Shinkansen, the metro and cars

The Shinkansen, known as the “bullet train” looks like it comes straight from the future. It travels at more than 200kmh and you barely notice the speed because the journey is so smooth. It’s everything that train travel should be.

In the photos below, you’ll see the two interiors: one airline style and the other with comfy brown sofa-style seats.

When the Shinkansen terminated, a man went around all the seats with a mini-iron to press the antimacassar (which I just learnt is what the cloth on the headrest is called). At the same, I saw a cleaner on the platform picking up a barely visible piece of paper. The train and platform were immaculate.

The Tokyo subway map, like many subways around the world, adopts the schematic style created by Harry Beck for the London Underground. The subway is large and sometimes confusing. In the map of the subway (see below), not everything on the map is the metro. Some of the lines are operated by other different companies. When you buy a metro pass, you can use only the lines on the metro. This seems obvious but you can easily change onto lines that are not on the metro.

I had one confusing trip where I was on a JR line train and had to change to another line operated by another company. Both lines were not on the metro but you accessed them from stations that did have metro lines. When I got to the interchange, I realised that I could change to my required line without exiting the JR line. However, I had to go to the ticket operator and show him my existing ticket that got me to that station. He swapped this ticket and provided another ticket (for the price required to continue my journey) and then I was able to enter the new line. This saves you money (I think!) because otherwise you’d have to exit and purchase another ticket.

The subway doesn’t use contactless credit and debit cards but Japan does have a chargecard that you can top up, like the Oyster cards on the London Underground. If I had had one of those, I suspect it would have been easier to swap lines.

The heart of the Tokyo public transport system is Tokyo Station itself. This is not so much a station but rather a town. It exists on many levels and is filled with shops, restaurants, and a business district as well as being a transport hub for the metro, trains, and the Shinkansen. It can be difficult finding your way around. Even places we’d visited were difficult to find again. We later met another tourist who asked if we’d figured out the transport system. I don’t know what could be done to make things clearer since signs are in English as well as Japanese. It may be that some complex things can be simplified only so much.

There’s seems to a big craze in Japan for boxy cars. Here are a few:

I couldn’t work out why most cars seemed new. It could be that they’re bought on credit and upgraded before they start getting old; or, perhaps, owners just keep them in good condition!

There are two main taxis, one that looks like a London cab (made by Nissan) and the other that looks like it came from the 1960s:

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