Taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Sapporo

Good morning everyone,

It's going to be pretty much the same today as it was yesterday-mostly sunny with a high of 15C. Tomorrow will see a chance of rain actually. Monday isn't supposed to rain, but it'll be cloudy in the morning. They're still calling for a high of 20C on Tuesday and through the rest of next week.

The opening today of the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line, a high-speed railway connecting Hokkaido with Honshu via an undersea tunnel, will be the culmination of an epic project 42 years in the making.

The project involved difficult construction work for the Seikan Tunnel, including many worker fatalities. It also saw heated competition for state funds with other regional communities eager to be linked with Tokyo through vaunted shinkansen services.

And now, “The dream of Hokkaido residents,” as Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi puts it, is finally being fulfilled.

The Hokkaido Shinkansen Line project to connect Aomori and Sapporo was adopted by the government in November 1973. But the government put a temporary freeze on the project in September 1982 due to economic stagnation after the second oil crisis and the enormous debts burdening the state-run Japanese National Railways.

Subsequently, Hokkaido faced rival bids from other municipalities for a piece of the limited national budget for shinkansen lines.

“The strongest rival was the Hokuriku Shinkansen (Line),” recalls a person involved in the Hokkaido project. “It was backed by influential politicians and the three prefectures of the Hokuriku region worked together closely. The competition drove home to us the weight of political power.”

The Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, which links Tokyo with the Hokuriku region on the Sea of Japan coast as an extension of the Nagano Shinkansen Line, opened in March 2015.

The Seikan Tunnel, which runs under the Tsugaru Strait, opened to traffic in 1988 after nearly a quarter century of challenging construction work. It was originally designed to have a regular track for regional railway services, but was constructed with a wider track in mind to accommodate bullet trains after the project was adopted.

And starting today, we'll be able to hop on a shinkansen in Tokyo and ride it straight through all the way to Sapporo. I wonder how popular it'll be in the long run, though. With the airfares dropping (you can find flights for as low as Y5,000 now) and the time difference between taking the train and flying- 7 1/2 hours by train vs 1 1/2 hours by plane. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that other than a few people who hate flying, people who have the JR pass and a lot of time to kill, and people who want to enjoy the novelty of taking the bullet train all the way to Sapporo, I can't see many people using the train regularly. How about you? Want to give it a shot?

Have a great day!

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