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10 Fastest Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) in Japan

Shinkansen are the world-famous bullet trains of Japan. These trains are the envy of the world and are very high-tech. Without doubt, they are key parts of tourism and business travel in Japan.

Shinkansen operate on their own lines, separate from more conventional lines Part of this is due to the technology used to make them run so fast, which is all oriented towards speed. Their routes are designed to minimize unnecessary stops or slowdowns. They use tunnels and viaducts to go through obstacles rather than around or over them.

Shinkansen have been operating for fifty years. For all that time, there has been no passenger fatality or injury due to a train accident, making it one of the safest ways to travel in Japan.

Multiple Shinkansen are operating in Japan. They travel at various speeds due to their routes, age, and technology. Let’s not talk about Japanese maglev here, instead take a look at the current top high-speed shinkansen that are in service now. 

 

Here are the ten fastest bullet trains in Japan:

1. Hayabusa – top speed of 320 km/h (200 mph)

Hayabusa, Shinkansen train at Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station, Hokkaido. Photo credit: Pundit at Wikimedia Commons.

Operated by JR East, this train runs on the route between Tokyo and Aomori, which is on the northern tip of Honshu. There are two branch lines, Akita Shinkansen and the Yamagata Shinkansen, which connect to the prefectures they are named after.

Hayabusa (E5 series shinkansen) is the fastest train category along this route. It runs directly between Tokyo and Aomori with no stops between. These train models have been running since 1958.

A few trains continue beyond Aomori to Hakodate, a port city of Hokkaido. It is the fastest train in Japan. A reserved seat is a good idea, though Hayabusa do offer a non-reserved option once all reservations are sold. This is standing only.

If you don’t want to fly, one of the best ways to reach from Tokyo to Hokkaido is by Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen as most trains along this Shinkansen line are Hayabusa. This shinkansen train is scheduled to be extended to Sapporo city around 2030

Japan Rail Pass can be used to travel on Hayabusa. 

2. Komachi – 320 km/h (200 mph)

Komachi train at Akita Station.

Another train run by JR East, these trains are coupled with Hayabusa on the Tokyo and Morioka route, as well as run on their own between Morioka and Akita. It is one of the high speed bullet trains in Japan

With E6 series trains, the Akita Shinkansen Komachi have been running since 1997 from Tokyo to Akita with stops along the way such as Sendai of Miyagi Prefecture and Morioka of Iwate Prefecture.

Komachi, like Hayabusa, require reservations unless you want to stand for the whole journey. Komachi are rather narrow and the seats are in rows of two by two.

To explore Tohoku region’s beautiful rural landscape and historic sites from Tokyo, the Akita Shinkansen is highly recommended. 

3. Nozomi – 300 km/h (186 mph)

Nozomi train (N700 Series Shinkansen), part of Japan’s high-speed railway network is quite famous worldwide.

This train is operated by JR Central (Central Japan Railway Company) since 1992. It is their fastest train model, running on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen lines in Japan.

Nozomi N700 series trains run between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo. Many continue past Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima or Hakata. It takes 2.5 hours to make the trip one way and stops at only major stations.

Usually, there are four departures an hour, but during peak times there are even more. Unlike many JR trains, you cannot use the Japan Rail Pass on Nozomi. There are some reserved and some non-reserved seats.

Travelers planning to travel to Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka can hop on this train for the most comfortable and fast journey experience from Tokyo Station

4. Hikari – 300 km/h (186 mph)

Hikari Rail Star (700 series), the second fastest train along the Tokaido Shinkansen.

The second fastest JR Central train, the Hikari also runs between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo. It services more stations than its faster sibling but slower than Kodama bullet train. 

Between the cities of Tokyo, Shizuoka, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka, this Hikari trains play an important role as means of fast transportation. 

Hikari came into service in 1964. There are two departures per hour in each direction. Unlike Nozomi, you can use the Japan Rail Pass. There are some reserved and some non-reserved seats.

5. Mizuho – 300 km/h (186 mph)

Mizuho, N700-7000 series shinkansen.

Operating since 2011, this train is run by JR West and JR Kyushu. It is the fastest shinkansen train service along the Kyushu Shinkansen and Sanyo Shinkansen

Usually, it runs between Shin-Osaka and Kagoshima-Chuo with very limited stops: Shin-Kobe, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kokura, Hakata, and Kumamoto. 

The journey lasts three hours and 45 minutes. Some trains make stops at Sendai, Kurume, Shin-Yamaguchi, Fukuyama, or Himeji. There are some reserved and some non-reserved seats.

Note that the Japan Rail Pass is not valid for Mizuho trains but regional rail passes can be used such as, JR Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, and JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass.

6. Sakura – 300 km/h (186 mph)

Sakura train at Shin-Osaka Station. Photo Credit: Neerav Bhatt at Flickr.

Operated by JR Kyushu since 2011, similar to Mizuho trains, Sakura trains operate between Shin-Osaka and Kagoshima-Chuo. It is the second fastest train along the Kyushu Shinkansen and serves several stations than the Mizuho.

The Sakura trains depart once per hour, with several special trains traveling along only a fraction of the whole route at limited times. You can find both reserved and non-reserved seating on Sakura trains.

Some Sakura trains traveling for shorter distances along their route are shorter and have only seating, no services. The Sakura is the fastest train that can be ridden using a Japan Rail Pass.

7. Kodama – 285 km/h (177 mph)

JR West 500 series Kodama.

This train is operated by JR West and JR Central since 1964, which travels between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo.

It is the slowest Shinkansen on this route, stopping at all stations along the route. It takes around four hours to make the full journey one way. There are typically two departures per hour in each direction.

Usually, the seats are a combination of reserved and non-reserved, but some trains are fully non-reserved during the morning and evening rush hours.

If you happen to visit Atami from Tokyo, a small city on the Izu Peninsula, travel there by either Kodama or Hikari train. 

On the other hand, there is a special train called Hello Kitty Shinkansen (JR Pass can be used) introduced by JR West on its Sanyo Shinkansen line on June 2018. This shinkansen currently operates as Kodama 840 (Hakata to Shin-Osaka) and Kodama 851 (Shin-Osaka to Hakata).

8. Yamabiko – 275 km/h (170 mph)

An E2 series yamabiko shinkansen.

This JR East train has been operating since 1982. It runs between Tokyo and Morioka. Some trains instead terminate at Sendai.

Yamabiko is the third fastest train along its route (Tohoku Shinkansen), behind Hayabusa and Komachi. They are often coupled with Tsubasa (see below) services between Tokyo and Fukushima.

There are both reserved and non-reserved seats.

9. Tsubasa – 275 km/h (170 mph)

E3-1000 series Tsubasa train.

Another train run by East Japan Railway Company, the Tsubasa trains are almost always coupled with the Yamabiko between Tokyo and Fukushima. Tsubasa is considered the fastest train service operated on the Yamagata Shinkansen

They run on their own between Fukushima and Shinjo, though some end at Yamagata. They have been in service since 1992.

These are very narrow trains, with seats in rows of two-by-two, and have a combination of reserved and non-reserved seating. There are fewer amenities on these trains than many other Shinkansen.

10. Kagayaki – 260 km/h (161)

Kagayaki train, JR East E7 series. Photo Credit: MaedaAkihiko at Wikimedia Commons.

Running between Tokyo and Kanazawa, these trains are run by JR East and JR West. They have been in service since 2015. It is the fastest train service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line

This is one of the most modern kinds of trains in Japan today, with an incredibly smooth ride. The route takes two hours and 28 minutes, as it makes very few stops.

Trains are very frequent, with one typically leaving an hour in either direction, though the timing and stops vary by season and day.

All seats on the Kagayaki are reserved seats. You can use the Japan Rail Pass to make reservations.

A shinkansen train ride is an unforgettable experience. Do you know how does it feel like when you hop on a scenic train here in Japan? This must be something that you don’t want to miss!

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