Shinkansen

  • Japan’s bullet train system, or Shinkansen, was the first high-speed rail system.
  • On a recent trip to Japan, I had the chance to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.
  • Here’s what it was like. 

Japan’s bullet train system, or Shinkansen, is the granddaddy of high-speed rail. 

It debuted in 1964, allowing commuters to travel between the major cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, at speeds of up to 210 kilometers per hour (130 miles per hour). Through technical advances over time, the Shinkansen has been upgraded to reach speeds of up to 320 kph (199 mph) and added numerous other lines.

And while Japan was the first country with high-speed rail, China has more than 15,000 miles of track — more than five times the amount as Japan — and has plans to connect Southeast Asia by rail.

Meanwhile, high-speed rail networks can be found all across Europe, with France, Germany, and Spain being the early pioneers and other countries joining later.   

Read more: I rode Africa’s first superfast bullet train that could go from New York to Washington, DC, in 90 minutes, and I understand why it’s controversial.

But, the US still lags behind its peers in Asia and Europe and still doesn’t have a network dedicated to high-speed trains. By comparison, Acela Express trains, the fastest in the US, travel at a top speed of 150 mph, and operate at an average speed of 72 mph.

There’s also the privately operated Brightline trains that currently serve South Florida. 

While politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have recently made a push to build a network in the US, the most advanced plans hit a snag when California pulled the plug on a $77 billion project that would have connected Los Angeles and San Francisco.   

I had heard about how awesome of an experience it was to ride Japan’s bullet train, and on a recent trip to the country decided to check it out. 

After spending the previous night getting acclimated to the time change compared to New York, I slept in and checked out of my hotel at 9:40 a.m. local time. My train was at 10:03 a.m., but I had plenty of time because I had booked my ticket the night before, and my hotel was connected to the train station.

Here’s a closer look at my trip on Japan’s bullet train.

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Before my trip, I bought a one-week Japan Rail Pass online for $263. I was sent a voucher that I traded in upon landing at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. For an extra $100, you can upgrade to first class, but I stuck with the ordinary pass.

The JR Pass would give me access to a number of train systems across the country. I could use it for some, but not all of the trains around Tokyo, and other major cities like Kyoto and Osaka. The map below shows JR train lines in Tokyo (thick lines) that I could use the pass on and the metro train lines (thin lines) that I couldn’t use the pass on.

I could also use the pass to travel between cities on traditional trains.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider