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Don't get stuck on a shinkansen

16 Comments

How sleek, swift and reliable shinkansens look! The impression they give is of an arrow pointed at its destination, hurtling forward at speeds that were astonishing when the “bullet trains” debuted in 1964. Even today they remain a vibrant symbol of the postwar “Japanese miracle.”

Just don’t get stuck on one in heavy rain, warns Spa! (Aug 15-22). Or in peak travel seasons.

Shinkansens were not designed to withstand “guerrilla rain.” It’s a relatively new meteorological phenomenon, linked to global warming – what used to be considered a month’s worth of precipitation falling in an hour. On June 21 a guerrilla storm grounded the Tokaido Shinkansen to a 6-hour halt, condemning passengers to a night in the “shinkansen hotel” – in their seats, in other words. It’s not a life-threatening experience but it is unpleasant in the extreme – “living hell,” as one passenger put it. Supplies of food and drink soon run out. If the constricted space and unnatural position your seat confines you to doesn’t keep you awake, the snoring of your fellow passengers probably will. Adding insult to injury is the unceremonious gusto with which station staff hustle you out when, first thing next morning, you finally arrive – just in time for the departure of the morning commuter throng which has usurped your claims on the staff’s courtesy.

Guerrilla rain is a rising phenomenon, up 34 percent since the 1970s. Keep alert for it, Spa! advises. Bring emergency supplies of food and water. If a storm is forecast, you might consider postponing your trip, or traveling by ordinary train. Not that a storm wouldn’t stymie it too, but at least the distances between stations tend to be short, permitting stopover arrangements.

The Obon holiday just past was a reminder, if one is needed, of how unpleasant a packed shinkansen can be. Carriages fill to 150 percent capacity. It’s like a morning rush hour train, with the added annoyance of restless, squalling children among the passengers. This is a vacation?

 Speaking of vacations, foreign tourists have lately discovered Japan en masse, with good results for the economy and international brotherhood, less good ones for shinkansen travel. One finds one’s tolerance strained by what Spa! calls “culture clashes” – with foreigners carrying large space-consuming luggage, foreigners taking the wrong seats, foreigners not speaking the language and therefore impossible to communicate with, and so on. “We’ve been hiring more English-speaking staff,” a Japan Railways (JR) official tells the magazine, “but of course many foreign visitors don’t speak English. Quarrels can arise not only with station personnel but also on the trains, with fellow passengers.”

 The influx has resulted in long lines – up to half an hour at times – at shinkansen ticket wickets. “Only in Japan!” grumbles an American visitor. “Everywhere else in the world, you can reserve a ticket on the Net and print it up at home. Standing in line at the ticket wicket? How Japanese!”

Japan’s famed omotenashi (hospitality) is under strain. This past June the number of foreign tourists was 18.2 percent above that for June 2016. When the July and August figures become available the rise is expected to be even more impressive. Impressive, but also challenging. Can Japan adapt?

© Japan Today

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
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"...with foreigners carrying large space-consuming luggage," 

So why don't the trains have luggage racks? Every passenger is a traveler, kinda makes sense, no?

I had a shouting match with a Shinkansen ticket staffer. The JR connecting train ran late, making me miss my Shink and she wouldn't honor my reserved tickets -- until I started shouting. LOL.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

"So why don't the trains have luggage racks? Every passenger is a traveler, kinda makes sense, no?"

Completely agree. It's always baffled me, especially the north running trains where people are hauling hiking or golf gear (or skis and snowboards in the winter). JR even sells packages around these activities.

For business travellers, if you have a small suitcase they fit fine in the overhead shelf- if you can find space!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I had a shouting match with a Shinkansen ticket staffer. The JR connecting train ran late, making me miss my Shink and she wouldn't honor my reserved tickets -- until I started shouting. LOL.

Sounds rather vulgar and uncouth.

I love the shinkansen; what a marvellous form of travel and the staff are unfailingly polite.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

One finds one’s tolerance strained by what Spa! calls “culture clashes” – with foreigners carrying large space-consuming luggage, foreigners taking the wrong seats, foreigners not speaking the language and therefore impossible to communicate with, and so on. “We’ve been hiring more English-speaking staff,” a Japan Railways (JR) official tells the magazine, “but of course many foreign visitors don’t speak English.

It's not always the fault of the foreigner though isn't it?

Every time I get on a Shinkansen there are many Japanese people who put bags and cases on the seat next to them so nobody can sit there. I'll ask them to move it if they aren't faking sleep so they don't have to interact in that situation. It's childish beyond belief.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Sounds rather vulgar and uncouth.

Sometimes there's no other way for individuals to stand up to large greedy corporations that are trying to rip them off.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

JeffLee,

Had you not gotten a Train Delay Certificate for thd late JR train?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Every shinkansen I've been on has luggage racks at the ends of the cars.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Sometimes there's no other way for individuals to stand up to large greedy corporations that are trying to rip them off.

I can agree with the sentiment but shouting at the ticket woman isn't exactly standing up to corporate greed. Much more can be achieved with a firm but polite dialogue, surely?

I think we are incredibly fortunate in this country with a magnificent transport system. It's not 100% but compared to some other countries...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Tourists using public transport have luggage shocker! Japan stunned!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

FizzBit is right, there is space at the end of the cars for bulky items. But it often isn't adequate when a high proportion of the passengers have huge suitcases. Many Japanese prefer to send their large luggage by delivery service, and rent skis etc so they don't have to deal with this. I prefer to do that too but it does require some thought and coordination.

I'm wondering how much more expensive Shinkansen tickets would become if cars were redesigned to accommodate large items for all passengers? Would people be willing to pay more? Or there could be a mixture of type of cars for those with and without large luggage with an extra charge for with?

Another method I've experienced many years ago in the US was checking in suitcases for storage in a luggage only car. This resulted in long stays in each station while employees got out the items for departing passengers. I also witnessed instances of luggage lost because it had been misdirected. Thd passengers also no access to their large luggage during thd days long journey

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Toasted Heretic

Much more can be achieved with a firm but polite dialogue, surely?

I tried that at first. It didn't work.

"...but shouting at the ticket woman isn't exactly standing up to corporate greed." 

Yes it is, when the alternative is let the wealthy corporation take my money without providing the service I paid for.

Every shinkansen I've been on has luggage racks at the ends of the cars.

Not me. I used to take Joetsu one for ski trips quite a bit. Everybody's main luggage was always jammed in front or behind the seats, since the overhead racks weren't spacious enough except for smaller items.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I return to Japan ever summer for 3 weeks and usually take two Shinkansen trips during that time. We usually take a large suitcase as we travel. I always leave it in the area behind the last seat next to the bulkhead. There are little tray tables on the bulkhead you can lower so your bag doesn't slide around. Never once had a problem.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I tried that at first. It didn't work.

The problem is, when someone is shouting at you (and you may not speak their language perfectly) it can be a bit exasperating for both parties. Difficult when you need to be somewhere sharpish, like but IMHO, it's often better to maintain composure. I say this as someone who had too numerous to mention annoying experiences on British trains etc.

Yes it is, when the alternative is let the wealthy corporation take my money without providing the service I paid for.

In future; log all these delays and customer service interfaces and log a complaint with the company? Refunds are available. It won't get you to your initial destination but you'll at least have the satisfaction that your complaint was taken seriously enough to warrant action.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Jeff Lee,

Asked earlier but perhaps you didn't notice? Did you get the Train Delay Certificate for the delayed JR train? That should have eased things when trying to get the Shinkansen ticket situation straightened out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yes always remember if your not getting your way with someon, start yelling at them ..possibly even stamping your feet and waving yar arms in the air....This always works !

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Educator60

 Did you get the Train Delay Certificate

Actually, the Chuo LIne was suspended that morning for track maintenance (without our prior knowledge) and we and all the other passengers were shunted on to the slower Sobu Line, causing us to be late for our Shink connection, which we had reserved in advance. I explained all this to the JR ticket lady, who could have issued a certificate if one were valid in this situation, but wasn't given that the Sobu Line wasnt technically late. Welcome to Japan.

This always works !

Yes, it did in our case. What's your point?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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