THIS INFORMATION HAS BEEN UPDATED IN MY APRIL 9 POST. PLEASE DISREGARD THIS POSTING.
It’s been a while since I last made a post here… of course it’s been hectic in the land of the rising sun because of the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, as well as for all of the people of Japan. I wish for them to bounce back from this tragedy stronger than ever.
I want to spend this particular article writing about how travel in Japan is affected following this disaster. This is based on the information that I know, provided by news reports and various transportation companies.
Due to the current situation in Japan, and based on my feelings, I think that you should avoid travel to the northern Tohoku region, especially the area around the Nuclear Power Plant and the coastal areas affected by the Tsunami. The issues at the power plant have resulted in rolling blackouts in the greater Tokyo area. It is unclear how long the threat of a blackout will continue, even though over the last few days the people in Tokyo have been able to conserve power to the point that the blackouts did not have to be carried out. Nevertheless I would reconsider travel to the Tokyo region at this time, at least until the issues with the blackouts can be resolved.
Areas west of Tokyo are largely unaffected by the impact of the disaster and the power situation, especially as you move towards Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and beyond. So as of now, I think it’s perfectly fine to visit these areas if you wish. If you want to focus on visiting parts of western Japan, and you can fly into or out of the international airports in Nagoya or Osaka, while reconsidering or avoiding travel to the Tokyo area, I think you will encounter little to no problems. Air connections through Tokyo’s Narita Airport to Nagoya or Osaka should be fine as well.
The Tohoku Shinkansen, which is the bullet train line that runs north from Tokyo through northern Honshu to Aomori, where connections to trains for Hokkaido can be made, is open only in certain sections. It is estimated that it will take another month for services to resume over the entire length of the line. Therefore, unless you travel by PLANE to Hokkaido, you may wish to reconsider travel there as well. At this time you CAN take a route by train that detours along regular tracks along Japan’s west coast (along the sea of Japan), but this will take much longer to the point that you may have to make it a two-day trip and stop to rest somewhere along the way. Overnight trains along the west coast are back up and running again, and you have the option to use those (if there is space and you pay the fare).
As far as air travel is concerned, Sendai’s domestic airport is closed due to damage caused by the Tsunami. All other airports should be open, but you should check your airline for the status of your flights.
In the Tokyo area:
Updated April 7: JR Narita Express trains between Narita Airport and Tokyo have resumed some service.
The following Narita Express trains are suspended: #6, 19 through 38, and 47.
The following Narita Express trains do not run between Tokyo and Shinjuku/Ikebukuro: 10, 14, 18, 39, 43, 51.
The following Narita Express trains do not run between Shinagawa and Yokohama/Ofuna and make an additional stop at Shinagawa en route to/from Shinjuku: 4, 12, 49, 53.
JR is running their regular commuter trains to/from Narita Airport on an hourly basis. These trains will take longer to reach Narita Airport than the Narita Express would.
The Keisei Skyliner is running about 2/3 of its services from Ueno and Nippori to Narita Airport with the following services cancelled: 4, 11, 12, 15, 20, 23, 28, 31, 34, 38, 39, 46, 47, 50.
Keisei commuter trains are running on a modified timetable with some runs cancelled.
Most of JR’s commuter trains in central Tokyo, including the Yamanote Line, are almost normal. There are a few exceptions and, like the rest of the information that I will provide in this particular section on Tokyo, train schedules are subject to change due to the current power situation.
For travel to Hakone: Updated April 8 Odakyu Railway Romance Car trains from Shinjuku are currently suspended until April 16 due to the power situation. Regular commuter trains on the Odakyu Railway operate on modified timetables with some services cancelled. Local Hakone Tozan trains ARE running between Odawara and Hakone-Yumoto on a modified timetable (one trip every 15-20 minutes) and you will need to transfer between the Odakyu and Hakone Tozan lines at Odawara. With a Japan Rail Pass you should take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Odawara (operating normally) and change at Odawara to the Hakone Tozan line, using the Hakone Freepass from Odawara to get around Hakone.
For travel to Kamakura and Enoshima: Updated April 8 Odakyu Railway Romance Car trains from Shinjuku are currently suspended until April 16 due to the power situation. Regular commuter trains on the Odakyu Railway operate on modified timetables with some services cancelled. Enoshima Tramway trains are running on a regular schedule but some trains may have fewer cars in operation. The Shonan Monorail trains are in operation every 8 minutes during peak hours, and every 15 minutes off peak. If coming from the eastern part of central Tokyo (i.e. Tokyo, Shinagawa) then I recommend using the JR lines as a means of reaching this area; Tokaido and Yokosuka lines are running 90-100% of their regular timetables. From the western part of central Tokyo (i.e. Shinjuku, Shibuya) you can take the Yamanote Line around to Shinagawa to pick up the Tokaido or Yokosuka lines. Direct Odakyu train service can also be taken into consideration; from April 1st, rapid express services on Odakyu’s Enoshima Line have resumed.
For service to Nikko and Kinugawa: Tobu is operating six daily round-trip “Spacia” services between Asakusa and Kinugawa-Onsen/Tobu-Nikko. The only direct run from Asakusa to Nikko runs at night; To access Nikko by Spacia during the rest of the day you must take a Spacia train to Shimo-Imaichi and change to a local shuttle train for the final run to the Tobu-Nikko station. Regular commuter trains are running on a weekend schedule. You can access Nikko by JR using the Tohoku Shinkansen, which is currently operating two trains per hour from Tokyo to Utsunomiya Station. From there you can take the JR Nikko Line train to JR Nikko station; the JR Nikko line is operating on a normal timetable.
For service to/from Haneda Airport: The Tokyo Monorail is running on a normal timetable. Keikyu trains are operating on a modified weekday timetable, that is to say a weekday timetable with some services cancelled. Some of these trains will have running times adjusted and make additional stops en route to/from Haneda.
Bullet Train services:
The Tohoku Shinkansen, which suffered the brunt of the damage following the earthquake and tsunami (over 1200 separate repairs necessary), is currently operating between Tokyo and Nasushiobara Stations (north of Utsunomiya), AND between Morioka and Shin-Aomori stations in the northern part of Honshu. The timetable to reopen the entire line, which I think is remarkable, is as follows: Morioka south to Ichinoseki on April 8, Nasushiobara north to Fukushima in mid-April, and the rest of the line via Sendai in late April.
The Akita Shinkansen is currently operating five round-trips between Morioka and Akita. Through running services to the Tohoku Shinkansen, for direct access to Tokyo, will not resume until late April at the earliest.
The Yamagata Shinkansen, which branches off of the Tohoku Shinkansen at Fukushima, will resume operation between Fukushima, Yamagata and Shinjo on March 31. Through running services for direct access to Tokyo will not resume until mid-April at the earliest.
The rest of Japan’s bullet trains – The Joetsu Shinkansen (Tokyo-Niigata), Nagano Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagano), Tokaido Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka), San’yo Shinkansen (Osaka-Okayama-Hiroshima-Fukuoka) and Kyushu Shinkansen (Fukuoka-Kumamoto-Kagoshima) are all operating normally.
Currently the following overnight sleeper trains in northern Japan are operating: the Twilight Express (Osaka/Kyoto-Sappor0), Nihonkai (Osaka/Kyoto-Aomori), Akebono (Tokyo-Aomori) and Hamanasu (Aomori-Hakodate-Sappor0).
Direct overnight trains from Tokyo to Hokkaido – the “Cassiopeia” and the “Hokutosei” – remain suspended until at least April 15.
The Tohoku Expressway, which is the main road artery running from Tokyo to northern Japan, suffered major damage. Remarkably, the damage has been repaired and the expressway is open once again. A good portion of the expressway is limited to larger vehicles, such as trucks and highway buses; regular cars cannot use these sections. The main point, though, is that the passenger buses operating on this expressway are returning to normal, with some schedule adjustments being made.
Land travel options from Tokyo to cities in northern Japan:
Once again, travel to areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami, and areas in the vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, should be avoided at this time. Travel to areas in far northern Japan, including Hokkaido, should be reconsidered unless you fly by plane.
Here are ways you can travel from Tokyo to cities in northern Japan.
Sendai (non-essential travel should be avoided):
*Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata (2 hours), then highway bus from Niigata to Sendai (4 hours).
*Bus from Tokyo to Sendai (5 1/2 hours).
Fukushima (non-essential travel should be avoided):
* Bus from Tokyo to Fukushima (5 hours).
*Joetsu Shinkansen “Toki/Max Toki” from Tokyo to Niigata, JR Hakushin/Uetsu Line from Niigata to Sakamichi via Shibata, JR Yonesaka Line from Sakamichi to Yamagata (3 connections per day, about 6-7 hours).
*Bus from Tokyo to Yamagata (Overnight, 6 1/2 hours).
*Joetsu Shinkansen “Toki/Max Toki” from Tokyo to Niigata, Limited Express “Inaho” from Niigata to Akita (3 connections per day, about 6 hours).
*Bus from Tokyo to Akita (Overnight, 8 hours 45 minutes).
*Akebono overnight train from Tokyo to Akita (9 1/2 hours).
*Joetsu Shinkansen “Toki/Max Toki” from Tokyo to Niigata, Limited Express “Inaho” from Niigata to Akita, Akita Shinkansen “Komachi” from Akita to Morioka (3 connections per day, about 8 hours).
*Bus from Tokyo to Morioka (Overnight, 7 1/2 hours).
*Akebono overnight train from Tokyo to Akita, then Akita Shinkansen “Komachi” from Akita to Morioka (11 1/2 hours).
*Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Niigata, Limited Express “Inaho” from Niigata to Akita, Limited Express “Tsugaru” from Akita to Aomori (3 connections per day, about 9-10 hours).
*Bus from Tokyo to Aomori (Overnight, 9 1/2 hours).
*Akebono overnight train from Tokyo to Aomori (9 hours 45 minutes).
Rail travel should be reconsidered in favor of air travel until at least the Tohoku Shinkansen is fully restored in late April. Otherwise you should consider taking a route along the sea of Japan and stopping somewhere for a rest before continuing on your journey.
For example, using the route to Aomori as described above, you can leave Tokyo just after 1 PM and arrive in Aomori at just after 10 PM. From here you can take the Hamanasu Express leaving Aomori at 10:42 PM and arriving in Hakodate at 1 AM or Sapporo at 6:07 AM, or you can rest overnight and take the first train to Hokkaido the next morning, which is a Hakodate-bound Hakucho at 8:08 AM.
You can take the Akebono from Tokyo to Aomori then pick up a limited express train into Hokkaido (15 hours to Hakodate, 18 1/2 hours to Sapporo).
You can also take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagaoka, then take the Twilight Express from there to Sapporo (17 1/2 hours). Remember, the Twilight Express only runs a few times a week and you have to (be lucky to) get a reservation for BOTH the Akebono and Twilight Express. (Japan Rail Pass users can reserve for free something known as the “Goronto Seat” on the Akebono)
Note with the “Akebono”:
You can shave off 30 minutes from the trip between Tokyo and Aomori by taking a Joetsu Shinkansen “Max Toki” train that departs later from Tokyo and “catch up” to the Akebono at Takasaki station.
This information is as current as I’ve been able to find. All information provided here is subject to the DISCLAIMER (above) and is subject to change at any time. Travel conditions may improve or deteriorate on short notice based on what is happening in northern Japan with the cleanup, repairs, and issues with the power supply. Once again, though, if you go west of Tokyo in the direction of Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and beyond, it is business (and leisure) as usual.
If you have any questions, feel free to send me a note here.
Another web site you can check out is the page on Takeshi Shimomura’s blog which he keeps updated on a regular basis with the latest train operating status.
Good luck, and let’s keep the people of Japan in our thoughts and prayers.