The Bullet Train

Waiting on the Platform

bullet-train-shinkansen-japan-craftsmanshipI am waiting in line, first in line that is, on the bullet train platform, looking straight ahead, trying to appear composed and relaxed. I'm off to Tokyo today. This time, by myself.  Across the track, on the opposite platform, stands a young mother.  She is well dressed, dark suit, high heals, hat, pocketbook.  She is wobbling slightly, but not without help.  By her side, a small companion stands, or rather hops, hops, hops – a little boy. He cuts a sharp contrast to his mother's reserved, polite pose.  He is in constant motion, stretching his neck, looking left and right, swaying back and forth, one foot up, one foot down, hop, hop, hop – a bottle of pop shaken and fizzing out the top.  His mother tries to steady herself, spreading her feet slightly, taking balance. 


The bullet train now pulls into the station, pulls in front of the boy and his mother, and they quickly disappear behind it.  Soon, however, I catch him bobbing in the window in a display of kinetic energy enough to power the train itself.  As the train starts to pull out, all motion ceases and he presses his nose hard to the glass and plants a hand on either side tattooing the window in prints that announce in no uncertain terms:  “an excited little boy was here.”  I watch him, watch him in his celebration, jealously.  I know how he feels, but the norms for adult behavior on a train platform discourage any outward display of excitement.  But the truth is, I want to hop up and down, too.  I look around and wonder, am I the only one, the only adult on this platform, who is feigning nonchalant, ho-hum boredom when nothing could be further from the truth? 


Trains are a way of life here in Japan with many traveling, even on the bullet train, regularly to work.  We travel by bullet train fairly often, to visit our craft artists, for a weekend excursion, and for other fun and business.  I cannot now count the number of times I have traveled by this high speed, state-or-the-art engineering wonder.  Yet... I never seem to get over the novelty of it. My husband teases me.  I am a country unsophisticated, so unschooled in train etiquette. But do I want to fit in.  I want to appear cool and nonchalant, bullet-train savvy.  So particularly when traveling alone, like today, I try to fit in.  So, I give it my best shot by going deep undercover. I pretend to stifle a travel-weary yawn of boredom, and I flick an innocent glance at the overhead sign for car number and departure time.  I check my watch in exaggerated annoyance as I try a casual look towards the illuminated train schedule to my right. I tell myself:  I'm just another traveler.  A seasoned commuter. An adult off to Tokyo...or am I? 

The (not so) Savvy Traveler

Front View Bullet Train JapanI look down, ever so innocently once, okay maybe twice, okay about 10 times, at the queue marks on the floor. Yes, standing in the right place.  It's just another day. Right? No reason for my skin to tingle from head to toe.  No reason for my breath to catch at the arrival announcement for my train. No reason to get that funny feeling in my stomach and chest. I do my best.  I really do, but this facade is hard to maintain. And, in the end, all I can really manage is to not grin foolishly. The announcement comes again:   “The super-express 3 5 7 bound for Tokyo will soon be arriving on track 12” heart quickens.  All my pretense at travel decorum falls away, melting down to the platform and dribbling onto the train tracks below. All that left of this mess is a kid, that kid inside hopping up and down and prickly all over. My cover is blown.  I strain my neck and lean forward for a clearer look.  The track stretches far to my right, a long metal zipper with teeth in straight, short, rows. Preciously on time (of course, this IS Japan), it rounds the corner and glides confidently down the track like a boxer entering the arena and stepping up into the ring:   And in this corner SHINKANSEN!  The crowd goes wild.  Black tinted window glass wrap around its cone-like face -  cool, dark shades.  Headlights shine like two diamond studs above its broad, slick nose.  It moves in straight and sure, growing larger and larger as it draws near, thick broad shoulders boasting its strength as it parades sculptured bulk past the waiting crowds.  It hugs the platform close, humming its mantra low and steady, exhaling hot, dry air as it heads with clear intent to its mark for its brief time out – Down the track it coasts, clearing a path in a final screech of metallic brakes that swell to crescendo as it come to a





And there it rises above me, a two story, gleaming tribute to Japanese imagination and creativity, this double-decker in all its glory, a state-of-the-art train with two floors of padded, reclining seats and large windows, shades and trays that go up and down (I tried), a snack car, train magazines, and powder rooms, and outlets for all of mankind's technologies. 

Sorry, Me First

Shinkansen Bullet Train Japan InsideThe doors open, and I make a beeline for the second floor where the car is already quite filled with commuters and students, mothers and children, grandmothers and grandfathers, and couples and singles.  Somehow, somehow, I manage to find a window seat, and I slide in with a smirk satisfied that I beat the other suckers trying for the same.  And then the doors close, and the announcements begins as we head out down the track towards one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo. 

And as the train pulls out from my station, and starts gently, and ever so, so smoothly gliding down the track, I notice that someone is standing on the platform – standing where I was - standing on the platform and watching – me....watching me as I press my nose to the glass, with my hands on either side - the kid on the bullet train.

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About the Author

About Us | Couple Photo | Alfan SelectHi from Japan everyone! I'm Karen and I have been living and traveling, (yes, often by bullet train :) for Alfan Select, fun and adventure, for over 20 years! You can read more of my personal stories in Japan here.  As a cute couple, one of our new shared stories is about ferreting out the amazing contemporary examples of fine craftsmanship here in Japan.  And these craft artists have amazing stories, too! So, if you like, browse around our site and enjoy reading some.  Cheers! Karen

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  • Estelle on

    The MBTA needs to take lessons!And I do enjoy your descriptive words for the Bullet train – it must be an amazing sight.

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