Seriously, Shinkansen. Seriously.
I am a complete and total imbecile. Well, not really. But I felt like one the other day. At the very least, I felt like a stupid gai-jin for not noticing something that is completely obvious. I was planning a trip to Kyoto and I misunderstood the way the shinkansen fare is calculated. I realized my misunderstanding at the fare booth where the poor Japanese ticket attendant was having it out with me about the price of the ticket.
THE SHINKANSEN IS WAY MORE EXPENSIVE THAN I THOUGHT.
What I had thought was a 40,000円 round trip to Kyoto for two people turned out to be 80,000円. Needless to say, I didn’t go.
Here is how the tickets for shinkansen work. When you are getting a shinkansen ticket, there are two costs for every ticket.
There is the fare price and the seat fee. The seat fee is roughly the same price as a ticket itself (even if you are getting an unreserved seat). Sendai to Tokyo is 5,780円 in “fare” and another 4,300円 for the lowest seat fee. That makes the trip 10,080円 one way and 20,160円 round trip. The image below is from Hyperdia.
Why is the shinkansen so expensive? Well I have some theories on that. Japan likes being expensive. There is an international conspiracy to make me pay more for things than I want to. I am secretly tricking myself into not spending any money.
Here is a great article from The Economist about the Japanese shinkansen and their basic lack of competition. The simple summary is this. Even low cost airfare can’t compete with the speed, hassle free nature and frequency of the shinkansen. From the article:
“They (the shinkansen) whizz 120,000 passengers a day smoothly from one place to another (Tokyo to Osaka), on trains that leave every ten minutes. Although humans, not robots, are at the controls, the average delay is a miraculous 36 seconds. To take all those passengers by air would require 667 aircraft, each with 180 seats, or five times Japan’s fleet of Boeing 737s,…”
Until another company builds another set of shinakansen lines (which is highly unlikely) prices are not likely to change. If you can book in advance there are some low cost airlines that operate here in Japan. These airlines are also noted in the article.
Here is a the fare table from Fly Peach for what was my 80,000円 trip to Kyoto and back to Sendai:
For as little as just the seat fee on one leg of the Sendai to Kyoto trip I can get a one way ticket from Sendai to Osaka and then take the local train (40min commuter service) to Kyoto. I will have a future post on just why Peach is so cheap.
In Europe, Easyjet is by far and away one of the cheapest airlines (38 euros to fly from Prague to London Gatwick was the last fare I purchased). The reason they are so cheap is that your entire flight is an extended sales pitch and they dont give you anything for free, including luggage. (about 25 to 30 euros a bag). I have flown Easyjet a number of times and found that I can put my headphones in and despite their intense schilling its just a cheap flight from Athens to Berlin (See what I did there, A to B). My assumption is that Peach is operated in a similar fashion but since I haven’t flown with them before I don’t know. I will soon. I’m heading to Kyoto next month.
While I can’t say for sure why the shinkansen is so expensive; I can say that it is unlikely I will use it if I don’t have to.