A Brief Guide To The Trains Of Japan

Renowned as one of the finest in the world, Japan's railway network has revolutionised travel within the country and continues to be a source of pride for its people
A regional train on the Kuomi Line
A regional train on the Kuomi LineFlickr: chiyo901

Located in the east of Asia, Japan is an archipelago known for its fascinating blend of tradition and innovation. The island nation boasts a rich cultural heritage and a reputation for technological advancement.

Among its many notable achievements, Japan's railway system stands out as a testament to its peoples' dedication of prioritising efficiency, punctuality, and cutting-edge technology. When it comes to railways and their many subtypes, the country is undoubtedly a global leader.

In this short guide we will give you the lowdown about the kinds of trains you will encounter in the country and how to use them.

A cherry blossom tree in Akita Prefecture
A cherry blossom tree in Akita PrefectureFlickr: murozo

Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

The iconic Japanese Shinkansen is a bullet train and a marvel of engineering that has captured the imagination of people worldwide. Since its inauguration in 1964, the Shinkansen has symbolised Japan's progress and technological prowess. These high-speed trains travel up to 320kmph (200 miles per hour) and connect to most of the major cities in Japan such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

The Shinkansen operates extremely efficiently and always arrive on time. Most of these trains are regulated by JR, or Japan Rail. If you're a tourist, you can buy a JR Pass to explore the country on the Shinkansen and other trains. It allows you unlimited travel on the majority of JR trains for periods of seven, 14 or 21 consecutive days. 

The Shinkansen
The ShinkansenFlickr: Batkhurel Natsagdorj

Limited Express Trains

Japan's railway system also boasts a comprehensive network of Limited Express Trains. These trains balance speed and affordability and cater to both commuters and long-distance travellers.

With their distinct designs and comfortable interiors, Limited Express Trains provide a delightful way to explore the landscapes of Japan, from the tranquil countryside to bustling coastal cities. Limited Express Trains are considered more affordable in comparison to the Shinkansen but stop at limited stations.

The Kuroshio limited express train operated by JR West
The Kuroshio limited express train operated by JR WestFlickr: Hakuto_Tabito

Commuter Trains

Japan's railway system caters to the needs of its densely populated urban centres through an extensive network of commuter trains. These trains provide swift and efficient transportation for millions travelling to and from work daily. Known for their exceptional punctuality, commuter trains in Japan adhere to strict schedules, ensuring that passengers can rely on them for timely arrivals and departures.

Commuters in Tokyo
Commuters in TokyoFlickr: Matthias Lambrecht

Private Trains

Trains that are not owned by JR are commonly known as private trains. There are plenty of theme-based private trains which cater to luxury travellers.

An example is the Twilight Express Mizukaze which is operated by the West Japan Railway Company (JR West). This train takes passengers on a journey through the landscapes of western Japan while offering contemporary Japanese elegance. The onboard dining experience is a gastronomic delight and features gourmet cuisine prepared with locally sourced ingredients.

The lounge car of the Twilight Express Mizukaze
The lounge car of the Twilight Express Mizukaze Copyright: 西日本旅客鉄道株式会社 West Japan Railway Company

Getting There

Travellers from India can reach Japan via direct flights from major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to multiple airports in Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka, and others. Flight durations range from seven to 10 hours. Indians need to apply for a Japanese visa prior to flying.

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