Reaching speeds near 300 kilometers an hour (slightly slower than a Formula 1 car) and a rail network that spans 2,459 kilometers, Japan's Shinkansen is the world's leading high-speed inter-city train service. Japan's "bullet train," is well-known around the world for its speed, (some test runs have have reached speeds of nearly 450 km/hr!), but the Shinkansen lines also have an excellent safety record and are incredibly punctual. The average delay throughout the year of any train is 0.4 minutes, which includes delays caused by earthquakes, typhoons, snowfall, heavy rains and other natural disasters, and over 6 billion passengers have arrived at their destination safely in its 40-year history, as no deaths have been caused by derailment or collision.
Regarding as one of the top tourist marks while travel in Japan, the bullet train first got its nickname because of its bullet-like nose cone. Developed in the early 60's just in time for use at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the Shinkansen is set on standard guage rail lines (set wider apart than those used in North America). The wider setting is extremely level, and restricts the curves within the rail line, resulting in a straighter, more stable and safer path to achieve those blistering speeds. North American trains may weave a slower path to their destination, but the Shinkansen believes in wasting no time connecting point A to point B. The train moves so fast that there is often a "tunnel boom" (similar to a sonic boom) emitted as the train leaves a tunnel. When the train enters a tunnel at such a high rate of speed there is a sudden build up of air pressure. As there isn't enough room within the tunnel for the air to escape, a "boom" is created at the exit as the train leaves the tunnel.
There are currently six main Shinkansen lines linking most cities on the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu. The first section built and opened in 1964 was the Tokaido Shinkansen, which linked Tokyo to Osaka. The Tokaido Shinkansen is now the most heavily travelled, high-speed rail route in the world, and has reduced a journey that once took six hours to approximately two and a half. The city of Osaka is considered to be the laidback antithesis of Japan's hyperactive Tokyo, and is also where the Tokaido Shinkansen ends and the Sanyo Shinkansen begins, which continues on to the city of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. The Kyushu Shinkansen is the newest addition to this network and connects cities on the southern island. With lines running through major and scenic centers like Nagano, Akita, Kakunodate, Lake Tazawa, Niigata to name a few, all of Japan's favorite sites can be seen in a blur as the trains race by.
Tickets for the Shinkansen can be bought at vending machines or ticket counters at the train stations, though it may take a little bit of riding around on local trains before switching over to the Super Express. Because much of the information at train stations is in Japanese, spending a little time at the Japan Railways Group website-where information is clear, easy to understand (and in English) is recommended. For the first-time visiting Japan, do not forget to prepare and experience a ride on Shinkansen the rocketing-speed trains.