Posted by: jrhorse | April 8, 2011

The Latest on Travel in Japan – April 9 Update

THIS INFORMATION HAS BEEN UPDATED IN MY APRIL 16 POST. PLEASE DISREGARD THIS POSTING.

I think that now is a good time to update my blog with a fresh new update on travel in Japan. As some of you know, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7+ affected northern Japan on April 7. This has disrupted the timetable for travel in the region to return to normal.

Based on current conditions, these are my opinions when it comes to traveling to Japan at this time:

Non-essential travel should be avoided to the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami, and within proximity of the Fukushima nuclear power plants. This includes places along the eastern coast of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

Travel to major cities near the disaster-affected regions, such as Sendai and Fukushima cities, should be reconsidered as the disaster cleanup continues.

Travel to the greater Kanto region, including Tokyo, should be reconsidered until the power situation can be resolved. Some say that Tokyo is “back to normal” and there is “little to no” impact on traveling around the area, but I beg to differ. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced that it would suspend rolling blackouts in the area due to the cooperation of everyone reducing their power consumption. As a result there may be some inconveniences when it comes to getting around Tokyo or visiting certain attractions. There is a possibility that rolling blackouts could be implemented again if the situation becomes critical, especially as the summer months approach. So I would wait and see what happens over the next few weeks and months.

Travel to the northern island of Hokkaido, including the cities of Sapporo and Hakodate, should be done by airplane. Travel by train to Hokkaido should be reconsidered until the disruptions to the train network are cleared up.

Travel to the rest of Japan WEST of the Kanto region, including Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe), Chugoku (Okayama, Hiroshima), Shikoku, Kyushu and part of Chubu, is fine as of now with little to no problems. I recommend visiting these areas by flying into Nagoya Centrair or Osaka Kansai airports. You can also connect at Tokyo Narita or Tokyo Haneda for flights to these airports. Note that most of these areas operate on a 60 Hz power supply, compared to Kanto and all points north, which operate on 50 Hz. The 50 Hz power supply in eastern Japan has been disrupted by the nuclear power plant issues, whereas the 60 Hz power supply in western Japan is operating normally.

Travel to the entire country of Japan should be reconsidered during Golden Week, the group of holidays between late April and early May, when the Japanese vacation around the country and availability on public transit services will be limited.

As far as air travel is concerned, Sendai’s domestic airport is scheduled to re-open on April 13. All other airports are open, but you should check your airline for the status of your flights.

Shinkansen status Updated April 12

The Tohoku Shinkansen is open between Tokyo and Fukushima and through runs from Tokyo to the Yamagata Shinkansen have resumed.

The services offered will be:
– Nasuno/Max Nasuno, Tokyo-Nasu Shiobara (some services to Koriyama), all stations.
– Yamabiko/Max Yamabiko, Tokyo-Fukushima, all stations.
– Tsubasa, stopping at Tokyo, Ueno, Omiya, Utsunomiya, Koriyama, Fukushima, then all stops to Yamagata or Shinjo.

Tsubasa services will run on their own, not coupled to any other service.

Generally the frequency is one Nasuno and one Yamabiko service per hour, and one Tsubasa service every two hours. During morning and evening peak travel these frequencies will change.

Yamabiko and Tsubasa trains to Fukushima will connect to Tohoku Main Line trains to Sendai: either a scheduled local, or a rapid service which will be classified as a “Shinkansen Relay” or a “Rinji Kaisoku” (extra rapid). The rapid trains run from Fukushima to Sendai, making just one stop at Shiroishi station.

The Nasuno and Yamabiko will have unreserved seating except for the green car. The Tsubasa will have reserved and unreserved seating.

The rest of the Tohoku Shinkansen will be re-opened as follows, according to JR East:

Fukushima to Sendai: April 27
Sendai to Ichinoseki: End of April ~ beginning of May
Ichinoseki to Morioka: April 24
Morioka to Shin-Aomori: April 13

Akita Shinkansen, between Akita and Morioka, operates 5 round-trip services every day.

All other bullet train lines: the Joetsu, Nagano, Tokaido, San’yo and Kyushu Shinkansen, are normal.

In the Tokyo Area:

Narita Express: Morning and evening runs have resumed between Narita Airport and the Tokyo area, while midday runs remain suspended (you will need to take the regular JR rapid commuter train).

JR East has not published updated English timetables for the Narita Express. You may access the full English timetables from the JR East English Website, but please note the following changes and cancellations:

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 than the Narita Express would.

The Keisei Skyliner is running about 70% of its services between Ueno/Nippori and Narita Airport. An updated PDF timetable in English has been posted by Keisei on their website. Skyliner trains are available during the mid-day hours, compared to the JR Narita Express which is currently not running during mid-day.

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 back to 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. Note that many trains have employed power-conserving measures. Air conditioning may be switched off and escalators may not be operating, for example.

For travel to Hakone: Odakyu Railway Romance Car trains from Shinjuku are currently suspended due to the power situation. These trains will restart with a reduced service on April 16, with six round-trips to Hakone during weekdays, and nine round-trips on weekends and holidays. Other romance car trains will terminate at Odawara, requiring a change of trains. 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 may wish to use 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:  Odakyu Railway Romance Car trains from Shinjuku are currently suspended due to the power situation. These trains will restart with a reduced service on April 16, with two round-trips to Enoshima on weekends and holidays only. 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 rapid express train services from Shinjuku to Enoshima can also be taken into consideration.

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 regular timetables with some trains cancelled.

Overnight trains:

Currently the following overnight sleeper trains in northern Japan are operating: the Nihonkai (Osaka/Kyoto-Aomori), Akebono (Tokyo-Aomori) and Hamanasu (Aomori-Hakodate-Sappor0).

The Twilight Express (Osaka/Kyoto-Sappor0) was suspended again following the April 7 earthquake; it has now resumed service.

Direct overnight trains from Tokyo to Hokkaido – the “Cassiopeia” and the “Hokutosei” – remain suspended until at least April 27.

Expressways:

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 (Updated April 12):

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:
*Tohoku Shinkansen Yamabiko or Tsubasa service to Fukushima (2 hours), then Tohoku Line relay train to Sendai (60-90 minutes).
*Bus from Tokyo to Sendai (5 1/2 hours).

Fukushima: 
* Tohoku Shinkansen Yamabiko or Tsubasa service to Fukushima (2 hours).
* Bus from Tokyo to Fukushima (5 hours).

Yamagata:
* Tohoku Shinkansen Tsubasa service to Yamagata (3 hours).
*Bus from Tokyo to Yamagata (Overnight, 6 1/2 hours).

Akita:
*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).

Morioka:
*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).

Aomori:
*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).

Hokkaido:
Rail travel should be reconsidered in favor of air travel until at least the Tohoku Shinkansen is fully restored. 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.

Conclusion:

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.

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