1 Year On, Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Boosts Tourism, Migration

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Kamome at Nagasaki Station

Saga, Sept. 26 (Jiji Press)—The Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Line connecting the southwestern Japan prefectures of Nagasaki and Saga, which opened one year ago, has boosted local tourism and efforts to promote migration to areas serviced by the bullet train line.

Still, it remains unclear whether the central and Saga prefectural governments can work out a plan to extend the bullet train services to Shin-Tosu Station to reach the Kyushu Shinkansen Line, enabling passengers to get to Hakata Station in Fukuoka Prefecture, a Saga neighbor, without transfers.

Over 2.37 million passengers had used the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Line, operated by Kyushu Railway Co., or JR Kyushu, as of Sept. 15. Many tourists have visited places along the line, which opened on Sept. 23, 2022, aided by government efforts to spur tourism and economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Taishoya, a “ryokan” Japanese-style inn at the center of a hot spring resort 2 kilometers from the line’s Ureshino-Onsen Station in Ureshino, Saga, said that it served some 42,000 guests between last September and the end of last month, up by about 40 pct from the same period four years before.

Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, vice president of Taishoya and also chief of the local tourism association, said that the number of visitors has surpassed levels marked prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he added that the question is whether many visitors will come after the end of the government’s tourism promotion initiative.

“The tourism association will take the lead in working with neighboring municipalities to come up with various measures, such as making tour plans,” Yamaguchi said.

Takeo-Onsen Station in Takeo, also Saga, has become easier to travel to since the opening of the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Line. The northern terminal station of the line is used by passengers to transfer to and from conventional train lines, while the number of express trains to Fukuoka has increased.

Taking advantage of the convenient transportation environment, the Takeo city government has launched measures to support people moving into the city, such as subsidizing commuter passes for workers and students.

The city, which had been suffering population declines, enjoyed a net inflow of 143 residents between last September and July this year.

“We want to put the brakes on the declining population and promote the city’s development,” a Takeo municipal official said.

Meanwhile, obstacles still remain to extending the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen services to Shin-Tosu Station to connect with the Kyushu Shinkansen Line.

JR Kyushu and the Nagasaki prefectural government are eager to realize the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen operations between Shin-Tosu and Takeo-Onsen stations in order to boost convenience and profitability. But Saga is strongly opposed to construction of a full-standard Shinkansen line for the section, sought by the central government, due to concerns over huge costs and a reduction of conventional line services.

The two sides had discussions from various perspectives over the issue from 2020, but talks have not been held since February this year. Local communities are left waiting while the negotiations remain deadlocked.