Shinkansen Extension Brings Hope to Hokuriku Region; Support Shrinking Population, Post-Quake Reconstruction

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A dinosaur robot welcomes people at JR Fukui Station on Saturday morning.

Operations began along the new section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line on Saturday, connecting Tokyo and Fukui Prefecture by bullet train.

Plagued with a declining population, Fukui Prefecture sees the new service as a golden opportunity to revitalize the local economy, and has been working hard to attract tourists.

However, the effects of the major earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula on New Year’s Day are still evident in the region. It will be important for those in the area to consider how to make use of the Shinkansen for the region’s reconstruction.

Shrinking population

“I’m so impressed to see our predecessors’ hard work has finally paid off,” said Fukui Gov. Tatsuji Sugimoto as he saw off the first bullet train from Tsuruga Station in the prefecture. The extended section came into service half a decade after the plan was decided, realizing the “heart’s desire” of residents.

The extension shortens the traveling time between Tokyo and Fukui stations by more than 30 minutes. Previously, it took a minimum of 3 hours and 24 minutes. It also enables people to travel between the prefecture and the Tokyo metropolitan area without having to make transfers.

The Development Bank of Japan estimates that the extension will generate an economic impact of ¥30.9 billion a year thanks to increasing traffic in and out of the prefecture, among other factors.

Fukui Prefecture’s population of about 750,000 is ranked 43rd in the country. The number continues to shrink due to the chronically low birth rate and people moving to urban areas.

The prefectural government had been making preparations for the opening day, as it looked to curb the local economy’s decline by bringing in more tourists from the Tokyo metropolitan area using the Shinkansen line.

As part of such efforts, a life-size robot of a Tyrannosaurus —12 meters long and 5.6 meters high — has been installed in front of Fukui Station to promote the prefecture as a “dinosaur kingdom” where numerous dinosaur fossils have been excavated. On Friday, a foreign-owned hotel that the prefecture drew to the city opened in front of the station. Development projects are underway along the Shinkansen line with a view to attracting foreign visitors to Japan.

“Fukui makes me think about dinosaurs. First, I’d like to enjoy taking pictures in front of the station,” said Yumiko Ueda, 54, a company employee from Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, who visited the prefecture on a Hokuriku Shinkansen train on Saturday.


The original project to construct the Hokuriku Shinkansen was decided on in 1973. In 1997, the year before the Nagano Winter Olympics, the section between Tokyo and Nagano opened. In 2015, the line was extended to Kanazawa. The extension created a boom for Kanazawa, making it near impossible to reserve a hotel room in Kanazawa City.

However, construction of the subsequent extension between Kanazawa and Tsuruga faced a series of setbacks.

Additional construction work became necessary after cracks were found in a tunnel on the border between Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures. As a result, the project cost swelled from the initial projection of ¥1.16 trillion to ¥1.68 trillion. This forced the then president of the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency, which is in charge of Shinkansen construction, to step down to take responsibility in 2021.

“The opening day is finally here after spending many years on this project,” said West Japan Railway Co. President Kazuaki Hasegawa on Saturday. “I hope [the extension] will help revitalize business and tourism.”

Secondary shelters

The latest Shinkansen extension is expected to not only rejuvenate the Hokuriku region but also help support its recovery from the major earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula on New Year’s Day.

Following the earthquake, more than 80,000 reservations for overnight stays were canceled at hot spring resorts in southern Ishikawa Prefecture, including the popular Kaga hot spring resort.

Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase said, “Economic revitalization in the prefecture will eventually help support the affected areas.”

To coincide with the opening of the new section of the Shinkansen line, the central government has launched a travel discount program to promote tourism in the Hokuriku region. Thanks to the campaign, some facilities in the region are fully booked throughout the campaign period.

However, it remains unclear when the tourism industry in the Noto region will be fully restored. In Nanao City, all 22 hotels and inns that are part of the Wakura Onsen Hotels Cooperative Association are still closed due to damage to their buildings and other factors.

In hot spring resorts in the south of the prefecture, many hotels and accommodation facilities are accepting evacuees while continuing to operate.

At Kaga-Hyakumangoku, a hotel in Kaga City, 220 evacuees are still taking shelter. But it plans to ask them to move from the hotel to a dormitory for its employees so it will be able to keep its business going while supporting the evacuees.

“We hope areas that were less affected by the quake will promote the region through tourism to help support Noto’s reconstruction,” said the hotel’s manager.