It is ironic that Japan, a nation now avowed to maintaining peace within its constitution, named one of its most spectacular modes of transport, and indeed tourist attractions, after ammunition. Of course it refers to its speed, but the ‘bullet train’ in Japan is also the most tranquil, efficient, pleasurable and good value way to get around the country.
In fairness, it is English speakers who have nicknamed these impressively high speed railway lines ‘bullet trains’, as they travel at maximum speeds of 240-320km per hour. The Japanese word is shinkansen, which actually means, ‘New Trunk Line’. Although not so new because the Japanese were on the right track as far back as 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, with the first line in this network opening up between Tokyo and Osaka. At that time the journey took four hours. Today it takes two hours and 20 minutes.
The Shinkansen network now extends throughout the length of Japan which, when you look at it on a map, captures the image perfectly of a key artery pumping energy from north to south and back again, with one beautiful vein stretching west through the central Hida Mountain Range, also known as the Japanese Alps. This one leads you straight to the heart of traditional, rural Japan.
On this route, like so much of Japan, you travel in chic, state of the art design technology into a world such as Nagano City, home to the world famous Zenko-ji Buddhist temple, or Joshin'etsukogen National Park where traditional villages, ryokan inns and exceptional artisans still thrive.