Riding the Shinkansen in Japan

by GoWithGuide travel specialist

The Shinkansen, or Bullet Train

If there's one train that you should experience while in Japan, it's got to be the Shinkansen. As the fastest train in Japan and one of the fastest in the world, it takes you to your destination in just a flash. Especially for distances around 400/500 kilometres (about the distance between Tokyo and Osaka, for instance), the Shinkansen can be faster and more comfortable than an air plane because you don't have to be there ahead of time and wait for long. Also, you get to see a lot more of the country from the window. Make sure you book a window seat.

 Here's a video showing the Shinkansen Bullet train from the Japan Fan Youtube Channel:

How Can I Book The Shinkansen?

You have to make a reservation if you want to ride the Shinkansen, either on the spot, or in advance. Booking in advance is advisable when you want to travel during Japanese holidays, because all of Japan wants to travel at those dates, so the train is super full. Outside Japanese holidays seat reservations are not mandatory, except for the Hayabusa, Komachi and Hayate trains on the Tohoku line.

Many tourists ride the Shinkansen with a JR pass. Here's everything you need to know about the JR Pass. 

Methods of Booking

  • Ticket Desk Reservations
    You can make seat reservations personally at ticket offices of all major JR stations across Japan. Any shinkansen train can be reserved from any JR ticket office in Japan. There are special Shinkansen desks at some larger stations, but you can also visit the 'Byuu' (びゅう) counters for reservations when you have a Japan Rail Pass.
  • Machine Reservations
    If there are long lines at the counter, machines provide a faster way to book. A few types of ticket machines have English menus as well. Unfortunately, Japan Rail Pass holders cannot use the vending machines for their seat reservations. 
  • Online Reservations
    If you travel in the east of Japan, you can make use of the website of JR East. They operate an English website that allows regular travelers and Japan Rail Pass and JR East Pass holders to make seat reservations for the Tohoku, Yamagata, Akita, Joetsu and Nagano Shinkansen lines, but not for any other shinkansen lines. The other JR companies of Japan also operate websites, but unfortunately only for Japanese residents for now.

Need help navigating during your stay in Japan?

The Shinkansen passes can be quite heavy on the wallet if you are only staying in Japan for a short period of time. If you would rather take public transportation to navigate Japan, I recommend TripleLights as they have 1,000+ tour guides who are skilled and can take you around Japan using public transportation. Having a private tour guide or joining a private tour group can be a gamechanger when attempting to get around Japan because you will not have to deal with getting lost and wasting time trying to get to locations, as well as conveniently have someone who can take you to only the places you want to go to through a custom itinerary. Feel free to send a message to any of the local tour guides in Japan after looking at the large list of tours that they host, and you can immediately start planning efficiently for your trip to Japan. Furthermore, if you are not a fan of public transportation at all and do not want to take the Shinkansen, you can check out the various car tours that are on the website to hire a private vehicle to show you around Japan. Make sure to check out all the cool activities that you can find or do in Japan.

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Tokyo Itinerary: Tokyo up to 3 Days - First Timers

 5 Best Day Trips from Tokyo: All You Need to Know