The latest on travel in Japan – May 13 Update

Posted May 13, 2011
Updated May 15, 2011 (Resumption of “Cassiopea” and “Hokutosei” trains)

It’s been quite a while since I wrote the most recent update, and now with Golden Week completely out of the way, plus some new information that I’ve received, I think it’s about time to write an update. Special thanks to Douso, a member of the JTrains group, for providing me with the information.

As with my previous posts, my opinions and recommendations for visiting certain areas of Japan will come first, then the actual updates themselves.

Non-essential travel should be avoided to the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami. This includes areas along the eastern coast of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures where disaster cleanup continues, and within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, where a no-entry zone has been imposed by the Japanese government.

Travel to major cities near the disaster-affected regions, such as Sendai and Fukushima cities, can be done but you should remain vigilant and cautious due to the chance of aftershocks.

Major tourism areas that were affected by the disaster are returning to normal, the most important of which is Matsushima. Senseki Line trains from Sendai have resumed to Higashi-Shiogama, near one of the ports where Sightseeing boats to the bay islands departs from, and later this month service will be restored to Matsushima-Kaigan station, in the heart of the city. Sightseeing boats have all resumed operations.

Travel to the greater Kanto region, including Tokyo, is more or less 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 and greater stress occurs on the power grid. 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 rest of Japan: Hokkaido, 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 the areas in western Japan 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. Hokkaido’s power plants are mainly located on Hokkaido and are currently providing an ample supply of power.

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.

Shinkansen status

The Tohoku Shinkansen (Tokyo to Aomori), Akita Shinkansen (to Akita) and Yamagata Shinkansen (to Yamagata/Shinjo) operate on what is known as a “RINJI DAIYA”, which means Special Timetable. They offer a near full complement of the services they normally offer, including the fastest service, the Hayabusa. Parts of the Tohoku Shinkansen are still under repair, however, 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

It is expected that the Special Timetable for the above lines will be in place until at least June 20. 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: JR East has updated the Narita Express timetables following the Golden Week holidays. However, the updated timetables are NOT available in English. Simplified English timetables are posted on the @Wiki page.

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 TO the Airport are suspended: #3, 19, 21, 23, 25, 29, 33, 43, 47, 53.

The following Narita Express trains FROM the Airport are suspended: #4, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 30, 34, 48, 54.

Narita Express #10 and #39 will not operate t0/from Shibuya or Shinjuku stations.

Narita Express #41 and #49 originate at Shinjuku instead of Ikebukuro.

Narita Express #28 terminates at Shinjuku instead of Ikebukuro.

Narita Express #44 will not operate to Musashi-Kosugi, Yokohama, Totsuka or Ofuna. The train will discharge passengers at Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro.

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.

Keisei Skyliner: Running about 75% of its services between Ueno/Nippori and Narita Airport. An updated PDF timetable in English has been posted by Keisei on their website.

Keisei commuter trains are running on a modified timetable; morning and evening “peak” trains have almost returned to normal.

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 resumed almost all of their services to Odawara and Hakone. Regular commuter trains on the Odakyu Railway operate on modified timetables with some services cancelled. Local Hakone Tozan trains have resumed normal service. Remember, with a Japan Rail Pass you may wish to use the Tokaido Shinkansen to Odawara 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 resumed almost all of their services to Enoshima. 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 from Ofuna to Enoshima are in operation every 8 minutes during peak hours, every 8-15 minutes during midday hours, and every 15 minutes during evening and night hours. (You can access the Shonan Monorail from Ofuna, which is served by JR.)

For service to Nikko and Kinugawa: Tobu’s “Spacia” services between Asakusa and Kinugawa-Onsen/Tobu-Nikko are back to normal operating frequencies. 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 run on normal timetables during the morning and evening hours, while some trains may be cancelled on mid-day services.

Overnight trains:

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” – will resume service from May 20 and 21.


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.

With the resumption of “Hokutosei” and “Cassiopeia” services, travel to Hokkaido from the Japanese mainland will become much easier. Remember, though, that space on these trains may be hard to come by since they are usually very popular. Barring travel during the daytime or breaking up your trip into two days, here are the nighttime alternatives:

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 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. The Akebono offers “Goronto Seats” which can be reserve for free with a Japan Rail Pass.

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.


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.

Once again, thanks to Douso for the updates. Ganbatte Japan!

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