Bullet Train – Shinkansen

So you want to ride the famous Bullet Train but have no idea how to go about it? It’s easy— after you take out a large loan from the bank, especially if you intend to bring the kids. Seriously, be […]

bullet train by kelly odonnelSo you want to ride the famous Bullet Train but have no idea how to go about it? It’s easy— after you take out a large loan from the bank, especially if you intend to bring the kids. Seriously, be aware that traveling on the Shinkansen is about equal to the price of flying. The easiest way to buy a ticket for the Shinkansen is to get a Japanese friend to help. Since that is not always feasible, there are other ways. One is to go to Tachikawa Station to the Shinkansen reservation office and buy your ticket with the help of an English-speaking agent. While you may not want a Green Car (first class) seat, you may prefer reserved seats in nonsmoking.     Tickets are also available for purchase at automated ticket machines at major stations like Tachikawa and Tokyo station, and there is an option to conduct the transaction in English.   From there choose your departure and destination stations, as well as time and date of travel, reserved/nonreserved ticket, and number of travelers (adult and child fares are different amounts).  Be aware that you must use cash to pay at the ticket machines! The smart foreigner avoids traveling during the big Japanese holidays: Golden Week or April 29 – the first week in May; Obon which is usually the magical midweek in August when everyone heads home or abroad; and New Year’s, when Japan closes down and everybody heads for the hills. One last caution: never wait until the last minute!  And allow plenty of time to get to the station before your departure time: eating is not only allowed on the Shinkansen but encouraged, and half the fun is choosing an elaborate “ekiben”, which is a fancy train bento box, from one of the many kiosks to eat during the ride.

bulelt train by kelly odonnellComments and photos by Kelly O’Donnell, May 2013 –  With so many of my friends planning to take the train to Kyoto this spring and summer I thought I would do a quick write up of some tips that I wish I had know before I rode the “Shinkansen” (Bullet Train) for the first time.

First of all, just riding the train itself is worth the journey. Even if you have no great destination in mind I recommend at least riding the Shinkansen at least once while in Japan, even if you only go a short distance. It goes up to 200 miles an hour! It would leave Amtrak in the dust!  It’s safe too.  Over the Shinkansen’s 49 year history, carrying nearly 7 billion passengers, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions. It’s so riding bullet train by kelly omuch safer than driving and you see so much more! On my trip to Kyoto I had great views of Mt. Fuji.  The ITT office offers package deals so I purchased our Shinkansen tickets right on base along with a package that included the hotel. It just made it easy because I didn’t have to fiddle with the machines once at Tokyo station. We simply took the train from Fussa to Tokyo Station and then just walked a couple of gates down to the Shinkansen gates, which are well marked by both the word “Shinkansen” and a blue picture of a bullet looking train. We had no trouble finding our gate on our first try. Here are a few more tips below. Enjoy your ride!

  • Line up by car number. You can not just enter the train at any location. Your ticket will have both an assigned gate number and a Car #. Once on the platform look for a sign overhead with your car number and up there.
  • Mind the gap! I was surprised to see a very large gap between the platform and the train door. Even a 5-6 year old child could easily fall through this. Please be careful, especially when taking the train with young children. I recommend holding their hands while boarding.
  • Don’t dilly dally! The train makes very quick stops at stations, only a few minutes. When traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto for example, Kyoto is not the last stop on the train. It will stop only very briefly. Do NOT wait until the train stops to try and collect your belongings from overhead. You need to be waiting at the door for your stop. They will announce each stop in advance so be prepared.
  • Hold onto your tickets! Unlike Amtrak, you will need your ticket to depart the train station. Once underway, a ticket agent will come around to view your ticket while you are seated. You must keep this ticket handy because you will need it again to depart the station gate once at your destination, in my case to exit in Kyoto station. I didn’t know this had it buried in my purse as a souvenir and wasn’t ready to present it again when I was leaving the station.
  • There are plenty of vending machines on the train and food carts will even come down the aisles selling sandwiches, coffee, and snacks and souvenirs.
  • I had heard a rumor that children under age 6 ride the Shinkansen for free. This is only half true. Children under age 6 may ride for free if they sit on your lap. I don’t know about you but I don’t want my 5 year old sitting on my lap for 3 hours. Here are their guidelines for children:   A person of age 12 or over is considered an “Adult,” and a person of age 6 to 11 is considered a “Child.” If a child under age 6 is going to use the same seat as an adult (in other words, sit on the lap of the adult), that child can ride free of charge.  * In cases where the number of children under the age of 6 who are accompanying an Adult or ticket-bearing Child exceeds 2, Child tickets are needed for the third and any additional child.  * If a child under age 6 is going to sit on a seat, that child will need a Child ticket.

For more information see:

For more about train travel in Japan see: Japan by Rail


2 thoughts on “Bullet Train – Shinkansen
  1. It’s also possible now to purchase Shinkansen tickets from the green ticket machine on the far right at Fussa Station. It has an English button and was easy to use. (I used Hyperdia ahead of time to figure out the times and trains I wanted to take, in our case, to Nagano.) More details are here:

  2. I went to Fussa Station to try and purchase bullet train tickets and ran into a translator from ITT. She tried to help me on the bullet train kiosk, but if you are inactive at the kiosk (trying to decide what to pick) for over 1 minute it cancels your entire trip – so we tried the ticket counter. The man at the counter told us to go to Haijima station. He gave us a white piece of paper that allowed us to ride the train for free from Fussa to Haijima and back.

    At Haijima there is a “Ticket Office” right outside the gates. There was a young man there who spoke great English (The man a Fussa Station said they would have English speakers here). He helped me decide which tickets to purchase and explained what everything meant.

    I don’t know if this helps, but I know the process was confusing for us initially!

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