A First-Timer’s Guide to Riding Shinkansen Trains in Japan
Follow these tips for an enjoyable and comfortable ride.
Trains are a great way to travel around Japan. Besides being a convenient mode of transportation, they can also be used for sightseeing. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you might have already heard of the bullet train, Shinkansen, even if you’ve never used it.
If you’re planning on riding it sometime soon, we list down some Shinkansen manners and useful tips to help you differentiate it from the local trains.
At the ticket counter
You will find that the ticket fee for Shinkansen is more expensive when compared to the local train. This is because the fee includes the basic fare (乗車券, joshaken) and the super express train ticket fare (特急券, tokkyuken).
There are three different car categories with varying price ranges: the lowest is called the Ordinary Car, the next category is the Green Car, while the highest is called the Gran Class.
If you’re traveling in an Ordinary Car, you can choose from two types of seats—non-reserved or reserved. For the Green Car, you will need a Green Car reserved seat ticket in addition to the basic and super express ticket. On the other hand, for the Gran Class Car, you will need a Gran Class Car reserved seat ticket in addition to the basic and super express train ticket.
The minimum price of a Shinkansen ticket will be: Joshaken + Tokkyuken (We'll refer to these two fares as "A")
Ordinary Car (without any reservation): (A) only (and this is a non-reserved seat ticket)
Ordinary Car (with seat reservation): reserved seat ticket + (A)
Green Car: Green Car reserved seat ticket + (A)
Gran Class Car: Gran Class reserved seat ticket + (A)
At the platform
With your train ticket in hand, you can check the car number, seat row number, and seating letter assigned to you. If you bought a non-reserved seat ticket, you can simply proceed to the assigned cars, which are usually the first or last cars of Shinkansen trains. Meanwhile, the Gran Class and Green Car cars are conveniently located in the middle.
It’s best to give yourself enough time to walk and reach your assigned car prior to the departure time. This is so you can avoid going into the wrong car. Take note that there are some seasons when Ordinary Car passengers are not allowed to pass through the Gran Class or Green Car. Since these are located in the middle of the train, you wouldn’t want to get trapped inside and not be able to enjoy the ride until the next stop.
Inside the train
Where should I put my luggage?
Unfortunately, there are no allocated spaces for huge luggage. You’re also not allowed to leave them in the aisle. However, for small suitcases or luggage, there is an overhead compartment above your seat.
If you’re with a group and you’re seated in front of them, you may turn your seat around so you can face your friends directly. You can also put your luggage between the seats behind you and yours if you need a wider space.
Starting May 2020, Central Japan Railway will require passengers with large suitcases (having overall dimensions of more than 160 cm/62 inches) to reserve a seat with oversized baggage area before boarding. This new rule will be applied to Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin Osaka first.
Can I eat and drink?
Yes. You can pull down the table in front of you so you can eat comfortably. You will see many bento shops at the station or even on the platform. If you didn’t get the chance to buy food before boarding the train, you don’t have to worry because you can also buy from the catering trolley.
The catering trolley goes from the first to the last car of the train.
Can I talk on the phone?
Yes. However, you should go to the designated area, located between the cars, before doing so. We should also remind you that it’s common knowledge and etiquette in Japan to use earphones when listening to music or watching videos. This is so you don’t bother your seatmate, who may be resting.
Can I charge my phone?
Yes, but there’s only one outlet on each side of the train. It would be best to get the window seat if you’re planning on charging your phone.
Before getting off the train, what am I expected to do?
You should return your reclined seat to its upright position. If you have trash, don’t leave it at the seat. Take it with you and throw it away in the trash boxes located at the exit or the platform.
Lastly, Shinkansen will depart shortly after arriving at the stations, so it’s wise to be ready to get off before the train stops.
(12 December 2019)