Japan's Must-Read Magazine

Bullet Train on the Cheap

Tired of watching visiting friends zip about everywhere on their JR Train passes? If you want a taste of the bullet train lifestyle it can be done cheaply. Well, cheapishly.

Do you live in Nagoya but long for Kyoto? Are you sick of Tokyo and want to be in Osaka? Do you want to get there fast but are a tightwad? Then what you need is something called a Puratto ticket (Or the Puratto Kodama Economy Plan, to give it its full title). This gives you a reserved seat on the Kodama Shinkansen and a free drink, and usually saves you about 2000 yen off a normal ticket. And regarding the drink, yes, beer is included. You can even get wine if you pay 100 yen extra. Whatever is in the drinks fridge at the platform kiosks – or for sale on the shinkansen – is yours for the taking.

To give you some idea of the tickets available: to get to Tokyo from Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka will cost you  7900 yen, 9800 yen and 10000 yen respectively (one way). That’s down from the usual prices of 10580 yen, 13220 yen and  13750 yen. Nagoya to Kyoto is 4100 yen (down from 5440 yen) and to Osaka is 4200 yen (down from 6180 yen).

Alright, so it still isn’t entirely bargain basement price-wise, but by taking the shinkansen you can save both time and money. Taking the example of Tokyo to Kyoto: you can either go by shinkansen using a Puratto ticket for 9800 yen, taking three hours and forty minutes, or you can go by the fastest limited express train (unreserved seat) for 13340 yen, taking six and a half hours. Take a bus, and your cost halves to around 4000 yen, but the time doubles – you won’t see Tokyo for seven hours.

But there’s a catch. Isn’t there always? Once you’ve got your tickets, that’s it – if you’re not on the right shinkansen then you can kiss your money goodbye. Get there early – all the better to peruse the drink selection at the station kiosks – and you’ll have no problems.

How do I get one? These tickets are sold at JR travel agencies and ticket counters. There’s often a queue especially for these tickets. You can order one up to the day before, although particularly on weekends and holidays it is worth booking earlier.

No Japanese? If you go to the ticket office prepared, it shouldn’t be too hard. Write down on some paper where you want to go, how many people are going, what date and what time and if you want smoking or non smoking. There’s also a choice between a normal seat and one in a green car, which is slightly more expensive. You’ll need to fill out a form at the JR office – they’ll want your name and phone number as well as the above details. You’ll get a lot of tickets, especially if you want a return. It doesn’t seem that they can be printed in English, but there’s no harm in asking. As well as the train tickets, there will be receipts (that look like tickets) and a drink voucher, which also looks like a ticket. My determinedly mono-lingual father managed to get to Osaka and back by himself by simply showing all the tickets every time he wanted to do something, and letting a native speaker pick the appropriate one.

Website: http://www.jrtours.co.jp/e-pla/ (Japanese). You can also book on line here, but you need to do it five days in advance of your travel.