Running at speeds of up to 320 km/h, the shinkansen is known for punctuality (most trains depart on time to the second), comfort (relatively silent cars with spacious & always forward-facing seats), safety (no fatal accidents in its history) and efficiency. These are the top 10 most interesting bullet train or shinkansen in Japan.
1. The 0 Series (0系, Zero-kei)
Starting the list with the one and only the earliest Shinkansen model series, 0 Series. The first Shinkansen trainsets built to run on Japan’s new Tōkaidō Shinkansen high-speed line which opened in Japan in 1964. The last remaining trainsets were withdrawn in 2008. These units were white with a blue stripe along the windows and another at the bottom of the car body, including the front pilot. The trains can reach up to 220 km/h (140 mph) top speed. The original trains were introduced as 12-car sets, with some sets later lengthened to 16 cars. Later, shorter trains of 6 cars and even 4 cars were assembled for lesser duties. The final remaining 0 series sets were 6-car sets used on JR-West Kodama services on the San’yō Shinkansen between Shin-Ōsaka and Hakata, and on the Hakata-Minami Line until their retirement on 30 November 2008. Nowadays, a large number of former 0 series vehicles are preserved or stored in museums and various other locations around Japan. Outside Japan, the leading vehicle from a 0 series set is preserved at the National Railway Museum in York, UK. It was donated to the museum by JR-West in 2001.
2. The E1 series (E1系)
As the first double-deck trains built for Japan’s Shinkansen, the E1 series was a high-speed Shinkansen train type operated by East Japan Railway Company (JR East) in Japan from July 1994 until September 2012. They were generally, along with their fellow double-deck class the E4 series, known by the marketing name “Max” (Multi-Amenity eXpress). The E1 series is also the first revenue-earning shinkansen to feature 3+3 abreast seating in standard class for increased seating capacity. The E1 Series was last withdrawn from regular service on 28 September 2012. One of the E1 series car is preserved, car E153-104 of set M4. This was moved to the Railway Museum in Saitama in December 2017, and is on display since spring 2018.
3. The N700 series (N700系 Enu nanahyaku-kei)
The N700 series (N700系 Enu nanahyaku-kei) is a Japanese Shinkansen high-speed train with tilting capability developed jointly by JR Central and JR-West for use on the Tokaido and San’yō Shinkansen lines since 2007, and also operated by JR Kyushu on the Kyushu Shinkansen line. Further advancements led to the development of the N700A, an incremental evolution of the N700. N700A trains can reach 285 km/h on 3.000 m curves, allowing the maximum operating speed on the Tokaido Shinkansen to be raised to 285 km/h. Due to these improvements, trains can travel between Tokyo and Osaka on a Nozomi run in as little as 2 hours and 22 minutes on the fastest service (8 minutes faster than before). Currently, a second revision to the N700 series, the N700S, is undergoing testing and evaluation, with plans to begin replacing all other models from 2020. N700 series trainsets are also planned to run on the proposed Texas Central Railway high-speed line connecting Dallas and Houston.
4. H5 series (H5系)
The H5 Series Shinkansen is a 10-car high-speed Electric Multiple Unit in Japan. Built from 2014 to 2015 for JR Hokkaido, the H5 Series sets are the first Shinkansen sets to be built for JR Hokkaido and operate in a similar pool to the E5 Series sets. H5 Series also is one of the fastest shinkansen in Japan, with a top speed of 320 km/h. The exterior finish of the trains is similar to the JR East E5 series, with a colour scheme of “Tokiwa” (常盤) green for the upper body and “Hiun” (飛雲) white for the lower body, separated by a “Saika” (彩香) purple stripe intended to evoke images of lilac, lupin, and lavender flowers for which Hokkaido is famous.
For the first-class car, the carpet’s design is based on “umiake”, the time in spring when drift ice leaves the coast of Eastern Hokkaido. The walls’ creme color is inspired by Hokkaido’s dairy products, while the cabin blinds showcase snowflake-pattern design.
5. The E3 series
The E3 Series Shinkansen is a high-speed Electric Multiple Unit in Japan. It was first commenced on 1997 for the Komachi service on the Akita line owned by JR East. Very similar in design requirements to the 400 Series, the E3 was designed to be narrower and lighter than main-line Shinkansen sets for the Akita Shinkansen, which was upgraded and regauged to fit the rest of the Shinkansen network by 1997. The interesting part of E3 Series is that it has E3-700 series Genbi Shinkansen excursion set. This is a six-car set rebuilt from former Akita Shinkansen trainset R19 at Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Kobe as an excursion train named Genbi Shinkansen (現美新幹線, “contemporary art shinkansen”) for use on the Joetsu Shinkansen between Echigo-Yuzawa and Niigata, mostly at weekends, entering service from 29 April 2016.
The exterior livery was designed by photographer Mika Ninagawa. The first car of the six cars set features the art of Nao Matsumoto; a golden yellow motif based on harvests, festivals and light is present in the car. Window shades display art using a special dye as the train passes through tunnels.
The second car feature stainless steel mirrors on the walls, the work of Yusuke Komuta. They reflect the landscape outside the train.
The third car features a children’s area and a cafe. The children’s area features blue and white representations of toy trains by Art Unit Paramodel.
The cafe section of the car is designed by Kentaro Kobuke and serves sweet items featuring local products.
The fourth car features an alpine photography exhibition by Naoki Ishikawa.
The fifth car features an abstract flower artpiece by Haruka Koujin that vibrates with the motion of the train.
The final car features a short film by Brian Alfred, depicting the scenery of Niigataservice from 29 April 2016.
Future of the Fastest Shinkansen
Japan Maglev Train
The topic of magnet trains in Japan frequently comes up in the news, but it’ll be a while before you can ride one. For example, while a 2015 test in Yamanashi prefecture saw magnetic-levitation vehicles travel at a whopping 603 km/h (374 mph), you won’t be able to ride a train like this until 2027, when it’s expected to shorten the journey from Tokyo to Nagoya to just 40 minutes. More recently, in December 2018, JR East unveiled a non-Maglev Shinkansen test car that will be able to run at 380 km/h (224 mph) using today’s rails.
Other Future Shinkansen Trains
Apart from the incorporation of Maglev technology (as well as incrementally faster electric Shinkansen rolling stock), there are a few other future technological developments to watch out for. Over the next five years, the Kyushu Shinkansen will extend to the cities of Kumamoto and Nagasaki, which are currently accessible only via ordinary-train branches from the main Hakata-Kagoshima Shinkansen Line.