The launch of the new Hokkaido Shinkansen service on March 26th is likely to popularize rail travel between Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, and destinations as far south as Kyushu.
The new Hokkaido Shinkansen service will link Shin-Aomori Station in northern Honshu and Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station in Hokkaido through the undersea Seikan tunnel. Once opened, the new route will provide a speedy service from southern Hokkaido, to destinations in the Tohoku region and Tokyo via the shinkansen network. Travel time between Shin-Hakodate Hokuto and Tokyo will be shortened by 1 hour and 20 minutes to just a 4 hour and 10 minute journey. However, it will also be possible to travel even further than that on the shinkansen network to destinations such as Nagano, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kagoshima.
Despite the great distance between Hakodate in the north and Kagoshima on the south west tip of Kyushu there is apparently, an unexpected demand for rail travel between these destinations. According to just one frequent business traveler, “From now on, if I make a round trip covering Nagasaki, Kobe, Kawasaki and Hakodate, I’ll probably use the shinkansen more. Up till now I always flew between Kawasaki and Hakodate.”
Certainly, until recently, flights between Honshu and Hokkaido have been more convenient, with ten round trip flights between Hakodate and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport each day. Itami Airport in Osaka and Chubu Airport in Nagoya also have two round trip flight services, but there are no flights between Hakodate and remote regions such as western Japan, Kyushu and Shikoku.
The flight time between Tokyo and Hakodate is just 1 hour and 30 minutes, and so air travel still has the advantage of an affordable and rapid service. However, business travelers, with multiple destinations and stopovers may prefer the ease of rail travel. And for those with discount passes, such as foreign travelers carrying the Japan Rail Pass, the new shinkansen service will be the most cost effective way to travel.
Discount Rail Pass for Overseas Tourists
Following the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen service, JR Hokkaido and JR East will launch a discount “JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass” for passengers traveling on their networks. This new pass will become available on April 1st 2016, and is hoped to encourage tourism in northern and eastern Japan. The six day pass covers shinkansen and limited express travel in the South Hokkaido area including destinations such as Sapporo, Hakodate, and the New Chitose Airport, as well as the East Japan area including the Tohoku region.
Article by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.