Japan has an extensive and efficient public transport system. Trains and daily life in Japan is inseparable. To the outside world, the train that defines Japan is the Shinkansen 新幹線, famously known as the Bullet train.
The Shinkansen (新幹線, New Trunk Line
It started operations in 1964 during the Tokyo Olympics. In 1964 the first Shinkansen was travelling at 210 km/h and now the operational limit is 320 km/h. Unbelievable that we in India with one of the biggest rail networks in the world, have not been able to go past 150km/h operational speeds till date. Hopefully the new government and Narendra Modi are able to change this.
If you plan to visit Japan, I would recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass. Else the Shinkansen is prohibitively expensive for an average traveler.
Commuter trains in Japan are very efficient and match standard operation speeds for such trains. They are extremely punctual and reliable. So if you plan to tell your boss that you are late to work because of train delay, then be ready to get a letter stating so from the train operating company for your line. In Japan trains are run by private companies but most of the times all the lines are integrated resulting into seamless travel.
Living in cities is extremely expensive so people live further away. It is quiet common for people to spend more than an hour travelling one way to work. It is a common site to see people sleeping in the trains.
The downside of people relying heavily on trains is that they are crowded…..horribly over crowded and not for the faint-hearted, especially claustrophobic’s like me. During the March 2011 earthquake we had to take the train to Narita airport. It was extremely crowded which was unnerving for me. On top of that I was carrying two big travel bags. One Japanese man was kind enough to offer us a seat which saved the day for me.
All major stations in Japan are more or less shopping malls with all the amenities. Like most of the streets in Japan, stations also have a lot of vending machines. Here are some pictures of stations from the inside.
One of the good things about the trains between in Tokyo and Yokohama is that they have information boards in Japanese and English.
One more interesting train is the Yurikamome Line. We took the train from Shimbashi which also is a commute JR station. This train goes to the Odaiba area which if I remember right is an artificial water front. As it is a driver-less train you can sit in the front seat…..a seat with a view. The views of the skyline are breathtaking. The train goes through the Rainbow bridge which is a famous bridge in Tokyo.
There are a lot more trains in Japan than what I could see. If you are a train lover, it is a nice idea to visit Japan to experience the most modern and post war trains.