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.

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.

Watch the Japanology Plus show on NHK World

For those of you who have the NHK World channel I highly recommend this week’s Japanology Plus show, hosted by Peter Barakan, about the building of the Seikan Tunnel. If you don’t have NHK World you can watch it online… There are only a few more chances to watch it today (Feb. 5).

http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/tv/japanologyplus/

The Seikan Tunnel links northern Honshu with the island of Hokkaido. Train services began in 1988; bullet trains will start running through the tunnel next year.