We were lucky to have a Japanese friend guide us through Tokyo Station, onto the platform, and to the right spot for boarding. While weíre confident we could have figured things out on our own, especially since everything is run with near-military precision, do build in the time to figure out where youíre meant to go. Japanese signage seems driven by information overload; together with the unfamiliar characters and crowds of people, itíll take you a minute or two to get your bearings.
There are three types of seats onboard: Business Class, Standard Class Reserved, and Standard Class Non-Reserved. A reserved seat will give you a specific carriage number and seat number thatís yours, non-reserved carriages are first-come, first-serve.
We opted for a Standard Class Reserved seat, which our hotel organized for us a few days before departure. There are trains every 15 minutes, but during peak times (e.g. Sakura season) it is advisable to book ahead. At a cost of just under 15,000JPY (about $150) one-way, like all things in Japan, the Shinkansen isnít cheap.
This is what Standard Class looks like, with one pair of seats on one side of the aisle, and three seats on the other. Again, like everything else in Japan, the cabin is pristine, both in terms of general condition and cleanliness.
We were really impressed with the legroom: at 6í4Ē, we could fully stretch our legs and recline the seat without feeling that we were bothering our fellow passenger behind us. There is at-seat power to keep your devices running.
On-time departure is virtually guaranteed (a delay of less than a minute will result in profuse apologies) and a trolley with drinks and refreshments comes by several times during the journey. Any member of staff that walks by bows both when entering and exiting the carriage.
Departure is virtually soundless, gliding out of the station gently at first, but soon picking up speed to swoosh through the countryside like the proverbial bullet in the direction of Shin-Osaka, where this particular train ends its journey. Making a few stops along the way, we got to Kyoto completely effortlessly.
Japan has one of the most extensive high-speed train networks of any country, so if you are planning on traveling around, youíll likely find yourself on one of the Shinkansen at some point. For multiple journeys, itís worth looking at rail passes that, despite their high cost, might in the end be better value.
Taking the Nozomi Express from Tokyo is one way of getting to Kyoto, an alternative is flying into Osaka-Kansai airport, further southwest, and track up from there. How that works weíll show you soon.