Shinkasens or “bullet trains” as they are aptly dubbed are a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to Japanese efficiency combined with transportation, this form tops everything worldwide. When travelling Japan there is no other way to get around on a tight schedule, in the comfort of a roomie lounge chair complete with trolley catering then by the Japanese Rail. At any second of the day there is a train that can get you where you need to be, all at the touch of a JR rail officer’s finger.
Experiencing Japan by train is the best way to see and be consumed by everything this amazing country has to offer. The ability to watch the countryside pass you by; changing from scenic mountainous areas, to quaint small towns into major cities of the like of Tokyo or Osaka; each destination welcoming you with its own aura, characteristics and charm is truly memorable. I cannot recommend using the Japan Rail Pass enough.
Japan Rail Passes come in consecutive day passes of 7, 14 and 21 days. This little piece of transportation gold must be purchased by foreigners outside of Japan before their trip and cannot be extended once in Japan. At first some may say these passes are expensive however when you think about how far you can travel with such ease and time efficiency it will prove that they are invaluable. Trust me buying individual tickets for each leg will definitely set you back nearly triple the cost of the rail pass.
On this trip I managed to travel from Hokkaido in the north to Hiroshima in the south of the Japan in 12 hours without the need for any major transfers and or hassle. The precision and ease of travelling the Japanese countryside and ending up where you need to be is that simple. Seats are assigned and you are able to bring your own food and drink from the billions of vendors and/or vending machines at the train stations onto the train without limitation (hello vino and sushi).
The 8-10 car monstrosities move with such ease, you will literally fall asleep on cue with the warmed seats and ever so slight rocking motion of the carriages; taking you back to your baby days. Reserved seating, smoking cars, huge bathroom facilities and if you are lucky a restaurant car as well as baggage storage areas at the back and the front of each carriage, there is ample room for each and every passenger. Unlike its worldwide counterparts these trains move bloody fast at ease and with little sound, travelling at up to 320km/ hour, it is surprising that you can still take in the scenery as you look out the large windows.
Shinkansens operate rain, hail or shine. Now don’t get me wrong these beasts are efficient, I can promise you that if you are not on that train on the 59th second of the minute it is scheduled to leave you are not going anywhere. It does not matter if you are half off, half on or if you are bolting to the train; I’m sorry to say you will be left behind. There is no efficiency on earth like the Japanese rail system. And on that note if they say you have 3 minutes to change trains you best be primed and ready to race once those doors open.
If you miss a train there is no penalty, just head to the Japan Rail Service centre to rebook. Make sure when passing through the ticket gates that you have your Rail Pass handy (unlike yours truly who did the backpacker rummage at every gate) to show with your tickets on both entry and exit of stations.
This trip I exchanged my 7 day Rail pass upon arrival at Narita Tokyo’s airport; I nominated for it to become active 7 days later as I was heading to Niseko for some snowboarding and didn’t need it until then. By exchanging my pass, I was able to book tickets in advance for planned travel making my itinerary more concrete without losing out on any days covered by the Rail Pass. Note: The Narita Express into Tokyo is covered by the Rail Pass making it easy to get into the city and there is also a Japan Rail network in Tokyo more commonly known as the over ground rail system that you can use your pass on. You need to keep in mind however that you must work out the number of days you are travelling.
The Japan Rail pass is an absolute must for everyone travelling to Japan. It is the best way to see and experience Japan.
Coming soon….. Chasing the Pow in Niseko