Though Japan operates a high speed Shinkansen network of some 1,483 miles, with 8 lines criss-crossing the nation, the jewel in the system is undoubtedly the Tokaido Shinkansen. This line links the two major Japanese cities of Osaka and Tokyo, with scheduled stops on the line including historic Kyoto, picturesque Nagoya and thriving port city Yokohama. The oldest line in the system, the 515.4 km route has carried an astonishing 4.9 billion passengers since opening to the public in 1964, making this by far the busiest rail line on the planet.
We travelled the entire length of the route, our journey starting at the high speed railway station of Shin-Osaka, just a short distance from downtown Osaka. Unfortunately most public transport systems in Japan do not have online ticket websites, meaning you have to go to the station in order to purchase your ticket. Fortunately, prices are set at one standard, so passengers buying tickets late, and even just before departure, do not have to worry about paying extra. Japan Rail Pass holders should be aware, however, that their passes do not entitle them to travel on high speed Nozomi trains.
Shin-Osaka station itself can get extremely busy, and the low ceilings and lack of natural light can make the facility seem quite claustrophobic. Thankfully platforms are elevated and open to the elements, and a number of food stalls operate there, selling everything from fresh sushi, bento boxes and sandwiches. If you get distracted and end up missing your train, fear not, as trains arrive every ten to fifteen minutes, so you will not have long to wait for the next one.
Once on board the Shinkansen, which arrived precisely to the minute, we were a little disappointed not to find any luggage racks by the entrance, meaning we had to carry heavy and awkward bags down the narrow aisles to our seats. However the amount of seat space is extremely generous, meaning you can easily fit a couple of big cases between you and the back of the seat in front. A smoking cubicle at the end of our carriage meant the doors nearby constantly opened, people after their nicotine fix going to and fro. Ticket inspectors, and food vendors walked by a few times, each bowing as they entered the carriage and reciting an obligatory and polite “ohiyou gozaimasu” to the seated passengers.
We purchased some cans of chilled Suntory Coffee and placed them on the fold out tables in front of us. While open drinks on other train lines need to be held in place to guard against spillage, the Tokaido Shinkansen runs very smoothly over its elevated tracks. This is despite a top speed of 170 miles per hour and the fact that the train itself tilts up to one degree as it negotiates corners and curves. For the entire journey the can of coffee was never in danger of spilling over once.
Looking out of the windows at top speeds is a great way to while away the time when travelling anywhere, but particularly in Japan; passengers can catch glimpses of the Pacific Ocean, steep cliffs, dramatic mountains, and dozens of interlinked towns that seem to sprawl all the way from Osaka to Tokyo. The scenic highlight of the route though is clearly Mount Fuji, which can be seen on clear days. Sadly our trip was marred a little by low cloud, meaning the summit of this ominous Volcano, some 12,389 feet above sea level, remained hidden.
The interior of the train is slick, modern and minimalist, decked out in an off-white signature style that is replicated across the entire Shinkansen system. In fact the inside of our coach looked pretty much identical to that of the Sanyo Shinkansen from Okayama that we had taken just two days earlier. Seats are as cozy as one would expect, but are largely designed with durability, rather than comfort, in mind. With so much leg room available to passengers, carriages can seat as few as 63 passengers depending on the alignment, somewhat less than a similar sized train in the UK would carry. Interestingly, seats can also be turned 180 degrees, so if you are travelling in a group of four you can face your companions.
Our journey, on express Nozomi trains, took just 2 hours 25 minutes, bypassing smaller, provincial stations. Tickets can also be purchased for the slower slower Hikari trains that stop at more stations, with prices slightly cheaper. Though tickets do not come cheap, after two trips on the Shinkansen system, it is clear to see why this network of high speed trains is the envy of the world.
flickr image by kimuchi583Write a Review
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