Riding Japan’s bullet train network from one end to the other

TOKYO —

Thanks to a new extension, Japan’s shinkansen train network now stretches all the way from the northern island of Hokkaido to Kagoshima, the southern tip of Kyushu, the southernmost of the country’s four main islands. So to take advantage of this new range of bullet train mobility, we decided to ride the high-speed rails all the way from one end to the other.

Our journey began at 6:35 in the morning, when we stepped from the platform of Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station into a car of the Hayabusa super-express.

Because of the early hour, there was only one other passenger sitting in the same carriage as us. Having the place almost entirely to ourselves made the ordinarily roomy shinkansen seem all the more spacious.

One of the nicest things about the bullet train are the plentiful electrical outlets, meaning you can easily charge up your phone, camera battery, or laptop.

Since Shin Hakodate Hokuto is the only shinkansen station on Hokkaido, before very long we passed through the underwater Senkan Tunnel, coming out on Japan’s main island of Honshu where the train made its first stop at Okutsugaru Imabetsu in Aomori Prefecture at 7:25.

Hardly anyone got on here either, but 16 minutes later the train pulled into Shin Aomori Station, where the train finally started to really fill up with passengers.

Since we got on the train at 6:35, we hadn’t had time to eat breakfast, but part of the fun of riding the shinkansen is the food sold by vendors who walk up and down the aisle. So at eight o’clock, we got ourselves a 1,000-yen bento boxed lunch.

Many of the shinkansen bento make use of regional specialties from the regions the train passes through, and our boxed lunch was filled with the seafood that Hokkaido is famous for, with salmon, crab, scallops, and salmon and herring roe all part of the mix.

We also got a box of donut sticks for 800 yen, because you can’t expect us to have breakfast without dessert, can you?

At 9:29, the train made a brief stop in Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and at 11:04, we were in the capital of Japan itself, Tokyo.

While the shinkansen network goes all the way from Hokkaido to Kyushu, there isn’t any single train that makes the complete run. With Tokyo being the last stop for the Hayabusa, we said goodbye to one Shinkansen and hello to another, as we hopped on a Nozomi super-express bound for Osaka, which got underway at 11:23.

One of the shortest gaps between shinkansen-serviced stations is the Tokyo to Shin Yokohama stretch, and we were at the latter at 11:41, less than 20 minutes after departing Tokyo Station.

At 12:30, our stomachs were starting to growl, so it was time for another 1,000-yen bento. This time, we went with something a little heartier, choosing a boxed lunch with miso pork cutlet, fried shrimp, “anago” (saltwater eel), and “yuba” (tofu skin). The first of those mouth-watering items is a favorite of the people of Nagoya, while Kyoto is known for the last, and we went through both cities while riding the Nozomi.

The train reached Nagoya at 1:02 in the afternoon and Kyoto at 1:38.

And for dessert number two, “ningyoyaki” cakes, Tokyo’s representative traditional sweets, in the shape of little bullet trains.

The last stop for our train was Shin Osaka Station, so 1:53 we transferred again this time to the enchantingly named Sakura super-express, which left six minutes later. After just about two hours, at 3:57 we arrived at Shin Yamaguchi Station, the final stop on Honshu.

At 4:17, we came to Kokura, the first Sakura station on Kyushu, followed by Kyushu’s largest station, Hakata, (which serves the city of Fukuoka) at 4:34.

Rapidly nearing the end of our trip, at five o’clock we got ourselves a dinner bento, which, once again, cost us 1,000 yen.

This one included grilled salmon, fried asparagus cheese rolls, Kasgoshima “kuro buta” pork, and “ebi meshi,” a rice and shrimp dish from Okayama Prefecture. The whole thing was filling enough that we were able to show some admirable willpower in not getting a third dessert for the day.

As we happily digested our meal, the train reached Kumamoto at 5:14 and at 6:01, the Sakura slowed to a stop, the doors whooshed open, and we were finally at Kagoshima Chuo, as far south as you can go by shinkansen.

Our total travel time was 11 hours and 26 minutes, and the collection of tickets involved cost us 48,220 yen. Making the trip from Hokkaido to Kyushu by plane is both faster and cheaper, but if you’re a rail fan, the end-to-end shinkansen route is a memorable way to see the country from ground-level, and the bento really are far tastier than airplane food.

Read more stories from RocketNews24.
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  • -1

    Maria

    How did you get back? I wonder.

    Nice idea though.

  • 0

    Akula

    Have been thinking of doing something similar at some point, however starting at Wakkanai rather than Hakodate and making about as long a train journey as you can do in Japan.

  • 2

    Robert Dykes

    You should try it with a little more adventure in your step. Slow down so you can enjoy the Japan that is slowly fading away. Buy a "seishun ju-hachi kippu" and see how far you can go. I did 10 days and saw 38 prefectures with just futsudensha. Read a lot of book. Saw a lot of small towns 99% of Japan never visits or see or stops at.

    We see all these articles and stories about "Japan's hidden gems". Well guess what. I can promise you the Shinkansen simply speeds by all these hidden gems so fast you won't even realize you past them.

    Do you need to get somewhere fast. Take a plane or bullet train. Do you actually want to do some adventuring, some REAL travel, actually experience the nooks and crannies of a Japan. Take the slow road.

  • 2

    Yoshitsune

    @robert dykes

    I gave your post a thumbs up... but also want to say that my own experience with the 18 kippu was rather less romantic... I went from Sapporo to Kyoto, with various stops in Tohoku and also in Tokyo... Hiraizumi was nice... problem was, a lot of other people were using 18 kippus, what with them being sold for the holidays, and every train I boarded was packed like sardines; and as the local trains generally do 2 hour runs before going back, you have to change trains every couple hours if you're doing a long section e.g. Tokyo to Kyoto by futsu required 5 or 6 changes... and everyone on the packed train you're on wants to get a seat on the packed train you're all switching to! The scenes at the transfer stations were ridiculous, like watching a bunch of retirees playing rugby without a referee... I didn't even bother competing, and just stood almost the whole way. It wasn't much fun, and I arrived in Kyoto utterly exhausted!

    (moral of the story is don't use 18 kippus in Golden Week, Oshogatsu or Obon - they're valid a week or 2 either side of the main holidays)

  • 1

    Sapporodenki

    Starting at Wakkanai on the Shinkansen Network? Hoops. Bit of sake networking involved here me thinks

  • 0

    Ian Robertson

    Sounds like a memorable experience; wish Canada had such an opportunity to travel coast to coast by train.

  • 0

    MyJT2014

    Totally agreed with Robert, slow down and take it easy there is so much to see in Japan, away from all the hustling bustling cities. Just like any Asian cities you must try to get away from all the big cities and start to discover the real local tradition. I am looking forward to do more of this, especially Japan!

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