In the minds of international travellers, nothing symbolises Japan better than its culture of high technology. That said, Japan’s legendary bullet train — Shinkansen — has been etched in the world’s collective consciousness as one of the best symbols of Japan. Growing up, I had seen countless cliché images of the Shinkansen cutting through the Japanese countryside, at breakneck speed, with Mt. Fuji in the background. But during a recent trip to Japan, I enjoyed the Shinkansen experience between Shin-Osaka station and Tokyo Shinagawa station. The Shinkansen, as I learnt, has a vast network of different lines connecting the major Japanese cities. I am on the Tokaido Shinkansen, which operates between Osaka and Tokyo, and happens to be one of the most significant lines in terms of passenger traffic. This line was also the first Shinkansen line to have been built in Japan in 1964. It operates a distance of 552.6 km in about two hours at a maximum speed of 285 kmph and carries 466,000 passengers daily.
As the train approaches the station, it looks like something straight out of a futuristic movie — its unmistakable pointed nose and aerodynamic design, as well as its smooth, gliding movement.
Once inside, there is ample place to stow luggage before you can proceed to your seats. My pre-assigned seat was in the ordinary cabin, the equivalent of an economy class cabin. With ample legroom, a comfortable seat and a drop-down table, this cabin makes for a very comfortable ride. This cabin is configured in a 2-3 format. In addition, I walked through the compartments to check out the Green car or first class, with plush, wider seats, more legroom and a generous 2-2 configuration.
Once on board, the cabin is extremely silent, and you watch the landscape race by so effortlessly. Most people catch up on emails, reading or watch shows on their personal devices. At most Japanese stations, you can pick up bento box meals, which you can consume on the train. There are designated zones, outside the cabin, for washrooms and where you can use your phone, to avoid disturbing the peace and quiet of the cabin.
During the journey, I caught up on some TV shows on my iPad. In just over two hours, and after whizzing past the magnificent Mount Fuji, my Shinkansen began to slow down and pulled into Tokyo’s Shinagawa station. From there, it was an easy hop to the Narita Express train that connects the city to the airport.
Five Facts About the Tokaido Shinkansen
- The Shinkansen was launched in 1964. Since then, it has maintained an impeccable safety record with zero passenger fatalities and injuries due to train accidents.
- The Shinkansen is powered by a highly sensitive Crash Avoidance technology to ensure utmost safety. There is also an Automatic Train Control system to keep the train’s speed limits in check.
- The Shinkansen has an average delay time of less than one minute.
- The network runs up to 15 trains per hour, that means there is one train every four minutes.
- The Shinkansen’s consumes half the energy compared to Europe’s high-speed rail.