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10 bullet train tips to boost your trip through Japan 🚅

The Shinkansen doesn't just rocket you to Japan's must-see spots. It's a must-do itself. Here are our top tips for taking the bullet train - plus a hidden gem along the way.

It’s amazing, when you think about it. On average, 373 trains zooming 477,000 passengers at speeds of up to 178 miles per hour every single day. And that’s just the Tokaido Shinkansen, which runs between Tokyo and Osaka. To help you ride the Shinkansen like a pro, we’ve put together a few of the best bullet train tips from frequent travellers. (Data from JR Central, 2018)

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Look out of the window

In addition to getting you from A to B, the Tokaido Shinkansen offers a high speed sightseeing tour. The highlight, of course, being Mount Fuji. For the best view, book Seat E on the right side (or seat D if you’re travelling in the Green Car) heading out of Tokyo. Around half an hour in, prepare for your jaw to drop – especially if it’s a clear day.

Got oversized baggage? Book ahead

Oversize baggage area - tips for Shinkansen travel

Maybe you’ve been dreaming of Japan since forever. And you’ve decided to stay as long as possible to discover every inch of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Excellent choice! But that probably means you brought more baggage. The good news is, starting from May 2020, you can book a seat within the oversized baggage area on the Shinkansen to ensure there’s plenty of room for your big travel buddy.

The designated oversized baggage areas are conveniently near the doors, making it hassle-free to hop on and off. Not only that, but from May 2020, booking seats here beforehand will be mandatory for those bringing oversized baggage on board the Shinkansen.

What counts as oversize baggage? Any piece of baggage whose total dimensions are between 160cm and 250cm. To give an example; a 81 x 31 x 55 cm bag would be 167cm.

Bullet train tips to save you time

Don’t want to miss out on visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, but a bit short on time? Worry not. The express Nozomi trains – which get you from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka Station in just about 2.5 hours – are here to save the day.

Keep your plans flexible with the FLEX Rail Ticket

Say you’ve booked tickets to see Mount Fuji – but it starts pouring down on the day you wanted to travel. If you have the FLEX Rail Ticket, you can simply postpone your trip to another day. And if you fall in love with the area (who could blame you, really?) you can extend your return by up to 7 days.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick your destination – Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, or Mount Fuji by way of Mishima.
  • Buy your ticket from the JR Tokai Tours website.
  • Travel whenever you want.

Good to know: The ticket also offers you special deals for attractions and local transportation.

Make reservations easy

The Tokaido Shinkansen is pretty popular, especially in peak periods. So it’s a good idea to reserve tickets online beforehand. How to do that? Easy. Simply use the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Online Reservation Service, either on your phone or on your computer. All you have to do is register your credit card, pick your seats, and reserve a month in advance of your trip. That, plus enjoy not having to pay any registration fees!

Take some time to explore the secret spa spot of Atami

Bullet train tips don’t have to be limited to the ride itself. Which is why we’d encourage you to get off at Atami. That is, of course, if basking in hot saltwater springs and taking strolls among calm green gardens and traditional temples is your cup of tea.

How to get there: Take the Kodama Shinkansen – the bullet train with the most stops – and you’ll be in Atami in around an hour from Tokyo.

Enjoy ekiben (a.k.a. incredible en route eats)

Japan is a culinary paradise. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that you can also find a whole variety of nom-worthy, on-the-go options at train stations. Ekiben are delightful meal boxes packed with local delicacies.

Travelling from foodie hotspot Osaka? Consider feasting on okonomiyaki – a savoury pancake filled with whatever you like (literally), from pork belly to cabbage – just a few minutes from the station. Want something lighter? Slurp on some legendary udon in Yodogawa Ward, then walk it off in the 20 minutes it will take you to walk to Shin-Osaka Station.

Take a spin with the rotating seats

Now, time for one of the less known bullet train tips – the seats flip around 180 degrees. Perfect for those travelling in big groups and who don’t want to crane their neck to have a conversation.

Want more calm and comfort? Go green

Bullet train tips - take the first class Green car on the Shinkansen

As in the “Green Car” – the Shinkansen equivalent of first class. It costs a bit more, but if you want to get some work done (or get a good nap) the soft and spacious seats are totally worth it.

Whether you’re taking a short trip or touring all over Japan, the Shinkansen is a not-to-be-missed experience. Put together, the Shinkansen cover destinations from Kagoshima to Tokyo to Hokkaido.

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A guide to the Tokaido Shinkansen, in numbers

477,000the number of people who ride the Shinkansen daily
178 mphthe top speed reached by the bullet train… for now
3 minutesthe shortest you’ll have to wait until the next train
54 secondsthe average “delay” time

*Numbers from JR Central, 2018

The super-fast Shinkansen guide for the perfect trip

Navigating Japan’s web of bullet trains is a piece of mochi once you’ve figured out the basics. Which is what we’re here to help you do.