Shinkansen – Bullet Trains in Japan

Shinkansen is Japan’s high-speed rail system. It is the world’s first commercially operational high-speed rail system, with the running speed of 240 to 320 m/h (149 to 198 m/h).

Shinkansen trains, known as high-speed trains (bullet trains) or super express in Japan, are famous for their fast speed, punctuality, comfort and safety. Unlike regular trains, all shinkansen lines are built to standard gauge.

The first shinkansen line, Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, started operating since 1964. After years of expansion, at present, there are 9 shinkansen lines in service, connecting most of major cities in Japan. There are 7 high-speed shinkansen lines and 2 mini-shinkansen lines, which refer to lines that share tracks with regular trains. Mini-shinkansen trains have a top speed of 130 km/h (81 m/h).

shinkansen map

Tokaido Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 東海道新幹線/とうかいどうしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR Central
  • Route: Tokyo – Osaka
  • Length: 515 km (319 mi)
  • Top speed: 285 km/h (177 m/h)
  • Terminals: Tokyo Station, Shin-Osaka Station
  • Main stops: Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Odawara, Atami, Shin-Fuji, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Nagoya, Kyoto

Opened in 1964, Tokaido Shinkansen is the first high-speed rail line in Japan, as well as the oldest high-speed rail system in the world. After the Japanese National Railways privatized in 1987, Tokaido Shinkansen has been operated by Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central).

There are three categories of bullet trains running on Tokkaido Shinkansen, Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama. The fastest train is Nozomi, operating at a top speed of 285 km/h (177 m/h), with the travel time of 2 hours 22 minutes between Tokyo and Osaka.

Nozomi trains have the fastest speed and only stops at major stations. But a Japan Rail Pass cannot be used for Nozomi service. Hikari trains have more stops than Nozomi and is the second fastest trains on Tokaido Shinkansen. Kodama trains stop at all stations along the rail line and are the slowest among three categories.

Tokaido Shinkansen is one of the most important high-speed rail lines in Japan, as it connects three metropolitan areas, namely, Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Nagoya Metropolitan Area and Osaka Metropolitan Area, and promotes the development of the Tokaido City Group on Japan's Pacific Coast. Tokaido Shinkansen connects to Tohoku Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkanse and Hokuriku Shinkansen at Tokyo and Sanyo Shinkansen at Osaka.

bullet train in japan, shinkansen

Sanyo Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 山陽新幹線/さんようしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR West
  • Route: Osaka – Fukuoka
  • Length: 554 km (343 mi)
  • Top speed: 300 km/h (186 m/h)
  • Terminals: Shin-Osaka Station, Hakata Station
  • Main stops: Shin-Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Hiroshima, Shin-Shimonoseki

Sanyo Shinkansen was opened in 1972. It connects Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka and Hakata Station in Fukuoka, with the travel time of around 2 hours 30 minutes.

Sanyo Shinkansen goes further to the east to Tokyo with the connection to Tokaido Shinkansen; and goes south to Kagoshima with the link to Kyushu Shinkansen.

Trains running on Sanyo Shinkansen line are Nozomi, Hikari, Kodama, Mizuho and Sakura.

Tohoku Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 東北新幹線/とうほくしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR East
  • Route: Tokyo – Aomori
  • Length: 675 km (419 mi)
  • Top speed: 320 km/h (198 m/h)
  • Terminals: Tokyo Station, Shin-Aomori Station
  • Main stops: Utsunomiya, Fukushima, Sendai, Morioka

Tohoku Shinkansen was opened in 1982. It is the longest shinkansen line connecting Tokyo to Aomori. The shortest travel time between Tokyo Station and Shin-Aomori Station is 2 hours 59 minutes, with the top speed of 320 km/h (198 m/h).

Tohoku Shinkansen connects to Tokaido Shinkansen at Tokyo and Hokkaido Shinkansen at Aomori. It also connects to two mini shinkansen lines, Yamagata Shinkansen and Akita Shinkansen.

Trains running on Tohoku Shinkansen are Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko and Nasuno.

japanese high-speed train

Kyushu Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 九州新幹線/きゅうしゅうしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR Kyushu, JR West
  • Route: Fukuoka – Kagoshima
  • Length: 257 km (159 mi)
  • Top speed: 260 km/h (161 m/h)
  • Terminals: Hakata Station, Kagoshima Central Station
  • Main stops: Shin-Tosu, Kurume, Kumamoto, Shin-Yatsushiro, Sendai

The fastest shinkansen train takes 1 hours 20 minutes to finish the ride from Hakata Station to Kagoshima Station. Train services of Mizuho and Sakura operate on this rail line.

Joetsu Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 上越新幹線/じょうえつしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR East
  • Route: Tokyo – Niigata
  • Length: 270 km (167 mi)
  • Top speed: 240 km/h (149 m/h)
  • Terminals: Tokyo Station, Niigata Station
  • Main stops: Ueno, Takasaki, Echigo-Yuzawa, Tsubame-Sanjo

Opened in 1982, Joetsu Shinkansen was built to connect Pacific Ocean in Honshu region with the Sea of Japan. It shares a rail line with Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya. The fastest train takes 1 hour 37 minutes between Tokyo and Niigata.

Trains serve for Joetsu Shinkansen are Tanigawa and Toki.

japanese shinkansen

Hokuriku Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 北陸新幹線/ほくりくしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR East, JR West
  • Route: Takasaki – Kanazawa
  • Length: 221 km (137 mi)
  • Top speed: 260 km/h (161 m/h)
  • Terminals: Takasaki Station, Kanazawa Station
  • Main stops: Ueda, Nagano, Toyama, Shin-Takaoka

Hokuriku Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Kanazawa in the Hokuriku region. The section between Takasaki and Kanazawa opened in 2005. Takasaki is linked to Tokyo Joetsu Shinkansen.

Hokkaido Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 北海道新幹線 / ほっかいどうしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR Hokkaido
  • Route: Aomori – Hakodate
  • Length: 149 km (92 mi)
  • Top speed: 260 km/h (161 m/h)
  • Terminals: Shin-Aomori Station, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station
  • Main stops: Okutsugaru-Imabetsu, Kikonai

Hokkaido Shinkansen is a high-speed rail line connecting Honshu and Hokkaido. It starts from Shin-Aomori, the terminus of Tohoku Shinkansen, and ends at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto in Hokkaido. The extension of this line to Sapporo is under construction and will be competed in 2031.

The fastest train between Aomori to Hakodate takes 1 hour. The travel time from Tokyo to Hakodate is around 4 hours.

Akita Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 秋田新幹線/あきたしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR East
  • Route: Morioka – Akita
  • Length: 127 km (79 mi)
  • Top speed: 130 km/h (81 m/h)
  • Terminals: Morioka Station, Akita Station
  • Main stops: Morioka, Shizukuishi, Tazawako, Kakunodate

Akita Shinkansen is one of the two min-shinkansen lines in Japan. It uses the updated conventional rail tracks, with the top speed of 130 km/h (81 m/h). Akita Shinkansen links Akita in Akita Prefecture with Tokyo through Tohoku Shinkansen.

Yamagata Shinkansen

  • Japanese: 山形新幹線/やまがたしんかんせん
  • Operated by: JR East
  • Route: Fukushima – Shinjo
  • Length: 149 km (92 mi)
  • Top speed: 130 km/h (81 m/h)
  • Terminals: Fukushima Station, Shinjo Station
  • Main stops: Yonezawa, Takajata, Akayu, Yamagata, Murayama, Oishida

Yamagata Shinkansen is a mini-shinkansen connects prefectures of Fukushima and Yamagata. It takes 2 hours 30 minutes from Tokyo to Yamagata by the fastest train, 3 hours 15 minutes from Tokyo to Shinjo.

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