The Joetsu Shinkansen is a high speed bullet train route that links the city of Tokyo with destinations in the prefectures of Saitama, Gunma and Niigata.
There are two main train services on the Joetsu Shinkansen: the Toki and the Tanigawa. The Toki is a limited stop service that provides a fast link between Tokyo Station and Niigata Station. The Toki is named after the Japanese name of the Crested Ibis, a rare bird that is the target of conservation efforts in Niigata Prefecture.
The Tanigawa is a slower service that stops at all stations between Tokyo Station and Echigo-Yuzawa Station. The Tanigawa is named after Mount Tanigawa, a famous mountain in Gunma and Niigata prefectures. There are also double decker versions of these two services called the Max Toki and the Max Tanigawa.
At JR Ueno Station Joetsu Shinkansen services run from platforms 19 and 20. The Joetsu Shinkansen is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Between Tokyo and Niigata there are 12 stations on the Joetsu Shinkansen route.
Tokyo > Ueno > Omiya > Kumagaya > Honjo-Waseda > Takasaki > Jomo-Kogen > Echigo-Yuzawa > Urasa > Nagaoka > Tsubama-Sanjo > Niigata
In the winter ski season some Tanigawa services continue beyond Echigo-Yuzawa Station on the Gala-Yuzawa Line to Gala-Yuzawa Station. Gala-Yuzawa Station is a seasonal station that only opens during the winter to serve the Gala-Yuzawa ski resort.
Between Tokyo and Omiya the Joetsu Shinkansen follows the same route as the Tohoku Shinkansen. After Omiya, Kumagaya, Honjo-Waseda, and Takasaki are also served by Hokuriku Shinkansen services. Information on the Joetsu Shinkansen’s key destinations and on transfer points is given below. For detailed information on destinations between Tokyo and Omiya, please see our article on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Example ticket fares and journey times are given from JR Ueno Station. Tickets for reserved seats usually cost around 500 yen extra but this can go up and down in peak and non-peak travel periods. Unreserved ticket pricing is given below.
Kumagaya’s biggest attraction is the Menuma Shodenzan Temple. This temple was first established in the 12th century, but the current buildings date from the 17th century. Among the elaborate and colorful carvings on the temple buildings is a famous carving of an eagle rescuing a monkey from a waterfall. This is believed to be by the artist Hidari Jingoro who also carved the three monkeys in Nikko. Kumagaya also hosts a major summer festival every July 20th to 22nd called Uchiwa Matsuri, or paper fan festival.
Kumagaya Station is served by JR East’s Takasaki Line and Shonan-Shinjuku Line, the private railway Chichibu Main Line, and by the Hokuriku Shinkansen.
Train fare (unreserved): 2,070 yen
Train time: 33 minutes
There are a number of sightseeing attractions both in and around Takasaki.
- The top attraction in Takasaki is a giant statue of the Goddess of Mercy called the Byakue Dai-Kannon. Visitors can enter the 41.8 meter high statue and climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city.
- The Gunma Museum of Modern Art has a fine collection of classical Japanese and Chinese art, as well as more contemporary Japanese and Western art which includes paintings, textiles and calligraphy.
- Takasaki is famous for the production of “Daruma” tumbling dolls and a large Daruma doll market is held at Shorinzan Darumaji Temple every January 6th and 7th. This temple also has a large collection of Daruma dolls on permanent display.
- The remaining structures of the 15th century Takasaki Castle are located just 14 minutes’ walk from Takasaki Station and are worth a look if you have the time.
- The city of Takasaki is close to the scenic locations of Mount Haruna and Lake Haruna. The 1,449 meter high mountain is famous for its perfectly symmetrical shape. A ropeway leads to the top of the mountain, and visitors can enjoy hiking, boating activities on the lake, or visit ancient Haruna Jinja Shrine which dates from 586. Harunako Onsen Yusuge is a popular hot spring resort hotel with rooms overlooking the lake. To get to Mount Haruna you can take a Gunma Bus service from Takasaki Station to Harunako-machi. The journey takes around 90 minutes and costs 1,310 yen.
Takasaki Station is served by JR East’s Takasaki Line, Agatsuma Line, Hachiko Line, Joetsu Line, and Ryomo Line. Transfers can also be made here to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, and the Joshin Electric Railway Line.
Train fare (unreserved): 4,200 yen
Train time: 53 minutes
Jomo-Kogen Station serves the town of Minakami in Gunma Prefecture. Surrounded by mountainous countryside, this town has access to a large number of hot spring spas and ski resorts, and is also a popular base for outdoor activities.
- There are many famous of hot spring bathing resorts around Minakami. Popular resort hotels are the Minakamikan Hotel in Minakami Onsen, the Osenkaku ryokan in Takaragawa Onsen, and the Chojukan ryokan in Hoshi Onsen. Many resort hotels will arrange a free pick-up service at the station to transport you to the hotel.
- The ski season in Minakami lasts from December to April. Popular ski resorts are Minakami Kogen, Minakami Kogen Fujiwara, Norn, Hodaigi, and Tanigawadake Tenjindaira.
- Takumi-no-Sato is a traditional arts and crafts village with workshops, stores, and restaurants where visitors can enjoy a variety of craftwork experiences. Workshops include bamboo crafts, straw-weaving, noodle-making, lacquerwork, pottery, and paper-making. Fruit picking activities are also possible in season. One of the highlights of Takumi-no-Sato which is especially popular with children is the horse-drawn carriage tour of the village. Takumi-no-Sato is a 25 minute bus ride from Jomo-Kogen Station, and a taxi will get you there in 18 minutes.
- Popular outdoor activities in Minakami range from hiking and camping, to more adventurous pursuits such as white water rafting, paragliding, canyoning, and bungee jumping.
Train fare (unreserved): 5,180 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 14 minutes
Echigo-Yuzawa Station serves the hot spring resort town of Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture. This town was made famous internationally by Yasunari Kawabata’s classic novel Yukiguni (or Snow Country). Today Yuzawa is also a very popular location for skiing and snowboarding and many ski resorts are accessible from the town.
- The most famous hot spring resort hotel in Yuzawa is Takahan Ryokan where Kawabata wrote his novel Yukiguni. This traditional inn is over 800 years old and visitors can view the room where Kawabata stayed and wrote his book.
- Yukiguni-kan is a museum dedicated to the history of the town. Here you can see life as it was when Kawabata wrote his novel in the 1930s and 1940s. There are photographs of the geisha who once worked in the town, and other exhibits demonstrating the lifestyle of that time. The museum is a 7 minute walk from Echigo-Yuzawa Station.
- Niigata Prefecture is famous both for its rice and for its sake. Ponshukan is a sake shop inside Echigo-Yuzawa Station where for 500 yen you can choose and try five different Niigata sake varieties. There is also a café on site and a hot spring bath where sake is mixed into the hot mineral water.
- The ski resorts around Yuzawa are famous for their deep powder snow. Shuttle buses run directly from Echigo-Yuzawa Station to the ski resorts, which makes them easily accessible. Here are three resort recommendations:
- Naeba Ski Resort is one of Japan’s largest and most popular skiing locations. There are beginner trails suitable or children, all level terrain parks, and more challenging trails for advanced skiers. At night, trails are illuminated to enable night skiing. Private ski lessons for individuals and groups are available in English and Chinese but should be booked in advance. Accommodation is available at the Naeba Prince Hotel. which has 1,224 rooms, over 20 restaurants, shops, and hot spring baths. The free shuttle bus from Echigo-Yuzawa Station takes 40-50 minutes. This resort is also connected to Kagura Ski Resort by the “Dragondola”; Japan’s longest gondola.
- Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort is very accessible because the base of the resort is only a 10 minute walk from Echigo-Yuzawa Station. The ropeway to the top of the mountain has one of the world’s biggest gondolas and carries up to 166 people over the spectacular scenery. Full sets of skiing and snowboarding equipment are available to rent and private lessons are available in English. This resort is family oriented with a kid’s play area and a variety of trails ranging from beginner to advanced. There are restaurants on the mountain and a hot spring bathing facility at the resort’s base. The hot spring hotel Yuzawa Toei is conveniently located for this resort.
- Naspa Ski Garden is a family oriented skiers only ski resort with 8 trails and private lessons in English available for all levels. Ski equipment and ski wear are all available to rent. Day care is provided for kids as well as slides and tube rides, and kids skiing lessons are also available. Accommodation is available at the Naspa New Otani Hotel which has four restaurants, a bar, karaoke facilities, a spa, sauna, and pool. A free shuttle bus from Echigo-Yuzawa Station takes 5 minutes.
Echigo-Yuzawa Station is also served by the JR Joetsu Line, the Hokuhoku Line, and the Gala-Yuzawa Line.
Train fare (unreserved): 5,940 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 28 minutes
The Gala-Yuzawa Line is a branch line which is only used in the winter to serve the Gala-Yuzawa ski resort. During the winter season Gala-Yuzawa ski resort is directly accessible via the Tanigawa shinkansen service from Tokyo. The station opens right onto the resort and you can rent your skis, snowboards and other equipment there. This resort has 15 ski runs, nine lifts, dining facilities and a spa. Both ski and snowboard lessons are available in English and ski lessons are available in Chinese and Thai.
Train fare (unreserved): 6,360 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Nagaoka has a number of sites of cultural interest.
- Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art has 19th century Western art, 20th century Japanese works and a sculpture garden. Located in pleasant parkland it is a 15 minute bus ride from Nagaoka Station.
- Niigata Prefectural Museum of History has exhibits dedicated to Niigata Prefecture’s anthropology, archaeology, folklore and history. The museum is a 40 minute bus ride or 20 minute taxi ride from Nagaoka Station.
- Echigo Hillside Park is a comprehensive recreational facility with a variety of flower gardens providing colorful displays in all seasons. There is also a play area for kids, a pond with waterfalls and a musical fountain, walking paths with scenic viewpoints, an observatory, dining and barbecue facilities, and a stage for musical performances. The park is a 36 minute bus ride from Nagaoka Station or 25 minutes by taxi.
- Houtokusan Inari Taisha is an impressive shrine building dating from the 7th century. To get there take the Shinetsu Main Line from Nagaoka Station to Echigo-Iwatsuka Station. The train ride takes 15 minutes and it is then a 5 minute walk to the shrine.
- Nagaoka’s summer festival is held from August 1st to 3rd every year and includes float parades and traditional dance processions before climaxing with a massive fireworks display on the banks of the Shinano River.
Nagaoka Station is served by JR East’s Shinetsu Line and Joetsu Line.
Train fare (unreserved): 8,220 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 46 minutes
This station serves two cities Sanjo and Tsubame. From this station passengers can access Yahiko Jinja Shrine by taking the Yahiko Line for 20 minutes and then walking for 13 minutes. Yahiko Jinja was first established in 719 but the present buildings date from 1916. It is the chief Shinto shrine of Niigata Prefecture. The shrine is located at the base of Mount Yahiko, and a nearby cable car takes passengers up to the summit.
Tsubame-Sanjo station is served by the JR Yahiko Line.
Train fare (unreserved): 8,550 yen
Train time: 1 hour and 57 minutes
Niigata has a number of cultural attractions which a listed below.
- Bandai Bridge is a graceful stone bridge with six arches that was built in 1929. It is considered a symbol of the city and is lit up at night.
- Minatopia is Niigata’s history museum and includes several preserved historical buildings on its grounds. There is a tourist bus from Niigata Station that will take you there in 27 minutes or you can take a taxi and be there in 10 minutes.
- Niigata Science Museum is a family oriented facility with fossils, model dinosaurs, a planetarium, and live science demonstrations. Technological exhibits include a helicopter, steam locomotive, and a 1960’s Redstone space rocket. The museum is 20 minutes from Niigata Station by bus or 15 minutes by taxi.
- Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum displays both Western and Asian contemporary art works and supports artists from Niigata Prefecture. The museum is a 25 minute walk or an 8 minute taxi ride from Niigata Station.
- Water Shuttle tours of the city can be taken along the Shinano River. There are several boarding points, but the nearest to the station is at the Bandai City shopping complex. There is another boarding point at the Minatopia museum.
- Ferries and jetfoils from Niigata Port take passengers to Sado Island; a famous location of natural beauty.
Niigata Station is served by JR East’s Shinetsu Main Line, Hakushin Line, Uetsu Main Line, Echigo Line and Banetsu West Line.
Train fare (unreserved): 9,840 yen
Train time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Train fare (unreserved): 9,840 yen
Train time: 2 hour and 10 minutes
Tickets & Discounts
Joetsu Shinkansen services have both ordinary and Green Car seating. The Japan Rail Pass can be used for both these seating grades. However, at the time you buy the pass, you must choose an Ordinary Pass or a Green Pass. As an alternative to the Japan Rail Pass, JR East also offer a discount pass for the Niigata and Nagano areas. This special 5 day pass for overseas visitors covers the cost of the Narita Express and Tokyo Monorail and also offers unlimited use of JR East’s local trains, shinkansen, and limited express services within the designated area. Some non-JR trains in the Izu and Nikko areas are also covered by this pass. For prices and more details check the official JR East Pass webpage. To save you time, tickets for the Joetsu Shinkansen can also be reserved online.
Map & Timetables
To see how the Joetsu Shinkansen connects with other shinkansen routes, view our complete map of Japan’s shinkansen high-speed railway network.
JR East has complete timetables for Joetsu Shinkansen trains heading from Tokyo and to Tokyo. To look up train times, fares, and connections quickly on this route use online English route finders like Hyperdia or the Japan Transit Planner.
Article by Michael Lambe. Photos by Michael Lambe, jonjompe/pixta(1), prof215832/pixta(7), skipinof/pixta(8). All rights reserved.