Japanese Shinkansen are famous the world over for being some of the fastest, cleanest, and most reliable trains on the planet. I’d hazard a guess that you already knew that, but what about some of the other, more practical questions you’ve got about Japan’s fastest trains?
From understanding what to eat on a Japanese Shinkansen to figuring out exactly how long they stop for at each station, today we’re going to count down some of the most requested questions I get in my inbox every week and deliver them to you in the form of a question and answer style article.
Hopefully, you’ll find a few practical tips along the way that’ll make planning your trip to Japan all the more enjoyable!
Why should you trust me?
I get it, in the world of ai generated content, it can be hard to trust a random web page you’ve just stumbled across. You’ll be thankful to hear that, according to my about me page I am in fact a real person who’s been published in a number of big online travel magazines, helped hundreds of thousands of people plan their trip to Japan, and most importantly for this article, have been on more than a few Shinkansen!
So, from one train nerd to another, let’s answer some questions about Japan’s bullet trains!
1. Shinkansen vs Plane
Choosing between the Shinkansen vs Plane is highly likely to come up in your planning research. While you may think the choice is clear based on your circumstances, there are a few things you should know beforehand.
Skip the explanation and go to the dedicated article on Shinkansen vs Plane: Which should you choose?
It’s likely that when you’re comparing Shinkansen to planes, you need to take a longer trip (in terms of distance). So, let’s briefly go over 3 of the most important factors to consider when making that decision.
Efficiency and speed
Technically planes travel faster, but the efficiency of the Shinkansen often means they’re the far more reliable form of transport in most situations. If you take the plane, you’ll need to figure out how to get from the airport to your final destination, exactly like we did when we traveled to Sapporo.
That’s often a pretty easy task, but it’s still worth considering if you have to be somewhere on a certain time schedule or if you want to make the most of the short time you have in a particular place.
Comfort and convenience
At 6ft, I’m always a little uncomfortable on planes. Domestic flights seem to be even smaller, so that makes my time onboard even less pleasant.
Comfort-wise, shinkansen win hands down with much greater legroom, bigger seats, and enough peace and quiet to finally read my most recommended books set in Japan.
In terms of convenience, Shinkansen takes the win again. Not only can you grab a train every few minutes (not even joking), but you’re likely not more than a few minutes from a connecting station wherever you are in the country as well.
Planes on the other hand often require you to make your way from the center of the city to somewhere on the outskirts. I’m not saying they don’t have good transfer options because they do (Narita express & Haneda Monorail to a lesser extent), but it’s a lot less convenient if you’re already based near a city center.
Cost and affordability
Shinkansen are often more expensive than their winged cousins, but they don’t wildly change their prices depending on how near to your journey you book them. The same can’t be said for the planes, you’ll easily end up paying hundreds of dollars difference depending on the time of year you’re flying and how close or far away from your trip you book the tickets.
In some situations, flying will seem cheaper upfront but it’s important to add the cost of transfers, the time it takes to get to the airport, and your comfort into the mix. Having traveled on these things as much as I have, it’s more than worth budgeting for.
With everything added up, it would be no surprise to find that flying is more expensive, so just do yourself a favor and make sure you’ve bought your flight tickets to Japan through Going where you can legitimately get up to 90% off before you even step foot in the country!
2. Sinkansen vs limited express
|Stops at only the biggest stations on the route||Likely stops more frequently at smaller stations|
|Has its own high-speed track||Shares the line with other commuter/intercity trains|
|Ticket required||Extra ticket required as well as regular fare|
When comparing the Shinkansen vs Limited express trains, it’s important to first understand your priorities while traveling, and the distance you intend to travel in the first place.
For instance, limited express trains will often be cheaper but also take a lot longer to get to a destination. If time is of the essence then I recommend getting the simplest route to your destination.
Funnily enough, it works the other way too. I’ve had to take about 3 rapid/commuter (ironically not rapid at all) trains to get to Nikko in the past, but then realized for only an extra $10 I could take the Revaty Kegon (took a photo of it above) which had much nicer seats, was way more comfortable, and was so relaxing after a busy trip.
In the past, I’ve also chosen to take the long route around the top of Hokkaido (from Sapporo to Niseko by train) instead of taking the direct bus. It was slower by far, but that train lineup past Otaru is absolutely spectacular if you ever find yourself considering it. (article on that to come soon!)
Normally the choice between Shiknasen and Limited express train will already be made for you based on your end location. For travelling between destinations like Osaka and Tokyo you’re going to want to take the Shinkansen.
When you’ve only got a little way to go and you do find yourself having the choice between the two, chose the Shinkansen if you want to save time and the limited express if you want to save a few bucks and have a ‘leisurely’ trundle.
3. How long does the Shinkansen stop at each station?
I’ve been asked the question “How long do Shinkansen stop?” quite a few times recently, and if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you probably know the answer.
We know that Japanese trains are incredibly efficient, and with Shinkansen running at around 300kmph with a tight schedule to keep, it’s not hard to guess that they don’t stop very long.
On average, Shinkansen stop for around a couple of minutes at the bigger stations (Shin-Osaka, Sendai, Okayama, etc.), and likely less than a minute at the smaller ones. There are times when a train may want to overtake, and in that instance, it would still be there for less than 5 or so minutes.
The longest time I’ve waited for a train at a station that wasn’t its final stop was when I got on Japan’s last regular sleep train. But I suppose it did have to join together with another one. If you’re a train nerd like me, that’s a very exciting moment!
4. How do you buy Shinkansen tickets at the station?
You can buy Shinkansen tickets from most of the bigger train stations in a couple of different ways.
Buying Shinkansen tickets at a machine is a very simple process. All you need to do is select English from the dropdown menu and follow the onscreen instructions.
It will ask you the line you want, and the start and end station you want the tickets for as well. If you’re reserving seats you’ll be asked to pick a time (as well as a date) and you must get on that train and not another one. That’s part of the reason I like traveling around Japan without a plan!
Make sure you leave plenty of time to do this, especially if it’s your first time. Ticket machines can often have pretty hefty queues and that’s not ideal if you’re under a time crunch.
It will probably take you a while to find the respective stations on the screen, so just take your time to make sure you’ve clicked the right one. It all sounds a bit exhausting but trust me it’s not too bad.
Make your way to a midori no madoguchi, and you’ll be able to do the same thing but with a person instead. Understandably, this might seem easier than doing everything yourself, but unless you’re in a fairly major station, you might have a small language barrier issue.
I haven’t come across it before too badly, but it’s worth realizing it’s a possibility you won’t be understood. Just know ahead of time the station you want to go to (and from), the time (if you’re reserving seats), and the date.
5. Why are Shinkansen so expensive?
I see the question “Why are Shinkansen so expensive?” an awful lot online, on trip advisor and Reddit, and all those places. The honest truth is that for what you get, I think the price of Shinkansen tickets is an absolute steal.
Perhaps that’s just because I come from the UK where you’d have to remortgage your house to get halfway up the country, but even still I think Japan’s prices are totally fair. In any case, let’s take a look at the Shinkansen and see how cheap or expensive it is compared to local trains.
|Shinkansen (reserved/unreserved)||Local / Commuter train|
|Tokyo – Osaka||¥14,650 / ¥13,620 ($94.81-$101.97)||($16.69) with the Seishun 18 pass|
|Osaka – Hiroshima||¥10,800 ($75.39)||($16.69) with the Seishun 18 pass|
|Tokyo – Sendai||¥10,900 ($76.09)||($16.69) with the Seishun 18 pass|
|Tokyo – Fukuoka||¥23,700 ($165.44)||Absolutely no idea, but a hell of a lot and a long time!|
For those who don’t know, the Seishun 18 pass is a very cheap ticket (around $75) that allows unlimited travel on local and commuter trains for 5 days. The issue with this is that it’s only on sale 3 times per year and sells out incredibly fast.
So you’ll ideally want to purchase it in advance, but as that’s only available to grab in most of the bigger train stations in Japan (with the midori no madoguchi or reserved ticket machines) it might be a little hard for the average tourist unless you have a friend over here.
Take a look at this JR East page and it’ll give you all the information you need about when and where to buy the Seishun 18 pass. If you can’t get it, it’s worth figuring out if the JR Pass is worth it (with its recent price hike I’d think very carefully about this), and if not just using a Suica card or IC equivalent.
I’ve also written an article about Shinkansen vs planes which I linked at the top of this post, and that should solidify most of the reasons why I think Shinkansen are in fact not expensive, and well worth spending the money on!
6. Can you eat on the Shinkansen?
You certainly can!
Japanese on-board food sales are still available on most Shinkansen lines, but you’ll probably do better to grab something beforehand if you’re particularly hungry.
The cart that comes round will only sell drinks and snacks and I know I’m likely to get hungrier than that!
So what are your options?
The classic option in Japan, and honestly never a bad shout. If you’re looking for some stand-out snacks, quick (yet tasty!) meals, and more than enough Japanese sweets for the ride, this is the place to go.
If you haven’t scoffed down a burning hot bowl of seemingly never-ending ramen on a train platform, only just in time for your train, you haven’t lived. It’s fast, the quality is there, and it’ll be a great memory!
Eki-ben (railway station meal) is perhaps the most traditional food to eat on a shinkansen. They’re basically bento boxes of all shapes and sizes with various foods inside.
You’ll find most of them when you go through the ticket barrier into the main Shinkansen area of the station. When I say you’ll find some, in most of the big stations there are LOADS of choices, so goo luck choosing!
Some (don’t ask me which…) even have a little thing you pull out from the bottom of the Eki-ben that causes some sort of reaction and heats your food up. It’s super cool!
7. What should you eat on the Shinkansen?
If you’re coming to Japan and want to experience something traditional and authentically Japanese, I think you should go for the eki-ben. Even better, grab one in the shape of a shinkansen – it’ll make for a great photo!
Most will come with their own chopsticks or spoons as well, so no worrying about how you’re going to eat on the Shinkansen.
In terms of what sort of eki-ben to choose, that’s a little harder. If you don’t know what to get, I’d suggest doing a little research beforehand on the station you’re going from (or asking when you’re there if your Japanese is good enough) because each place will have its own special/famous flavors that are often based on the town it’s in and the local produce.
8. What is the Shinkansen average delay?
Unsurprisingly, not a lot.
Over the last decade, the Shinkansen has, on average, been less than a minute late. How mad is that?!
The commuter and rapid trains aren’t as reliable as that, but even still I’ve only ever had to wait 5-10 minutes. That’s my ‘real world’ experience with commuter train delays.
In terms of Shinkansen, I’ve never been delayed. Even if I was delayed on one train, another would be along in several minutes to whisk me up halfway across the country. So, it’s really no issue either way!
9. How long does it take a bullet train to stop?
According to this article published in 2018 in the Journal of Mechanical Science and Technology, HST (High-speed trains) take approximately 6000m and 1 minute 40 seconds to stop if they’re operating at 200kmh or over.
Japanese shinkansen frequently travel faster than this, so it’s likely that it may take slightly longer. We’ll also have to take into account the age of the train, perhaps the line they’re on, and weather conditions as well.
In any case, their short and fast-breaking distance likely accounts for why the Shinkansen is so damn reliable all the time
10. Has a Shinkansen ever crashed?
Not really in the conventional way, but also sort of…
Shinkansen have built a large portion of its fame on the fact that no one has ever died or been injured on their trains, though there have been a few accidents that don’t come as a direct result of the train.
There was one case of a train derailing due to a 6.6 magnitude earthquake. That’s pretty huge, and by the time the train had detected the ground shifting, it was already too late and the train derailed.
I don’t quite know all the ins and outs of this one but basically, a train that was coming from Torikai train Depot to Shin Osaka ended up overturning.
The main cause was slippery tracks which led to the train overrunning the red ATC Signal and causing the derailment. Again, I don’t really know what all that means, but you can read up about it here if you’re interested.
In any case, it’s extremely unlikely that any kind of accident or crash will happen on your Shinkansen ride in Japan. It’s incredibly safe, and not something you’ll need to worry about.
11. Is there a Shinkansen from Hakone to Kyoto?
There certainly is, and I’ve taken it a number of times myself!
You’re first going to want to get yourself to Odawara station in Hakone which shouldn’t be more than a bus or short train ride away from where you’re staying.
From there you’ll have access to pretty much most Shinkansen on the Tokkaido line, though some of the faster ones will speed past the station at what seems like a million miles an hour.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve got the unreserved seats from Odawara before and there were still plenty of seats to go around.
From there it should take around 2.5 hours to reach Kyoto depending on what train you get. Costs should be just over ¥12,000 for the journey.
As a little add-in point, I often get people asking me whether they should choose to visit Hakone or Kyoto, so I’ve written an article to help you make that decision!
12. Who owns Shinkansen?
The Shinkansen are owned and operated by The Japan Railways Group, or as most of us know them, JR Group.
What does this mean for you?
On the face of it, this isn’t something you’d normally ask when planning your holiday because it’s not something you think will affect your time over here, but it absolutely does.
By realizing that all Shinkansen is run by JR, you can pretty much rest assured that your experience across the whole of Japan’s rail system will be reliable, clean, friendly, and simple. It’s great to know that public transport isn’t likely to ruin any part of your trip!
13. When will the Shinkansen reach Sapporo?
Unfortunately not soon enough for when we went… Honestly, after flying with peach airlines I remembered just how much I love traveling on the Shinkansen.
There are currently plans to extend the Shinkansen up to Sapporo by 2030, but whether they keep to that timeline remains to be seen. I guarantee this would be an incredibly popular line though, especially in the winter with how popular skiing is in Japan!
Tokyo – Sapporo by train
While there is a way to get to Sapporo by train, it’s not the cheapest or quickest way of doing things. From Tokyo station to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto it takes around 4.5 hours.
To get to Sapporo from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto you’ll need to take a limited express train (like what we talked about above) that takes another 3.5 hours. A minimum 8-hour trip isn’t ideal when you’re pushed for time especially as flying takes just under two.
Not only is flying quicker, but at ¥28,000 for the train, it’s also going to be a lot cheaper. But hey, if you’ve got the time and money and you like scenic routes, I’d still rather take the train!
My Top Japan Travel Resources:
What’s the best way to get cheap flights to Japan?
Going is BY FAR the best way to secure dirt-cheap flights to Japan. We’re talking as much as 90% off!
Should I live in Japan?
Maybe – I’ve made this quiz specifically for you! Who knows, perhaps you’re closer to those bowls of ramen than you think 😉
Where should I visit next in Japan?
It depends – To help you figure it out, I’ve made this quiz just for you!
Can I get online in Japan?
You can! – The eSIM is the one I’d recommend using, plus it’s perfect if you’re planning to travel somewhere else afterward.
Can you help me plan my trip to Japan?
Yes – I’ve got a Japan bucket list just for you! Simply download the PDF, print it out, and tick off some of the things you’d like to see, do, and eat.
Can I get money out in Japan without getting charged?
Yep – The Zero-fee card I use to get money in Japan hasn’t steered me wrong yet. Highly recommended to any traveler!