Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Adventure 31/50 : SHINKANSEN!

I don't know when it happened, but if I think about it, the evidence has been building for a long time.

I like trains.

Not just trains, really -- I love transport in general. Lightrail, streetcars, steam trains, buses, funiculars, cablecars, overhead trams, you name it, I find it weirdly exciting. So when we were planning our trip to Japan I knew we had to ride a bullet train.

We rode a Hikari-class shinkansen on the Tokaido line between Tokyo and Nagoya en route to our hike on the Nakasendo. We stopped in a couple of stations, but for the most part just sped across the countryside.

It's legitimately far... more than 200 miles. Top speed of our train? 168mph. That's faaaaast.

The Nozomi trains also run on this line, but we couldn't use our JR Railpass on those. That said, they would only shorten the journey by 4 minutes, so it didn't matter to us.

It was easy to find the platform for the shinkansen, all alone one end of the station. One of the reasons the trains can go so fast is that they run on dedicated rail lines with no crossings.

Even just coming into the station they move really quickly. 

The trains are notoriously safe; with only two derailments in their 55-year history ... one during an earthquake in 2004, the other during a blizzard in 2015. 

As westerners we just didn't understand how prompt they were, both in arriving and departing. We were told that we would have 7 minutes to transfer from the shinkansen to the local train when we arrived in Nagoya, and wondered if that would be enough time. The ticket seller didn't seem to understand the question... just assured us that we would have plenty of time to change platforms. And, of course, we did. 

The morning we left on our first shinkansen, we were on the platform a little early and watched the trains come in and out. During one stretch, a train came in on either side of the platform in 3-minute intervals, and the platform attendant calmly went through the same routine, often referred to as "pointing and calling". 

Isn't that lovely? And as that train left, he crossed over to the other side of the platform and did it again. The trains move down the track as close as THREE MINUTES APART. Can you imagine?

When you get on the train, the seats are all facing "forward"... when the trains get to their destination, they seats "reset"... this isn't my video, but we did witness this.... We don't have our own video because I was SQUEALING. 

Note that you can also manually spin the seats yourself if you're in a group of four who want to face each other!

Our train was a N700, which seems to be the current top of the line.

The train was crowded -- our ride was a weekday morning, so there were a lot of business travelers -- so we didn't take many interior photos. But the seats were very comfortable, had tons of leg room, and it was clean and plush on the train.

The ride was very quiet (the only people talking in more than hushed voices were the American tourists at the far end of the train...) with very little train noise. And when going around the curves, the lean felt a little odd, because the bottom of the cars swings out. 

I've also read about something called "tunnel boom", caused by the trains moving so quickly in and out of tunnels and causing a loud noise in the area. We couldn't hear it inside the train. 

The only problem for us? Our ride was over too soon. I already have a little dream about going back to Japan with the idea of riding the shinkansen up and down the island...

Oh, and did I mention that maglev trains will be in use in a few years? I really want to ride that someday. #trainnerd


  1. I adore train rides and usually take a train on holiday once a year. I was really struck by how beautiful and efficient these trains seem to be. What an experience for you!Enjoy every minute.

  2. Thanks Jocelyn! We rode on several different types of train in Japan, including a special one called the "RomanceCar" that has its own souvenirs!