Shinkansen series guide: All Shinkansen train models

Shinkansen series

Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen services are the fastest and most convenient way to get around the country, and there have been a variety of types of bullet train series used on the lines since the first was inaugurated in 1964.

While some of the many types of bullet trains have been retired from use or upgraded to newer models as updated technology was developed, there are still a large number of different trains in operation on each Shinkansen line. This complete guide can help you identify the different types of Shinkansen models before you being your journey with your JR Pass.

Shinkansen train types in operation

The Shinkansen bullet trains currently in operation in Japan form part of the ‘next generation of models which began production in the late 1990s. They feature a number of upgraded features from the original bullet trains first inaugurated in the 60s.

500 series

Shinkansen 500 series
Shinkansen 500 series

Masterminded by German industrial designer Alexander Neumeister, the 500 series Shinkansen cost an estimated 5 billion yen to construct per train and only 9 were ever built. They were originally used on the primary Nozomi service on Tōkaidō Shinkansen and Sanyo Shinkansen lines but were downgraded to the Kodama service between Shin-Ōsaka and Hakata in 2010.

The 500 series was designed to provide a smoother and safer ride than previous Shinkansen models by using dampers between cars to improve stability and computer-controlled active suspension in the running gear. The front of the train was also designed to resemble a kingfisher’s beak in order to increase speed and reduce the noise level to improve passenger comfort.

E2 series

Shinkansen E2 series
Shinkansen E2 series – Photo by View751 under CC

These Shinkansen, operated by JR East, come in either 8 or 10 car sets. The 10-car trains can be coupled with E3 series trains. A total of 502 E2 series trains were built between 1997 and 2010 before withdrawls of this Shinkansen type started in 2013.

E3 series

shinkansen e3 series
Shinkansen E3 series – Photo by Jet-0 under CC

With a production process overseen by industrial designer Kenji Ekuan, E3 series Shinkansen was built to coincide with the opening of the new Akita Shinkansen “mini-shinkansen” line between Morioka and Akita and used on Komachi services. They were later introduced for use on Tsubasa services on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

Similar to the 400 series of trains, they were designed to have a smaller loading gauge than mainline Shinkansen trains to fit on the narrower “mini-shinkansen” lines.

E4 series

Shinkansen e4 series
Shinkansen E4 series – Photo by Sui-setz under CC

Like the E1 series, E4 trains are bi-level Shinkansen with double-decker cars designed to accommodate high commuter traffic in the areas around Tokyo and other urban zones. The 8-car sets can be coupled together to form a 16-car train with a total capacity of 1,634 seated passengers,

700 series

shinkansen 700 series
Shinkansen 700 series – Photo by Mitsuki-2368 under CC

Part of the next generation of Shinkansen produced in the late ’90s, 700 series trains were jointly designed by JR Central and JR-West.

They were originally used on the Hakata Minami Line, the Sanyo Shinkansen, and the Tokaido Shinkansen, although they have since been withdrawn from service on the latter line. These trains are distinctive for their flat ‘duck-bill’ front nose, which was designed to reduce the piston effect when entering tunnels.

N700 / N700A series

shinkansen n700 series
Shinkansen N700 series – Photo by Mitsuki-2368 under CC

N700 was an upgrade of the 700 series with tilting capability allowing to maintain high speeds even in tight curves. Introduced in the shinkansen operational rolling stock on 2007 in Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen and on 2011 in Kyushu Shinkansen lines.

The N700A was an evolution of the first design of the N700 introduced on 2013, which allowed an increase in the maximum speed of operation in curves. To this day, all the N700 have been improved with the technology of the N700A, they are called N700a.

N700S series

shinkansen n700s series
Shinkansen n700s series – Photo by KYODO

On July 1st 2020, the N700S Shinkansen was launched on the Tokaido Shinkansen line. The suffix of the N700S stands for ‘supreme’ to signify the progression in design, technology, and comfort. It is the 6th-generation model of the N700 series and intended to be the best.

This new evolution incorporates a lithium-ion battery self-propulsion system, extremely useful during power outages or earthquakes.

800 series

shinkansen 800 series
Shinkansen 800 series – Photo by JKT-c under CC

The 800 series of Shinkansen abandoned the ‘duck-bill’ nose of the 700 series for a more conical shape and received a Laurel Prize in 2005 for its design as a result. They operate on the Kyushu Shinkansen line run by the Kyushu Railway Company and were introduced on Tsubame services in 2004

E5 series

shinkansen e5 series
Shinkansen E5 series – Photo by Nanashinodensyaku under CC

The E5 series of Shinkansen has operated on Tōhoku Shinkansen services since 2011 and on Hokkaido Shinkansen series since 2016. The trains incorporate technology derived from the experimental Fastech 360S train tested by JR East and also feature an electric active suspension.

E6 series

Shinkansen E6 series
Shinkansen E6 series – Photo by Rsa under CC

These Shinkansen run as a Komachi “mini-shinkansen” services on the Tōhoku Shinkansen and the Akita Shinkansen from Tokyo to Akita and are operated by JR East. In 2014, E6 series trains replaced all of the E3 models previously used on Komachi services.

E7 / W7 series

shinkansen e7 series
Shinkansen E7series – Photo by Tokyo Sakura under CC

The E7 series of trains are based on the design of the earlier E2 series and were jointly developed alongside the W7 series. The cars are notable for the ‘Japanese’ theme employed both externally and internally, which combines both traditional and futuristic design elements.

Test runs for W7 series trains first began in 2014 and these 12-car sets have continuously run on the Hokuriku Shinkansen since 2015. That same year, the W7 trains were awarded the annual Blue Ribbon Award presented by the Japan Railfan Club, alongside the E7 series.

H5 series

Shinkansen H5 series
Shinkansen H5 series – Photo by Toshinori baba under CC

H5 Shinkansen work in a pool alongside E5 trains series on Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen services. However, it features a number of upgrades from the previous model including an improved snowplow and stainless-steel underframe to protect the electronics in cold weather conditions.

Old Shinkansen train types

Although these models are no longer in use on Shinkansen services, it is worth learning about the history of Japanese bullet trains to appreciate the vast improvements in the newer models.

0 series

shinkansen 0 series
Shinkansen 0 series – Photo by by Takeshi Kuboki under CC

The first generation of Shinkansen trains to be built, the 0 series started operating on the Tōkaidō high-speed line when it opened in 1964. Production of these trains continued until 1986, and they were eventually pulled from operation in 2008.

200 series

Shinkansen 200 series
Shinkansen 200 series – Photo by Sui-setz

Production on these JR East trains commenced in 1980, curiously predating the 100 series of Shinkansen. While they share many of the same features of 0 series trains, they were designed to be lighter and more powerful to successfully navigate the mountain routes they ran on. They were also equipped with small snowplows fitted to the front.

100 series

shinkansen 100 series
Shinkansen 100 series – Photo by Mitsuki-2368 under CC

Although introduced after the 200 series, these trains were designated 100 series because at the time Shinkansen that ran east of Tokyo were given even numbers, while those running west were given odd numbers. The 100 series were designed with a more pointed nose than the 0 series.

300 series

shinkansen 300 series
Shinkansen 300 series – Photo by Mitsuki-2368 under CC

300 series trains were the first to feature a ‘curved wedge’ front-end instead of a cone. They were used on the fastest Nozomi services when first introduced, and were awarded the Laurel Prize for outstanding functional and design features in 1993.

E1 series

Shinkansen E1 series
Shinkansen E1 series – Photo by Sui-setz under CC

Alongside the E4 series, these were the first double-deck Shinkansen trains built in Japan. The exterior design of the original trains was notable for their “sky grey”, “silver grey”, and “peacock green” color schemes, although this was replaced with a blue, white, and pink-striped design after refurbishment in 2003.

400 series

Shinkansen 400 series
Shinkansen 400 series – Photo by Sui-setz under CC

Originally designed as 6-car sets, 400 series trains received an extra 7th car in 1995 due to the popularity of the Tsubasa services on which they ran. The original design featured a silver-grey color scheme but this was updated to a silver, dark-blue, and green pattern during refurbishments between 1999 and 2001. The trains were eventually retired in 2010.

Future Shinkansen train types

Japan Rail continues to develop new and improved models of Shinkansen to boost passenger comfort and safety and reach record-breaking speeds, most of which will be introduced in the near future.

E8 series

Intended to replace the E3 series, E8 trains were announced in May 2020 and are due to be implemented on Tsubasa services on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line in 2024.

Like the E3s, E8 Shinkansen are 7-car trains consisting of 5 powered and 2 non-powered cars, and are fully equipped with active suspension. The colorful exterior, which mixes white, purple, red, and yellow, is designed to evoke the rich landscape of the Yamagata region.

E956 – Alfa-X

Alfa X Shinkansen unveiled

A 10-car experimental train that began testing in 2019, the Alfa X uses new technology to allow the craft to travel at some of the fastest speeds yet achieved on a Shinkansen line in Japan. Painted in a metallic sheen to reflect the surrounding countryside, the trains are currently undergoing test runs on sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen line.

Alfa X trains have been designed to improve energy efficiency and passenger comfort, as well as to be more environmentally friendly. New safety features such as stability dampers will also help to further protect passengers in the event of an earthquake.

  • Max speed: 400 km/h (250 mph)
  • Year of introduction: 2019 (experimental phase)
  • Lines: Tohoku Shinkansen

L0 series – Maglev

SC Maglev

Japan’s Maglev program aims to push the boundaries of the maximum speed possible on Shinkansen lines and eventually allow passengers to travel from Tokyo to Osaka in under an hour. The entire cost of construction is estimated to be around 55 billion US dollars.

The first stage in this project, the Chuo Shinkansen line, is currently in the testing phase and is expected to be inaugurated by 2027. Once operational, it will link Tokyo to Nagoya in roughly 40 minutes. 

  • Max speed: 500 km/h (310 mph).
  • Expected year of introduction: 2027
  • Lines: Chuo Shinkansen

Train services by shinkansen line

Below you can find a complete list of the types of services avaialble on each Shinkansen line:

Tōkaidō, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen

  • Nozomi (fast, Tokaido and San’yō)
  • Hikari (semi-fast, Tokaido and San’yō)
  • Hikari Rail Star (semi fast, San’yō)
  • Kodama (local, Tokaido and San’yō)
  • Sakura (semi-fast, San’yō and Kyushu)
  • Mizuho (fast, San’yō and Kyushu)
  • Tsubame (local, Kyushu)

Tōhoku, Hokkaido, Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen:

  • Hayabusa (fast, Tohoku & Hokkaido, using E5 series/H5 series trains)
  • Hayate (local, Tohoku & Hokkaido. The fast service was discontinued in 2019)
  • Yamabiko (semi-fast, Tohoku)
  • Nasuno (local, Tohoku)
  • Aoba (discontinued)
  • Komachi (Akita)
  • Tsubasa (Yamagata)

Jōetsu Shinkansen :

  • Toki / Max Toki (semi-fast, Jōetsu)
  • Tanigawa / Max Tanigawa (local, Jōetsu)
  • Asahi / Max Asahi (discontinued)

Hokuriku Shinkansen:

  • Kagayaki (fast, Hokuriku)
  • Hakutaka (semi-fast, Hokuriku)
  • Tsurugi (local, Hokuriku)
  • Asama (local, Hokuriku)

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