Overnight by Train in Japan: The Options – March 2016 Update

With the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen this week, it’s time to once again update my blog concerning overnight train travel in Japan and share ideas when it comes to using the Japan Rail Pass for such journeys.

Overnight trains were once a staple of the country. Many stories have been told – real and fiction – about traveling life on these trains. Regular services peaked in the 1970′s, but then came the bullet trains – then cheap overnight highway buses – then aging train equipment – that sapped most life out of these so-called “Blue Trains” (nicknamed for their color).

When I wrote my first overnight by train article six years ago, there were still several overnight train options available, including the Cassiopeia and Hokutosei (Tokyo-Sapporo), Twilight Express and Nihonkai (Osaka-Kyoto-Sapporo). Those trains are now all discontinued from regular service with the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen to Hokkaido over the tracks formerly used by the sleeper trains.

There is now just one set of sleeper trains in regular service: The Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo. These trains run every night, coupled together between Tokyo and Okayama, stopping at Himeji early in the morning. At Okayama the trains split, with the Sunrise Seto heading across the Seto Inland Sea to Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku, and the Sunrise Izumo heading north to the resort city of Izumo – home of a famous shrine of the same name.

These two trains have a carpeted floor space called a “Nobinobi Seat” where you sleep on the floor. These are a popular travel option… and with a Japan Rail Pass, you can use these carpeted spaces for free. The reason for that is because the carpeted space is technically classified as a “Reserved Seat” for booking purposes.

There are private bunks and rooms as well, if you want your own space, but if you want to use these spaces with a Japan Rail Pass you will have to pay for the room. These can be expensive, approximately 10,000-20,000 yen per room/compartment once additional surcharges are calculated. Each will fit one or two passengers.

For more details about these trains, I highly recommend the YouTube video created by John Daub describing life on the Sunrise Izumo. More of his videos from Japan can be found on his website, onlyinjapan.tv.

If you are worried about costs and just want to travel point-to-point overnight not worrying about sightseeing, you can use the Japan Rail Pass to your advantage by finding a stop along the route of travel where there are cheap accommodations, such as a business hotel, and then continue on to your destination in the morning. The advantage, besides the inexpensive cost, is that you have your own bed, shower and toilet. You can also enjoy just a little slice of what life is like in another part of Japan… Who knows, you might even get to try something – food for example – that’s unique to that particular region or city. And remember, as long as your rail pass covers the day of travel AND the following day, your rail fare will be fully covered.

We will now revisit all of the options for travel between major cities, as listed in the previous blog articles. We’ve used the reputable Toyoko Inn chain as an example to look at when it comes to inexpensive hotel accommodations, but now that web searches for hotels are pretty sophisticated, I’ll be using several resources including the booking site Agoda and look for accommodations for a random weekday evening in the spring.

TOKYO to KYOTO or OSAKA via Tokaido Shinkansen

Tokyo to Kansai is an essential trip for the tourist. The Tokaido Shinkansen easily connects these two areas in three hours or less… but if you want to cut back on lodging costs, you could stay at a lesser-known city along the way. Some stops along the route that you can consider include Hamamatsu, Toyohashi and Nagoya. In Hamamatsu, Agoda indicates solo accommodations starting at 3,500 yen, and double occupancy at 2,000 yen per person. Toyohashi has accommodations from 5,000 yen single and 3,750 yen p/p double, and the hotels at the bullet train station in Nagoya start from 4,000 yen single (there’s a guesthouse nearby at 2,500 yen) and 3,600 yen p/p double.

Hikari bullet trains, the fastest that can be used with the Japan Rail Pass, can easily get you to any of these cities with 1 or 2 departures every hour. The final trains leave from Tokyo station at 21:30 and 22:00, both terminating at Nagoya with stops at Hamamatsu and Toyohashi along the way.

In the morning, bullet trains from Hamamatsu and Toyohashi towards Kyoto and Osaka leave from 6:32 and 6:45 respectively. These are Kodama trains which stop at every single bullet train stop, and arrive in Kyoto and Osaka at 7:56 and 8:10 respectively. The Kodama trains do not have food or drink sales on board, so keep that in mind before boarding. You could also stop quickly at Nagoya for some food before continuing on the next Hikari or Kodama service.

From Nagoya, the first departure is a Hikari leaving at 6:35, followed by a Kodama leaving at 6:51. These trains reach Kyoto in around 45 minutes and one hour respectively.

TOKYO to KYOTO or OSAKA via Kanazawa

A second overnight option that has existed takes you through Kanazawa, home to one of Japan’s top Japanese gardens. Travel between Tokyo and Kanazawa has been easy since 2015, when the bullet train opened between these cities.

From Tokyo, Kagayaki and Hakutaka trains run the route to Kanazawa. The last Kagayaki trains from Tokyo leave at 19:56 and 21:04, arriving in Kanazawa at 22:30 and 23:35 respectively. Accommodations in Kanazawa sampled at 5,800 yen single and 3,900 yen p/p double.

Regular limited express trains called Thunderbird run from Kanazawa to Kyoto and Osaka via the northern side of Lake Biwa. In the morning, the first train leaves at 5:35 if you are eager enough. Kanazawa also has trains running to Maibara, from which you can transfer to the Tokaido Shinkansen. While you’re in Kanazawa, though, why not spend the early hours in Kenroku-en, the aforementioned Japanese garden? Visit early before the tourist crowds arrive, then continue on your way.

TOKYO to TAKAMATSU and the rest of Shikoku

The port city of Takamatsu is one of the major cities on the Japanese island of Shikoku. Previously only accessible by ferry, Shikoku was connected to the Japanese mainland in 1988 with a series of bridges known collectively as the Great Seto Bridge. Two more bridges connecting Honshu and Shikoku would open in the late 1990’s, but the Seto Ohashi bridge is the only one able to accomodate both vehicular and railroad traffic.

The previously-mentioned Sunrise Seto overnight train provides a one-seat ride between the cities. But if this is not an option for you, for one reason or another?

Let’s look at one of the major stops on the Shinkansen, Okayama. All of the major bullet trains that run this far stop in Okayama. It is also the connection point for trains to Shikoku.

There is one direct Hikari service every hour from Tokyo to Okayama, taking four hours. The last of these services departs at 17:03, arriving Okayama at 21:11. There are a few more options after that, but you’ll need to change trains in Osaka. The last departure is the Hikari leaving at 19:33 – when you reach Shin-Osaka, change to the Kodama which will get you to Okayama at 23:47.

Accommodations around Okayama were found for 6,000 yen single and 4,000 yen p/p double.

The next morning, take the “Marine Liner” rapid train service to reach Takamatsu, or if you are heading to another destination on Shikoku then take one of the Limited Express trains in that direction. The first two Marine Liner trains for Takamatsu at 5:27 and 6:01, arriving Takamatsu at 6:31 and 6:56 respectively. Marine Liner trains depart on a regular basis to Takamatsu so you can take your time in Okayama if you wish… perhaps visit another renowned Japanese garden, Koraku-en.

TOKYO to HIROSHIMA and FUKUOKA (and Kyushu)

If you wanted to travel from Tokyo directly to Fukuoka by train, it’s a six hour trip with a change in bullet trains required along the way. If you want to travel by night, Okayama is an excellent transfer point, as described above.

Another stop you can consider is Himeji, known for its iconic castle. The options described above to go from Tokyo to Okayama are also valid to reach Himeji.

Himeji’s rates were checked from 5,000 yen single and 3,000 yen p/p double… In my particular search a rate of 7,000 yen single at a 4-star luxury hotel was discovered – what a steal!

The first train from Himeji is a Hikari service, which leaves at 6:38 for Fukuoka (called Hakata station)… but another service right behind it, a Sakura service, leaves at 6:55 and will actually beat the Hikari service to Fukuoka by around a half-hour. This Sakura service is what you should consider using for trips to Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and other destinations in Kyushu such as Kumamoto (Arrive 9:47) and the end of the line at Kagoshima (Arrive 10:44).

Since trains leave Himeji 1 or 2 times per hour, you could consider sneaking out for an early trip to Himeji Castle before continuing on your way.

TOKYO to HAKODATE and SAPPORO (and Hokkaido)

This is where things have changed dramatically with the recent opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen from the northern Tohoku region into Hokkaido.

Trips from Tokyo to Hakodate in southern Hokkaido now take an average of 4 1/2 hours. If you want to make this short journey into an overnight excursion, you can stop in Aomori, where hotels are 5,500 yen single or 4,000 yen p/p double. To reach Aomori, you’ll need to get off the shinkansen at Shin-Aomori then continue to Aomori on a shuttle train. In the morning, return to Shin-Aomori to pick up the shinkansen towards Hokkaido. In the morning, the first train to Hokkaido leaves Shin-Aomori at 6:32, but the shuttle train from Aomori leaves at 5:45, so you have a lot of time sitting in Shin-Aomori prior to the departure. The Aomori departure at 7:35, connecting to the Shinkansen departure at 7:57, is a little more reasonable.

Remember, when you get to the terminal stop in Hakodate, called Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, you have to take another shuttle train which will get you to Hakodate city.

Tokyo to Sapporo, end to end, takes as little as 7 hours 45 minutes on the fastest train services. Here, you could make the argument of spending the night in Hakodate before continuing on your way to Sapporo… why not make a day of it in Hakodate? In Hakodate city, prices were seen for around 4,500 yen single or 3,600 yen p/p double.

If you’re pinched for time, the last two services from Tokyo to Hakodate leave at 17:20 and 19:20. Arrival times in Hakodate are at 22:29 and 24:05 respectively. From Hakodate to Sapporo, the first trains depart at 6:10 and 7:28, arriving Sapporo at 9:48 and 11:27 respectively.

OSAKA and KYOTO to HAKODATE and SAPPORO

This route used to be covered by several popular overnight trains, including the Twilight Express. All of the overnight train options have been discontinued, leaving us to make use of the existing shinkansen and limited express services. I’d recommend a stopover for an overnight trip in Hakodate, with Aomori coming a close second.

You can easily take the Hikari shinkansen from Osaka and Kyoto to Tokyo and continue northbound on the Hayabusa towards Hakodate. Leaving on the 13:40 Hikari from Osaka (13:56 from Kyoto) will get you to Tokyo at 16:40, giving you 40 minutes before the Hayabusa departure to Hakodate as described above.

Via northern coast

Another option, if you want to consider it, is a longer journey that routes you along the northern Japanese coast, following the sea of Japan. This is the route formerly covered by the Twilight Express service. If you’re a true train lover like I am and really want to contribute to green commutes, this is the trip for you. Part of this journey is now operated by the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

Thunderbird 7 – Depart Osaka 8:10, Shin-Osaka 8:14, Kyoto 8:41, Arrive Kanazawa 11:02

In Kanazawa you have a layover of almost one hour, perfect for grabbing a quick bite to eat or two. The next several trains require quick connections.

Hakutaka 562 – Depart Kanazawa 11:56, Arrive Joetsu-Myoko 12:58
Shirayuki 5 – Depart Joetsu-Myoko 13:07, Arrive Nagaoka 14:14
Max Toki 321 – Depart Nagaoka 14:27, Arrive Niigata 14:50
Inaho 7 – Depart Niigata 15:01, Arrive Akita 18:41

There is a layover of 50 minutes in Akita.

Tsugaru 5 – Depart Akita 19:32, Arrive Aomori 22:16

Overnight in Aomori as described earlier, then depart on the 7:35 train from Aomori to catch the 7:57 Hayate train to Hakodate. You can reach Hakodate by 9:30, or connect to the train to Sapporo with an arrival time of 12:41. You can also elect to take the 5:45 departure and wait it out at Shin-Aomori until the 6:32 departure, which will get you to Hokkaido sooner.

An alternative route after Akita is to take the Komachi shinkansen service from Akita (Departing 19:11) to Morioka (Arriving 20:49) and spend the night in Morioka. In the morning, take the 6:54 Hayate service to Hakodate. As with the first option, you can reach Hakodate by 9:30, or connect to the train to Sapporo with an arrival time of 12:41.

 

There are many other routes that you can choose from… including a scenic trip through the central Japanese alps! Many of the routes can be sorted out using English planning sites like HyperDia (www.hyperdia.com). I also like using the Japanese site ekikara.jp to look up the timetables, though some understanding of Japanese is needed.

Whatever you decide – however you decide to do it – enjoy traveling around Japan and enjoy the new slice of life experience that comes with a stay in a non-touristy city.

As always, all advice on my blog is offered pursuant to my Disclaimer.

 

The Shinkansen is now in Hokkaido!

H5 shinkansen
H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s now official – Japan’s iconic Shinkansen network is now linked to the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaido! Services through the Seikan Tunnel linking Hokkaido and Honshu began operating on March 26. The direct services now link Tokyo to Hokkaido in as little as four hours.

One of the great online tools to look up train timetables in Japan is the English website HyperDia (www.hyperdia.com), and the new train services to Hokkaido are now included in search results…. first, though, you’ll want to go into the search parameters and untick that one box next to the word “Airplane”. Yes, the HyperDia site will also give you results for scheduled domestic air flights, so in order to search only rail results you’ll need to make sure that the Airplane search is de-selected.

shin hakodate hokuto
Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station. Photo by DF200, CC BY-SA 4.0

The new shinkansen terminal in Hokkaido is located a few kilometers north of Hakodate city, at a station called Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From this terminal station, a shuttle service called the Hakodate Liner whisks passengers to the center of Hakodate in approximately 10 to 15 minutes. This is why search results from south of Hokkaido will take you to take two trains when the destination is Hakodate.

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto is also the connecting point for passengers who want to go straight on to Sapporo using Limited Express trains… which won’t be replaced by bullet trains for another 15 years or so. Be sure not to skip Hakodate, however, as the vibrant city has many things to offer tourists… from the morning markets, to the historical district of Motomachi, to the stunning views of the area from the top of Mount Hakodate.

Whether it’s for a few days or just for the night to sleep somewhere, Hakodate is an excellent stopover if you are utilizing the Japan Rail Pass to journey towards Sapporo. Keep in mind that there are no more overnight trains to Sapporo because the tunnel has now been upgraded to bullet time operations… so Hakodate city becomes the ideal place to either visit or rest.

If you plan to use the new Hokkaido Shinkansen extension to Hakodate, give me a shout and let me know what you think of the ride, and of the city!

Hokkaido Travel Notice – March 22-25

H5 shinkansen
H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

With roughly one month to go until Japan’s iconic bullet train enters the northern island of Hokkaido for the fist time, here’s an important travel advisory for potential visitors to Hokkaido.

Between March 22 and 25, train services from the Japanese mainland to Hokkaido will be shut down in order to make final preparations for bullet train services. This means that during this four-day period, the only way to travel into and out of Hokkaido is by airplane, or by ferry to one of the northernmost ports in Honshu (i.e. Aomori).

The Seikan Tunnel is the long, 33 1/2 mile tunnel connecting Hokkaido with the Japanese mainland under the Tsugaru Strait. Since 1988, passenger trains have made the journey through this tunnel on journeys to and from the southern Hokkaido city of Hakodate. Considering the amount of freight traffic that also uses the tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel is one of the country’s most vital transportation links.

During the four day period that the tunnel is closed, construction crews will make final preparations for the introduction of the new shinkansen services. One of these steps is to raise the overhead voltage into the tunnel from 20 kV to the shinkansen standard of 25 kV.

When the Seikan Tunnel opens to Shinkansen traffic on 26 March, the vital freight services will resume operation. Naturally, JR is on top of things – two years ago, it introduced a new electric locomotive, the EH800, capable of operating at both 20 kV and 25 kV. It will be the sole locomotive hauling freight through the tunnel moving forward.

The opening of the Shinkansen stands to revitalize Hakodate – and in turn, Hokkaido – with new visitors. In the meantime, if you are planning a trip to Japan in the next month, please take note of these dates when the Seikan Tunnel will be closed.

Hokkaido Shinkansen – New train line, new rail pass

H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0
H5 series Shinkansen on a test run. By Sukhoi37, CC BY-SA 4.0

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first post on myjapantips.com in 2016!

In a few months, Japan’s iconic bullet train system will be extended to the northern island of Hokkaido for the very first time. The shinkansen has been running there for the past few months on test runs, but it officially opens to the public on March 26.

Plans for a bullet train line in Hokkaido were laid out over four decades ago, with proposals for several routes on Hokkaido itself. The 33 1/2 mile Seikan Tunnel linked Hokkaido to the Japanese mainland in 1988, and with the 17-year construction project came provisions to eventually add the bullet train.

The new bullet train line extends a distance of 92 1/2 miles from the northernmost terminal at Shin-Aomori, through the Seikan Tunnel to a bullet train station outside of Hakodate, called Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. From here, a shuttle train called the “Hakodate Liner” makes the 11 mile trip south to Hakodate station in the center of the city.

It will also be possible to hook up to the Hokuto limited express service for the journey north to Sapporo. You can enjoy the scenic trip up to Sapporo on the limited express, as the bullet train probably won’t reach Sapporo for another 15 years or so.

Here are some additional details on the new services to Hakodate, which will extend as far south as Tokyo itself.

Up until the start of services on March 26, 2016: Train travelers from Tokyo heading north to Hokkaido have to change in Aomori for conventional express trains that run under the Seikan Tunnel to Hakodate. The fastest journey from Tokyo to Hakodate is 5 hours 22 minutes. From Tokyo to Sapporo (with an additional change of trains) the fastest journey time is just over 9 hours.

When the bullet train opens on March 26, 2016: Travel times from Tokyo to Hakodate will be cut by almost an hour, to 4 1/2 hours on the fastest services. With just one transfer at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to an express, Tokyo to Sapporo journey times will be reduced to 7 hours, 44 minutes on the fastest services.

You may ask… if the bullet train is supposed to be fast, why can’t trains reach Hakodate faster? That’s because when the bullet train opens through the Seikan Tunnel, it will be sharing space with freight train traffic. Freight by rail is big in Japan, and more so to and from the island of Hokkaido with around 50 freight train trips through the tunnel every day. For the time being, bullet trains will have to reduce their speed from around 160 mph on the approach to the tunnel all the way down to 87 mph. Any faster than this, and the shock-waves of air generated by the train in the tunnel will cause the freight cars to fly off the tracks. There are some plans being discussed to offer faster trips, such as maintaining a 160 mph speed through the tunnel and then automatically slowing down when passing freight trains, or scheduling one return trip per day when freight trains are not using the tunnel. Such plans, though, are years off.

There will be ten daily round-trips on the Hokkaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hokkaido, and one each from the cities of Sendai, Morioka and Aomori. Services will use the E5 and new H5 shinkansen trains. All cars require a seat reservation: there are eight standard class cars, one green car (first class) and one GranClass car (premium first class).

The Japan Rail Pass will be valid on all of the new bullet train extensions. The exception is GranClass, which Rail Pass users will not be able to use unless supplement charges are paid. Green Car Rail Pass holders can still use the regular Green Car on these services, though.

JR East and JR Hokkaido are offering a new rail pass for foreign tourists who plan to only travel between Tokyo and Hokkaido, and it costs slightly less than a 7 day Japan Rail Pass. It’s called the JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass, and it costs 26,000 yen if purchased overseas (27,000 yen if purchased inside the country).

To be used on any six days within a 14 day period, the new pass covers all JR lines in Tokyo, and north of Tokyo through the Tohoku region and into Hokkaido, as far as Sapporo. You can use the shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakodate, as well as portions of several other JR East bullet train lines. A large number of conventional JR routes can also be used, and seat reservations on bullet trains and limited express trains can be made for free. You can use the Narita Express, the Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport, the Sendai Airport rail link, the JR rail line to Sapporo’s airport, and also access Nikko and the Izu peninsula. It’s a fantastic deal, considering that the pass is flexible, and does not need to be used on consecutive days…. you CAN use it on consecutive days if you wish, but it is not required. The pass is only good for standard class… it cannot be used for the Green Car or for GranClass.

Hakodate city was named Japan’s most attractive city of 2015 in a recent survey. Attractions from the famous morning market and the night view at the top of Mount Hakodate to a ride on one of the city’s old streetcars will be easier to access with the opening of the bullet train into Hokkaido in March. While you’re at it, why not continue your rail journey towards Sapporo, known for its annual snow festival, craft beers, and museums dedicated to the preservation of the Ainu culture.

As usual, your questions and comments are welcome. I am glad to offer advice whenever I am able, subject to the blog disclaimer.

Rail Advisory for trains to Hokkaido – January 1 and March 21-26, 2016

Today JR East and JR Hokkaido announced that Saturday, March 26, 2016, will be the opening date of the country’s newest bullet train line, the Hokkaido Shinkansen. It will extend almost 150 km north of Shin-Aomori, the current northern terminal of the bullet train system, through the Seikan Tunnel to the outskirts of Hakodate in Hokkaido. A total of 26 runs will be made through the tunnel using the bullet train every day (13 in each direction), though speeds through the tunnel will be limited to 140 km/h – much slower than the 320 km/h that will operate on most of the route from Tokyo.

As part of the the preparations to bring full-time bullet train service through the Seikan Tunnel, there will be two periods when conventional train travel between Hokkaido and mainland Japan will be shut down. This affects trains operating from Aomori station to Hakodate station:

  • January 1, 2016: Daily and overnight limited express services through the Seikan Tunnel will be shut down for one day for inspections.
  • March 21, 2016: This will be the final day that conventional trains operate through the Seikan Tunnel.
  • March 22-25, 2016: The Seikan Tunnel will be closed for final track alignment and checks.
  • March 26, 2016: The Hokkaido Shinkansen between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto stations will begin full operation.

Keep these dates in mind if you will be in Japan, as there will be no rail access from mainland Japan to Hokkaido on the days when the Seikan Tunnel is closed.

The To-Do List for my next Japan trip

I figure I would share with you some things that I have not done in Japan in my three trips there so far (2004, 2008, 2013) and what I would like to do on my next journey, whenever it happens. I hate to admit it but the way the yen is going, THIS year would probably have been better than LAST year for a trip 🙂

I don’t think that my wife Jordan and I will be returning to Japan in the very near future… maybe sometime next year we will re-evaluate. I am setting the year 2019 (when I turn 38) as the “due date” target, though of course I’d like to go much sooner than that. Why 2019? It is quite possible that we will get to watch some international rugby (Japan will be hosting the Rugby World Cup that year).

So in order of preference:

1) VISIT A RYOKAN

You will probably all be stunned at this, but this is the truth. I have NEVER been to a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in my three trips. I’ve traveled at a pretty quick pace, which is one of the reasons why this never happened. I am assured by some friends, however, that an attempt WILL be made on our next visit to go to one.

2) GO TO TOKYO SKY TREE

Our plans to visit Tokyo Sky Tree in September 2013 were scuttled by long waits to purchase tickets and go up. As we had other plans for the day, we had to move forward. I would have to say that this is my “pet peeve” from the trip. They don’t make it easy for foreigners to purchase tickets to the Sky Tree (at least, that was the case for us). The Sky Tree is so popular, thus the large crowds and long waits. You can make advance reservations for a time slot on the Internet, but only in Japanese, and with a Japanese credit card. If I am unsuccessful next time, I might just head on over to the Sunshine Building in Ikebukuro, which a few of my friends recently visited with rave reviews.
Otherwise, until they offer English bookings the only real way for a foreigner to visit is to:
– Ask a friend living in Japan to purchase tickets for them and invite them along to go up,
– Purchase from a tour agency as a prepaid voucher or as part of a tour
– Book a hotel that has a plan including admission to Tokyo Sky Tree, or
– Just plan to spend a full day at Tokyo Sky Tree, budgeting time of arrival, getting a set time to return, purchasing tickets, returning again, and going up

3) VISIT HOKKAIDO OR KYUSHU (probably one or the other on a single trip)

These are the two prefectures that I have not visited yet, as I made a trip to Shikoku in 2008. While there I saw most of the shrine maiden’s dance at Kompira Shrine that started a three-day festival. Right now I think the lean is toward Hokkaido. It’ll become a little easier in 2016 when the bullet train opens into the southern part of Hokkaido, but many of the main cities in Kyushu are now served by the bullet train line that has been linked with the mainland since 2011.

4) CONSIDER A DETOUR TO KANAZAWA

The newest bullet train line to Kanazawa will open up next year (March 2015), which will make it easier to visit a city that has an impressive new train station and the garden known as Kenroku-en, considered one of the best in Japan.

5) TRANSITING THE TOKAIDO ROAD (or some other ‘golden route’)

One of the many “side projects” I have created is to trace the old Tokaido Road and determine the best way to travel it by train. If we had a few days to stop at a few cities along the way, it would be a great way to experience more of Japan. Actually, I might have written a post about it…. ah yes, five years ago (which means it might need updating soon… :P)

6) TAKE A BUS?

Another way we could possibly experience more of Japan is to take a long bus ride in between cities. Buses have to make a few rest stops, and I have recently read about how Japanese expressway rest stops (known as “Service Areas” or the smaller “Parking Areas”) are becoming a big hit for the variety of food and souvenir options offered. Then again, major train stations will all offer similar fare 🙂

What is on YOUR to-do list for your next trip to Japan?