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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Shinkansen lines 'shrink' nation
The entire super-express Kyushu Shinkansen Line, linking the cities of Fukuoka and Kagoshima, was quietly opened March 12, a day after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. This follows the December opening of the completed Tohoku Shinkansen Line linking Tokyo and Shin Aomori. Now the top of Honshu and bottom of Kyushu are connected by shinkansen lines, although one has to change trains at Tokyo Station.
Japan's fastest bullet train, the Hayabusa, made its debut last month, traveling at speeds up to 300 kph to link Tokyo with Shin Aomori in a mere three hours and 10 minutes (although service on some parts of the line are suspended due to quake damage). On the Kyushu Shinkansen Line, the fastest trains can link Fukuoka city's Hakata station and Kagoshima Chuo station in one hour and 19 minutes, Kumamoto station and Shin Osaka station in two hours and 59 minutes, and Kagoshima Chuo and Shin Osaka in three hours and 45 minutes — about one hour less than before.
The faster travel times mean that competition between shinkansen services and domestic airline services will grow more fierce. But if shinkansen services and international airline services can cooperate, they may be able to mutually benefit by attracting more tourists from overseas. The nation's tourism industry also needs to raise its level of service to ensure it is as accommodating as possible to tourists from abroad.
JR Hakata Station is located in Japan's largest commercial station building, which was opened March 12 to great fanfare. Fukuoka city is now a mere 33 minutes from Kumamoto, stirring fears in some locales that their traditional tourism customers may now choose to spend their leisure time in Hakata instead. They should remember that the door swings both ways and develop a strategy to attract new tourists from Fukuoka city.
New shinkansen services are scheduled to open between Nagano and Kanazawa in fiscal 2014 and between Shin Aomori and Shin Hakodate in Hokkaido in fiscal 2015. The government and respective railway companies need to make efforts to ensure these new shinkansen services are profitable.