THIS INFORMATION HAS BEEN UPDATED IN MY MAY 13 POST. PLEASE DISREGARD THIS POSTING.
Here is my latest update on the travel situation in Japan. Work on the Tohoku Shinkansen is progressing, and today the section re-opens between Fukushima and Sendai for the first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The line will be fully open by April 29, in time for the Golden Week holiday. However, since the repairs are ongoing, trains will have to operate over some parts of the line at reduced speeds, which will increase the travel times.
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. This includes places along the eastern coast of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The Japanese government has imposed a no-entry zone to all persons within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.
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, is returning to normal now. However, there may be some inconveniences due to the lack of available power, and rolling blackouts could return as the summer months approach. You should remain cautious, vigilant, and keep up to date with the latest information when it comes to traveling around the area or visiting certain attractions. Some restaurants and stores may still be closed or operate at reduced hours.
Travel to the northern island of Hokkaido, including the cities of Sapporo and Hakodate, is now fine if you travel during the day by airplane or by train. Some nighttime train services to Hokkaido are still suspended, but overnight travelers can pick up the Hamanasu in Aomori , which is running normally.
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. 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, all airports are open and operational, but you should check your airline for the status of your flights.
The Tohoku Shinkansen is now fully open, with the exception of the Sendai-Ichinoseki segment, which will open on April 29 (Regular rapid trains connect Sendai and Ichinoseki in the interim)
As of April 29, the Tohoku Shinkansen operates on what is known as a “RINJI DAIYA”, which means Special Timetable. The Tohoku Shinkansen, Akita Shinkansen (to Akita) and Yamagata Shinkansen (to Yamagata/Shinjo) will offer a near full complement of the services they normally offer, including the fastest service, the Hayabusa. As stated above, however, parts of the Tohoku Shinkansen are still under repair, and therefore journey times north of Tokyo will take much longer than usual. Here are the new travel times on the Special Timetable compared to the normal timetable:
Tokyo-Sendai via Hayate:
Normal Timetable: 1 hour 40 minutes
Special Timetable: 2 hours 10 minutes
Tokyo-Morioka via Hayate:
Normal Timetable: 2 hours 25 minutes
Special Timetable: 3 hours 15 minutes
Tokyo-Akita via Komachi:
Normal Timetable: 4 hours 10 minutes
Special Timetable: 5 hours
Tokyo-Shin Aomori via Hayabusa:
Normal Timetable: 3 hours 10 minutes
Special Timetable: 4 hours 5 minutes
Also note that train numbers are different on the special timetable than on the normal timetable.
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 have restarted with a reduced service, 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 have restarted with a reduced service, 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 their normal 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.
Romance Car services will operate a near-full timetable for the Golden Week period, April 29 – May 8. After May 8, the status of the Romance Car will be re-evaluated.
For service to Nikko and Kinugawa: Tobu’s “Spacia” services between Asakusa and Kinugawa-Onsen/Tobu-Nikko are back to near-normal operating frequencies. Full “Spacia” timetables will resume at the end of the month. Regular commuter trains are running on normal schedules, but some cancellations may occur. You can also access Nikko by JR using the Tohoku Shinkansen 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 will resume regular timetables on April 18 during the morning and evening hours, while some trains may be cancelled on mid-day services.
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 “Hokutosei” and the “Cassiopeia” – have not yet resumed service. JR will provide an update on these trains in a few weeks.
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.
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 done during the day, either by train or plane.
With the full re-opening of the Tohoku Shinkansen, detours along the Sea of Japan are no longer necessary. Remember, though, that because repairs are continuing, journeys on the Tohoku Shinkansen will take longer than usual.
Nighttime journeys from Tokyo to Hokkaido are limited due to the cancellation of the “Hokutosei” and “Cassiopeia” services. You should consider traveling by day, stopping somewhere along the way for an overnight rest (perhaps in Morioka or Aomori), or departing in the evening and connecting to the “Hamanasu” in Aomori. Here are a few other options for traveling by night:
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.