The main modes of transportation around Japan, which I discovered by asking around and banging my head against the wall that is Japanese, are buses (long distance coaches), domestic flights (typically reserved for longer distances), normal speed JR rail, and of course the Shinkansen (better known as the bullet train in foreign areas. O and there’s driving as well, but since I’m a poor foreigner in Japan, that’s definitely out.
Without a doubt, the fastest and most comfortable mode of transportation around Japan is the bullet train. Though the price is definitley debatable. Single-passage from Nagoya to Tokyo is a whooping 10,070 yen. However, the train travels at a maximum operating speed of 270 km/h, and makes the trip from Nagoya to Tokyo in 1 hr 40 minutes. Driving the same distance, would take you 6 hours, though gas will probably cost you about 5,000 yen. So how does one take advantage of the busiest high speed rail network in the world? Read on!
First things first, you need a ticket. This can be either bought from an automated ticketing booth or from a teller. Unfortunately, none of these tellers speak English. Also, the Shinkansen is split into lines depending on which cities the train is traveling between, as seen in the map below. The ticket selling areas for different lines are independent, and they do not share platforms. If you say, sumimasen, <insert name of city> e ikitai desu, to the ticket seller or a station attendant, they should gladly point you in the right direction. (すみません、<目的地名前＞へいきたいです。
Once you have your ticket, it’s time to decide which train you want to take. The Shinkansen is split into three speeds from the fastest Nozomi のぞみ superexpress, middle speed hikari ひかり、and the super slow kodama こだま. The speed is determined by the number of stations at which they stop, if you’re travelling between major cities nozomi super express is for sure the one you want. Check for the most convenient time on one of this bulletin boards, that are omnipresent in these stations, and hop onto the right platform. The signs alternate between English and Japanese, so don’t worry.
There are two types of seats on the Shinkansen reserved seats and non-reserved seats. Reserved cars are usually emptier in exchange for being even more expensive. I strongly suggest using the non-reserved seats 自由席 （じゆうせき）, which are dedicated usually to the first couple of cars of each train. Don’t try and cheat the system, they have conductors who come around to check everyone’s tickets. You can still swap your unreserved ticket for a reserved ticket for a surcharge however. Then, just line up and hop on!
The inside of the trains, kind of look like airplane cabins. One really cool thing about the Shinkansen, is that the scenery on the Tokaido line never seems to get boring. There isn’t a single spot along the line that is not developed between Tokyo and Nagoya. If you keep your eyes open (it’s hard while traveling), you might see some stunning views like this! (Sorry the picture is crap, but you try taking a picture of scenery while the train is travelling at 270km/h)