You might think Shinkansen translates as bullet train, but the term means new trunk line and applies to a network of high-speed lines operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group of companies. 

All services except the Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen run on tracks built for and exclusively used by high-speed trains.

Services on the main routes operate at three levels: 

  •  fast, stopping only at major centres, badged as Nozomi (Tokaido and Sanyo), Mizuho (Sanyo and Kyushu), Hayabusa and Hayate (Tohoku)
  •  semi-fast, stopping at intermediate centres, Hikari (Tokaido and Sanyo), Hikari Rail Star (Sanyo), Sakura (Sanyo and Kyushu), Yamabiko or Max Yamabiko (Tohoku)
  •  local, stopping at all stations on the Shinkansen line, labelled as Kodama (Tokaido and Sanyo), Tsubame (Kyushu), Nasuno or Max Nasuno (Tohoku)

Services on other lines run as Komachi (Akita), Tsubasa (Yamagata), Toki or Max Toki and Tanigawa or Max Tanigawa (Jōetsu) and Asama or Max Asama (Hokuriku/Nagano)

Shinkansen services have carried nearly 10 billion passengers, but the only injuries and the single fatality have been caused by closing doors. 

Passengers have, however, suicided by jumping both from or in front of moving trains. 

There are also issues with noise, particularly with the problem of tunnel boom, caused by trains coming out of tunnels at high speed.

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© Ian Hughes 2017