Densha, Chikatetsu, and Shinkansen

「電車」 – Electric Train
「地下鉄」 – Subway
「新幹線」 – Bullet Train

Inside a Shinkansen

I actually wanted to write about this before my post about Okazaki Castle. However, due to the incident that happened in Japan around the same time, I figure it’s a bit insensitive to do it back then. So I decided to wait even though chronologically, this happened first prior to my visit to Okazaki Castle or my arrival in Okazaki for that matter. Oh well, these things happen and besides, I use train from time to time so I don’t see how it’ll make that much of a difference whether or not I post this now or back then.

Anyway, when I first learned about ‘Densha’, ‘Chikatetsu’, and ‘Shinkansen’, I had a bit of difficulty understanding the difference between the three words. This is mostly because, in general, all three are basically trains that travel at high speed. It’s not until I arrive in Japan that I understand what the Japanese refers to as ‘Densha’ are basically all of the normal ground trains. These trains are mostly operated by JR (Japan Railways) although there are other companies that run similar service as well.


‘Chikatetsu’ are basically underground trains or subways, as some people called them. So far I’ve only encounter subways when I go to the big cities like Tokyo or Nagoya. To give you an example, if you want to go to Akihabara and you happen to own a JR rail pass, you’ll want to take the Yamanote line. However, if you stay at Asakusa like I did, you can’t take the Yamanote line straight away from Asakusa station. You first have to catch a subway from Asakusa to Ueno, then take the Yamanote line from the Ueno station.

Then there’s the ‘Shinkansen’. These are basically on-the-ground trains that travel at a speed that is faster than normal Densha. IIRC, these days Shinkansen runs at around 300km/h. Apparently the super-fast Nozomi runs even faster than that. The Shinkansen that I used was basically the one that services the Tokaido/Sanyo lines. This Shinkansen basically connects Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. Depending whether you take Hikari or Kodama, it’ll take approximately 3 hours to go from Tokyo to Osaka.


These trains travel so fast to the point that when another train passes by next to it, sometimes you can feel a slight shake inside the train. It took a while for me to get used to this and not have my heart jumped every couple of minutes. After a while, however, it was a pure joy to be inside a Shinkansen. If you happen to have a PSP+Ridge Racer game, try playing it inside a Shinkansen. I guarantee that you’ll get a kick out of it. It feels as if you really are driving a very fast car. The outside view is not that bad either, IMO.

Each Shinkansen is usually divided into smoking and non-smoking cabins. If you are a non-smoker like I am, then I suggest that you make a booking for a non-smoking cabin because you really don’t want to spend 3 hours in a cabin full of smokers. I once passed through it and I felt as if I’m smoking as well. In general, however, the Shinkansen is clean and tidy. So if you go to Japan, you probably want to try it once. And if you have the money to spare, you may want to pay for the more expensive Green cabin or even better, the super-fast Nozomi trains.

Bento boxBento boxBento box

Inside the Shinkansen, you can also find some toilets, vending machines, and a mobile cafeteria that sells drinks, snacks, and bento boxes. The bento box is also another thing you should try while you’re taking Shinkansen. Each box is carefully prepared so that the food looks appetizing. Unfortunately, the bento boxes sold inside a Shinkansen do not contain hot foods so if you’re not into cold food like Sushi and Japanese pickled vegetables, this may not be your cup of tea. I enjoyed mine though it’s nice to try something different every day.

Anyway, because all trains travel at such a fast speed, it is rare that the train is late to arrive at the destination. However, this also means that you have to be on time for your train whether it’s Shinkansen, Densha, or Chikatetsu. If the train is supposed to leave at 9am in the morning, and you arrive at the station at 8.55am, then you have precisely 4 minutes and 59 seconds to board the train. That’s right, 4 minutes and 59 seconds, not 5 minutes, not 8 minutes, let alone 10 minutes. So if you’re late, you have no one to blame but yourself.

StationOmiyageNoodle Shop

The major train stations themselves are pretty interesting to see. These stations normally have multiple entry and exit area and can be confusing for first time visitors. Some train stations have various shops that sells Omiyage (souvenir), Bento Boxes, and Clothes. There are also various restaurants if you go to the big one like the one in Ueno. I have to admit that I’m now somewhat converted to the wonder that is Ramen after trying a bowl of Ramen at a ramen shop inside Nagoya station.

Well, that went a lot longer than what I had in mind. There goes my plan to revise chapter 14-19. I better stop here but I’ll try to do another train/station entry if I manage to take some pictures when we go to Nagoya to watch the Dragons’ baseball game. I’ve heard that different province has different Omiyage on sale so I’d try to take pictures of the Omiyage in Nagoya. Anyway, if you have a specific pictures you want me to take, please let me know. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to take them but I’ll give it a try.


17 Comments so far

  1. Ange Déchu May 12th, 2005 7:49 am

    The more I read about your experiences in Japan the more I want to go!!!!!!!! Ah…..!!!!!

  2. Melissa May 13th, 2005 1:53 pm

    So how are the clothes shops over there and how do most people dress in Japan. Also, whats the strangest or most interesting thing that stood out to you while you were there (like how a person was dressed or ne thing in your surroundings that caught your atention.).

  3. Menouthis May 14th, 2005 9:42 am

    Melissa, I’m not exactly fashion-conscious but as far as I remember, most people here dressed up formally as opposed to wearing simple clothes like Jeans and T-Shirts. The only thing I notice is the fact that high school boys here dressed almost in a similar manner to salaryman.

  4. Melissa May 14th, 2005 5:45 pm

    Hey, isnt there going to be some sort of olympics type thing, happening in somewhere in Japan soon? DO you knowwhat that’s all about?

  5. KyoshiroM May 14th, 2005 9:42 pm

    Nice coverage of the different types of trains ^_^ I’m currently writing a paper on “High speed railway transport in Japan” and I was really excited to read things from a passenger’s point of view and from someone who has actually been on a shinkansen :) Happy travelling! :D

  6. Pauline May 15th, 2005 6:53 am

    Hey, I heard that when you get on a bus or a subway train, there is actually a warning sign that says, “Watch out for perverts.” Is that true? A close friend of mine told me about that when she went to Japan two years ago. The sign portrays a person lifting a women’s skirt. I actually find that to be hilarious. So, how long do you stay up in the streets of Japan? Well anyway, I’ll post more questions later.

  7. Menouthis May 15th, 2005 9:09 am

    Melissa, I’m not sure that there will be an Olympic game in Japan soon. Maybe you meant China?

    Kyoshiro, good luck with your paper. I hope you have fun doing it.

    Pauline, that’s actually true and not limited to trains. There are some underground tunnels for pedestrians/bikers that warns you to be careful of perverts especially during night. It’s actually a rather serious problem that forces some train companies to create a woman-only compartment.

    I’m not sure what you meant by how long do I stay up in the streets of Japan? Is it how much longer do I have here? It’ll be around 1 month. But if you meant how late do I normally still walk around in the street, I’d say it depends on whether or not my friends and I are going out somewhere. If we do, then normally it’s up to 11 to 12 at night.

    The only exception to this was two days ago where all 8 of us got stranded in Nagoya because we didn’t realise that there’s no train after 12 at night. That was scary and fun at the same time. We didn’t have the money to get a taxi to go back to our residence. So in the end we ended up walking around at 1.30am in the morning trying to find a manga cafe to crash in safely.

  8. Pauline May 15th, 2005 2:16 pm

    Ohh yea, I meant how long do you stay up. Ha, sorry about that. That must’ve been a really scary experience. But it sounds really exciting when you’re with friends. So how long did you stay in the manga cafe anyway? Oh yea, do you hang out with foreign students, locals, or both foreign and locals? One last question. What’s the name of the place you attend your education? One day, I might want to study there.

  9. Melissa May 15th, 2005 7:50 pm

    Menouthis, all I know is that some type of (I think snow?) event is going to happen in Japan. I’ve seen the commercial about it a few times now. I think Americans are going to take part on it and maybe other groups, but I’m not to sure.

    And about the perverts, I’m suprised to hear that. Isn’t Japan can I put this, one of the safest places in the world (well I should say like lowest crime rate and all that jazz). Then again, many anime now and days have a lot of ecchi and stuff in it, lol, I don’t even think wat I just said is related to any of that hehe ^_^U. Damn those perverts :-P

  10. Masa May 16th, 2005 6:54 am

    Hi, Menouthis-san. I really enjoy your blog! Have fun in Japan.

    And Melissa-san means EXPO in Aichi, maybe.

  11. Menouthis May 16th, 2005 8:21 am

    Pauline, we ended up staying up to 4 hours (until 5.30am). The next available train was at 6am so we figured we can get away with only paying 4 hours. The place was cheap though. 4 hours only costs us 990 Yen and you get all you can drink soft drinks and unlimited access to their DVD and Manga library. I hang out with foreign students. It’s rather hard to find a Japanese friend here and since everyone here are away from their country we tend to become close to each other. The place is called Yamasa, BTW.

    Melissa, if you’re referring to the Aichi-Ken Expo, then yeah, it’s still going on at the moment. Having said that, I wasn’t one of those people who were impressed by the Expo. You have to pay 4600 Yen just to get in and then once you get in, you have to line up for 3-4 hours just to visit a particular pavillion. I’ll try to include that particular trip in this blog once I have the chance but in general, I have to say that I wasn’t impressed. Oh well, it was quite an experience and it’s not often that I get the chance to visit the expo while I’m overseas.

  12. Epi May 16th, 2005 11:52 pm

    I wonder how the Shinkansen compares to trains in other countries. I’ve ridden the TGV in France, the Eurostar and other high speed trains in Europe. From your picture of the inside of the train, I’d say it compares in ‘niceness’ to that of the Eurostar (the one that runs in the Chunnel linking England to France) which is the most expensive high-speed train in Europe. Oh well I guess I’ll know in a few days, off to Japan for me too =)

  13. Hephador May 20th, 2005 7:19 pm

    Since you asked if anyone had any picture requests, I’d love to see some from the temple/shrine area of Nara if you happen to visit there. Your Nagoya adventure sounds like a ton of fun. :D

  14. Melissa June 5th, 2005 3:56 pm

    Oh found out what the vent was (they haven’t gaven that commercial in a while) it’s the winter games in Nagano (sp), Japan. It’s happening June 10th and will be broadcast live. ALso on June 10th, over here, some anime type movie is coming out in select theateres…forgot the name though.

  15. kyon June 7th, 2005 7:50 am

    Hi Menouthis, how have you been?… Miss your updates.. Do blog when you’ve the time.. i enjoy reading your entries…

    Ok, please take care… =)

  16. Haruko June 7th, 2005 8:49 pm

    When I was living back in Tokyo and attending junior high school, I had to wake up at five thirty every morning to take the bullet train which transported me to my private school. I could not be late. Waking up so early almost every morning was very tiring to me at first, but then I got used to it. Some students are lucky and got to walk to their school since it’s so early. However, some other unfortunate students, like me, had to take trains or other rides to their school since it’s so far away. However, the trains were fast, comfortable, and reliable for their good services. This made transportation much more easier.

  17. Andrew Tan August 4th, 2005 1:47 am

    Welcome to Shinkansen Photo Gallery

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