The Tohoku Shinkansen line: Travel guide

Japan is famous for its high-speed bullet trains. The fastest of these is the Hayabusa Shinkansen, which can be found on the Tohoku Shinkansen line in Honshu. An interesting feature of several Tohoku Shinkansen trains is that they offer only reserved seating.

This is rare among the shinkansen, so if you wish to travel on this line, be sure to make your reservations early! Green cars and Gran Class cars are available on most trains, as are standing tickets when all seats are booked.

This train line has a long history. The first portion of the Tohoku Line opened in 1982, but its services did not reach Aomori until 2010. Today, this shinkansen bullet train line allows access not only to the length of the island of Honshu, but to high-speed train routes to some of Japan’s other islands as well. The Tohoku Shinkansen is the longest Shinkansen line in Japan, stretching 674 kilometers.

The Tohoku Shinkansen connects cities in the island of Honshu from Tokyo in the south to Aomori in the north. It has two branch lines, the Akita Shinkansen Line and the Yamagata Shinkansen Line. These are sometimes called “mini-shinkansen” because they are narrower and operate on normal railway tracks.

The Tohoku Shinkansen also connects to the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line at Shin-Aomori Station in the north via the Seikan Tunnel. This line is scheduled to extend to Sapporo by the year 2030.

Tohoku Shinkansen stations

Major stations along the route include Shin-Aomori Station, Morioka Station, Sendai Station, Omiya Station and Tokyo Station. Some, but not all, trains also stop at Shichinohe-Towada, Hachinohe, Ninohe, Iwate-Numakunai, Shin-Hanamaki, Kitakami, Mizusawa-Esashi, Ichinoseki, Kurikoma-Kogen, Furukawa, Shiroishi-Zao, Fukushima, Koriyama, Shin-Shirakawa, Nasu-Shiobara, Utsunomiya, Oyama and Ueno Stations.

Station Transfers Location
Tokyo Station Tokaido Shinkansen, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line, Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tōhoku Line,  Chūō Main Line, Tokaido Main Line, Yokosuka Line, Sōbu Line, Keiyō Line. Tokyo
Ueno Station Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Keisei Main Line, Jōban Line, Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tōhoku Line, Utsunomiya Line, Takasaki Line. Tokyo
Ōmiya Station Joetsu Shinkansen, Tobu Urban-park Line, New Shuttle, Hokuriku Shinkansen, Keihin-Tōhoku Line, Saikyō Line, Kawagoe Line, Utsunomiya Line, Takasaki Line. Ōmiya-ku, Saitama
Oyama Station Utsunomiya Line, Ryōmō Line, Mito Line. Oyama
Utsunomiya Station Utsunomiya line, Nikkō Line, Karasumaru Line. Utsunomiya
Nasu-Shiobara Station Utsunomiya Line. Nasushiobara
Shin-Shirakawa Station Tohoku Main Line. Nishigo
Koriyama Station Tohoku Main Line, East Ban’etsu Line, West Ban’etsu Line, Suigun Line. Koriyama
Fukushima Station Yamagata Shinkansen, Tōhoku Main Line, Yamagata line, Fukushima Kōtsū Iizaka Line, Abukuma Express Line. Fukushima
Shiroshi-Zao Staion Shiroshi
Sendai Station Tōhoku Main Line, Senzan Line, Senseki Line, Jōban Line, Sendai Airport Line, Sendai Subway Namboku Line, Sendai Subway Tōzai Line. Aoba-ku, Sendai
Furukawa Station Rikuu East Line. Osaki
Kurikoma-Kogen Station Kurihara
Ichinoseki Station Tohoku Main Line, Ofunato Line. Ichinoseki
Mizusawa-Esashi Station Oshu
Kitakami Station Tohoku Main Line, Kitakami Line. Kitakami
Shin-Hanamaki Station Kamaishi Line. Hanamaki
Morioka Station Akita Shinkansen Line, Tohoku Main Line, Tazawako Line, Yamada Line, Iwate Galaxy Railway Line, Hanawa Line. Morioka
Iwate-Numakunai Station Iwate Ginga Railway Line. Iwate
Ninohe Station Iwate Ginga Railway Line. Ninohe
Hachinohe Station Aoimori Railway Line, Hachinohe Line. Hachinohe
Shichinohe-Towada Station Shichinohe
Shin-Aomori Ou Main Line, Hokkaido Shinkansen Line. Aomori

Tohoku Shinkansen line map

Tohoku Shinkansen line Map
Tohoku Shinkansen Line Map with Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen branches.

Train services

Five types of trains operate on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line: Hayabusa, Hayate, Yamabiko and Komachi.

Hayabusa Shinkansen

Stops: Tokyo – Omiya – Sendai – Morioka – Shin-Aomori

Since 2016, Hayabusa Shinkansen is the fastest train in Tohoku Shinkansen Line, which travels at speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour. Hayabusa trains stop only at major train stations along the route.

Some Hayabusa trains continue past Shin-Aomori Station into Hokkaido. The Hayabusa contains no non-reserved seating. When all the seats are full, standing tickets are made available.

Hayabusa seat reservation

Hayate Shinkansen

Stops: Tokyo – Ueno – Omiya – Sendai – Furukawa – Kurikoma-Kogen – Ichinoseki – Mizusawa-Esashi – Kitakami – Shin-Hanamaki – Morioka

Hayate trains run between Tokyo and Morioka, bypassing all stations between Sendai and Omiya. Hayate trains also have only reserved seating, with standing tickets available when all seats are booked.

Hayate seat reservation

Yamabiko Shinkansen

Stops: Tokyo – Ueno – Omiya – Utsunomiya – Koriyama – Fukushima – Sendai – Furukawa – Kurikoma-Kogen – Ichinoseki – Mizusawa-Esashi – Kitakami – Shin-Hanamaki – Morioka

Yamabiko trains travel from Tokyo to Morioka and Sendai in the north and offer non-reserved seating. Nasuno trains stop at all stations between Koriyama and Tokyo, making them the slowest on the line.

Yamabiko seat reservation

Komachi Shinkansen

Stops: Tokyo – Ueno – Omiya – Sendai – Morioka

Komachi trains are coupled to Hayabusa trains when traveling between Tokyo and Morioka. At Morioka, they are uncoupled and operate independently on the Akita Shinkansen Line. Komachi trains also have only reserved seating. Similarly, the Tsubasa Shinkansen trains are coupled to Yamabiko trains between Tokyo and Fukushima. They then operate independently along the Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

Akita Shinkansen seat reservation

Using the Japan Rail Pass

Your Japan Rail Pass is valid on all trains of the Tohoku Shinkansen Line. You can activate your JR Pass at the ticketing counter of any major train station.

Be sure to visit the ticketing counters to book reserved seating as well. Be ready to present your JR Pass at the departure gate.

Tokyo to Aomori

From Tokyo Station, take a Hayabusa train on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line to Shin-Aomori. This trip takes approximately 3 and a half hours, after which it is necessary to transfer and take a limited express or local train ride of around 5 minutes to reach Aomori Station (downtown). The ride covers a total distance of 700 kilometers.

Although the Tohoku Shinkansen currently runs at a maximum speed of 260km per hour on the last part of its track from Morioka in Iwate to Shin-Aomori, JR East is currently undertaking work to allow the train to travel at up to 320km per hour. These improvements are expected to be completed by 2027.

Tokyo to Sendai

From Tokyo Station, take the Hayabusa Shinkansen to Sendai Station, a trip of about an hour and a half. Alternatively, you may take the Komachi train of the Akita Shinkansen line from Tokyo Station to Sendai Station, a trip of about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Sendai is the largest city in the Tohoku Region, and one of the 15 largest in Japan. This modern city is also a historic one, having been founded around the year 1600. Many historic attractions are linked to the city’s founder, the powerful feudal lord Date Masamune. Less than an hour to the northeast of Sendai lie the islands of Matsushima Bay, considered one of the three most scenic places in Japan.

Tokyo to Fukushima

Take the Tohoku Line’s Yamabiko train from Tokyo Station to Fukushima Station. This trip will take about two hours. While in the Tohoku Region’s capital city, you can explore the Azuma mountain range, enjoy natural hot springs, or take in the spring cherry blossoms of the rural neighborhood of Hanamiyama.

With this helpful guide, you are ready to use your JR Pass to explore beautiful Honshu. Start planning your next adventure today!

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