Riding the Shinkansen
Glide across Japan at top speed
Japan's network of trains is renowned as the best in the world, with the top-tier service being the bullet train or Shinkansen, which provides fast and easy access to most major hubs in the country, bringing you from Tokyo to Kyoto in just a couple of hours.
With the exception of Okinawa and Shikoku, you can currently travel by Shinkansen throughout the length of Japan, covering most major areas. If you're going to a more rural area you'll then need to switch to a standard train line to continue your voyage.
The Tokaido route between Osaka-Kyoto-Nagoya-Tokyo is easy enough, and is the main route for most travelers in Japan. To get further West to Hiroshima and down to Kyushu you may need to change lines at some point, so use NAVITIME for Japan Travel app’s “Route Search” function to know exactly how to get around.
Otherwise the Northern routes all begin in Tokyo, taking you to Kanazawa, Niigata, Yamagata, and all the way up to Aomori. If you’re looking for winter sports, the Shinkansen can get you there.
Japan Rail Pass
Compared to what locals pay, the JR Pass is a steal. Generally, if you plan on taking three or more Shinkansen during your trip, it's totally worth it! However, to get your money's worth it's best to save your window of usage for the times you'll be on the Shinkansen.
Train Cars and Tickets
There are two types of seats in most Shinkansen trains: Ordinary and Green Cars, which are the train equivalent of business class with more comfortable seats and less crowding. There are also non-reserved cars and reserved cars, meaning that the seats are assigned.
Though reserved seats normally cost more, if you're traveling on a Japan Rail Pass you can do it for free, so we encourage you to do so online once you're settled. More often than not, it's possible to just jump on a non-reserved train, but if you're in a large group it's best to reserve. If you don't have online access, you can make a reservation anytime in-person at a JR ticket counter in all major JR stations in Japan.
Plane or Train?
Going between Tokyo and Osaka by train or airplane is about the same time and cost, but for pure ease of travel and the view we suggest using the train. For further locations (such as Kyushu) it's more difficult to say, but if you're using the JR Pass you should use it for all you can!