The Tokaido Shinkansen, which connects the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka, is the busiest bullet train line in Japan. It opened in 1964 as the first bullet train line in Japan and also as the world’s first high speed railway line. Since then, it has come to represent modern Japan and signify qualities like speed, efficiency and reliability.

Navigating the process from purchasing tickets to riding on the bullet train can be overwhelming for some people, especially with all the different options available. In this article, and in the video above, we have broken down the process into simpler steps, and hopefully this will make it easier to understand how to take the Tokaido Shinkansen.

  1. About the Tokaido Shinkansen
  2. Buying tickets
  3. New rules concerning oversized baggage
  4. How to use the Tokaido Shinkansen

1) About the Tokaido Shinkansen

The Tokaido Shinkansen is a bullet train service that connects the metropoles of Tokyo and Osaka and also stops at other major cities like Yokohama, Nagoya and Kyoto in between. There are three train categories operating on the Tokaido Shinkansen:

  • Nozomi are the fastest trains, stopping only at Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto and Shin-Osaka. The one way journey between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka takes about 2.5 hours on a Nozomi. Note that the Japan Rail Pass cannot be used on Nozomi trains.
  • Hikari are the second fastest trains, stopping at a few more stations than the Nozomi. The one way journey between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka takes about 3 hours on a Hikari. The Japan Rail Pass can be used on Hikari trains.
  • Kodama are the slowest trains, stopping at all the stations between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. The one way journey between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka takes about 4 hours on a Kodama. The Japan Rail Pass can be used on Kodama trains.

The Tokaido Shinkansen is equipped with two seat classes: ordinary class and first class, called Green Car.

  • Ordinary class cars make up the majority of the Tokaido Shinkansen and offer the option between non-reserved and reserved seats.
  • Business class cars (Green Cars) only offer reserved seats and are located in the middle of the trains.

2) Buying tickets

There are several ways to buy tickets for the bullet train:

  • At the ticket counter: Shinkansen tickets can be bought from ticket counters in JR stations nationwide. Writing down train details like departure/arrival destinations and times would speed up the buying process.
  • At a ticket machine: Tickets for the bullet train can be purchased from machines near the shinkansen gates. There are a few language options, including English, and the machine will guide users through the process of buying correct tickets.
  • Online using the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Online Reservation Service: This service allows travelers to purchase shinkansen tickets online, then either pick up the tickets at a ticket machine or use an IC card, such as Suica, Toica, Icoca or Sugoca, to tap through the ticket gates. Note that a 16 digit alphanumeric login password is required for those who choose to use physical tickets. From March 21, 2020, QR codes, in place of tickets or an IC card, can be scanned at the ticket gates.
    ※Registering a credit card will be needed to use this service, and there is no registration fee.
  • When using a Japan Rail Pass: There is no need for additional tickets unless a seat reservation is desired. Pass holders can board and take an unreserved seat on any of the Hikari and Kodama train categories. Seat reservations can be made without additional fees on the same two train categories, and can be done either over the ticket counter or online. Pass holders cannot ride Nozomi trains
Steps outlining how to buy tickets online using the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Online Reservation Service

3) Oversized baggage rules

From May 2020, a new rule regarding oversized baggage will be introduced on the Tokaido Shinkansen. Passengers carrying oversized baggage must make advance reservations for a seat with an oversized baggage area, i.e. one that includes space for oversized baggage. Failure to make an advance reservation will incur an additional fee of 1000 yen and the passenger will be requested to move their baggage to a space specified. Travelers with oversized baggage may not use non-reserved cars.

An oversized baggage is defined as having an overall dimension (height, width and depth) that is between 160-250 centimeters. Note that baggage with overall dimensions greater than 250 centimeters are not allowed on board the shinkansen. Baggage under 160 centimeters are not subject to this new rule.

Oversized baggage dimensions

The seats typically assigned to passengers with oversized baggage are those in the last rows of cars with reserved seats. Oversized baggage should be placed behind the assigned seat to prevent obstruction, and to create a safe and comfortable journey for everyone.

Seat reservations with an oversized baggage area can be done via the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Online Reservation Service website, at the shinkansen ticket machine or at the ticket counter. Please inform the ticketing staff of the oversized baggage when making seat reservations over the counter.

4) How to use the Tokaido Shinkansen

Before boarding

It is advisable to head to the station at least 10-15 minutes before your train departs. This should allow for adequate time to navigate the station and the platforms.

For those with physical tickets (blue with train information on one side and a black magnetic surface on the other), insert your tickets into the slot at the automatic ticket gates. Do not forget to take your ticket at the other end when passing through the gates.

For those who use the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen Online Reservation Service, tap your IC card (or QR code from March 21, 2020) on the gate and pick up the ticket that comes out at the other end.

Inserting physical tickets into the slot at the automatic ticket gates

Electronic sign boards in the station display in Japanese and English the upcoming departures. The information on the departure boards typically include: train category and service number, departure time, destination, platform number and numbers of unreserved cars. Check the electronic sign board to see which platform your train departs from.

Signs on the platform indicate where each car and its doors will be located as well as where to form lines. It is a good idea to look for your car before the train arrives.

Electronic signboards on the platform

Onboard the Tokaido Shinkansen

When the bullet train arrives, it is common courtesy to allow passengers to disembark first before boarding. This ensures a smooth and on-time departure of the train. For those with seat reservations, the seat number and letter are clearly indicated on your ticket. For those in unreserved cars, it is also polite to ask the person sitting in the same row (if there is someone already there) if the seat is taken or available.

Baggage should be placed in the overhead compartment above the seats, or in the space around your feet. As mentioned earlier, those who have seat reservations for their oversized baggage will have to place their baggage in its specific place, which is usually the space behind the seat. Be sure not to block the aisle, train doors or common space in the deck with your belongings.

Red arrows showing where oversized baggage should be placed, behind the seats in the last row of the cars

A food cart service offering drinks and snacks is available, and eating and drinking on the shinkansen is perfectly acceptable. Electric outlets are provided along the walls and/or in the arm rests. Toilets are located in odd-numbered carriages, while accessible facilities are available in Car 11.

Good etiquette when taking the bullet train in general is to return the seat and tray table to their original positions, and to dispose rubbish in their appropriate bins upon alighting.

Head over to the official page on the JR Central website for further details about the oversized baggage rules on the Tokaido Shinkansen.