Shinkansen Operators Dream Up Ideas to Attract Passengers

Courtesy of JR Tokai
A happy couple smile during their wedding ceremony on a chartered Nozomi Shinkansen bullet train car in May 2022.

Railway companies are using lessons learned from a decline in passenger numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic to dream up ways to get more people riding Shinkansen bullet trains.

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) allows passengers to charter a train car for various purposes such as having a wedding ceremony, while East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) runs a train car in which people are allowed to talk on the phone and have online meetings while they work and study.

Such services will continue even after COVID-19 is reclassified as a Category V disease on May 8.

Conveying hope

JR Tokai has a chartered train service in which passengers can rent a single train car on the company’s Nozomi Shinkansen that runs between Tokyo and Shin Osaka. Users are able to decorate the car’s interior, such as by laying a carpet in the walkway. Crew member uniforms can also be rented.

Major travel agency JTB Corp. and others offer the special package services, except during peak times such as the Bon holiday in summer. Package prices are not disclosed as they change depending on the type of service and train cars. However, the package price is lower than the cost of purchasing all seats in a single car, which has at most 100 seats.

The packages were devised by a group of young employees at an in-house competition for new projects that was held in February 2021.

The proposal was titled “We’ll make your hopes come true.” The slogan riffs off the name of the Shinkansen, Nozomi, which means “hope,” in the 30th anniversary of Nozomi’s operation.

JR Tokai began accepting applications for the packages in December 2021, and received more than 800 applications in about three weeks. Three of them were implemented.

One was a graduation trip by students of Saitama Municipal Urawa High School, which is an integrated junior high and high school.

Thinking that making the trip with friends fulfilling because they had spent time together for six years, Tomoharu Date, then a student in his final year, submitted an application to JR Tokai.

During the trip in March last year, the students watched a video made by their teachers on a monitor specially set up in the train car, which was decorated with photos to evoke memories of their school days.

“That was the shortest two-and-a-half-hour I ever had,” Date said. “I’ll cherish the journey my whole life.”

Regular service

The other two applications selected by JR Tokai were a wedding ceremony and a party to celebrate a father’s retirement.

The trials were well-received, and JR Tokai fully implemented the service at the end of 2022.

So far, 16 groups have taken advantage of the service. For example, a company signed up to hold a kickoff event for the release of new products.

“People think of the Shinkansen as just a mode of transportation, but I hope passengers will enjoy these types of trips,” said Ukyo Oe, a 25-year-old JR Tokai staff who is in charge of the service.

Moving offices, fresh food

JR East in March started a service called Train Desk with an eye on expanding teleworking and holding online meetings in trains.

With the service, JR East designates a train car per Shinkansen bullet train so that passengers can freely talk over the phone and have online meetings in their seats. In cooperation with West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) and Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido), every Shinkansen that runs on Tohoku, Joetsu, Hokuriku and Hokkaido Shinkansen lines now has a Train Desk car.

Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, trials were done for a service to transport perishable food from the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions to major stations, such as Tokyo Station. The service, called Hakobyun, was officially implemented in October 2021, and the plan is for it to continue.

“There were calls in the past for coming up with ideas for new projects as passenger numbers are expected to decrease due to the declining population and other factors,” said Hajime Nakamura, a JR East expert in charge of lifestyle and local development. Such moves accelerated rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Steps to provide passengers with additional value beyond a means of transportation will be sped up.”

Courtesy of JR East
Train Desk is a service in which passengers are allowed to talk on the phone and hold online meetings in a designated train car.