New Hokkaido Bullet Train Debut Sour Struggling with Fewer Users



On the 26th of March, Saturday, the shinkansen, or a bullet train which directly links to Honshu main island and Hokkaido opened in Japan. It stretches 148.8km which is from Aomori, the north most prefecture on the main island and Hakodate, which is the southern city in Hokkaido. The opening of this new line enables people travel directly from Tokyo to Hakodate without taking a transit on their way.  In addition, its speed which is designed to run 320km/h by the fastest speed will take passengers from Tokyo to Hakodate in four hours, and the fare is about 230 AUD (converted from JP yen to AUD).


Since there had not been any bullet train in Hokkaido, the north most and largest prefecture in Japan, the new service has been expected a lot of users. However, it has already struggled with its low rate of seat occupancy which is 61% on 26th, and 27th for 37%, according to the data presented by Japan Railway Company. Several experts who analyses the situation suspect that it is because Hakodate is located far from Sapporo, the prefectural capital that holds 190 million populations.


As the airplane has been the major means for those who commute between Hokkaido and the main island, it is true that Sapporo has better access compared to Hakodate that holds only 300, 000 population. Furthermore, it only takes less than two hours from Tokyo to Sapporo or Hakodate with relatively cheaper costs such as 70 to 200 AUD. Although Japan Railway is expecting to expand its service to Sapporo in 2031, it seems just too far.


While new-born Hokkaido bullet train is suffering, one-year-old Hokuriku bullet rain has been taking off really well. It opened line between Nagano and Kanazawa, both are located in north west part of Japan in March, 2015. It directly connects Tokyo and Kanazawa in two and a half hours which used to take almost four hours. As it has been expected, it has been creating economic profit as the more people in north west area travels to Tokyo, and the other way around.


Why do we need a bullet train at the first place in such a small island? We already have other public transportations such as buses, trains and the airplane. The answer is simple. Bullet train can connect distant cities together, helps people travel more which can stimulate the economy. Furthermore, as Japan is in need to prepare for earthquakes especially awareness raised after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, people realized the importance of alternate transport options. Hokkaido bullet train may not having a good start, yet it would be the good foundation to the further expansion to inland areas in the future.

Sayu Umeda