Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hokuriku Shinkansen and Setsugekka trains in Japan

On the next of my blog posts covering interesting trains I rode on while in Japan earlier this month, today I cover the Hokuriku Shinkansen (Hakutaka) which started service in 2015 and Setsugekka train which started service in 2016!

The Hokuriku Shinkansen travels from Tokyo to Kanazawa on the west coast of Japan. For part of the route it follows the same route as the Nagano Shinkansen used to go, before it was extended to Kanazawa last year. The line will be extended further in the coming years and terminate at Osaka.

The train itself departs from Tokyo Station, and so this is where this trip begins - here is the escalator and steps leading to Platform 20 where we are going to board the Hakutaka (the fastest express train on the Hokuriku Shinkansen route):

As it is summer Obon season in Japan, the platform is packed with travellers wanting to travel to see family in other parts of Japan.

Here I got my first glimpse of the Hokuriku Shinkansen:

For this trip we are travelling in Gran Class, the top level of train ticket on this service. This meant going to the end car of the platform, where I could also see the front of the train:

This train lacks the long nose of the Northern bound Shinkansen trains, but I reckon it looks very nice and I like the colour scheme a lot:

Speaking of the Northern Shinkansen, on the other side of the platform was the north bound Akita and Hokkaido Shinkansen trains, connected together.

Here is the connection of the two different trains - the Akita Shinkansen (red) on the left, and the Hokkaido Shinkansen (green with purple stripe) on the right:

The Hokkaido Shinkansen commenced service in 2016, and runs from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate in Hokkaido - Japan's northern island. Ultimately it will run to the largest city of Sapporo in Hokkaido when the construction has completed.

The trains separate further north, where the Akita Shinkansen heads west to Akita (on non-Shinkansen lines) and the Hokkaido train continues north.

turning my attention back to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, it was now time to board, so we got into the Gran Class cabin and were treated with these luxurious seats:

The windows are also bigger in Gran Class, offering a nicer view:

Much like a business class airplane seat, these Gran Class seats also have seat adjustment controls to relax...

Here are some more photos around the Gran Class car:

There is a light on the seat for reading:

The table tray folds out from the left side of the seat:

The Gran Class food menu (included as part of the fare) and instructions on how to use the chair are here:

You even get a pair of slippers to relax in and an attendant just for the gran class car to attend to anything you need on the trip:

Views were great as we set off from Tokyo and relaxed in our very comfy seats!

If it is too hot you can put the blinds down of course:

But with lovely views like this why would you?

I also ventured outside to look at the toilet facilities in the Gran Class car:

No skimping here - full washlet facilities - very nice:

I then went back to my seat and got the table ready for my meal in Gran Class:

And here it is - I chose the western meal and dessert and my wife of course choose the Japanese one.

Here is the Japanese meal for those curious:

The western meal is seasonal, and given it is summer, sandwiches are the order of the day with some other things too:

This is the cake dessert:

Also included were these very delicious Senbei crackers:

Our trip on the Hokuriku Shinkansen was not going all the way to Kanazawa today - we plan to get off at a little known station to ride another  special train - Setsugekka. Here is the ticket:

This shows the Shinkansen and Setsugekka tickets:

We get off the Hokuriku Shinkansen at Itoigawa station - and sure enough we got there no too long after finishing our meals:

I took some photos of the Hokuriku Shinkansen waiting at Itoigawa station briefly before it got underway again. The platform here was deserted:

The train then headed off toward Kanazawa and we moved on to catch our next train:

Here is the entry and exit of the Hokuriku Shinkansen station at Itoigawa.

We then crossed over to the Echigo Tokimeki Railway Itoigawa station entrance:

Echigo Tokimeki Railway is a very new company, started last year after JR East abandoned several local lines made mostly obsolete by the new Hokuriku Shinkansen line. Echigo Tokimeki Railway Company took over the rolling stock and lease to run on the lines to continue local train services.

However their plans were a bit grander - they wanted to make a new special train to show off the best of the region produce and to this end they constructed Setsugekka, a new train with huge windows, generous seating and a full meal service onboard. Needless to say I really wanted to ride this train!

Here is Setsugekka, waiting on the platform:

Getting a ticket for this train was tricky was they only accepted phone bookings and payment via credit card, with paper tickets sent to a Japanese address only. This makes this train tricky for foreigners like me to be able to ride. Fortunately my wife helped out and we were lucky to secure a ticket on what is already a very popular new train, which only began service in April 2016.

It is a two car diesel train, very nicely painted in Red with nice decorations on the outside and a beautiful interior as you will see.

Close up of the Echigo Tokimeki logo on the train and the Setsugekka signage:

It was incredibly hot and humid on this day, and they had the curtains drawn to keep things cooler inside. Or so I thought initially..

Ultimately this journey is going to Joetsumyoko Station:

Well, not for a while as there was a problem with the train that prevented us boarding it - the engineers were hard at work trying to work out what was wrong.

Turned out that the air conditioning in Car 1 had failed, and was barely working in Car 2. Given how hot it was and the high glass windows on the train this presented a big problem..

In the end they refunded everyone in Car 1 as they couldn't get the air conditioning working. For those with tickets in Car 2 (including us), they continued the journey since the air-conditioning was working in it, albeit a bit hotter than it should be.

This was good news for me as I was keen to ride the train - we got to board and here are my first shots in the inside of Setsugekka, Car 2 - here is the cafe bar:

Here is the view towards the front of Car 2, where one lucky group of 4 gets the prime table and seating position - unfortunately it was not us as you need 4 people to book it:

Here are the seating further back in Car 2:

You can also get a nice sense of just how big the windows are:

Seated at our table for 2:

I like the table mats:

I went through to Car 1 and asked if I could take photos of the interior of Car 1 (no one was supposed to be in it as they all got refunded). As it turned out though, a cameraman and two models were braving the heat to record a documentary or something in there. Fortunately they didn't seem to mind me taking photos of them:

Car 1 looks stunning inside with interesting table layouts and colours quite different from Car 2.

I couldn't imagine how they were sitting in there - it was boiling hot with no working air conditioning.

I went back to Car 2 to take some more photos before our food arrived for the meal service:

I arrived back into Car 2 as the food service was underway:

The views were nice:

Here were the menus showing the food and drink being served:

If you wanted other drinks they were available for a cost, and not included in the rest of the meal service included in the ticket cost.

Here was the main meal, delivered in an impressive three tier Bento box:

The meal was great and surprisingly filling:

The trip rolled on as we ate, with some nice scenery was we approached the west coast of Japan before our turn inland:

We stopped at a intermediate station where we had a (very brief - 10 minutes) opportunity to buy some ekiben served in the traditional way on the platform:

Seemed a little strange to be doing this while everyone was still eating, since it meant choosing to eat or going out to get another bento!

The reason for this weird schedule was quickly explained not long afterwards. Turned out there was a serious issue with the train and they had to quickly finish the trip, much earlier than originally scheduled.

We didn't end up with dessert and were quickly removed from the train at Joetsumyoko Station.

There were plenty of apologies from the railway company executives at the platform and a promise they would refund us most of the cost of the trip to compensate.

We were disappointed the trip was cut short, but I was very glad to ride the Setsugekka train anyway and the food was delicious - the train is amazing inside and I am sure it normally runs fine - we were just very unlucky on this day.

As it turned out they sent us a bunch of gifts in the mail in Japan a day later, and gave us a full apology on the phone and in a letter, and a full refund of the full cost of the trip. Only in Japan - I was impressed by their response. Here were the gifts they sent us - a sewing kit, portable mirror, notebook, clear file and they also included some special blended Setsugekka branded green tea but I forgot to take photos of it - it tasted great though:

So we arrived at JR Joetsumyoko Station was a serious amount of time to kill before our Hokuriku Shinkansen trip home - several hours in fact. We tried to get an earlier train but they were all booked out - this being Obon summer holiday season it was not unexpected.

There was very little to do there, so I took some photos around the station and then relaxed in the cafe until close to the Shinkansen arrival time:

A local train on the Echigo Tokimeki railway arrives:

These are pictures inside the Shinkansen Joetsumyoko station:

Here is the platform as we awaited our train back to Tokyo. We decided to travel in the Green car seats on the way back, for something different.

Here is the station board:

Finally the Hakutaka Shinkansen service arrived:

Here is some photos of the inside of the Green class car on the train:

Certainly not as fancy as Gran Class, as you would expect - but nice enough.

The seats has holders for your green tea and also the seats could be adjusted too:

The scenery on the way back was interesting with a big storm moving in as we hurtled back to Tokyo at 320km/h.

While stationary at one of the stations, I noticed this unusual Shinkansen waiting at the platform:

I hadn't seen this one before - an E2 Asama Shinkansen!

We then enjoyed some more scenery on the way back:

It was a nice day trip and was glad to have ridden in Green car and Gran Class car on the Hokuriku Shinkansen and also experience the brand new Setsugekka train.

I also picked up a Hokuriku Shinkansen colour scheme USB mouse which I now use on my computer at home - I think it is pretty cool:

I hope you enjoyed this! There are still more interesting train trips I did while in Japan and they will come soon in another blog entry!


  1. WHAT A PLEASURE TO READ THIS BLOG! In two weeks time we are off to Japan on the Kanazawa Express and I found it most informative. Love them trains - as they say!

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  3. Railway holidays are the best way to drive down the nostalgia lane and relive the first few times you travelled by rail.