Known by many international visitors simply as the ‘Bullet Train’, Japan’s ‘Shinkansen’ network connects major cities with high-speed train services that operate on various Shinkansen lines.
The Joetsu Shinkansen runs from Tokyo to Niigata and services Echigo-Yuzawa, located approximately at the mid-point of the line, and the surrounding ski resorts*. It is operated by the East Japan Railway Company more commonly known as JR East.
The following stations are on the Joetsu line:
*Please note, Nagano Station is not a stop on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line however it is a stop on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, which runs from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa Station. You can transfer between the Hokuriku and Joetsu lines at Takasaki Station.
**In winter, some shinkansen services continue onto a winter-only stop at Gala-Yuzawa, directly underneath the ski resort of the same name.
Types of Services
International visitors holding a valid Japan Rail Pass and Japan Rail East Pass – see below for details – can use any service on the Joetsu Shinkansen at no additional charge. Two types of service operate on the line:
Toki Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa: 80 minutes / Tokyo to Niigata: 130 minutes
The ‘Toki’ service runs from Tokyo Station to Niigata, only stopping at a limited number of stations. As such, it is the faster service of the two operating on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. ‘Max Toki’ services include double-decker carriages and in winter, some services include modified carriages with increased storage space for ski and snowboard gear.
The Toki includes both reserved and non-reserved seating, meaning that bookings can be made in advance or holders of a valid travel pass can simply board the train and sit in a non-reserved seat if they are happy to do so. The Toki includes both Green and Gran Class.
Tanigawa Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa: 80 to 90 minutes
The ‘Tanigawa’ service does not run the entire length of the line but only operates from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa*, stopping at all stations in-between. As a result, it is slower than the Toki and usually operates in the morning and evening to service peak hour traffic Much like the Toki, some services are classed ‘Max Tanigawa’ and use double-decker carriages. In winter, some Tanigawa services continue onto Gala Yuzawa Station, directly underneath Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort.
The Tanigawa includes both reserved and non-reserved seating, meaning that bookings can be made in advance or holders of a valid travel pass can simply board the train and sit in a non-reserved seat if they are happy to do so. The Tanigawa includes both Green and Gran Class.
*Please note, some Tanigawa services only run between Tokyo and Takasaki.
Types of Carriages & Seating
Most services on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line offer users the following types of carriages and seating:
Most carriages on any shinkansen service will be comprised of ordinary cars including reserved and non-reserved seating*. Ordinary cars typically have 5 seats per row separated by an aisle, with 3 seats on one side and 2 seats on the other. Seats are comfortable and recline with reasonable legroom available. Each seat has a tray table which folds down from the seat in front and power access for charging electronic devices. Overhead storage is available above each seat however it is worth noting that larger luggage can be difficult to store.
For double-decker Max Toki and Max Tanigawa services, the second-floor of each carriage has 6 seats per row separated by an aisle – 3 seats on each side. Some services in winter also have additional space for storage of ski and snowboard equipment.
Reserved and non-reserved carriages share the same layout with no difference in comfort. Toilets are available in the area between every second carriage. On most services, a conductor/ticket inspector will move up and down the train and can be approached for assistance, while a service attendant moves up and down the train with a trolley of food, snacks and drinks. If the train is particularly busy it might be difficult for the attendant to make their way along the train, so grab them while you have the chance.
Most shinkansen services will have one Green Car, identified by a green four-leaf clover symbol. These cars are reservation only and slightly more expensive than seating in an ordinary car. Seats are more spacious and comfortable with more legroom. There are only 4 seats per row, divided by an aisle with 2 seats each side. More generous spacing also allows more room for luggage.
Extra features including a reading lamp and footrest make the Green Car comfortable. Popular with business travellers, these carriages are typically quiet and can be compared to business class on an airline. For the relatively small price difference, Green Car is a good option for travellers who want that extra bit of comfort and quiet.
Gran Class is the equivalent of first or luxury class. Each carriage includes 18 seats, separated by an aisle with 1 and 2 seats either side.
Leather, fully-automated reclining seats offer travellers real comfort with a dedicated Gran Class attendant on-hand to serve complimentary meals, drinks, newspapers, magazines and other items. Gran Class is notably more expensive.
Fares & Timetable
A one-way fare from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa one-way will cost between JPY6000 to JPY7000 or JPY12,000 to JPY14,000 return; while a one-way fare from Tokyo to Niigata will cost between JPY10,000 to JPY11,000 or JPY20,000 to JPY22,000 return (depending on which service you choose).
Numerous daily services operate on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line. For details including the timetable, please refer to our ‘Joetsu Shinkansen Timetable’ page.
Ticketing & Travel Passes
Tickets can be purchased at any major station using the shinkansen ticket machines or Japan Rail office (both will be clearly marked). English-speaking attendants are usually on-hand to assist at major stations. Alternatively, tickets can be purchased online up to 30 days in advance of your intended date of travel.
There is no escaping the fact that travel using the shinkansen is expensive. Given the speed and distances covered by these trains, travellers should think of them much like taking a flight, with tickets accordingly priced. International visitors to Japan have the option of purchasing one of several passes which allow for unlimited use of the Hokuriku and (for some passes) other shinkansen and train services.
Japan Rail (JR) Pass
Covering all 9 shinkansen lines in Japan and many other train services, the JR Pass is a great option for visitors planning to use the shinkansen more than a handful of times and/or travel large distances. Travellers have the option of 7, 14 and 21-day passes covering either Ordinary or Ordinary and Green Cars.
The JR Pass allows for use of any service on the Joetsu Shinkansen line at no additional cost but noting that should holders wish to have a reserved seat, they are still required to book a seat at the ticket office (at no additional cost).
Japan Rail (JR) East Pass/ Nagano & Niigata
The JR East Pass covers the Hokuriku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines serving Nagano and Niigata, along with other regional services. There is only one option of pass, covering 5 days of use within a 14-day period from its date of activation.
Notably cheaper than the JR Pass, this is a great option for visitors staying within Nagano and Niigata. Much like the JR Pass, it allows for use of any service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line at no additional cost but noting that should holders wish to have a reserved seat, they are still required to book a seat at the ticket office (at no additional cost).