Shinkansen: The Quiet Bullet of Japan

Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen Bullet Train

Shinkansen slows from a blur to a brief stop

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.

Homes in the countryside show a mix of modern and traditional looks.

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.

The Shinkansen Series 700. Nothing at all like 007 James Bond.

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.

Passing by the homes, industries and hills of the small bit of countryside between Tokyo and Kyoto

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.

Boards alternate displaying Shinkansen schedules in Japanese and English (luckily for us)

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.

Fields being prepared for spring planting

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…

More Tokyo Toddler

1 thought on “Shinkansen: The Quiet Bullet of Japan”

  1. I liked this excellent article. Thank you very much for describing so well what I feel in a Shinkansen (bullet train). I experience the same every time I go to Japan. My wife and I buy a 7 or 14 days Japan Rail Pass and enjoy the smooth and quiet ride. We have been all the way from the most Noth to the South in Kyushu by Shinkansen. All in a smooth and quiet ride. Shinkansen is fitted with clean comfortable seats with incomparable room leg. You are only “disturbed” during the ride by announcements of the next stop (unless you choose a quiet carriage) or by a train attendant that enters the carriage bowing gently and bowing again when they leave, no matter if you are looking or not.
    Some countries like mine boast about the second largest high speed network (bumpy high speed network). Japan do not boast the best train network in the world where the average delay in Tokaido line was 18 seconds. In my country the average delay was 40 minutes. One thing that is amazing from Japan is that I have never heard them boast about anything and we all know they can. They enjoy what they know is far better in silence and quietness. Like a zen garden.
    Congratulations again for the post.


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