Bullet train guide to east Japan

by Vicky Amin
Japan Travel

Shinkansen or the Bullet Trains are the best and fastest means of transportation covering major cities across Japan. Specifically, if you are planning to explore the Tohoku or Nagano regions of East Japan, then the Bullet Trains operated by East Japan Railway Company (JR East) are a great way to travel.

JR East Bullet Trains cover all major cities across East Japan, including Nagano, Niigata, Yamagata, Akita, and Aomori. There are five Shinkansen lines operating along the regions and prefectures of East Japan. The longest line is the Tohoku Shinkansen, then Akita Shinkansen, Yamagata Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen, and finally Hokuriku Shinkansen.

Lines, destinations, and schedule

Tohoku Shinkansen
Operates between Tokyo and Shin-Aomori (covering Omiya, Utsunomiya, Fukushima, Sendai, Morioka, Hachinohe, Sichinohe-Towada). From Tokyo, first train departs at 6:04  a.m. and last train departs at 10:44 p.m.

Train line-up including Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko, and Nasuno.

Being the longest line in East Japan, Tohoku Shinkansen pass along many of East Japan’s top destinations. You can ride this Bullet Train for the scenic view of Matsushima Bay in Miyagi, enjoying peaceful Hiraizumi and Geibikei Gorge in Iwate Prefecture, experiencing the popular Morioka Sansa Odori Dance Festival and Aomori Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, or exploring forests and waterfalls in Oirase Stream.

Akita Shinkansen
Operates between Tokyo and Akita (coupled with Hayate trains of Tohoku Shinkansen covering Omiya, Utsunomiya, Fukushima, Sendai, until Morioka, then heading west to Tazawako, Kakunodate, and finally Akita). From Tokyo, first train departs at 6 a.m. and last train departs at 8:16 p.m.

Take Akita Shinkansen for the brilliant cobalt blue Lake Tawaza in Tazawako, the samurai mansions from the Edo Period in the “Little Kyoto” castle town in Kakunodate, as well as the Kanto Matsuri, Akita’s Festival of Lantern Poles.

Yamagata Shinkansen
Operates between Tokyo and Shinjo (coupled with Yamabiko trains of Tohoku Shinkansen covering Omiya, Utsunomiya and Fukushima, and then running on their own track to Yonezawa, Yamagata, and finally Shinjo). From Tokyo, first train departs at 6:12 a.m. and last train departs at 8:44 p.m. These trains include the Tsubasa  and Toreiyu Tsubasa.

Take Yamagata Shinkansen for the breathtaking ancient mountain temple of Yamadera, the popular wagyu beef in Yonezawa, or the snow monsters in Mount Zao.

Joetsu Shinkansen
Operates between Tokyo and Niigata (covering Omiya, Takasaki, Echigo-Yuzawa). From Tokyo, first train departs at 6:08 a.m. and last train departs at 9:40 p.m. These trains include the Max Toki, Toki, Max Tanigawa, and Tanigawa.

Take Joetsu Shinkansen for the renowned GALA Yuzawa ski resort in Echigo-Yuzawa, the west coast city of Niigata, and to Sado Island.

Hokuriku Shinkansen
Operates between Tokyo and Kanazawa (covering Omiya, Takasaki, Karuizawa, Nagano, Joetsumyoko, Toyama). From Tokyo, first train departs on 6:16 a.m. and last train departs on 10:08 p.m. These trains include the Kagayaki, Hakutaka, and Asama.

Take Hokuriku Shinkansen to the laid-back city of Karuizawa, the temples of Nagano, the birthplace of soba and ninja in Togakushi Village, or to observe snow monkeys while taking hot baths in Jigokudani.

How to ride

Purchase your ticket from JR Ticket Office, Travel Service Center, or vending machines. JR East Pass covers all East Shinkansen lines.

The information on the display panels inside the train station has the train name, number, departure time, destination, track number, and other remarks (for example, which cars are non-reserved cars, etc).

Proceed to the track where your Bullet Train will arrive, and wait in the line provided.

Seating (reserved and non-reserved)
The Hayabusa, Hayate, and Komachi trains (Tohoku Shinkansen) as well as Kagayaki trains (Hokuriku Shinkansen) require seat reservations prior to riding the Bullet Trains. Reservations can be made at JR Ticket Offices across Japan, vending machines, or via online.

Non-reserved seats are available in other trains along East Japan Shinkansen lines. When you decide not to reserve seats, please make sure that your Bullet Trains have non-reserved cars. Also make sure which cars of the Bullet Trains are non-reserved cars (you can check the information from the display panels) before you wait at the platform.

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