Tokaido Shinkansen

JR Tokai_Logo

Hikari 471

Tokyo – Shin-Osaka

Ordinary, Car 7 Seat 7A

 

Prologue

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Speeding across the country at over 300 kilometers per hour, Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed rail network is legendary for its speed, comfort, reliability and safety. A technological marvel when it first opened in 1964 connecting the major metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, the Tokaido Shinkansen is the world’s first dedicated high-speed rail line and continues to wow the world after 52 years of service. Popular amongst business and leisure travellers seeking speedy inter-city transportation without the hassle of lengthy security processes associated with flying, we ride the “bullet train” on one of its many daily westbound runs from Tokyo.

 

Tickets & Boarding

Tokaido Shinkansen services operate with both reserved and non-reserved seating. We opted for a reserved seat in the ordinary class, which was easily obtained at no cost with our Japan Rail Pass at one of the many JR ticket offices in Tokyo station before heading to the Shinkansen gates and its dedicated platforms.

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Clearly numbered signs on the platform made finding our train service and designated car easy. We were booked on the Hikari 471 departing just after noon and scheduled to pull into Shin-Osaka station at 1503 hrs. This was confirmed by the LED indicators on the gleaming white and blue train as it arrived at track 15 on-time, a testament to the legendary punctuality of Japanese rail.

 

Following a quick turnaround by the cleaning crew, passengers were invited to board the train.

 

The Train

Operator Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) runs 3 service categories on the Tokaido Shinkansen. Nozomi trains are the fastest, making the run in just 2 hours 22 minutes and stopping only at major stations enroute. Hikari trains are equally fast, but complete the run in 3 hours with more intermediate stops. Kodama trains operate as commuter services, stopping at all stations on the line.

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Today’s service was operated by an older, 16-car, JR700 series rolling stock, with 14 cars dedicated to ordinary class and 2 Green Cars with less dense seating.

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Despite being in service for nearly 15 years, the JR700’s interior remains fresh and well-designed to serve the needs of its passengers. Car 6 was fitted with 5-abreast seating set in a 3-2 configuration. Upholstered in a dark blue fabric, the seats are always rotated to face the direction of travel and offer a generous amount of legroom and recline. An overhead shelf provides storage space for cabin bags, while window seat passengers benefit from a wall-mounted coat hook. Every seat also has an airline-style flip down tray table.

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Depending on the configuration, selected cars are equipped with lavatory modules (western-style, Japanese-style and gentlemen-only) and separate hand wash areas at the decks between cars. This area also serves as a multipurpose space with some trains featuring telephone booths, smoking rooms and vending machines for passengers.

 

With its relatively short travel times, in-train entertainment was strictly bring-your-own. We observed many passengers choosing to read or catch up on work on their laptops and tablets, although a lack of electrical outlets and onboard Wi-Fi on our older train set meant that battery life remains a factor.

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Despite the long distances travelled, the Shinkansen trains are unique in not having a dining car onboard. These were discontinued from the Tokaido Shinkansen in 1998 as trains became faster and journey times shortened. In its place, JR Central offers an onboard trolley service retailing snacks and beverages at reasonable prices with attendants coming through the cars several times during our journey.

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A more popular option amongst passengers is purchasing an ekiben (station boxed meal) from one of the many specialty stores at train stations to eat onboard. We had bought a beef rice bento and a sashimi bento at Tokyo station prior to boarding, making for a delicious lunch as we sped across the Japanese countryside in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

 

Route & Highlights

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Extending 515.4 kilometers across central Japan, the Tokaido Shinkansen starts at Tokyo Station in the heart of the Japanese capital amidst the gleaming skyscrapers of Marunouchi and cuts across the city towards Shinagawa station, inaugurated in 2003 as a second departure point to increase capacity. It’s a brief stop here as trains are stationary only for a minute on average before speeding off again to Shin-Yokohama, home to the country’s largest chinatown.

 

Open country ahead give the trains a chance to stretch its legs and accelerate to the line’s 270 kilometers per hour service speed. The urbanscape quickly gives way to farmland and green spaces whizzing by, broken by flashes of white and blue from trains heading opposite to our westbound Hikari superexpress. We bypass several smaller stations (Odawara, Atami, Mishima and Shin-Fuji) enroute to our next stop at Shizuoka where we hoped to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji, which unfortunately was obscured by clouds.

 

Continuing west past Kakegawa, we soon arrive at Hamamatsu where JR Central maintains a large Shinkansen rail yard. The yard holds regular event days, where the public can gain insight to the maintenance operations for the fleet of JR700 and N700 trains. The city is also regarded for the manufacture of musical instruments, with companies including Kawai Musical Instruments, Roland Corporation and Yamaha Corporation headquartered there.

 

After letting a faster Nozomi train pass, we pull out of Hamamatsu station at 1337 hrs and accelerate back to 270 kilometers per hour for the sprint towards Nagoya. At this point we are halfway through our journey and fly past 2 smaller stations (Toyohashi and Mikawa-Anjo), where we do some overtaking of our own to leapfrog the slower Kodama trains. The rural landscape gives way back to industry when we approach the city, home to auto giant Toyota, on schedule 9 minutes after 1400 hrs.

 

Leaving Nagoya, our train skips the stations of Gifu-Hashima and Maibara as it makes its way to Kyoto. The lighthouse-shaped Kyoto Tower, built in the same year as the Tokaido Shinkansen, soon comes into view as we reach a stop. We take in the atmosphere on the platform outside the window, where busy travellers come and go, as the train again accelerates onto the final leg of the line. At exactly 1503 hrs, the Hikari 471 enters Shin-Osaka station, the western terminus for the Tokaido Shinkansen.

 

Verdict

Japan’s Tokaido Shinkansen truly lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest railways in the world and it is no wonder the network continues to receive accolades and the admiration of fans and rivals alike. Its standard for speed, convenience and solid safety record make it not just an alternate, but a preferred mode of domestic travel. Complementing the excellent hardware is the equally impressive dedication and service culture of the railway workers that come together to create a system dedicated to attaining perfection.

 

Central Japan Railway Company

english.jr-central.co.jp

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