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Shinkan-sentimental journey: Celebrate past, present, and future in SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022

Shinkan-sentimental journey: Celebrate past, present, and future in SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022

Japan’s shinkansen (新幹線 bullet train) are technological wonders, and you can’t talk about railway travel in Japan without mentioning shinkansen. For many foreign tourists visiting Japan, “riding the shinkansen” is often on their to-do lists, and it’s easy to see why. Clean, comfortable, and quick, shinkansen trains are a prime example of Japanese innovation, efficiency, and hospitality. It is amazing that shinkansen trains move so rapidly, reaching speeds of up to 320km/h, and yet still move so smoothly!

 

JR East’s shinkansen lines and trains. (Image credit: JR East)

 

This year, JR East celebrates SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022 (新幹線イヤー2022). Did you know? JR East operates five different shinkansen lines from Tokyo, and all of them are celebrating opening anniversaries this year. Let’s take a look at all of these shinkansen lines: their histories, their anniversaries, and their future plans!

 

Anniversaries in SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022. (Image credit: JR East)

 

① Tohoku Shinkansen

Service route: Tokyo Station ↔️ Shin-Aomori Station
Services: Hayabusa, Hayate, Nasuno, Yamabiko
Rolling stock: E5 series, H5 series, E2 series, E3 series, E6 series

E5 series train on the Tohoku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Background:

With tracks that span 674.9km, the Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線 Tо̄hoku Shinkansen) is Japan’s longest shinkansen line. However, if going by operational distance instead of track distance, the Tohoku Shinkansen’s service between Tokyo Station and Shin-Aomori Station spans a whopping 713.7km!

 

Though the Tohoku Shinkansen is the oldest shinkansen line operated by JR East, Japan’s current fastest bullet train speed, 320km/h, is achieved on this line, along the section between Utsunomiya Station and Morioka Station. Did you know? The fastest services on the Tohoku Shinkansen are called “Hayabusa” (はやぶさ), which is Japanese for “peregrine falcon”—the world’s fastest bird—a bird that can reach speeds of 320km/h!

 

Anniversaries:

“Shinkansen kiss”: coupled E6 series (left) and E5 series (right) trains. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

All of JR East’s shinkansen services run between Tokyo Station and Omiya Station, and it is only from Omiya that the tracks start to diverge. The Tohoku Shinkansen was opened in three stages:

  • Omiya to Morioka: 23 June 1982
  • Morioka to Hachinohe: 1 December 2002
  • Hachinohe to Shin-Aomori: 4 December 2010 (completion of line)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Tohoku Shinkansen, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Morioka to Hachinohe extension, so there is much to celebrate! Stay tuned in the upcoming months for the various activities and celebrations that will be held along the line.

 

Future:

H5 series train exiting the Seikan Tunnel, an undersea tunnel that connects mainland Japan with Hokkaido. (Image credit: JR East / Shinoda)

 

The Tohoku Shinkansen line is complete, but at the northern terminal, Shin-Aomori Station, it connects to the Hokkaido Shinkansen (北海道新幹線 Hоkkaidо̄ Shinkansen), which currently operates until Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. The section between Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station and Sapporo Station is still under construction, and is expected to be completed by spring 2031. Eventually, passengers will be able to go from Tokyo to Sapporo directly by bullet train.

 

For more information about Japan’s shinkansen extensions, check out this article.

 

② Joetsu Shinkansen

Service route: Tokyo Station ↔️ Niigata Station
Services: Toki, Tanigawa
Rolling stock: E7 series, E2 series

E7 series train (front) and E2 series train (behind). (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Background:

The Joetsu Shinkansen (上越新幹線Jо̄etsu Shinkansen) connects Tokyo Station with Niigata Station, and the entire line was opened on 15 November 1982, just a few months after the initial opening of the Tohoku Shinkansen. The fastest trains along the Joetsu Shinkansen are called “Toki” (とき), and are named after the crested ibis (朱鷺 toki), a bird native to Niigata.

 

Anniversaries:

E2 series train at Echigo-Yuzawa Station. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

In addition to the main service that plies between Tokyo and Niigata, the Joetsu Shinkansen also has a seasonal branch line between Echigo-Yuzawa Station and GALA Yuzawa Station, which only operates during the winter season.

  • Omiya to Niigata: 15 November 1982 (completion of line)
  • Echigo-Yuzawa to GALA Yuzawa: 20 December 1990 (seasonal branch line)

This November will mark the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Joetsu Shinkansen. Stay tuned in the upcoming months for the various activities and celebrations that will be held along the line.

 

Future:

The Joetsu Shinkansen is currently served by E2 series (left) and E7 series (right) trains. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The entire Joetsu Shinkansen line opened in 1982, and there are no extensions planned, but the rolling stock used is currently being replaced with brand new E7 series trains. Last year saw the retirement of the iconic double-decker E4 series trains from the Joetsu Shinkansen, and eventually the remaining E2 series trains plying the line will also be replaced with E7 series trains, which can reach higher speeds and have more luggage racks for large baggage.

 

③ Yamagata Shinkansen

Service route: Tokyo Station ↔️ Shinjo Station
Services: Tsubasa
Rolling stock: E3 series

E3 series train on the Yamagata Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Background:

The Yamagata Shinkansen (山形新幹線) is known as Japan’s first “mini shinkansen”, because it utilises tracks of the Ou Main Line (奥羽本線 О̄u Honsen), which were originally built for local train lines. As local trains also run on the same tracks between Fukushima Station and Shinjo Station, trains on the Yamagata Shinkansen need to have a narrower body (the same size as local trains) in order to run on these tracks.

 

Due to this narrower body compared to other shinkansen trains, the Yamagata Shinkansen is known as a “mini-shinkansen”. Currently, the Yamagata Shinkansen is served by E3 series trains, named “Tsubasa” (つばさ), which means “wings” in Japanese.

 

Anniversaries:

E3 series train at Shinjo Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From Tokyo Station, Yamagata Shinkansen train services run on existing shinkansen tracks, and it is only at Fukushima Station that its tracks start to diverge from the Tohoku Shinkansen and the Akita Shinkansen and enter the Ou Main Line. The Yamagata Shinkansen was opened in two stages:

  • Fukushima to Yamagata: 1 July 1992
  • Yamagata to Shinjo: 4 December 1999 (completion of line)

This July marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Yamagata Shinkansen, so stay tuned in the upcoming months for the various activities and celebrations that will be held along the line.

 

Future:

Artist’s impression of the E8 series train. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The Yamagata Shinkansen’s extension to Shinjo Station opened in 1999, and there are no further extensions planned. However, the current E3 series rolling stock is scheduled to be replaced with brand new E8 series trains from spring 2024, so travellers can look forward to that. The E8 series trains will be built specifically for the Yamagata Shinkansen, using colours that represent Yamagata Prefecture.

 

④ Akita Shinkansen

Service route: Tokyo Station ↔️ Akita Station
Services: Komachi
Rolling stock: E6 series

E6 series train in winter. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Background:

Like the Yamagata Shinkansen, the Akita Shinkansen (秋田新幹線) is also a “mini shinkansen”, as it utilises existing tracks of the Tazawako Line (田沢湖線 Tazawako-sen) between Morioka and Omagari, and tracks of the Ou Main Line between Omagari and Akita.

 

Trains serving the Akita Shinkansen are easily recognisable—beautiful, bright red, narrow-bodied E6 series “Komachi” (こまち) trains. Did you know? “Komachi” trains were named after Ono no Komachi, a beautiful poetess believed to be born in Akita. Akita Prefecture is said to be home to many beautiful women, and nowadays “komachi” is used to refer to beautiful women.

 

Anniversaries:

E6 series Komachi train at Akita Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From Tokyo Station, Akita Shinkansen train services run on existing shinkansen tracks of the Tohoku Shinkansen, and it is only at Morioka Station that its tracks diverge.

  • Morioka to Akita: 23 March 1997 (completion of line)

The Akita Shinkansen fully opened on 23 March 1997, and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Celebrations are currently underway, with special hotel plans, special design tickets, limited edition ekiben, anniversary merchandise, and more! Check out its dedicated anniversary website here.

 

Future:

E6 series train in winter. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

The Akita Shinkansen fully opened in 1997, and there are no extensions planned. The current E6 series rolling stock just started coming into service from 2013, so it will be a while before they require replacement.

 

If you’re thinking about enjoying a trip along the Akita Shinkansen, check out this article.

 

⑤ Hokuriku Shinkansen

Service route: Tokyo Station ↔️ Kanazawa Station (extension under construction)
Services: Kagayaki, Hakutaka, Asama, Tsurugi
Rolling stock: E7 series, W7 series

E7 series train. (Image credit: JR East / Shinoda)

 

Background:

When services to Nagano first started in October 1997, the Hokuriku Shinkansen (北陸新幹線) was initially known as the Nagano Shinkansen, and was opened in time for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

 

Currently, the Hokuriku Shinkansen is served by E7 series and W7 series trains. The trains that only operate between Tokyo and Nagano are known as “Asama” (あさま), taking its name from the nearby active volcano Mount Asama, while the fastest trains serving the line are known as “Kagayaki” (かがやき), which means “shine” in Japanese.

 

Fun fact: the section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Tokyo and Jо̄etsumyо̄kо̄ is operated by JR East, while the section beyond Jо̄etsumyо̄kо̄ is operated by JR West.

 

Anniversaries:

E7 series trains. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

From Tokyo Station, Hokuriku Shinkansen train services run along the same tracks as the Joetsu Shinkansen, and it is only at Takasaki Station that they diverge. The current Hokuriku Shinkansen was opened in two stages, with extensions still under construction:

  • Takasaki to Nagano: 1 October 1997
  • Nagano to Kanazawa: 14 March 2015
  • Kanazawa to Tsuruga: under construction, scheduled to open in spring 2024

This October marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen, so stay tuned in the upcoming months for the various activities and celebrations that will be held along the line.

 

Future:

Extension plans for the Hokuriku Shinkansen. (Image credit: JR West)

 

Eventually, the Hokuriku Shinkansen will connect Tokyo with Osaka. Currently, the extension from Kanazawa to Tsuruga is under construction, and is expected to open in spring 2024. After that, the extension from Tsuruga to Shin-Osaka is expected to begin construction from 2030 and take around 15 years to complete.

 

For more information about Japan’s shinkansen extensions, check out this article.

 

Let’s celebrate SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022

SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022 decorations at Omiya Station. (Image credit: JR East / Kobori)

 

The SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022 campaign will run from 10 January 2022 until 31 December 2022. At various stations within the JR East area, keep an eye out for decorations like adorable shinkansen wrappings on the ticket gates, and large digital signages that express the future of shinkansen.

 

SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022 concept movie. (Video credit: JR East)

 

The brand-new CG (computer graphic) concept video, which expresses JR East’s various shinkansen advancing forward with the times, will also be played at stations and on some trains.

 

For the latest updates on SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022’s celebratory activities, check out JR East’s dedicated SHINKANSEN YEAR 2022 website here.

 

Header image credit: JR East

 

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