Japan is well known for its railways; most notably the bullet train or the shinkansen. Since the opening of the first shinkansen in 1964, the number of different routes have expanded to 8, covering all 4 of Japan’s major islands. The first route to open was the Tokaido Shinkansen, which ran between Tokyo and Osaka in 4 hours. The upcoming Chuo-Shinkansen will do this in 67 minutes, which highlights just how much the shinkansen technology has evolved. The shinkansen is one of the safest modes of transport in Japan, as over its 50-plus year history, there has not been a single passenger injury or fatality due to train accidents. It also has a remarkable record when it comes to punctuality. In 2016, the Tokaido Shinkansen made the journey between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka over 130,000 times, and astonishingly, the average delay from schedule including those from natural disasters was 24 seconds. To this day, the shinkansen line continues to expand its tracks. Here, we outline the latest shinkansen lines under construction and the property developments that have accompanied them.
Chuo-Shinkansen, aka the Linear Motor Car Project or the Maglev Project
The Chuo-Shinkansen, or the Linear Motor Car Project, is a magnetic levitation bullet train that will run between Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, and Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka, over a total distance of 285.6 km. Japan Railway (JR) Tokai’s plans of developing the Chuo-Shinkansen were first approved in 1973. In December 2014, construction works for the railway line finally started after years of planning and experiments. The Linear Motor Car holds the current world record speed for a passenger railway at 603km/h (375mph), and will have a maximum passenger speed of 505 km/h (314 mph) for safety reasons. When opened, it will be the fastest, and one of the most technologically advanced transportation systems in the world.
(The latest prototype of the Chuo Shinkansen, pictured August 2020)
The first phase of the project is between Shinagawa Station and Nagoya Station, and is scheduled to open in 2027. However, in July 2020, JR Tokai announced that the 2027 opening is likely to be extended due to construction delays. The delay is over concerns that the construction of an underground tunnel through Shizuoka prefecture will reduce the waterflow in a major river that supplies the region. JR Tokai has yet to announce a revised opening date.
The second phase is between Nagoya Station and Shin-Osaka Station, and is scheduled to open in 2037. Passengers will be able to travel between Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes and Tokyo and Osaka in 67 minutes, with the current travel time being 95 minutes and 147 minutes respectively on the Tokaido Shinkansen. The construction of the Chuo-Shinkansen is estimated to cost JR Tokai around ¥9 trillion ($86 billion), with the initial Tokyo-Nagoya Line costing ¥5.5 trillion ($53 billion). The completion of the Chuo-Shinkansen line would integrate the three metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, with a combined population of approximately 65 million people everso close for business and leisure.
(Planned route of the Chuo Shinkansen, Source: Kyodo Graphics)
When the Tokyo-Osaka route is opened, an estimated 72 million passengers will switch from using the Tokaido Shinkansen to the Chuo-Shinkansen, around 11 million will switch from flights, and around 5 million will be new passengers. This means half the passengers currently using the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka will switch to the faster Chuo-Shinkansen. Currently, 67% of passengers use the Tokaido Shinkansen for business trips, followed by travel accounting for 11.8%, and commuting 0.9%. One source suggests that this project will boost the Japanese economy by ¥14.8 trillion ($143 billion) in the first 10 years of opening. Together with the Hokkaido Shinkansen opening in 2016 and its extension to Sapporo in Hokkaido Island completed in 2030, Japan can expect an increase in tourism, both inbound and domestic, together with a world-leading railway technology that can be exported across the world.
The Hokkaido Shinkansen is a bullet train line connecting the main island of Honshu with the northern island of Hokkaido. It is an extension to the existing Tohoku-Shinkansen Line, which currently runs over a distance of 675 km between Tokyo Station and Shin-Aomori Station in Aomori Prefecture, the most northern prefecture on the main island of Honshu, in three hours. In March 2016, the Seikan Tunnel on the seabed between Honshu and Hokkaido was opened for operation, completing the first phase of development between Shin-Aomori Station and Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station (149 km), located in southern Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Shinkansen line connecting Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station and Sapporo Station (211 km), is expected to complete construction in 2030, and is planned to start operation by the end of March 2031. This extended route will have 4 stations in total, one of them being Kutchan Station, located in the Hanazono area of Niseko. This is an exciting development, as Kutchan Station is roughly 15 minutes away from the internationally renowned ski resort of Niseko. Despite Niseko's reputation for its powder snow, it is also a popular destination for outdoor activities. In 2019, there were 0.9 million visitors in the summer and 0.85 million in the winter. With the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, travel time to Niseko from Tokyo will roughly be 4 hours, significantly less than the 6 hours it currently takes via flight from Tokyo to New-Chitose Airport and then by train or car.
Redevelopment Project around Shinagawa Station
With plans for the Chuo-Shinkansen to open in 2027, JR East’s ¥500 billion ($4.4 billion) Shinagawa Redevelopment Project is in full swing. The area around Shinagawa Station is expected to become an international hub for businesses, as the station is located 11 minutes away by train from Haneda International Airport, and averages around 680,000 daily passengers. The opening of the Takanawa Gateway Station between Shinagawa and Tamachi is the latest development in the project. Expecting 123,000 daily passengers by 2024, Takanawa Gateway is the 47th station to open on the Keihin Tohoku Line and the 30th on the Yamanote Line. The station is at the heart of a 13 hectare multipurpose urban complex development, and will add to the global pull of Shinagawa by improving its transport links. With construction expected to be completed in 2024, the urban complex, consisting of four high rise buildings, is located on the western side of Takanawa Station. One of the four high rises will be a 45 floor, 860 unit residential apartment building (Block 1), with units ranging from 50 ~ 200 sqm each. In order to accommodate for the international demographic, the apartment building has been allocated 200 units to rent alongside an international school and childcare facilities on the lower floors. The remaining three will be commercial office buildings, named Block 3, North Tower and South Tower. The South Tower has plans to accommodate for a 200-room hotel facility on its top floors and its bottom floors to a 5,000 sqm conference hall and a 8,000 sqm exhibition centre.
(Plan of Shinagawa Redevelopment Project including Takanawa Gateway Station (labelled new station), Source: JR East)
Redevelopment of Nagoya Station
Nagoya is the third largest commercial city in Japan, behind Tokyo and Osaka. With the Chuo-Shinkansen opening in 2027, redevelopment plans have been under way to make Nagoya the gateway to the Tokai region. The Tokai region is located in central Honshu facing the pacific, and is the largest industrial region in Japan, producing 10% of the nation’s GDP. Central to the redevelopment plan is the highrise above the Nagoya Station terminal. Measuring 400m long, 180m tall and with 30 floors, it is said to be the largest station building in Japan. As the Chuo-Shinkansen continues to be developed, land prices have been increasing in Nagoya. In 2019, land prices increased by 7.7%, compared to an average of 4.1% in Aichi Prefecture where Nagoya is. The redevelopment of the station and the surrounding area, together with the opening of the Chuo-Shinkansen, will boost business activity in the region and create jobs, providing encouraging signs for Nagoya’s real estate market.
(The business district around Nagoya Station)