The Hokuriku Shinkansen is a bullet-train route connecting Tokyo with the beautiful city of Kanazawa. Reaching speeds of up to 260 km, these trains will take you to snow monkeys, volcanoes, and art installations, all in the high-speed comfort the Shinkansen is famous for.

Launched in 1997 for the Nagano Winter Olympics, the Hokuriku Shinkansen is a line with an ever-extending future. Originally connecting Takasaki and Nagano, in 2015 the line was extended to Kanazawa. It will run to Tsuruga in Fukui from March 16, 2024. The final phase of the Hokuriku Shinkansen will begin in 2030, when it will be extended to Shin-Osaka, a project expected to take at least 15 years.

In a hurry? You can book Hokuriku Shinkansen tickets on Klook.

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Highlights along the Hokuriku Shinkansen

Hokuriku Shinkansen route.

The Hokuriku Shinkansen is a sightseer’s dream, with multiple stops that are likely already on your hitlist, now on a single streamlined route.

  • Takasaki: Just outside Tokyo, this small city is home to Daruma, the dolls dreams are made of (and that make dreams come true, albeit through hard work and singular focus).
  • Karuizawa: A resort town of autumn leaves, lovers’ getaways and beautiful hiking routes, Karuizawa is the ideal escape from the city.
  • Mount Asama: Visible from the train and hosting resorts on its slopes, Mt. Asama lends its name to one of the train services and its volcanic heat to the surrounding hot springs.
  • Nagano: A city worth a visit and the starting point for those in search of the famous snow monkeys, Nagano is also ideal for those seeking snow and skiing adventures.
  • Kanazawa: A haven of art, traditional gardens, and delicious food and tea districts, Kanazawa is one of the lesser-known hubs of contemporary creativity and classic style in Japan.

Services on the Hokuriku Shinkansen

The Hokuriku Shinkansen has four services. Two run the full length, while two do a section at either end. All services have Green Car and Gran Class options, but not all have unreserved seating. Check below for more details.

ServiceStart stationEnd stationStopsUnreserved seats?Frequency of departures
KagayakiTokyoKanagawaMajor stops onlyNo~1 per hour (morning & evening only)
HakutakaTokyoKanazawaMajor stops only until Nagano, then all stations until KanazawaYes~1 per hour
AsamaTokyoNaganoAll/most stationsYes~1 per hour
TsurugiToyamaKanazawaAll stationsYes2 per day

Kagayaki: Tokyo to Kanazawa

The fastest service, Kagayaki runs the full length of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, only stopping at a handful of stations between Tokyo and Kanazawa. This gives it a speedy time of 80 to 90 minutes to Nagano, and 2.5 hours to Kanazawa. All seats are reserved, with (uncomfortable) standing tickets made available when all seats have sold out. This service runs only in the mornings and evenings.

Hakutaka: Tokyo to Kanazawa

Hakutaka also runs the full length, but is the slower option. It stops at more stations after Nagano than Kagayaki, so the journey to Kanazawa takes closer to 3 (or more) hours. Non-reserved tickets are available, making this a more flexible option.

Asama: Tokyo to Nagano

Asama is the original Hokuriku Shinkansen service, running from Tokyo to Nagano. The line is named after the impressive Mt. Asama, an active volcano on the border of Nagano Prefecture. This is the slowest of the routes, taking around 1 hour 40 minutes to get to Nagano.

Tsurugi: Toyama to Kanazawa

Only running on a small portion of the line, the Tsurugi service offers a handy option for locals commuting between the cities and sightseers connecting from Osaka. The journey takes about 20 minutes, and has non-reserved seating options.

Buying tickets and making reservations

JR East Ticket Office. | Photo by iStock.com/bankrx

On the Shinkansen, your ticket and seat reservation are two different things. While everyone needs a ticket to travel, the seat reservation is almost always optional, with a couple of carriages designated as “unreserved”.

Choosing unreserved seats can save you some money, but we recommend reserved seats — especially during weekends and holiday periods. One of the exceptions happens to be on the speedy Kagayaki service, which only offers reserved seats and then an overspill option of standing tickets.

The easiest option is to book Shinkansen tickets on Klook, though it costs about ¥1,800 more. Otherwise, you can buy tickets and make seat reservations at JR East Ticket Offices (called Midori no Madoguchi in Japanese) at major stations and travel centers. There are also ticket machines that are easy enough to use at any station on the Shinkansen line. Japan Rail Pass holders need to make seat reservations at the offices — you can read more about tickets and beyond in our mega Shinkansen guide. You’ll find more info on rail passes, below.

Reserved and unreserved seats

As mentioned, the Kagayaki service has no unreserved seats, so you’ll have to book this in advance or go for the standing option if it’s sold out. The remaining three services each have a mix of reserved and unreserved carriages, as well as Green and Gran Class cars. On the Shinkansen, Green Class is like Business Class, while Gran Class is similar to First Class.

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All three services have four unreserved cars, with six reserved on the Hakutaka, three on the Tsurugi, and three on the Asama, plus a buffer of three carriages which change depending on demand.

Luggage restrictions

There are no luggage restrictions on the Hokuriku Shinkansen; they are limited to only a handful of the busiest Shinkansen services across Japan.

Discount passes for the Hokuriku Shinkansen

JR Tokyo Wide Pass
The JR Tokyo Wide Pass is one way to save money on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. | Photo by iStock.com/ColinHui

Run by both JR East and JR West together, the Hokuriku Shinkansen benefits from quite a few different passes.

What rail passes are good for the Hokuriku Shinkansen?

You’ve probably heard of the countrywide Japan Rail Pass, but there’s more to Japan’s trains that that. You can choose from a selection of regional JR Passes that help you explore specific areas while still saving money.

  • Hokuriku Arch Pass: Taking you from Tokyo to Osaka via Kanazawa, this pass gives you seven days of travel for just ¥24,500. It includes travel from Narita and Haneda airports, all Hokuriku services, the Noto Peninsula, Nara, Kobe, and plenty more. Read our full guide to the Hokuriku Arch Pass.
  • JR Tokyo Wide Pass: This pass takes you up to Sakudaira on the Hokuriku Lines, meaning you can visit Takasaki and Karuizawa, but not quite Nagano. It costs ¥15,000 for three days and covers plenty of other lines in and outside of Tokyo, so it’s better suited to day trips.
  • JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata Area): Stretching out to Joetsu-Myōkō, this pass includes major stops on the Hokuriku Line like Takasaki, Karuizawa, and Nagano. You can also use the Chūō line to visit Matsumoto and Hakuba, so for five days at ¥27,000 you can see plenty of highlights.

Other discount schemes

If you’re spending time in the Hokuriku area, then the JR Hokuriku Area Pass can be a good option for local travel. The four-day pass gives you access to JR bus and train lines between Obama, Wakura Onsen, Shirakawagō, Tateyama, and the Kurobe Gorge, with plenty of places in between. It costs ¥5,600 when bought in Japan, with a ¥100 saving if bought online, and a ¥510 saving if bought outside of Japan.

Where does the Hokuriku Shinkansen go?

The Hokuriku Shinkansen stops at the following stations: Tokyo, Ueno, Ōmiya, Kumagaya, Honjō-Waseda, Takasaki, Annaka-Haruna, Karuizawa, Ueda, Sakudaira, Nagano, Iiyama, Jōetsumyōkō, Itoigawa, Kurobe-Unazukionsen, Toyama, Shin-Takaoka, and Kanazawa.

Major stations at a glance

StationServiceTravel time from TokyoUnreserved seat fareReserved seat fare
TakasakiAsama55 mins¥4,490¥4,820
KaruizawaAsama75 mins¥5,490¥5,820
NaganoHakutaka85 mins¥7,810¥8,140
KanazawaKagayaki2 hrs 30 minsN/A¥14,180

Prices were correct as of December 2023, and are based on regular season travel. Children aged 6 to 11 ride for half price.

Stations of interest along the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line

Golden Ice Cream Kanazawa
Chow down on some golden ice cream in Kanazawa. | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

The Hokuriku Line is a veritable who’s who of sightseeing hotspots, with everything from snow monkeys to autumn leaves and the area’s very own little-Kyoto.

Takasaki: Daruma dolls for days

Daruma Temple. | Photo by iStock.com/Yoshida1560043

The biggest city in Gunma Prefecture, Takasaki is known for one thing: Daruma dolls. Based on the legendary monk Bodhidharma who sat in a nine-year stint of meditation, the round, red Daruma dolls you spot across Japan are a symbol of single-minded focus.

Bought with one eye blank, the owner sets a goal and fills in the pupil when it’s been achieved, burning it in a New Year ceremony in early January or leaving it at a temple. The local Shōrinzan Darumaji is a temple filled with all sizes of Daruma, and local craftsman make their replacements. Visitors can decorate their own and see the variety of Daruma at one of the largest producers, Daimonya.

Karuizawa Station: Autumn leaves and romantic escapes

Summer Karuizawa Shiraito Falls
The very pretty Shiraito Falls in Karuizawa. | Photo by iStock.com/Norimoto

Karuizawa is synonymous with romance in Japanese reality TV, mainly thanks to its beautiful fall leaves. The small resort town lies at the foot of Mt. Asama and has a permanent holiday feel to it, with outdoor activities drawing visitors from nearby cities.

Whether it’s hiking to Shiraito Falls, strolling through the streets of Kyo and Naka-Karuizawa or admiring the rocky Onioshidashi Park, there’s plenty to keep you busy before a relaxing evening soak in the local hot springs.

Nagano Station: Temples and snow monkeys

japanese snow monkeys
Japanese macaques on the rocks near their beloved hot springs. | Photo by iStock.com/ANDREYGUDKOV

While Nagano City is home to one of Japan’s most popular temples, Zōjō-ji, it is also the closest hub to Japan’s famous snow monkeys. Jigokudani is a natural hot-spring park with some unusual guests: wild Japanese macaques.

Watching the creatures stretch out, swim, and soak in the steaming waters is weirdly therapeutic, especially when surrounded by snow. The park is a bus ride from Nagano: check out our guide on getting to the snow monkeys for more info.

Kanazawa Station: Contemporary art and castles

21st Century Art Museum Kanazawa 2
Visit an art museum in Kanazawa. | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

A city with so much to see it deserves its own guide (and here it is). Kanazawa is a dream destination if you want to see old-school Japan without trekking to Kyoto.

Stroll through tea districts, visit the famous Kenrokuen Garden, the contemporary art museum and the castle grounds, all within cycling or walking distance. If you’re staying a little longer, you can visit the local hot-spring resort towns and even stay in the second oldest hotel in world — we’ve got some great day trips and overnight inspiration for Kanazawa.

Hokuriku Shinkansen FAQs

What trains run on the Hokuriku Shinkansen?

The Hokuriku Shinkansen trains are E7 series 12-car trains. They have a Green Class and a Gran Class carriage.

Is there a cart service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen?

Yes, there is a cart service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

How fast does the Hokuriku Shinkansen travel?

The Kagayaki is the fastest service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen and reaches speeds of up to 260km/hour.

When did the Hokuriku Shinkansen open?

The first section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen — between Takasaki and Nagano — opened in 1997.

Are any extensions planned?

Yes, an extension to the Hokuriku Shinkansen is currently under construction. When it opens in March 2024, the terminus station will be Tsuruga Station in Fukui Prefecture.

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While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.

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