Lord have mercy bullet trains are freaking amazing. Pure Japanese innovation and technology designed to increase the efficiency of people moving between Japan’s two biggest cities. Of course, the Shinkansen trains now run the full length of the country and with the amazing Japan Rail pass you are free to use Shinkansen at will.
When we planned our multi-stop itinerary; Tokyo > Kyoto (with day trips to Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima) > Nagano > Tokyo, it was obvious that investing in the JR pass was the way to go, and after our first foray from Tokyo to Kyoto, I’m totally hooked!
So, until this point, we had not made one wrong move on the trains. Which is seriously impressive if you’ve ever tried to negotiate Tokyo or Shibuya station with 3 massive pieces of luggage, a teenager and NIXON. But oh yes, arrogance comes before a fall and we made the grand JR Pass faux pas of getting on the blacklisted Nozomi Shinkansen as we flew out of Tokyo Station:::::::gasp:::::::
Ethan was mortified as we searched for our seats (which were taken by legit Nozomi passengers) thundering the aisles with 60+ kgs of luggage and NIXON, only to have our mistake discovered by a friendly European businessman (very Christian Gray), who looked at our tickets and pronounced our fate: you’re on the wrong train.
No major problem, we were supposed to be on the Hikari, so we just hopped off at the next station and re-embarked a couple of minutes later when our actual Shinkansen arrived.
So, big differences between the local lines and riding on Shinkansen;
- There are reserved seats. It’s roomy, comfortable and there are power outlets to charge you shizz!
- You can eat and drink on Shinkansen which is a big no-no on local trains. There is always a full complement of restaurants and convenience stores at Shin stations plus the wee shops on the platform are super cheap and have delicious sushi, bento boxes and sandwiches as well as beer, wine and cocktails. So charge it!
- You get everywhere you want to go super fast. Obviously. But you pay for that for sure. For example, tomorrow’s trip from Kyoto to Nagano costs ¥13,000 which is around $161 NZD each. Considering we rode the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagano and then Nagano to Tokyo, as well as all of the local trains we rode every day in each stop, the $579 pp for the Japan Rail Pass was a GREAT investment.
- With a JR pass you have to do all bookings and transfer through all gates manually, you can’t use the ticket machines (this applies to local lines as well as Shinkansen). Your JR pass allows you to reserve seats on the bullet trains, which is awesome, but, if the reserved section is full, don’t be afraid to take a gamble and jump in an unreserved car. We did this rather than waiting on the way back from Hiroshima to Kyoto and it was totally worth it. Seats the whole way and no waiting!
- DON’T ride the Kodama unless you have to. It stops at every station and sometimes is subject to long waits at the platform.
When we arrived in Kyoto, we realised (surprisingly!) that we weren’t in Tokyo anymore!! The local train network was not as fancy, easily signposted or as comprehensive as we had become used to and we quickly hopped on a JR train heading in the wrong direction. Off/on, backtrack we eventually arrived at the right station, (not JR arghhh) and set about trying to find our AirBnB.
The street it was on had no house numbers and we had no image of what the property looked like. Did I mention it was raining? Eventually a schoolgirl walked by and I showed her the address on my phone. It turned out we were standing right in front of the place the whole time.
Kid status: great! The boys are super good on the trains as we allow them their iPads so they watch Netflix play their games for the duration and we make sure they have heaps to eat lol.
So, our Kyoto arrival was a little fraught, but we made it and settled in for the next 5, busy, days.