Better plan ahead if you’re planning to eat on the bullet train.

For years, there have been familiar experiences traveler can expect while traveling on Japan’s bullet trains. The gentle mechanical hum as it pulls away from the station, the English-language recording saying “Welcome to the Shinkansen” in its elegant and comforting tone, and Japan Railway staff coming down the aisle with carts stocked with bento boxed lunches, sweet snacks, and cold beer for sale.

Sadly, those carts will be going away soon on the most heavily used Shinkansen line. Central Japan Railway Company (also known as JR Tokai), operator of the Tokaido Shinkansen line that connects Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka, says that it will be ending in-train food cart sales on its Nozomi and Hikari Shinkansen trains for both Reserved Seat and Non-Reserved Seat cars (Kodama, JR Tokai’s third, and slowest,) type of Shinkansen trains already do not offer food cart sales). The last day for food cart sales will be October 31.

Why the change? JR Tokai lists several reasons, starting with the most positive one, from a traveler’s viewpoint: the shops in and around Shinkansen stations now offer far more takeout meal/snack options than they used to. Rather than take the chance that the in-train cart will have something they want, an increasing number of Shinkansen passengers are choosing to pick out exactly what they want to eat before getting on the train, then eating it at their seat after they board. In addition, JR Tokai says some customers have voiced a desire for a quieter environment inside the train (though they don’t shout, the food cart vendors audibly, and repeatedly, ask “Would anyone care for coffee/ice cream/etc.?” as they come down the aisle), and the company also says the decision to discontinue food cart sales is part of precautions against possible future labor shortages.

Food and beverage sales won’t completely disappear from the Tokaido Shinkansen, however. On the day after food cart sales end, JR Tokai will be introducing a new “Mobile Order Service.” Passengers will be able to use their smartphone to scan a QR code at their seat which will take them to an order page, and the items they select to purchase will then be delivered to their seat by a member of the train staff. However, Mobile Order Service will only be available to passengers in Green Cars, the Shinkansen’s first-class section.

JR Tokai is throwing travelers a bone of sorts by adding more vending machines to Shinkansen platforms at Nozomi-stop stations. Among the items these will be stocked with are drip coffee and ice cream, two of the most popular Shinkansen food cart items. Considering that they’re items best enjoyed hot and cold, respectively, neither one is the sort of thing that’s particularly appealing to buy very far ahead of time if you’re hoping to enjoy them while watching the scenery zip by onboard the train, so at least this way you’ll be able to buy them right before you get on.

Source: JR Tokai via IT Media
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