The JAPAN RAIL PASS is offered by the six companies that make up the Japan Railways Group (JR Group). It is the most economical way to travel throughout Japan by rail. Please be aware, however, that some restrictions apply. The pass is not valid for “NOZOMI” trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines.
The Tokaido Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, was inaugurated in 1964 as the first shinkansen line and the world's first high speed train service. At that time the trains already ran at about 200 km/h. Nowadays they reach speeds of 300 km/h.
The extension of the Tokaido Shinkansen, the Sanyo Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Hakata Station in Fukuoka was completed by 1975.
The trains operating on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen are of the following three categories:
Nozomi: Nozomi trains stop only at the most important stations, and reach Osaka from Tokyo in about two and a half hours. The nozomi is one of the very few trains on the JR network that cannot be used with the Japan Rail Pass.
Hikari: Hikari trains stop a little bit more frequently than nozomi trains, and need roughly three hours to reach Osaka from Tokyo. On the Sanyo Shinkansen, the Hikari trains are known as "Hikari Railstar".
Kodama: The slowest category. Kodama trains stop at all stations.
The southern half of the Kyushu Shinkansen, connecting Yatsushiro with Kagoshima, was inaugurated in March 2004. The northern half from Yatsushiro to Hakata is scheduled to be completed by 2010. The trains operating on the Kyushu Shinkansen are called Tsubame.
The first north bound lines, the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Morioka and the Joetsu Shinkansen to Niigata, were completed in 1982.
Since then, the following further lines have been put into service: the Yamagata Shinkansen from Fukushima to Shinjo, the Akita Shinkansen from Morioka to Akita, the Nagano Shinkansen from Takasaki to Nagano and the extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen from Morioka to Hachinohe.
Currently under construction are the further extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen to Aomori, as well as the extension of the Nagano Shinkansen to Kanazawa.
The trains operating on the north bound lines are of the following categories:
Hayate (Tohoku Shinkansen): The fastest train category on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Hayate trains run all the way from Tokyo to Hachinohe and stop only at major stations. All seats are reserved. Between Tokyo and Morioka, Hayate trains are coupled with a Komachi train.
Yamabiko (Tohoku Shinkansen): The second fastest train category on the Tohoku Shinkansen, running as far as Morioka. Yamabiko trains stop more frequently than Hayate trains.
Nasuno (Tohoku Shinkansen): The slowest train category on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Nasuno trains run only as far as Koriyama (one stop before Fukushima) and stop at all stations.
Komachi (Akita Shinkansen): This is the only train category on the Akita Shinkansen. Komachi run between Tokyo and Akita. All seats are reserved. Between Tokyo and Morioka, Komachi trains are coupled with a Hayate train.
Tsubasa (Yamagata Shinkansen): This is the only train category on the Yamagata Shinkansen. Tsubasa run between Tokyo, Yamagata and Shinjo. Between Tokyo and Fukushima, some Tsubasa trains are coupled with a Yamabiko train.
Toki (Joetsu Shinkansen): This is the faster of two categories on the Joetsu Shinkansen, running all the way from Tokyo to Niigata.
Tanigawa (Joetsu Shinkansen): This is the slower of two categories on the Joetsu Shinkansen. Tanigawa run only as far as Echigo-Yuzawa and stop more frequently than the Toki trains.
Asama (Nagano Shinkansen): This is the only train category on the Nagano Shinkansen. Asama run between Tokyo and Nagano.