Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen Bullet Train
Follow the adventure: The Tokyo Toddler
If only the incredible bullet trains of Japan were a cure for toddler tantrums.
We’d ridden many a train already. The speedy and overall smooth Narita Express. The clean, efficient local Tokyo trains of the Japan Rail and Odankyu lines. But there was nothing to compare with riding the Shinkansen, the super-fast, super-quiet bullet trains of Japan.
The Shinkansen is a train experience the like of which I’d never encountered before. I love trains, and often lament about the overall lack of a quality rail network in the U.S. I’d ridden trains throughout India, China and Scotland, so my experience is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive.
But I just can’t get over it. There is nothing like riding a Shinkansen.
It’s also a special experience. Shinkansen tickets are not cheap. Many Japanese folks we spoke with told us they had never been on one. But riding the Shinkansen was also one of our reasons for getting a 7-day JR Pass: for the money, we could ride fast and in comfort between cities over the next few days.
In Tokyo we reserved seats and soon boarded a Kyoto-bound Shinkansen. For the next couple of hours, we would sit in comfy seats and speed by towns, cities, huge industrial complexes and hilly countryside.
However, to say Shinkansen trains are quiet just doesn’t quite get across how quiet these trains are. When you ride trains, you get used to the comforting clacks and clanks of the train and tracks. The sounds and thumps are part of what makes the ride soothing; there’s many the train ride where my unofficial eyeball polls of the train car showed more passengers asleep than awake.
But the Shinkansen is completely silent and smooth. No track noise. No clackety-clack. No thunks or sways or bumps. I don’t know if the speeds are so fast (320 km/h, or 200 mph) that you just don’t feel any bumps, or if the network is just this well put together, or what. Riding a Shinkansen is like riding a cloud at the speed of a bullet.
These trains are ridiculously habit-forming. We knew we only had a few days to enjoy taking Shinkansens; looking over train fares, we knew they’d be out of our budget once our JR passes had expired. From Tokyo to Kyoto, and later from Kyoto to Osaka and from Osaka part of the way to Matsumoto, we always rode Shinkansen.
Sadly, though, just because you’re riding the world’s comfiest, smoothest trains doesn’t mean that as parents you’ll have a comfy, smooth ride. It was also on our Shinkansen ride to Kyoto that we first dealt with some major tantrum meltdowns from a certain Tokyo Toddler…