Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains are marvels of high-speed rail, delivering efficiency, punctuality, convenience and safety. The Tokaido Shinkansen Line moves hundreds of thousands of passengers between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka every day, fueling business, tourism and countless other types of travel.
But the bullet train is also one of the most expensive ways to get around Japan. If you don’t have a Japan Rail Pass and are sticking to a tight budget, you might never set foot in a bullet train while visiting the country.
The Hakata-Minami Line
Even a short ride on the bullet train costs a lot. For instance, going from Shinagawa Station in Tokyo to Shin-Yokohama Station in Yokohama only takes 17 minutes on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line but a ticket costs 2,870 yen. In Fukuoka, however, a quirk of the bullet train network allows anyone to ride an extension of the Sanyo Shinkansen Line for only 300 yen.
The Hakata-Minami Line is at the southern end of the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, which begins at Shin-Osaka Station. It isn’t officially designated as a Shinkansen line, but it uses Shinkansen trains. They go from Hakata Station, the biggest rail hub in Kyushu, to Hakata-Minami Station, a depot in Kasuga City about 9 km to the south. There are only two stations on the line.
Some bullet trains begin their run up to Shin-Osaka from Hakata-Minami, but many locals use this short railway to commute to work, transferring at Hakata Station. That’s why the tickets are so cheap.
A bit of history explains the Hakata-Minami Line. The Sanyo Shinkansen opened in the 1970s at a time when Kasuga was more rural. As Fukuoka City grew along with its surrounding suburbs, operator West Japan Railway (JR West) decided to use the line for passenger transport too. Hakata-Minami Station was opened in 1990.
The 300-yen bullet train ride
The Hakata-Minami Line appeals to train buffs because it’s the cheapest regularly scheduled bullet train ride in Japan. There is a shorter and slightly cheaper Shinkansen ride on a branch line going from Echigo-Yuzawa Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen to the ski resort of Gala-Yuzawa in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture, but it only operates in winter.
To ride the Hakata-Minami Line, you’ll need to buy a ticket from a Shinkansen ticket machine at Hakata Station. You’ll get two paper tickets – a regular fare and a limited express fare. Trains depart from platforms 11, 14, 15 and 16.
Outside rush hour, you may find yourself on a near-empty bullet train, most likely Hikari Rail Star 700-series. The elevated track can provide a good view of Fukuoka during the trip. It only takes about 8 minutes to ride from Hakata Station to Hakata-Minami.
There isn’t a lot to see at Hakata-Minami Station apart from the depot itself. It features various Shinkansen trains including the 500, 700 and N700 series. There’s no viewing area but trains can be seen from the north end of the platform. Some trains can be seen with their nose cones open
On your return journey, the display showing the train’s destination might show “Shin-Osaka,” which is about 560 km to the northeast. It’s just another run in a day in the life of these hardworking bullet trains.
Article by Tim Hornyak. All rights reserved.