November 4, 2014

Rubber Bullets

Shinkansen line up of 7 different trains on JR East alone! Source: Wikipedia

I have been working this week on planning my rail journey through Japan. The Japanese do train travel so well that its actually a bit daunting looking at the number of trains and the route map.

First I should apologise for the blog title, as unless you were a 10 CC fan in the 1970’s, you might think I was going to tell you about being involved in a street riot. In fact it was just a slightly tenuous link to the most famous of Japanese trains, the Shinkansen, or “bullet train” (train anoraks will correct me, as the name actually refers to the high speed line rather than the train itself).

Have a look at the Wikipedia page – its amazing to think about these trains running from the 1960s onwards, the scale of the network, the speed, and most amazingly to an Englishman – the punctuality – around 20s seconds delay per train on average in a year, including natural disasters!

The voucher that you convert on arrival to become your free pass

If you are thinking of trying Japan out, you probably know that there is a great deal to be had on a tourist ticket called a ‘Japan Rail Pass”. Mine arrived in the post today from the Japan Travel Centre in London, who were cheapest and were very efficient. Some of the agents seem to layer on handling fees and supplements, so be careful and look beyond the base price advertised. I purchased a 7 day 1st class (“Green”) ticket for £227.30 including postage. The one advertised on Seat 61 from International Rail was £267 after adding a booking fee and postage..also with an optional extra £10 “ticket protection” to go on. I know its not a lot of money, but as it is just as a principle I resent being charged for all the extras.

You can read how it all works here at Seat61. Recent changes mean that you can now convert your voucher at the rail station where the ferry from South Korea arrives – Sakaiminato. Basically it pays for itself in just a day for my route!

I am also now a bit more relaxed about the planning having discovered Hyperdia, a Japanese public transport app with English translation. It has allowed me to plan and model my journeys really well – I’m going to print these off and use them at booking offices so I can make reservations fairly simply.

Hyperdia to the rescue!

Not all trains are covered by the JR pass, and you can specify and exclude them in the advanced search, so its very useful. The fastest Shinkansen trains are called “Nozomi” and “Mizuhu” and are not included, but the very slightly slower “Hakari” are okay to use. The difference is apparently just in the number of stops they make. Looking at a Hakari you would think they were brand new, having been replaced in 2009. I’m a bit confused by different versions – “West”, “Grand”, ‘Family”, and “Railstar”, but will hopefully work this out once I’m there.

So my first day in Japan will be a crash course in Japanese rolling stock – first the local “manga” train, then a “Limited Express” (they look like the sort of InterCity trains we have in the UK), followed by a “Hakari” Shinkansen.

In other Japan news, I have realised this week that my trip to Kyoto will be interesting as its during a big public holiday – few tourist activities and lots of shops closed, but busy shrines and geisha houses I’m informed. This is a shame, as was trying to line up a sake tasting day visiting the breweries in nearby Fushimi. I’m still working on a solution, but after the ferry experience maybe three days in a hot tub is all I will seek!

Elsewhere, I read yesterday about the failing DB Bahn union negotiations. It would be just my luck if they plan to strike during my Amsterdam – Warsaw leg – I’m keeping a close eye on this. Worst case scenario might be a plane to Warsaw, but I hope it won’t be needed..

I think that is all for now – more to follow soon I hope.

2 Comments on “Rubber Bullets

November 13, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Sounds like another epic adventure Matthew. When are you setting off-chance for a beer before you go? Our Indian adventure was great fun-no chance of solo compartments there tho-we travelled as a married couple and did 6 overnights and were allocated 4 berths every night! Highly recommend star gazing after a camel ride in the Thar desert!

Matthew Woodward
November 14, 2014 at 11:34 am

Looking forward to hearing about your trip Rob – will be in touch!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *