Shinkansen Diaries: Your Guide to the Best Detours Along the Way

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There have been a few articles about the Shinkansen on Odigo (like my wife's fast facts article), but at the end of the day, a train--bullet train or otherwise- is a mode of transport to get to a destination.  For most travelers, riding a Shinkansen is done to get to the main spots like Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, etc., but there are a great many stops along the way.  These places may be some you've never heard of before, but these little detours can offer some of the best sights and experiences in Japan, especially if you have increased flexibility with the Japan Rail Pass.   In fact, I would argue that if you have a Japan Rail Pass, you are doing yourself a disservice if you do not maximize the pass by making as many stops as possible!  Thus, I wanted to take an opportunity to introduce you, the reader, to some of the best detours along your Shinkansen travels in a new article series I call Shinkansen Diaries.
In Shinkansen Diaries, I'll give you a few alternative destinations for each of the major Shinkansen lines in Japan.  Here are the articles that you can look forward to broken down by Shinkansen line:

Yamagata Shinkansen

The Yamagata Shinkansen is accessible from Fukushima station, where it branches off to take you up to the city of Yamagata.  Along the way is one of my favorite small cities in Japan:
- Yonezawa: a stop along the Yamagata Shinkansen between Fukushima and Yamagata city that showcases Samurai history, delicious Yonezawa beef, and some of Yamagata's many famous fruit orchards.  Great for a 1/2 day trip. (Article: Top 5 Things to Do in Yonezawa)

Tohoku Shinkansen

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The Tohoku Shinkansen connects Tokyo to the Northeast region of Japan from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori.  Along the way, you should stop by these great cities:
- Morioka: The capital of Iwate Prefecture is one of the best cities to walk around, offering great sites, great food, and some interesting Meiji-era history.  Best for a 1/2 day or one night sojourn. (Article: Morioka: Most Walkable City in Tohoku)
- Sendai: One of Japan's best cities that offers a little bit of everything (culture, history, cuisine, etc.).  Perfect for anything from a 1/2 day to multi-day trip.  (Article: Discovering the Legendary Date Masamune in Sendai)

Hokkaido Shinkansen

At Shin-Aomori, you transfer to the Hokkaido Shinkansen to cross the Tsugaru Strait up to Japan's largest prefecture.  This is the newest Shinkansen line, and it will eventually extend to Sapporo.  When it does, Hakodate may become a bit of an afterthought, but in the meantime, the port town of Hakodate makes an excellent detour via Shinkansen.
- Hakodate: one of Japan's three original port towns open to foreign ships that maintains its cosmopolitan charm while offering some of Japan's best seafood.  Plan for at least one night here! (Articles: Hakodate--a Very Pretty Port CityFollowing Perry's Footsteps: Hakodate)

Tokaido Shinkansen

The original Shinkansen line connects Tokyo with Osaka.  The major stops along the way include Shin-Yokohama and Nagoya, but here are a few others worth visiting:

- Odawara: an old castle town and bastion for Kanagawa's history and culture. (Article to follow)

- Atami:
Kanagawa Prefecture's premier resort town with onsen (hot springs), delicious cuisine, and amazing ryokan. (Article to follow)

- Shizuoka:
home to Miho no Matsubara, one of the most beautiful Fuji-viewing spots in all of Japan.  (Article to follow)

Sanyo Shinkansen

The Sanyo extends the Tokaido Shinkansen all the way to Hakata in Kyushu.  Some major stops include Kobe, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, but here are two more worthy detours:
- Himeji: One of Japan's best castle cities and a must-visit to see the iconic Himeji Castle and the Engyo-ji.  1/2 day trip is sufficient as you travel between Kobe and Hiroshima. (Article to follow)
- Okayama: home to one of Japan's most beloved folk heroes, Momotaro, and a pleasant, walkable city. 1/2 day to overnight trip offers a good introduction to the city. (Article to follow)


Once lauded as one of the biggest pork barrel (that is, politically motivated) projects in postwar Japanese history, the Joetsu Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Niigata city along the west coast in the Hokuetsu region of Japan.  There are a few great spots, but my single favorite detour here is below:
- Urasa: the center of the relatively small city of Minami-Uonuma that boasts some of Japan's best sake breweries, great onsen, and the amazing Bishamon-do temple.  1/2 day to overnight trip is great for Urasa.  (Article: Drinking Sake and Marveling at the Bishamon-do at Urasa)

Hokuriku Shinkansen

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Japan's newest independent Shinkansen line, the Hokuriku Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Kanazawa, the best alternate to Kyoto in Japan for traditional culture.  Along the way, you'll want to make these two stops:
-Shin Takaoka: home to one of Japan's three Daibutsu, the traditional platter-style sushi, and fantastic bronze work.  Great for a 1/2 day trip.  (Article to follow)
- Nagano: You wouldn't think of Nagano as a detour, but when it's not ski season, it is often overlooked.  Still, Nagano offers fun getaway even when the slopes are closed.  Great for an overnight trip.  (Article to follow)

I look forward to introducing to all of these wonderful stops along the Shinkansen.  Hopefully you'll have the chance to make the most of all the Shinkansen gives you access to during your journeys in Japan!

Mike B