After exploring Aomori after the Nebuta festival, I am on my way to Tokyo now. It’s currently 10:15 AM here in Shin-Aomori Station and in an hour, I’m about to ride the Hayabusa 52 train. “Hayabusa” is the name of one of the fastest Shinkansen service that connects Shin-Aomori to Tokyo (700 km in just 3.25 hours!)
Having rode a number of Shinkansen trains, I would like to share some of the things I recommend people do in the station before riding the Shinkansen trains.
Of course, if you have only few minutes before riding the train – you can just go immediately to the train platform, and perhaps at least not forget to bring water with you as some Shinkansen service doesn’t have in-car sales (just follow 6 and 10 below in this case).
1. Buy an Ekiben (Station Bento)
EkiBen stands for Eki-Bento which means Station (Eki) Lunch Box (Bento) and is a lunch box made for people who want to eat inside a train. Eating lunch inside a train is one of my favorite things I always do in Japan! Eating bento inside the train is allowed in all Shinkansen and limited express trains in Japan.
Most of the ekibens sold in the stations are specialty food of the city or prefecture. And this is why I really recommend this as Ekibens sold in a particular station are not usually found in other Shinkansen stations. They are usually sold by stores specializing in Ekibens (called Ekibenya / 駅弁屋 in Japanese) or in convenience stores (konbini).
Here in Shin-Aomori station, they are sold in a convenience store called “Newdays”. And the number 1 best selling bento here is called “Torimeshi Bento)”.
Torimeshi means “Chicken Rice” and I just bought this bento to taste how Aomori’s number 1 bento tastes!
Also, as it is best to pair your ekiben with a locally produced drink, I also bought one “Cidre Sweet” Apple wine , which is also available in the same convenience store.
2. Appreciate the Art and Architecture of the station
Many Shinkansen stations in Japan display their local specialties, culture and arts inside the station. Here in Shin-Aomori Station, visitors are welcomed with smaller version of the Nebuta floats and are very colorful and vibrant.
I was also amazed by the black and white wall painting found at the first floor of the station.
Shin-Aomori station is also a masterpiece by itself. The station is mostly covered by open glass windows, showing the bright, green and peaceful surroundings of the station.
Inside the station, the shopping area is lit with red-colored Japanese lanterns emulating a lively shopping street in evening.
Other stations in Japan also exhibit their local specialties. Fukui Station, where it is known for its big dinosaur museum, the station is decorated with big dinosaurs.
3. Buy an “Omiyage”
Omiyage is a Japanese term for “souvenir” or “gift” you give your friends and family when you come back from a trip. Omiyage culture is very rich in Japan. Japanese travelers always buy an omiyage for their coworkers, friends and family after returning from a trip. And of course, you can also buy these for your self as a memento or as a collection.
Each of the regions in Japan showcase their local specialties in their omiyages. You can see all sorts of souvenirs in the Shinkansen stations such as sweets, towels, shirts, pens, refrigerator magnets, and many more.
Aomori is known for their apples, so many of the food omiyages available here are made from Aomori apples – apple wine, apple pies, and apple juice.
Nebuta-inspired souvenirs are also available and I bought Nebuta refrigerator magnets to add them to my collections.
4. Have your journal or diary stamped with an Ekisutampu
Stations in Japan always have an “ekisutampu” or a station stamp. It is usually a very big stamp and are very artistic, usually showing the landmark or specialty of the city or prefecture.
You can find these stamps in station information centers and if you cannot find them there, simply ask the station staff if they have an “ekisutampu”. Station staffs are very helpful and they will tell you where you can find the station stamp.
5. Check your platform number in advance and memorize the train car number and seat number.
This is something I almost always do before riding Shinkansen and limited express trains in Japan – I check the platform number in advance and then memorize the car and seat number. This makes it very easy for me to locate the exact location I should be waiting few minutes before the train arrives.
One can actually just look the ticket and find the platform, car and seat numbers but this can become a hassle especially if you are bringing big bags or luggage. And I usually put my ticket immediately inside my wallet right after I have passed the ticket gates to avoid accidentally losing it while I roam around.
Usually, the train platform number is not written on your ticket. And to locate the train platform, you would need to find the name of the train in the train information board.
These train information boards are available near the ticket gate, in the boarding area of the trains and also in the waiting rooms. Here in Shin-Aomori station, a train information board is also found in the shopping area to guide customers while they are shopping!
6. Buy water from a vending machine or at a konbini in advance.
Some of the Shinkansen services do not provide in-train sales of food and drinks so remember to at least bring a bottle of water with you as you will probably need some water inside the train when you become thirsty.
Thankfully, bottled water and drinks can be easily purchased from one of the vending machines inside the station. Some of the vending machines are even placed right on the train platform so that passengers can buy them as soon as they are about to board the train. You can also buy water and drinks in a convenience store inside the station.
7. Put devices, earphones, water, etc. inside a smaller bag
Before going inside the train where other passengers are also busy passing through and arranging their bags, it will be very helpful to prepare the things you will use inside the train and put them inside a small bag you can easily access while you are sitting in the train.
This can be a bottle of water, snacks, books or devices such as laptops, earphones, tablet that you will be using inside the train.
8. Have some coffee or a snack at a station cafe
If you still have enough time, you can have a coffee, a snack or even a meal in a station cafe or restaurant. Some stations even have cafes and restaurants in the boarding area of the station (after ticket gates) to make it more convenient for people who want to have some drink or snacks before they board their trains.
Here in Shin-Aomori station, I decided to get a drink in a cafe named “Tsugaru Cafe”. It’s summer here, so a glass of Iced Coffee will be refreshing!
Other foods available here are pasta, hotdogs, sandwiches, curry rice.
You can purchase other drinks such as hot coffee, cafe au lait, milk and melon soda.
9. Relax at the station’s waiting lounge
Most Shinkansen stations have waiting lounges where you can sit down comfortably while waiting for your train.
Some waiting lounges, like here in Shin-Aomori station, have open windows so people can see a nice view while waiting.
10. Standby at the platform 15 minutes before the scheduled departure
Around 15 minutes before the scheduled train departure, it is best to already start waiting at the platform of your train and also near the entrance of the train car you will ride.
In terminus stations like Shin-Aomori, the train will already arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. And being able to go inside the train in advance gives you more time to find your seats, properly arrange your luggage and start resting on the comfortable Shinkansen seats few minutes before the train starts moving.
The car number is found in the the LED display in the platforms. This will guide you where to wait before the train arrives. Please note that in non-terminus stations, your train will probably arrive 4 or 5 minutes before scheduled departure, so be careful to check also the train name to ensure that you are also riding the correct train.