The train network in Japan is reliable and extensively connected. There are many types of trains including the Shinkansen; ordinary train; night trains; limited express; express; rapid; local trains and so on. Then you have seat types – ordinary, green car, reserved and non- reserved. For a foreigner, like us, the most important and convenient is to obtain a Japan Railway (JR) Pass valid for 7 or 14 or 21 days. However, be warned that these passes can only be purchased at home and not upon arrival in Japan. For a fixed price (initially, it may be seem pricy), you literally get to anywhere within the network including reserved seats and the Shinkansen. The convenience comes when we just flash our passes to the JR staff at the counters (not the automated rotating doors). No queuing to purchase tickets on the automated systems (with instructions in Japanese), having the correct change, knowing which and type to purchase…..All these uncertainties are eliminated with a JR Pass. Furthermore, there is no rush to get tickets if there are connections or onward journeys. Just flash and go! It may look complicated to find which platform or track we need to be, especially if transfers which only allowed 3 to 5 minutes. Firstly, ask the staff at the counters when flashing the JR Pass or plan with this wonderful website – Hyperdia.com. I planned all our journeys based on this site alone – departure times, options for transfers’ and connections, required duration of travel, towns and cities to detour, etc. Armed with these two, hello Japan!
The fascinating thing about train travel in Japan is the convenience. Beside the network, nearly all, particularly the big stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, Nagoya and Kyōto, have been in-built within department or shopping complexes. In Tokyo Station is the Daimaru Department store, in Nagoya – JR Central Towers mega- complex and in Kyōto – Isetan Department Store. Sometimes, several floors of eateries – a convenient way of feeding people on the move. There are numerous in these clinical clean stores. Takeaways, dine-in, cute bento boxes, endless choices of dishes to cater everyone’s needs. Then you have the entire desert floor to go through. We loved it. The cost of food here is reasonably priced. However dine-in restaurants are pricier. All these, the design and convenience are planned to cater to the thousands of daily commuters. Ingenious!
The trains are clean, efficient, punctual, and comfortable. The Shinkansen is fast but relatively quiet. Wide windows allow for good viewing. On one of the routes, the driver continually pointed his hand to the control panel and the trackside signals and signage as he muttered the instructions. Everything was done precisely and accurately. Similarly, the Station Master at Nagoya’s Shinkansen line had turned his profession into an art form. Perfection and dedication – considering there is a lot on the line with the speeds these machines travel! Then, there are the people – lovely smiles, impeccable service and limitless bowing. Continuous melodies piped through the public address system advising and directing passengers both on board and at the platform. On elevators, they queued on the left, ascending and descending, allowing people to walk past. They queued at the platform at the required locations. However, we did not experience rush hour human traffic at any major station. Designated staff pushed passengers into the already packed coaches. I love train journeys and every journey has its own merits. This is no exception either.
An iconic picture is a Shinkansen passing in the valley below the snow covered peak of Mt Fuji. We were inside a Shinkansen in that very picture when passing through Fuji city!