The Shinkansen’s journey from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka Station, more than 500 kilometers away, begins with cleaning. Pink-uniformed members of the station’s cleaning staff board the cars as soon as passengers from the previous run have gotten off. They swiftly collect garbage and rotate seats to face the opposite direction. They are so skilled and efficient that they can change headrest covers without leaving a wrinkle and sweep seats with a whisk broom in their right hand while wiping armrests with a cloth in their left hand. Their speedy movements are rightly considered a “cleaning show.” The cleaning team is effectively given 10 minutes for their duty while the train is stopped and can finish in as little as eight. When the cleaning is done, the Shinkansen can set off again from Tokyo Station’s zero milestone.
Not quite seven kilometers from Tokyo Station, Shinagawa Station was inaugurated as a Shinkansen station in 2003, aiming to increase the Tokaido Shinkansen’s transportation capacity. Up to 15 trains can depart from Tokyo Station per hour, but part of this capacity was taken up by out-of-service trains heading for the Oi rail yard, reached via a switch from the main track between Tokyo and Shinagawa stations. Now, 15 active trains can head out of the capital every hour as Shinagawa Station can be used as a second departure point. Shinagawa Station briefly served as the terminal of the Tokaido Shinkansen in January 2014, when service to Tokyo Station was suspended due to a building fire near Yurakucho Station.
What is the most popular food on the Tokaido Shinkansen? The answer is probably shumai dumplings. JR-Central Passengers Co. sells ekiben meals—whose name comes from “eki” (station) plus “bento” (boxed meal)—aboard trains and at stations. The company says the most popular ekiben features shumai and fried rice, selling for ¥910 (tax included) at Shin-Yokohama, Tokyo and Shinagawa stations, and elsewhere. The bento includes two kinds of shumai—one made of richly flavored pork and the other featuring plump and succulent shrimp—in addition to fluffy fried rice with egg. An ¥800 (tax included) shumai ekiben from Yokohama-based Kiyoken Co. is also a well-known product, with average daily sales of 1,400 units at Shin-Yokohama Station.
Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, a prosperous post station on the storied Tokaido Road during the Edo period (1603-1867), is famous for its chochin lanterns. Passengers at Odawara Station are welcomed by a 200-kilogram chochin suspended above the ticket gates, measuring 2.5 meters wide and 4.5 meters high. The chochin was made in 2003 when the current station building was constructed. Three craftsmen worked through the entire process by hand, from making frames to writing the kanji characters for “Odawara” on its surface. The paper used on the massive lantern is thick washi paper produced in Yamanashi Prefecture.
The Tokaido Shinkansen, which came into service nine days before the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, also drew attention from overseas. A group of French sports fans considered using Atami, a hot spring resort in Shizuoka Prefecture, as their base while in Japan to watch the Games. They planned to travel between Atami and Tokyo every day. However, when the timetable for the bullet train was released about a month before its inauguration, it turned out that the last train would leave Tokyo at 9:30 p.m., too early for the French spectators to catch if they watched the events until the very end. The timetable put an end to their plans.
Atami Station is near some of the sharpest curves on the Tokaido Shinkansen line. These curves require trains to slow down when they pass the station, so the maximum speed set for passing Atami is the slowest among those for all stations on the line. Shinkansen drivers reportedly used to give their passengers a special treat by slowing down more than required when fireworks displays were held in the city.
Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture, hosted the first “new station” that was added to the Tokaido Shinkansen line, opening five years after the bullet train came into service. The city had long thrived as the provincial capital of Izu and a major post station on the traditional Tokaido Road. But when a railway system opened in the Meiji era (1868-1912), local people refused to let trains stop there, for fear that inn and hotel guests “would be taken away.” As a result, Mishima lagged behind its neighboring areas in development. In light of the lessons learned from the past, Mishima launched a bid to host a new Shinkansen station in 1965. The city offered to provide free land and pay all construction costs. With about ¥890 million in additional funding from the city, Mishima successfully became home to a Shinkansen station. When the number of Hikari express services soared in 2003, the city mayor drew attention when he declared, “From now on, this is Mishima Ward, Tokyo.”
Shin-Fuji Station in Shizuoka Prefecture is the only station on the Tokaido Shinkansen line used exclusively for bullet train service. There are many spots around the station from which people can enjoy magnificent views of Mt. Fuji. However, passengers have fewer chances to see the mountain from their seats in the summer. From the Fuji municipal government office, about two kilometers northeast of the station, Mt. Fuji can be seen in its entirety for about three days a month from June to August. December and January are considered the best viewing season as these months have many fine days and cleaner air. The mountain can be admired from the city office about 20 days a month during this period. If you are aboard a Shinkansen train heading to Shin-Osaka, you can usually enjoy viewing Mt. Fuji from Seat E, the right-hand window seat in each row. However, those in Seat A, the left-hand window seat, can also see the mountain after the train passes Shizuoka Station. If you look back when the train crosses the Abe River and then curves gently to the left, Mt. Fuji can be seen for about a minute.
Near JR Shizuoka Station, three statues of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the first shogun of the Edo period (1603-1867), have been attracting people’s attention for the paradoxical reason that they look unimposing. As the statues have been criticized for not being located along routes that tourists commonly walk, the Shizuoka municipal government has been trying to promote the statues by, among other measures, marking road surfaces to lead tourists to the statues. The three statues portray Ieyasu’s boyhood, manhood and old age, as he spent time in Sumpu — Shizuoka’s old name — during those three periods in his life. The 400th anniversary of Ieyasu’s death is not far off, so when you visit Shizuoka, it might be nice to take a memorial photo with the statue of Takechiyo — Ieyasu under his childhood name — which stands at the north exit of Shizuoka Station.
Kakegawa Station in Shizuoka Prefecture drew a crowd of more than 1,000 people on June 14, 2002, during the soccer World Cup cohosted by Japan and South Korea. On that night, the Japan team, led by French manager Philippe Troussier, defeated Tunisia in Osaka, advancing to the knockout stage for the first time in its history. The players arrived at Kakegawa Station at around 10:30 p.m. aboard Kodama No. 490 on their way back to their hotel in Fukuroi in the prefecture. They were greeted by local residents and supporters who filled the station’s small south exit with shouts of “Nippon!”
During the World Cup, Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi hosted three matches, including the one between Brazil and England, which included star striker David Beckham. Extra Shinkansen services were provided from Kakegawa Station following the end of these matches through the early morning of the following day. The World Cup kept the station in a state of excitement throughout the month.
JR Tokai has a Shinkansen yard about 2.5 kilometers west of JR Hamamatsu Station in Shizuoka Prefecture, where trains are inspected by dismantling them to check every last mechanical part. The overhaul includes not only checking the chassis and main electric motor drives, but also repainting train bodies. Inspecting an N700 series train takes about 15 days. When heading along a spur to the yard, Shinkansen trains cross a public road—the only level crossing anywhere for Shinkansen trains. Two or three Shinkansen trains roll through the crossing each day.
Aiming to boost the local economy, udon noodle shops in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, including those near Toyohashi Station, have created a new udon recipe called "Toyohashi curry udon." The recipe’s biggest appeal is that it is a surprising double layered dish—hidden beneath curry and udon are rice and tororo, or frothy white grated yam. The dish won second-place honors in the 2012 Nationwide Udon Summit event.
Another local specialty is inari-zushi, a kind of sushi in which rice is stuffed into a pouch made of sweetened fried tofu. The dish is sold at Toyokawa Station, which is near Toyokawa Inari shrine, one of the nation's three biggest shrines devoted to the worship of the harvest deity Inari. Inari-zushi are available at various eateries on the streets leading to the shrine, which cook the dish in their own ways, such as using soy sauce-pickled wasabi leaves as toppings.
The city of Anjo, Aichi Prefecture — home to Mikawa-Anjo Station — used to be called “Denmark of Japan” as the city developed modern agriculture in the early years of the Showa era (1926-89), when Denmark was a world leader in agricultural techniques. Local farmers patiently brought land into cultivation by adopting new methods under the instruction of Nobuyoshi Yamazaki — the first principal of a prefectural agricultural school that was the predecessor of prefectural Anjo Norin High School. In tribute to its history, Anjo has a park named Denpark, combining the words “Denmark” and “park.” Bento boxed meals called “Oh! Denmark” were sold at the station for about a decade from its opening in 1988.
Nagoya Station has a ticket machine that sells only admission tickets to the station itself, rather than to destinations somewhere down the line. It’s the only machine of its type at any JR station in Japan, but JR Tokai explains that there is high demand for the station admission tickets thanks to four kishimen eateries on the Shinkansen platforms. Kishimen is a local type of udon noodle that is flatter and wider than regular udon. The dish is so popular that many passengers get off at the station on their way to their destinations just to eat the Nagoya specialty, and there are usually lines in front of the eateries at lunchtime. Many local businesspeople buy admission tickets just to eat the kishimen on the platforms. Each shop sells more than 1,000 servings per day.
In 1989, JR Tokai released a "Christmas Express" TV commercial, featuring then 17-year-old actress Riho Makise. It was shot after the last train left Nagoya Station. In the initial scenario, Makise was supposed to run through the station looking for her boyfriend before reuniting with him on a Shinkansen platform. However, the planned story was hastily revised when it was found to be similar to a commercial created by a different company. Under the revised story line, when Makise spies her boyfriend about to emerge from a ticket gate, she hides behind a pillar to surprise him. (Video provided by JR Tokai's special site for the Tokaido Shinkansen's 50th anniversary)
Writer Kuniko Mukoda (1929-1981) had her first taste of “miso-katsu” — fried pork cutlet with miso sauce — at Gifu-Hashima Station in Gifu Prefecture. In Japan, fried pork cutlets are usually enjoyed with “usuta sauce,” a dark, thick, savory condiment whose Japanese name derives from the English “Worcestershire sauce.” In contrast, miso-based sauce is used in miso-katsu, a local specialty of Nagoya and its surrounding area. Mukoda wrote about the dish in 1981 in her column in a weekly magazine. She was fascinated by the dish, saying the miso sauce masked the greasiness of the cutlet and the dish went well with rice. The writer described miso-katsu as “comparable” to anpan, a bread roll filled with sweet bean paste, in terms of being an inventive Japanese combination of Western and Japanese food. “I’m sure that [miso-katsu] will sweep all over Japan sometime in the future.”
Aboard a train heading to Shin-Osaka, you can see three Shinkansen trains with futuristic designs lined up to the left just after leaving Maibara Station in Shiga Prefecture. They are on display at the Railway Technical Research Institute’s Wind Tunnel Technical Center. Featuring sharp noses, the three trains were used in high-speed test runs in the 1990s, when JR companies aimed to develop commercial services running at more than 300 kph. The 300X, developed by JR Tokai, is nearest to Maibara Station, followed by the Star21, developed by East Japan Railway Co., and the Win350, developed by West Japan Railway Co. The 300X train recorded a speed of 443 kph on July 26, 1996, between Maibara and Kyoto, the nation’s fastest speed on a railway track. (Only the maglev system is faster, but it doesn’t use conventional tracks.)
Kyoto Tower stands just north of Kyoto Station. Now considered a landmark in Kyoto, the tower is as old as the Tokaido Shinkansen line: The tower opened in December 1964, two months after the trains began to run. The 100-meter tower sits atop a 31-meter building, with its lighthouse design inspired by the idea that the tiled roofs of houses in the historical city resemble waves. Around the time of Kyoto Tower’s opening, many expressed concern that the new building would not go well with the city’s streetscape. However, Kyoto Tower was featured along with a 0-series Shinkansen train on a commemorative station admission ticket sold to mark the line’s fifth anniversary.
Shin-Osaka Station is a terminal for the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines. When a train arriving on one line continues to run on the other, personnel from JR Tokai, which runs the Tokaido Shinkansen, and JR West, the operator of the Sanyo Shinkansen, take over for each other. By the way, do you know where the boundary between the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines is set? Is it at the end of the platforms at Shin-Osaka Station? Or in the center of the station? The answer is that the point is 2.8 kilometers west of the station on an elevated track. From this boundary, JR Tokai manages the eastern part of the Shinkansen’s signaling system, while the western part is overseen by JR West. Passengers cannot see the boundary through train windows, but if you are aboard a westbound train, the point is around when it begins going into a curve to the right just after leaving Shin-Osaka Station.