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JR Pass Shinkansen: Your Guide to Bullet Train Travel in Japan

Japan Rail PassJR Pass Shinkansen

What is the JR Pass and Shinkansen?

Wondering how to travel efficiently and comfortably across Japan? Look no further than the Shinkansen, Japan's renowned high-speed railway system.  Often referred to as the bullet train, the Shinkansen boasts impressive speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour, making it one of the world's most advanced rail networks.

Meet the JR Pass, your key to unlocking this incredible network. The Japan Rail Pass is a special ticket that grants access to a vast web of trains, including many Shinkansen lines, for a set timeframe. Imagine it as an all-you-can-ride pass for JR trains, letting you easily explore.

Simply put, the JR Pass acts as your bridge to experiencing the JR trains and the Shinkansen's efficiency and comfort.

JR Pass Shinkansen: Stats & facts

shinkansen by mt fuji
  • Top speed: Up to 320 km/h (200 mph)
  • Safety record: Zero passenger fatalities from operational accidents
  • Debut year: 1964
  • Earthquake-resistant tracks: Yes
  • Network length: Over 2,950 km (1,830 miles)
  • Passenger numbers: Over 10 billion passengers carried since its inception
  • On-time performance: Known for exceptional punctuality
  • On-time rate: Over 99% 
  • Green technology: Newer Shinkansen models boast energy-efficient designs, reducing environmental impact
  • Average train age: Less than 15 years

All Shinkansen lines in Japan

Japan's Shinkansen network offers a web of high-speed train lines connecting major cities and regions. Here's a breakdown of each Shinkansen line:

tokaido shinkansen

Tokaido Shinkansen

The granddaddy of them all, this original iconic line stretches from Tokyo down to Shin-Osaka, traversing some of Japan's most dynamic hubs like Yokohama, Nagoya, and Kyoto. Renowned for its speed and efficiency, the Tokaido Shinkansen is a vital artery for business and leisure travel.

sanyo shinkansen hiroshima

Sanyo Shinkansen

Picking up where the Tokaido Shinkansen leaves off, the Sanyo line seamlessly connects Shin-Osaka with Fukuoka, a major gateway to Kyushu Island. Hiroshima, a city steeped in history, is another key stop along this route.

kyushu shinkansen kagoshima

Kyushu Shinkansen

Delve deeper into Kyushu Island with this Shinkansen line. It whisks you from Fukuoka southwards, reaching Kagoshima-Chuo, a gateway to stunning natural landscapes and volcanic wonders.

Nishikyushu Shinkansen

Nishikyushu Shinkansen

This recently opened line (as of 2023) extends the Kyushu Shinkansen further south, offering a faster connection between Nagasaki and Kagoshima.

Tohoku Shinkansen

Tohoku Shinkansen

Venture north from Tokyo on this Shinkansen line. It serves key destinations like Sendai, a bustling regional hub, and reaches as far as Shin-Aomori, a gateway to the scenic Tohoku region.

hokkaido shinkansen

Hokkaido Shinkansen

Experience the northernmost reaches of Japan with this Shinkansen line. Currently operational between Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and Sapporo, Hokkaido's vibrant capital city, it's poised for further expansion in the coming years.

joetsu shinkansen

Joetsu Shinkansen

This Shinkansen line offers an alternative route between Tokyo and Niigata, a city known for its scenic coastline and rich winter sports offerings.

hokuriko shinkansen

Hokuriku Shinkansen

Journey through the scenic Hokuriku region on this Shinkansen line. Currently operating between Kanazawa and Nagano, it's planned to extend further towards Osaka in the future.

Akita Shinkansen (Morioka - Akita)

Akita Shinkansen (Morioka - Akita)

A mini-shinkansen utilizing existing lines, offering a faster connection between Akita and the Tohoku Shinkansen network. Discover scenic natural landscapes and local cuisine.

Yamagata Shinkansen

Yamagata Shinkansen

This short Shinkansen line connects Fukushima with Shinjo, offering a high-speed option for exploring Yamagata Prefecture.

JR Pass Shinkansen lines: Coverage

Shinkansen Line
JR Pass Coverage
Included Trains
JR Pass
Tokaido Shinkansen (Tokyo - Shin-Osaka)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Hikari, Kodama
Whole of Japan Rail Pass
Sanyo Shinkansen (Shin-Osaka - Fukuoka)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Hikari, Kodama
Whole of Japan Rail Pass
Kyushu Shinkansen (Fukuoka - Kagoshima-Chuo)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Hikari
Whole of Japan Rail Pass & JR Kyushu Pass
Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen (Takeo Onsen - Nagasaki)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Kamome
Whole of Japan Rail Pass & JR Kyushu Pass
Tohoku Shinkansen (Tokyo - Shin-Aomori)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Hayabusa, Yamabiko
Whole of Japan Rail Pass
Hokkaido Shinkansen (Currently Partially Operational)
Not Covered
N/A
N/A
Joetsu Shinkansen (Tokyo - Niigata)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Toki, Hakuba
Whole of Japan Rail Pass
Hokuriku Shinkansen (Tokyo - Tsuruga)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Kagayaki
Whole of Japan Rail Pass
Akita Shinkansen (Morioka - Akita)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Tsubasa
JR East Pass (or Whole of Japan Rail Pass)
Yamagata Shinkansen (Fukushima - Shinjo)
Yes (Full Coverage)
Tsubasa
JR East Pass (or Whole of Japan Rail Pass)



Book your JR Pass

JR West Kansai Area Rail Pass
Free Cancellation
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
2 hr. - 96 hr.
More details
from
¥2,800
5 Day JR Kansai Wide Area Pass
Free Cancellation
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
2 hr.
More details
from
¥12,000
JR Pass: Kansai with Hiroshima or Hokuriku
Free Cancellation
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
1 hr. - 168 hr.
More details
from
¥17,000
7 Days Kansai-Hokuriku Area Pass
Free Cancellation
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
168 hr.
More details
from
¥19,000
5 Day JR Hiroshima Yamaguchi Area Pass
Free Cancellation
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
10 hr. 9 min.
More details
from
¥15,000
JR Pass: Whole Japan Access with Ordinary Seats
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
10 hr. 9 min.
More details
from
¥50,000
5 Day JR Okayama-Hiroshima-Yamaguchi Area Pass
Free Cancellation
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
120 hr.
More details
from
¥17,000

Understanding the Nozomi & Mizuho Shinkansen: How to ride?

The Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen are the undisputed speed demons of Japan's bullet train network. These sleek and powerful trains boast impressive speeds, making them ideal for traversing long distances in minimal time.

  • Speed: Both Nozomi and Mizuho reach exhilarating speeds exceeding 300 km/h (nearly 186 mph).
  • Stops: They make limited stops, focusing on major stations only, allowing for the fastest possible travel times between cities.

Can you use the JR Pass on Nozomi/Mizuho?

While the JR Pass is an excellent value for exploring Japan's railway network, it doesn't cover the fare for the premium Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen trains. You'll have to book your tickets separately.

Special Limited Express ticket: Your bridge to Nozomi/Mizuho with the JR Pass

To unlock the speed of the Nozomi and Mizuho with your JR Pass, you'll need to purchase a special limited express ticket (tokkyu ken) on top of your JR Pass.

How to get a Special Limited Express ticket:

  • Location: You can purchase these tickets at JR ticket machines or manned ticket offices at major train stations in Japan.
  • Process: Inform the staff or utilize the ticket machine options that you want a special limited express ticket for the Nozomi or Mizuho Shinkansen. You'll need to specify your travel date, departure station, and arrival station.
  • Cost: The cost of the special limited express ticket varies depending on the distance you're traveling.

Remember:

  • Special limited express tickets are specific to a particular train and date.
  • Seating is not reserved with the special limited express ticket itself. You might want to consider reserving seats (separate cost) for guaranteed seating on your chosen Nozomi or Mizuho train.

Beyond speed: The comforts & amenities of the JR Pass Shinkansen

The Shinkansen experience goes beyond breakneck speeds and futuristic design. Here's a look at the onboard amenities that enhance your journey:

luggage rack inside shinkansen bullet train

Luggage racks

Strategically placed luggage racks provide ample space to stow your carry-on bags and suitcases, freeing up legroom and keeping your belongings secure.

vending machine inside shinkansen

Vending machines

For a quick refreshment or snack, most Shinkansen trains feature vending machines dispensing a variety of drinks, snacks, and even bento boxes (compartmentalized lunch boxes).

Wi-Fi connectivity on shinkansen

Wi-Fi connectivity

While not available on all Shinkansen lines and train types, Wi-Fi connectivity is increasingly offered, allowing you to stay connected and entertained during your travels.

Spacious restrooms in shinkansen

Spacious restrooms

Each Shinkansen car is equipped with clean and well-maintained restrooms, ensuring passenger comfort throughout your trip.

Green Car (For JR Green Pass holders):

For an extra touch of luxury, consider upgrading to a Green Car seat, available to JR Green Pass holders. Green Cars offer wider seats with more legroom, reclining capabilities, and additional amenities like personal reading lights and attendants. This creates a more spacious and comfortable travel environment, perfect for those seeking a premium Shinkansen experience.

Frequently asked questions about the Shinkansen & the JR Pass Shinkansen

What is the Shinkansen?

The Shinkansen, often referred to as the bullet train, is Japan's renowned high-speed railway system boasting impressive speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour. It's a marvel of modern engineering, whisking passengers between major cities in record time.

How fast do Shinkansen trains travel?

Shinkansen trains are known for their speed. The fastest ones, Nozomi and Mizuho, can reach exhilarating speeds exceeding 300 kilometers per hour (nearly 186 mph). Even slower Shinkansen trains like Hikari and Sakura travel at impressive speeds, making them a great option for efficient travel.

Are Shinkansen trains safe?

Safety is a top priority for the Shinkansen network. They boast an impeccable safety record, with zero passenger fatalities due to operational accidents since their inauguration in 1964. Earthquake-resistant tracks and advanced safety protocols ensure a smooth and safe ride.

How does the JR Pass work with the Shinkansen?

The JR Pass acts as your key to exploring Japan's extensive railway network, including a significant portion of the Shinkansen bullet train lines. It's an all-you-can-ride pass for a set period, allowing you to hop on and off JR trains within its coverage area, including many Shinkansen lines.

Can I use the JR Pass on all Shinkansen lines?

The JR Pass covers a majority of the Shinkansen lines, including Tokaido, Sanyo, Kyushu, Tohoku, Hokuriku, Joetsu, Yamagata, and Akita Shinkansen. However, it's important to note that the JR Pass doesn't cover the Nozomi and Mizuho, the fastest Shinkansen trains.

Can I use the JR Pass on the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen?

The JR Pass doesn't cover the fare for the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen. You'll need to purchase a special limited express ticket (tokkyu ken) to cover the fare.

How much does a special limited express ticket cost for Nozomi/Mizuho Shinkansen?

The cost of a special limited express ticket for the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen varies depending on the distance you're traveling. For example, a special limited express ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto on the Nozomi Shinkansen can cost around ¥4,960 minimum (one-way), while the same route on the Hikari Shinkansen (included with JR Pass) would be cheaper.

Where can I buy a special limited express ticket?

You can purchase special limited express tickets for the Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen at JR ticket machines or manned ticket offices at major train stations in Japan. Just inform the staff or use the ticket machine options to specify you want a special limited express ticket for your chosen Shinkansen train, providing your travel date, departure station, and arrival station.

How do I reserve seats on the Shinkansen?

While a seat is guaranteed with your JR Pass for most Shinkansen lines covered by the pass, reserving a specific seat is recommended, especially during peak travel times. You can make seat reservations online or at JR ticket offices in Japan for a small additional fee.

Can I take luggage on the Shinkansen?

Absolutely! Shinkansen trains have ample luggage storage space. Strategically placed overhead racks and designated luggage compartments allow you to stow your carry-on bags and suitcases securely.

Can I take a bicycle on the Shinkansen?

Taking a bicycle on the Shinkansen typically requires disassembling it and packing it into a designated bike bag. However, regulations and fees can vary depending on the size and type of bicycle. It's always best to check with JR staff in advance for specific guidelines.

Are pets allowed on the Shinkansen?

Small pets are generally allowed on the Shinkansen, but they must be in a carrier and meet specific size and weight restrictions. Always check with JR staff beforehand and inquire about any fees or documentation required for pet travel.

What is the best Shinkansen line for scenic views?

Many Shinkansen lines offer beautiful views of the Japanese countryside. The Joetsu Shinkansen, along the Sea of Japan, and the Hokuriku Shinkansen, with its scenic coastline and mountains, are popular choices, if you’re seeking picturesque journeys.