Up until recently, you could be certain of seeing wagons on Japan’s bullet trains. That might sound like a bizarre and unnecessary mishmash of transportation modes, but “wagon” is the term used by Japan Railway Company to refer to carts that vendors would push down the center aisle of the Shinkansen offering food and drinks to passengers as they zipped around Japan.
However, “wagon sales” are being phased out. Back in October, Central Japan Railway Company, which operates the Tokaido Shinkansen (the portion of the bullet train network that connects Tokyo and Osaka, passing through Kyoto along the way) discontinued food/beverage cart sales, and now West Japan Railway Company (JR West) says it will be getting rid of wagon sales on the Sanyo Shinkansen, which runs between Osaka and Hakata Station in Fukuoka, on March 15 for all but first-class passengers.
As was the case with the Tokaido Shinkansen, JR West is citing an increase in the number of passengers who are purchasing food and drinks before boarding and bringing them on to the train plus concerns about securing enough staff to keep the wagon sale operations running smoothly.
One could make the strong argument that onboard food carts are an idea whose time has passed. When the shinkansen network first started carrying passengers with the opening of the Tokaido Shinkansen line in 1964, Japanese consumer habits and options were very different than they are now. In that 60-year span, there’s been a huge rise in the number of vending machines, convenience stores, and other grab-and-go options for food and drink. Most stations along the Shinkansen lines have grown into large shopping/entertainment centers, with huge pre-packaged meals, soft drinks, sweet and salty snacks, and even regional beer and sake selections priced to fit a wide range of budgets.
Still, there’s a nostalgic charm to the instant gratification of gazing out the window at the scenery you’re speeding by and suddenly deciding “You know what? I think I will have a crisp, cold can of Asahi Super Dry” when you hear the whoosh of the automatic doors opening and see a JR staff member entering the car with a fully stocked cart, and so the continuing disappearance of such opportunities is a sad, if understandable, sign of the times.
JR West has, at least, said that wagon sales will continue on Sanyo Shinkansen Green Car carriages, essentially the Shinkansen’s first-class section (with the exception of trains starting or ending in Himeji and Nishi Akashi Stations). With Green Car tickets considerably more expensive than other shinkansen seats, it’s a nicety few will be able to enjoy, so maybe the best bet is to buy a retired shinkansen food cart of your own.
Source: JR West via Yomiuri TV
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