The Japanese railway system is one of the most remarkable achievements of the country. The Land of the Rising Sun was the first to invest in building a separate high-speed line when the rest of the world thought that the era of planes and cars is on the doorstep. After the huge success of Shinkansen, it seems like Japan has proved everything there is to prove and can take it easier now. No, JR Group, the biggest train company in the country, was relentlessly modifying and improving pretty much every aspect of train travel in Japan. Now, it's close impossible to find a more efficient system. The average annual delay of a train is just 54 seconds. If the train is late for more than 5 minutes, you get an apology certificate even if the delay was not the company's fault. You can take a train to almost any corner of the country, and a famous bullet train can cover the distance from Tokyo to Hiroshima (816 km/507 mi) in less than 4 hours! Keeping all that I'm mind, can you think of a smarter way to get around Japan?
Overall length of Japan railways: 30,625 km
Types of Japanese trains: Shinkansen, limited express, express, rapid & local
Number of Japanese Shinkansen routes sold on Rail Ninja: 30+
Fastest train of Japan Shinkansen rail: 320 km/h
Popular Japanese Trains
Nozomi trains are the crème de la crème of Shinkansen trains and a shining gem of the Japanese railway system. These bullet trains run along the Tokaido line, one of the busiest in the world, and boast an operating speed of 300 km/h (185 mph). What is more, they stop only at the biggest stations on the route, so their travel times are truly astonishing. Generally, Nozomi trains offer two travel classes, Ordinary Car (2nd class) and Green Car (1st class). The seats in the Ordinary Car can be both reserved (allocated to a traveler in advance and cost a little extra) and unreserved (not allocated but taken on a first-come-first-serve basis). The seats in the Green Car are always reserved.
Tips on Train Travel in Japan
Do I need to book Japanese train tickets in advance?
Although booking a ticket in advance is not mandatory, it's highly advisable. Trains are among the most popular connections in Japan, plus the country is home to some of the busiest train lines in the world, so booking beforehand allows avoiding the situation with already sold-out tickets on the day of your trip.
Are Shinkansen tickets refundable?
Sure, you are welcome to return unused (and valid!) tickets if your plans have changed. But keep in mind that you won't be able to get a full price back, as there is a cancellation fee. It varies, so you should ask about it beforehand.
Can I eat on Japanese trains?
Feel free to eat on long-distance trains like Shinkansen and limited express, equipped with cupholders and trays at every seat. You can either buy some snacks and drinks (including alcohol) from a vendor trolley or bring something with you. It's better to avoid eating anything when you travel by short-distance train. It's not exactly forbidden but rather frowned upon in Japanese culture.