≪JR East will release a special ticket to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the railroad service. The ticket allows unlimited travel on all JR East lines and seven railroad companies’ lines for three consecutive days from October 14 to 27. In addition, the pass allows unlimited use of nonreserved seats on limited express trains and Shinkansen trains, including four reserved-seat reservations. The price is 22,150 yen for adults and 10,150 yen for children. In the first part of the article, “Let’s go on a “Sasaki Akinori Trip” with the “JR East Unlimited Ride Ticket,” which will go on sale soon! in which railroad writer Tatsuya Edakubo suggested a “Round-the-town trip along the Tohoku coastline,” he also told us about another way to enjoy the trip.
＜A Course of Five Rides on the Shinkansen Line
JR East is known for operating five Shinkansen lines, including the Tohoku, Joetsu, and Hokuriku Shinkansen lines, as well as the Yamagata and Akita mini-Shinkansen lines, and this second plan is a three-day, two-night tour of various regions, riding all lines and sections.
The trip starts with the Hokuriku Shinkansen “Hakutaka No. 553” departing from Tokyo Station at 7:52 a.m. The train departs from Takasaki Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen. The Hokuriku Shinkansen, which branches off from the Joetsu Shinkansen Takasaki Station and runs to Kanazawa Station, is operated by JR East from Takasaki to Joetsu Myoko and by JR West from Joetsu Myoko to Kanazawa. In other words, the East Japan Pass can be used only up to Joetsu Myoko, so please be sure not to make a mistake.
Arrival at Joetsu Myoko is at 9:54. Here, change to the Shirayuki No. 3 limited express connecting the Hokuriku Shinkansen and Niigata. The train departs Joetsu Myoko Station at 10:33 a.m. and arrives at Niigata Station at 12:30 p.m. In Niigata, you will have 2.5 hours to spare, so it would be a good idea to enjoy lunch such as seafood or hegisoba (buckwheat noodles).
Railroad enthusiasts can get off the “Shirayuki 3” at Niitsu Station, one stop before the last stop at Niigata Station, and stop by the Niitsu Railway Museum, which displays a variety of vehicles that have been used in Niigata, including C57 steam locomotives, 485 series limited express trains, Joetsu Shinkansen 200 series trains, and E4 series trains. However, it is 2.1 km away from the station, and walking is not recommended. A bus will get you there in about 5 minutes, but buses are scarce during the daytime, and the 2.5 hours of spare time will be gone in no time. It would be safer to rent a bicycle at the tourist information center at the east exit of the station or call a cab.
Next, take the “Toki No. 330” departing from Niigata Station at 15:37 to Omiya Station and change to the Tohoku, Yamagata, and Akita Shinkansen bullet trains. Arrive at Omiya Station at 5:15 p.m., and take the Yamagata Shinkansen “Tsubasa No. 149” (all reserved seats) departing at 5:25 p.m. to Yamagata Station. Arrival at Yamagata Station is at 19:45. Although it will be a little late, we would like to stay at an inn here to end the first day of the tour.
The next day, the train will depart from Yamagata Station at 8:59 a.m., starting with the Tsubasa No. 121. It is regrettable that we did not have time for sightseeing in Yamagata, but we hope you will revisit any places of interest from the train windows. The “Tsubasa” train will travel between Yamagata and Shinjo Stations, which were extended in 1999.
The train arrives at Shinjo Station at 9:55. The train immediately transfers to a regular train bound for Kogota on the Rikuu Higashi Line departing from Shinjo at 10:01 a.m., heading for Furukawa Station, where the Tohoku Shinkansen stops. Although the line connects Shinkansen stations, there are only three trains going up and four trains going down between the two stations in a day.
The train arrives at Furukawa Station at 11:57. The train arrives at Furukawa Station at 11:57 a.m., where the transfer time is also short, and the train transfers to the Tohoku Shinkansen “Yamabiko No. 55” departing at 12:05 p.m., arriving at Morioka Station at 1:12 p.m. On the second day, we want to stay at an inn in Akita. If you want to spend more time sightseeing in Akita, take the Akita Shinkansen “Komachi No. 21 (all reserved seats)” departing Morioka Station at 13:35 (arrival at Akita Station at 15:04), or the “Komachi No. 27” departing Morioka Station at 16:35 (arrival at Akita Station at 18:12).
If you stop in Morioka, you cannot miss the “Morioka San-daimen” (three major noodles): wanko soba, Morioka cold noodles, and Morioka jajamen. There are many stores near the station for all of them, so try to find one that catches your fancy. On the other hand, Akita’s specialty is “Inaniwa Udon,” one of Japan’s three great udon noodles. It is interesting to taste soba in Morioka and udon in Akita. And although it is a little early in the season, one-pot dishes using “Kiritanpo” and “Damako Mochi” may be good.
Finally, the last day of the tour. Let’s take the Ou Line limited express train “Tsugaru 1” departing from Akita Station at 8:39 a.m. for Aomori, the last stop on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line. Arrival at Aomori Station is at 11:19. We will arrive at Aomori Station at 11:19 a.m., just when we are getting hungry.
In Aomori, be sure to stop by the Seikan Liaison Ship Memorial Ship Hakkouda Maru, which is located near the station. Prior to the opening of the Seikan Tunnel, Aomori Station was the hub of the Seikan Liaison Line, which connected Honshu and Hokkaido. The Hakkouda Maru is an actual ship that was used until 1988, and is still moored and preserved in its original condition.
The first rail link between Tokyo and Aomori was established in 1891. In the 1930s, express trains began to connect the two cities in about 12 hours, which was shortened to 8.5 hours in 1968 when the limited express train service began.
Even after the Tohoku Shinkansen began service, for a while it took a total of about 6 hours because of the need to change trains at Morioka for the “Hatsukari” limited express train on conventional lines. For example, according to the 1987 timetable, a train departing from Ueno Station at 6:00 a.m. on the Tohoku Shinkansen would arrive in Morioka at 9:21 a.m., transfer to the Hatsukari 3 limited express train from Morioka and arrive in Aomori at 11:57 a.m., and transfer to a connecting train to Hakodate at 16:05.
Using the Yuzuru No. 1 sleeper express departing Ueno Station at 19:50, the train arrived at Aomori Station at 5:08 the next morning, and transferring to the connecting line, the train arrived in Hakodate at 9:15. The advantage of night trains was that passengers could make effective use of their sleeping time.
However, with the Tohoku Shinkansen fully completed in 2010 and the start of 320 km/h operation in 2012, the time between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori has been shortened to 2 hours and 58 minutes. The plan is to further increase the maximum speed to 360 km/h by around 2030.
The finale of the journey is the Hayabusa. If you want to take the fastest train between Shin-Aomori and Tokyo, take the Hayabusa 44 (all reserved seats), which departs from Shin-Aomori at 18:25 and arrives at Tokyo at 21:23. If you want to go home a little earlier, the Hayabusa 32, which departs from Shin-Aomori at 14:38 and arrives at Tokyo at 18:04, is just right. The Shinkansen will depart not from Aomori Station but from Shin-Aomori Station, one station away, so be sure to keep in mind the time required for the trip.
≪Damage in the Akita Branch Office area due to the heavy rainfall and the outlook for the future
On August 25, JR East announced that it is expected to take several months to resume operations on the Ou Main Line, which was damaged by the torrential rains. Although the construction period may be shortened, if restoration is not completed by October 14, the route from Akita to Aomori on the third day will become unusable.
As mentioned in the text, all “Hayabusa” and “Komachi” trains have reserved seats, but there is a special exception that allows passengers with non-reserved-seat express tickets to board the trains on the sections where only both trains are operating.
Fortunately, there is plenty of time on the third day of this plan, so it is possible to take a local train on the Ou Main Line to Aomori and use a substitute bus for the sections of the line that are closed. In this case, the train departs from Akita Station at 7:27 a.m., and a substitute bus is used between Higashinodai and Odate Stations, but there will be a wait time of less than 1.5 hours at Odate.
The bus will depart Odate Station at 11:34 a.m., change trains at Hirosaki Station, and arrive at Aomori Station at 1:12 p.m.
Interview and text by： Tatsuya Edakubo
(Railway Journalist) Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1982. After working for Tokyo Metro (Tokyo subway) for 11 years, he became independent in 2017. He writes for various media, focusing on urban transportation in the Tokyo area.