Japanese bullet trains: Designed in the '60s, still a modern marvel

Anything else from the 1960s now looks quaint, retro and a bit small, but not Japan's famous bullet trains. They still have an uber-cool presence and futuristic style. When you see that distinctively sleek bullet nose approaching along the tracks, you can't help but feel a frisson of wonder and excitement. Bowing attendants in white gloves usher you on board, and then you're whooshing through Japan in an uncannily quiet carriage.

China now has faster trains, but Japan's – which run at up to 320 kilometres per hour – are an iconic symbol of Japanese's technological prowess, flawless organisation and punctuality. Don't arrive late. The average delay of bullet trains is 36 seconds, and that includes disruptions due to natural disasters. In other less fortunate countries, you might be running five minutes late and still hope to catch your train. Not here.

The first art of the shinkensen you might notice is the "pointing and calling" of the platform attendants. This proven method of reducing errors requires them to point at signals, closing doors and departure boards while at the same time describing them out loud.

Then there's the amazingly efficient turnaround operation that sees seats swivelled to point in the opposite direction, carriages cleaned and headrest cloths replaced in quick-smart time. It takes seven minutes to clean an entire bullet train to a standard undreamed of elsewhere. Even the bullet nose, splattered with insects, gets wiped. When they're done, cleaners bow as if passengers are the ones who've done the hard work.

Marks on the platform will indicate your spot for boarding dependent on your seat number, since there's no time to waste. When you're allowed to board, settle in and switch your mobile to silent mode. Disturbances from ringtones and loud conversations are frowned upon. The result is a curiously dreamlike journey, almost of hushed reverence, as you're blasted past factories, rice fields and (if you're travelling south from Tokyo), Mt Fuji on your right.

Silence is golden, but eating positively encouraged. Train stations sell ekiben, a type of bento box designed for train travellers with compartments of meat or fish, vegetables and pickled accompaniments, and perhaps even a mini bottle of wine. Attendants trundle carts through the carriages laden with drinks and snacks. The movement of the train, even around bends, barely creates a ripple in your coffee. Such is the shinkansen, the world's most understated marvel.

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