Ready to Take a Three-Day Trip From Tokyo, Japan?
The Insider’s Guide to Shinkansen Travel (Off to Shizukuishi, Iwate Prefecture)
Are you going somewhere in Japan?
Planning to adventure anywhere outside of Tokyo?
If so, you need the low-down on how to master Shinkansen Bullet Train Travel!
Well, here I would like to use my recent trip to Shizukuishi in Iwate, Prefecture as a perfect example of the process on how to figure out your travel plan, buy your ticket and actually get there.
First step is to select a place to go ☺ I know that sounds easy, but since Japan is basically a treasure chest of jewel locations waiting to be discovered, you will probably have a difficult time narrowing down your selection. But, whatever you do, try not to go to a place simply because you have heard the name before. I’ve been here 30 years, travelled around all over Japan, and I can honestly say there is safety, beauty, warm welcomes, delicious tastes and one-of-a-kind sites anywhere you go.
Why not go off the beaten track?
Do you want mountains, picturesque rice paddies, delicious local sake, clean air and quiet roads for cycling or long strolls? Then, I suggest Japan’s Northeast. One particular place I love is Shizukuishi in Iwate Prefecture.
You can read my article about the quiet, friendly town here.
In this article, I want to give you travelling tips and in particular, some clear advice on how to make your way to this lovely town, filled with sun and friendly smiles.
How to Travel? That is your Question?
First Step is Deciding, Train or Plane?
I usually take a train to places that are up to three or four hours away and use a plane for anything further than that. So your first step is to find out how long it takes to get to your preferred destination. In this case, we are going to Shizukuishi so I would put “from Tokyo to Shizukuishi” in a regular Google search and see what comes up.
We find that it is 551 kilometers from Tokyo, straight up North, and by train it will take 2 hours and 29 minutes on the Akita Shinkansen Komachi train and costs 15,620 yen one way.
Remember that there are only a few express trains for various destinations each day, so you need to make sure that your choice is the most direct. The number 31 Komachi train on the Akita Shinkansen leaves Tokyo station at 6:20 p.m. and arrives in Shizukuishi at 8:49 p.m.
I definitely recommend taking the Green (first class reserved) Car since the seats have especially deep reclining, each seat has electricity outlets, a foot rest, a large window, lap blankets and very friendly and professional staff who will give you a wet towel at departure and assist you with whatever might come up during your ride. These cars are also quiet and I am always able to wire in to my I-phone, listen to music and catch up on my mail inbox during the ride.
To purchase your ticket, you can do it at the JR ticket machine that sells Shinkansen tickets at any JR station. I often buy my ticket at Tokyo station before entering the station itself but if you are going to Shizukuishi on a weekend you might want to buy your ticket a few days in advance because a LOT of people go North towards Morioka on weekends to relax (you will be one of the few getting off at Shizukuishi and that is better for you since you can enjoy the peace and quiet there even more!).
Or, you can purchase the tickets inside the Midori no Madoguchi (Green Window) at any of the main JR stations. Just ask someone where the “Midori no Madoguchi” is and they will point you the way. You can also purchase Shinkansen tickets at smaller stations by going directly to the station master’s window at the ticket gate. Sometimes you will see people filling out forms but these would be complicated for non-Japanese-writing people, so I suggest writing down where you want to go on a memo and showing it to the Station master. Almost every Japanese person will understand what you are saying better if you write it down. The English education here is based a lot on vocabulary and grammar so if you write it down, you’ll be surprised at how well you can communicate. You might also notice lines to buy tickets, but the efficient staff will get to you sooner than you think so there is no problem waiting.
Get to the Shinkansen Platform Early
After purchasing your ticket, just remember that the entrance point for the north-bound Shinkansen and South-bound Shinkansen at Tokyo is different. You should ALWAYS get to Tokyo station at least 30 minutes before departure and go up to the actual platform about 15 minutes in advance since the entrance can get very crowded and it is horrible to have to run up stairs with heavy bags when you hear your Shinkansen chime going off up above. Trust me, I’ve found myself in that situation many times and it was not fun.
Also, once on the platform, you can buy a snack/drink and newspaper at the Kiosk and take your time finding the waiting spot for the car specified on your ticket. A lot of people save money by buying the open seating ticket but if you are unlucky and not in line early enough, you will actually be STANDING the entire time to Shizukuishi. I definitely suggest spending the extra 4 to 5000 yen to get the reserved seat.
Once on the train, keep your ticket close, as the conductor will come through to check. Find a blanket in the Green car at the front of the car in the luggage rack, recline your seat, order some hot coffee, tune into to your I-phone, plug in to juice your PC, sit back and enjoy twilight over Tokyo as you speed towards tranquility in Shizukuishi.