Convenient Ways to Utilize the Hokkaido Shinkansen for Visitors from Overseas
2016/3/26 marks a historical moment. It is the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The Shinkansen uses the world’s longest tunnel, Seikan Tunnel (53.85km) and connects the distance between Shin-Aomori Station and Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station (about 149 km). To add, the Seikan tunnel is an undersea tunnel so this means that the Shinkansen runs below the seabed. Due to the opening of this line, the areas in Japan as far north as Hokkaido and as far south as Kyushu has been connected by railway (to be precise, the Shikoku region has not been connected yet). And there are further plans for expansion of the Shinkansen network. There have been lots of media coverage, but today, we would like to explain how to utilize the Hokkaido Shinkansen from the perspective of an overseas traveler. Photo: http://travel.watch.impress.co.jp/
The Current Hokkaido Shinkansen and Challenges for the Future
Firstly, a large challenge they are facing is the length of travel time. The opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen is still fresh in our memories. For that Shinkansen, the distance between Tokyo and Kanazawa became about 2.5 hours; succeeding in a significant shortening of the travel time. For the Hokkaido Shinkansen, the distance between Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station is 4 hours and 2 minutes at the fastest and as a result takes longer than the air-route. The reason is because the Seikan tunnel will be shared with freight trains carrying cargo. Thus, from a safety perspective, they must limit the maximum speed on the tracks. Additionally, to get to the main tourist spots of Hakodate Station from the Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station it will require about an additional 20-30 minute transfer. It seems the plans are to gradually improve on the length of travel time so that it is under 4 hours, but as of now, we feel that a large goal of theirs is to shorten the travel time.
Additionally, it seems they have large challenges in business operation. Their outlook is that they will see losses of close to 5 billion JPY annually for some time. One of the reasons is because the train will pass through areas with snow, there are costs associated with removing and dealing with the snow. That being said, if they are able to gradually shorten the travel time as mentioned above, the number of passengers will naturally grow; thus the day business turns profitable may not be so far away. Another way that can potentially increase the number of passengers is to have more trains running during the time flights are not scheduled.
Hokkaido Shinkansen vs. Airplane
So, which is actually better? As we are a group that provides information about Japan to an international audience, we reviewed the points from the perspective of someone from overseas.
An aspect that becomes important is the “JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass” that will be sold starting April 1st 2016 to align with the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass is an all-you-can ride ticket for a fixed price, for your choice of 6 days (does not have to be consecutive days) out of 14 days from the day of issue*. It includes the Hokkaido Shinkansen, areas of Southern Hokkaido such as Sapporo, Hakodate, Shin-Chitose Airport, as well as the Tohoku Region. The ticket can be used for shinkansen and express trains for all of the East Japan area, all Tokyo monorail lines and Sendai Airport lines as well.
- Fee for distance between Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station on Hokkaido Shinkansen Line: 22,690 Yen (one way)
- JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass: Flat fee of 26,000 Yen or 27,000 Yen (for ages 12 and up), 13,000 Yen or 13,500 Yen (for ages 6-11)
No matter how many times you get on the Hokkaido Shinkansen, it remains a fixed flat rate. The JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass is an amazingly good deal. And as mentioned above, in addition to the Hokkaido Shinkansen you are able to ride other JR lines all you want for this flat rate pass. This means that if you want to enjoy sightseeing in the nearby areas or if you want to go further to the Kanto Region, you are free to do all the touring you want. Of course it would be dependent on your specific traveling situation but from what we have studied, the Hokkaido Shinkansen is a winner and taking the Hokkaido Shinkansen using the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass is highly recommended.
*Unlike the Japan Rail Pass, the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass can be purchased directly in-country. (JR Hokkaido Area: Sapporo Station, Shin-Chitose Airport Station, Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station, Hakodate Station etc. JR East Japan Area: Larger stations such as the Narita Airport Station, Tokyo Station etc.)
*To purchase in advance from outside of Japan, the method of purchasing would be similar to Japan Rail Pass. You would buy through an on-line vendor and receive a voucher for exchange. Once you arrive in Japan, you can exchange the voucher for the actual ticket. However, in that case, the date of exchange will be the date of issue so you want to be careful of the expiration date. On the other hand, if you purchase in Japan, the purchase date is the date of issue.
About JAPAN RAIL PASS: Help for Your First Trip to Japan! 6 Best Things to Know Ahead of Time
The super economical JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass, hope you were able to see its benefits. We assume it would be your must-have ticket if you are taking the Hokkaido Shinkansen. Just hold on, once the purchase page becomes available, we will update this article to include the link to the page.