10 Ways to Entertain Yourself when traveling on the train in Japan
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10 Ways to Entertain Yourself when traveling on the train in Japan

10 Ways to Entertain Yourself on the Shinkansen

Thanks to the shinkansen, Japan’s network of highspeed bullet trains, getting about the country with a Japan Rail Pass couldn’t be easier. If you’re doing a big trip and travelling around Japan a lot by train, that’s a lot of time spent sitting in a train seat. Rather than be bored and let that time go to waste, why not fill your time with one of the many things to do while travelling on the shinkansen.

Some of these train activities allow you to use this time to relax and take a break from travel life, while others are far more constructive. So, if you’re wondering what to do on the shinkansen during your next Japan trip, here are ten ideas to get you going.

Table of contents:
1. Look out the Window
2. Read a Guidebook or Novel
3. Watch A Video or Listen to Music
4. Learn Japanese with Duolingo
5. Plan Your Trip
6. Eat Your Lunch
7. Chat with your Companions
8. Play Games on your Smartphone or Tablet
9. Write a Travel Journal
10. Take a Nap

1. Look out the Window

The easiest way to pass the time on any train trip is simply watching the scenery pass you by. After all, you don’t need anything special to do it. Even at the high speeds the shinkansen reaches, you’ll be able to clearly see quite a lot. If you’re jumping from city to city, this might be your only chance to see the Japanese countryside. Bonus, if you’re passing through Shizuoka or Chubu, you may even spot Mt Fuji out your window.

2. Read a Guidebook or Novel

Sitting on a train is always a good time for reading, especially when there are no distractions on a quiet bullet train. You can read whatever you like of course, but you might find guidebooks and digital resources quite handy, like the Japan by Rail ebook or even the articles on this JRPass blog. Another option is to pick a book that is set in or about Japan, adding another dimension to your trip that way.

3. Watch A Video or Listen to Music

It’s become pretty normal these days for commuters to listen to music or watch videos as they take the train to work. Why should it be any different for longer train journeys? While the bullet train speeds across Japan, spend your time watching YouTube and Netflix, or listening to music and podcasts from Spotify. To get the most from these apps though you’re going to need a decent internet connection, which is why arranging a Pocket Wi-Fi is such a smart move. The one must with all of this is that you definitely need to use headphones, as it’s considered incredibly rude otherwise.

4. Learn Japanese with Duolingo

Whether you’re Japanese is okay or you’re an absolute beginner, there’s a lot to be gained by practising. The better your Japanese is, the easier time you’ll have getting about. Downloading an app like Duolingo will allow you to practice and learn whenever you have the time to go through its exercises, like say sitting on a train. The app has limited offline capabilities, so it’s just another reason to get yourself a Pocket Wi-Fi.

5. Plan Your Trip

Some people like to have their whole trip mapped out before they land in Japan. Others though, like to be more spontaneous when they travel, tailoring their trip to their interests and needs as they go. No matter what type of traveller you are, using your free time to do some trip planning never hurts. Maybe you want to work out exactly which order you want to visit attractions the next day, or perhaps you want to weigh up your options for your next destination. Either way, you have time on your hands during your bullet train journey.

6. Eat Your Lunch

On most trains in Japan it’s considered poor form to eat food. The one exception? You guessed it, the shinkansen. Since you’re making longer journeys this makes a great deal of sense. So, don’t just shovel in some food hurriedly before the train, bring it on board with you. Bento boxes are usually what people pack and smelly food like fast food is discouraged. If you don’t have time to get food in advance, most shinkansen have food carts that come through with food. Just remember, as in most places in Japan, take your trash with you.

7. Chat with your Companions

When travelling with people, it’s only natural that you’ll want to talk to them on your journey. That’s perfectly acceptable, just remember to be considerate if you do. Try not to talk too loudly as there’s a general practice of keeping noise to a minimum on public transport in Japan. What’s nice is that seats can rotate on the shinkansen, so that groups can actually sit facing each other. Don’t expect to start up conversations with strangers however, as most people will likely keep to themselves.

8. Play Games on your Smartphone or Tablet

One of the easiest ways to pass the time these days is with the millions of games that are available for smartphones and tablets. While games like Pokemon Go aren’t suited to being played on a train, there are plenty that can be played anywhere and at any time. You’ll find that some games can be played without internet, while others you’ll need that Pocket Wi-Fi again to enjoy. Look at the app store before you leave and find a few new games to test out on your next train trip.

9. Write a Travel Journal

While taking photos has become the main way people remember their trips, a travel journal is another great option. It could be handwritten in a notebook just for you or done online like a blog, so friends and family can see what you’ve been up to. Both let you process what you’ve done from one day to the next and give you a way to always remember your Japan visit.

10. Take a Nap

Travel can be tiring business, so no-one will blame you if you decide to take a snooze on the train. That way you’ll be recharged and ready to go when you arrive at your new destination. If you’re on your own, set an alarm with your headphones on so you don’t miss your stop.

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