26 Jan /15


The word shinkansen refers to Japan’s high-speed rail network, although most people use the word when referring to the train itself. In this sense, shinkansen is sometimes translated as bullet train because of its speed and appearance.

The Tokaido shinkansen (Tokyo to Shin-Osaka) was Japan’s first high-speed line which opened in 1964 – the year of the Tokyo Olympics. In 1968, the word first appeared in English print when an edition of the Japanese National Railways Newsletter was translated and described a plan to “improve the design of the Shin Kansen type electric railcars to be used on the New San-yo Line which is an extension of the New Tokaido Line”. Since the 1960’s, the shinkansen network has continued to grow and has brought great benefit to businesses, the economy and the environment; although noise pollution is an issue. In 1978, a writer for The Times Literary Supplement mentioned the shinkansen, describing “the clatter of the neighboring shinkansen bullet train”, and here in 2015, ways to further reduce this noise are still being researched.

Shinkansen are a good way to travel around Japan – especially for foreign tourists who are able to buy shinkansen rail passes to tour the country’s major cities (the passes are not available to the Japanese or anyone resident in Japan). Shinkansen are spacious, extremely clean and can get you to major cities in record time with top speeds of 240–320 km/h (150–200 mph) on the major lines. Don’t be surprised if you can’t board your shinkansen once it has stopped at your station, however. Before you can get on, teams of cleaners rush into each of the cars armed with feather dusters, plastic bags and polishes to make sure everything is sparkling when you sit down. Once the cleaners have finished, they come out of the car, stand by the side of the train and bow to all the awaiting passengers. Once you have boarded, you can sit back and enjoy the scenery in comfort knowing that you will make your destination in excellent time.