Travel Guide – Japan: The One about Riding the Shinkansen


For those who have read my post about the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass), you will know that with the rail pass, you can only ride the Hikari and Sakura Shinkansen (Bullet Trains).

The Nozomi is only for those who pay for the privilege of not riding on a bullet train with not as many stops, while the Hikari and Sakura, you will have occasional stops but not too much.

Also, depending which JR Pass you get, normal or access to the green car which is more expensive and gives you more arm and leg room.

So, let’s assume that you have your JR Pass and you activated them from one of the few JR Stations that allow JR Pass activation.  And you went to your JR West or East booth and got your shinkansen tickets in advance (and hopefully got reserved seating),  the next step is to look at what time you leave.

So, looking at the ticket above, I have to be at Tokyo Station and be on the Hikari 463 Shinkansen at 8:03 a.m. and will arrive at Nagoya Station at 10:09 a.m.  I have to be at Car 13 and be seated in Car 13-A.

I highly recommend getting to the station at least an 40-minutes or an hour before.    For one, depending on what day you leave, it may be packed at the station, especially in the morning.  And of course, you’ll need to do some walking to find the shinkansen area.  Once you do find it, then you are going to have to find your car and be wait and be seated.

If by any chance you miss your ride, go back to the JR East Station (they open around 9:30 a.m.) and reschedule and get new tickets.  But if you missed your ride, you missed your ride and if you happen to get on a train that is not on your ticket, you will need to pay for it.  Your JR pass will not give you a free ride if you take the wrong train.  Prepare these things in advance and don’t be the person who gets to the shinkansen late (you will see people who are running and just getting into their car within the final minute).

Most often, you will see people getting their food and drinks before they get on the shinkansen.  I highly recommend making a stop at the convenient store and purchasing your food and drinks there before heading to the station, because if you only have your credit/debit cards, you can get your food easily at a convenience store, while the shops at the Shinkansen area only take your IC card (Suica, Passmo) or yen.

To find out which shinkansen you will be riding, there are floor markers, there are markers by each door on the shinkansen and above is typically a screen to show you which shinkansen will be arriving and what train is coming afterward.

Now before entering, if you notice janitorial workers coming in and cleaning, you will need to wait until they are done.  If see the doors open with no janitorial workers, then you can go inside and find your seat.

Make sure you got the right seat when you go inside!  Don’t assume that because the seat is empty, no one is riding in it, because they may not be riding it from your station, but when you make those several stops, then you will see people filling up those empty seats.

Here are two videos that were shown live on my Facebook as I waited for the Shinkansen.  This is before getting inside:

To find out where you are seated, look at the signs above the window and you will know if you get the window seat, the aisle seat or if a three-seater, or sitting in the middle.

Here is a quick video from inside the Shinkansen:

Please note, if you need to charge your electronics, there is only one charger at some of the newer Hikari Shinkansen and it requires the two-prong adapter (you may need an adapter if you come from another country), not a USB adapter.  If you are not seated near the window, have your battery backups ready.  Especially on older shinkansen which do not have any charging areas.

Everything else is pretty easy to figure out.  How to put the tray down, the arm rest has a button to lean the back of the seat, the pouch behind the seat in front of you is to put your magazines and other things inside.  On the top near the window is where those sitting by the window can hang things on top.  And there is ample foot room and also room for your bags to go under your seat or in front of you.

If you need to use the bathroom, there are bathrooms through the doors in the front or back of your car.

Just remember that with every stop, there is someone that looks over each seat to make sure no one is sitting illegally.  So, try not to use the bathroom soon after a stop, as the employee needs to count the people sitting.

Last but not least, if you are in dire need of a drink or something to eat, there is an employee who will come by your aisle to sell you food or beverage.

But just kick back and enjoy the long, yet quick ride on the shinkansen.  And remember, if you plan to travel long distance, save money by purchasing a Japan Rail Pass!