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The Shinkansen Bullet Train: Where to Go

Japan is a country famed for its efficiency, a nation always striving to be ahead of the times, and the bullet train is one of Japan’s most exciting creations.

Built over 50 years ago, it was tasked with bringing people to the capital city to meet Japan’s long term ambitions of becoming an economic powerhouse. Reaching speeds of up to 200mph, the Shinkansen understandably earnt itself the nickname of ‘The Bullet Train’, and riding this high speed train is a unique experience. Whilst the rest of the world is left wondering just how the average delay on the bullet train is only 36 seconds collectively, per day, platform attendants in Tokyo are shoe horning people into carriages like tinned mackerel at rush hour. If you’re in Tokyo, the Bullet Train is the most efficient way to get out of the city to explore. Don’t worry though, as long as you avoid rush hour, it’s a very comfortable journey that will take you to far flung places, allowing you to make the most of your time in Japan.

Here are 3 places you can visit beyond Tokyo on the Bullet Train and 3 things you should do when you get there:

Kyoto

Geisha in Kyoto
Image Credit: Moyan Brenn

Kyoto was Japan’s capital city for 1000 years, so it’s no surprise that it feels a little more old school than the sparkling lights and eccentric vibe of the modern day capital, Tokyo.

The city still maintains a lot of its charm and character and there are plenty of spots within the city that allow you to feel like you have taken a step back in time.

Visit the Gion district, an area of narrow winding streets lined with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses, tea shops and Japanese restaurants. If you’re lucky, you might catch a rare glimpse of a geisha, as it’s in Gion that these mysterious Japanese women can be seen flitting between buildings. From here, head to Kiyomizu-dera, it’s one of the more well-known temples, but has the most stunning views overlooking Kyoto City. To spend some time with nature, make your way to the outskirts of the city, to Arashiyama. The base of the Arashiyama Mountains is home to a number of temples, and this is a beautiful place to either take a walk amongst the famous bamboo groves, hire a boat, admire the cherry blossom or to sight see on two wheels.

Yamagata

Yamagata
Image Credit: Yuhei Kuratomi

For those of you who enjoy the breathtaking beauty of snow, take a trip north of Tokyo to the Yamagata prefecture. Mount Zao is home to a fantastic ski resort and whether you ski or not, you are guaranteed to enjoy the remarkable scenery.

The resort is famed for the way that the trees collect snow and appear as monstrous mounds, rising high into the air, acting as an exhilarating slalom maze for skiers.

Weaving in and out of these is a real treat and even just taking the cable car up to witness this spectacle will leave you in awe. Whilst in the area, make sure you take the time to relax in the open air hot springs. Feel the steam on your face, whilst your hair becomes rigid with ice as you bathe amongst the ice and falling snow. Note that the entirety of Yamagata isn’t always covered in snow, as during the summer it enjoys warm temperatures and allows for some excellent hiking. One popular hike is to the heights of Risshaku-ji Temple, which is perched grandly on the hillside. Weave your way through the magnificent treeline, take in the landscape and don’t be surprised if you don’t pass a sole.

Osaka

Osaka Castle
Image Credit: Marufish

Osaka is Japan’s third largest city. From the glowing lights of downtown, to the serenity of the many temples, it’s a vibrant place to be and has plenty to offer.

The many tiers of Osaka castle sit boldly, overlooking water, surrounded by 600 cherry trees and vast expanses of green.

This a must see as it is a truly spectacular urban haven, amongst the buzz of the city. Have a picnic on the grounds, explore the gardens and enjoy the flora, because with views that change massively with the seasons, the surroundings you see here are only temporary. For an awe inspiring view of the city at night, visit the Abeno Harukas, Tokyo’s highest building. Enjoy the view from the observation deck as you take in the dazzling skyline. Finish your trip in style by visiting the world famous Universal Studios. It’s not typically Japanese, but it’s a great way to let your hair down.

Featured Image Credit: Antonio Tajuelo

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