a comfortable environment, passengers should use headphones when listening to music or watching videos.
  • Luggage Requirements: Refer to the luggage policy detailed above for size and weight restrictions and check the JR Group website for updates.
Inside a train in Japan

How To Buy Tickets to Travel on the Shinkansen High-Speed Train

  • Ticket Purchase: You can buy regular Shinkansen tickets at ticket counters, via ticket machines, and online.
  • JR Pass: The JR Pass offers unlimited travel on Japan’s domestic rail network and is available for purchase online. It can be used on all Shinkansen train lines, although a supplemental fee is required for the Nozomi and Mizuho trains. As noted earlier, JR Pass holders also benefit from complimentary seat reservations. The JR Pass can be purchased for 7, 14, or 21 days, depending on the duration of your stay and your travel plans.
Getting tickets for the Shinkansen highspeed trains in Japan

Buy your JR Pass directly with the operator

Top Five Shinkansen Facts

Japan’s remarkable Shinkansen trains are celebrated for much more than their iconic appearance. Here are our top five facts about Shinkansen:

  1. Impressive Passenger Numbers: In its debut year, the Shinkansen transported 11 million passengers. Today, it carries over 150 million passengers annually.
  2. Record-Breaking Speed: Known for their speed, Shinkansen continues to break records. The Alpha-X, one of Japan’s fastest trains, can travel from Tokyo to Sapporo in just three hours—a journey that previously took seven hours. This 10-car experimental bullet train, operated by JR-East on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, can reach speeds up to 400 km/h.
  3. Unmatched Safety: Despite their speed, Shinkansen trains boast an impressive safety record with no passenger fatalities in nearly 50 years of operation. They are equipped with advanced safety features, such as automatic air brakes for earthquakes, full active suspension, and a new ATC braking system in models like the N700S Supreme Shinkansen. The Alpha-X also incorporates innovative safety technologies, including air brakes on the roof and magnetic plates near the rails.
  4. Incredible Punctuality: Shinkansen trains are so efficient that the average delay per train is just 12 seconds.
  5. Eco-Friendly Travel: Shinkansen are significantly more environmentally friendly compared to airplanes, producing 92% less carbon emissions per seat.

These facts highlight not only the technological marvels of the Shinkansen but also their critical role in Japan’s transportation infrastructure and environmental efforts.

View of a mountain from inside a train in Japan

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