Subject: Follow-up on Japan trains
Hi,

I wrote asking about info on Japan - travel, accommodation, prices and so on. Got lots of great answers. Thank you all. I will be answering each one individually as soon as possible. There is one that I am posting here. Candice was kind enough to put me in touch with Sufi who really knows Japan very well. She also suggested that I post his answer about the new trains here for anyone interested. So here it is:

The trains which the West tends to call "Bullet Trains" are known as shinkansen in Japan. There are several models of train, depending on when they were built & what part of Japan they serve. We talk about JR (as in JR Pass) but there are separate companies (such as JR East, JR West) which all accept the JR Pass. There are different types of shinkansen service: Kodama, Hikari & Nozomi.

Kodama, stop at every station so are to be avoided except to take you the last part of a trip to somewhere the Hikari roars through. The Nozomi are the newest trains with the fewest stops - but are not available to JR Pass holders. More and more trips are being done by the Nozomi trains (which is great for the Japanese) - but that means fewer direct trains for JR Pass holders. This probably is more of a bother for people going further than Kyoto/Osaka.

[me - from research on the JR site in English - the Nozomi for instance saves only 1/2 an hour to Kyoto, but is much more expensive.]

There are 'green' (1st) and ordinary class as well as smoking & non-smoking both are available as reserved, or non-reserved. If you DO NOT smoke then try to reserve a seat at least one full car away from the smoking cars (the doors between cars are automatic & smoke drifts in) the only reason to go non-reserved is if the reserved cars are full.

There are no restaurant cars, just a snack counter. Someone is constantly pushing a cart through offering bento, sandwiches soft drinks, beer, cold coffee & rock-hard ice- cream. Most Japanese load up before getting on the train - and would not contemplate taking a one-hour ride without PLENTY of snacks .

There are many stations where you can exchange your voucher for the pass, you will need to have your passport to show. You should know what period of validity you want - it does not need to start on the same day as you have the pass issued. (BTW the other rail companies {such as JR EAST} issue their own pass some, if not all, of which can be issued in Japan) If you fly into Kansai/Osaka you could get a pass for only that region - though I have not done that.

Once you get your tickets (2 per segment one showing car # and seat) you can stand in line at the appropriate platform - there are marked areas where each car will stop, the sign will have different car numbers as some trains have different configurations. If you are unsure, show your tickets to others in the line - or JR staff. Don't travel with more luggage than you can handle as you will inevitably be carrying it up and down steps! Watch the running light msg board and listen for the announcements (both are in English as well as Japanese) - on the platform as well as in the train. You usually have only a minute to get off (or on) the train. JR are very safety conscious and this means that on some occasions (such as typhoons) the trains stop.

Sufi very kindly add a lot of other information about food and accommodations and recommendations re inexpensive places to stay. If anyone is interested feel free to contact me and I will forward that info to you.

Debbie - Israel