Superman’s got nothing on this world-famous bullet train.
Remember that classic phrase used to announce one of the West’s most famous comic book heroes? That old-timey radio voice trumpeting: “Faster than a speeding bullet.
More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…. It’s Superman!”
Well, times have changed, and Japan’s shinkansen, or bullet train, gives a whole new meaning to the term “speeding bullet.” While the shinkansen may not be able to leap tall buildings (yet), this high-speed train has been pushing the boundaries of mass travel for 50 years, and has no plans to stop—except, of course, to drop you off at your destination. Step aboard one of its sleek cars and let yourself be ushered across the country at speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour. Feel free to leave your sanitizer at home, because this train is nothing like your typical North American choochoo. The shinkansen is so spotlessly clean that even the restrooms are immaculate. Your trip will be astonishingly fast and comfortable, with lush seats and a whisper-quiet ride.
Travelling at such high speeds will make you hungry, so follow the lead of your fellow passengers who bring a bento box from home, or pick up some food and drink from your departure station. You can also purchase beer from a vendor on board and enjoy your meal, or just sit back and peer through the gleaming windows as the country flashes by. No need to tear your eyes from the scene to check the time or worry about delays. If your ticket reads 4:05, the whitegloved staff will make sure you arrive at 4:05 on the dot.
All this cleanliness and punctuality feels magical, and you can see one crucial part of that magic unfold after you disembark. Linger on the platform and watch as a team of pink-uniformed “cleaning angels” (お掃除の天使たち) whips through each gleaming white car to perform a “seven-minute miracle.” In order to get the train departureready, the angels have seven minutes to flip all the seats to face the opposite direction, check for debris or forgotten items, and empty trash bins before stepping back onto the platform, bowing in unison to the oncoming batch of new passengers.
But that’s not all. The seemingly superhuman powers of the shinkansen will soon leap further into comic book territory with a newly approved line built with magnetic levitation technology. Reaching speeds of up to 500 km/h, this future line aims to be the world’s fastest passenger train. With a ride that swift and comfy, Clark Kent might just decide to leave his shirt on and buy a seat next to yours.
BULLET TRAIN ETIQUETTE
Dear readers, be your best on the bullet train and it will be good to you. Train yourself to follow these three simple steps and you’ll blend in with the travel pros.
Sure, you can gab on your mobile or interrogate your neighbour on the TTC. Not so in Japan. Blabbermouth behaviour will get you a swift kick in the pants.