The Hayate No. 91 bullet train made its debut run from Aomori Prefecture to Hokkaido on the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line on March 26, thrilling passengers who exclaimed with delight as it emerged from the undersea Seikan Tunnel for the first time.
Departing from JR Shin-Aomori Station at 6:32 a.m., the conductor announced shortly afterward, "This is the first (bullet) train service to connect Honshu with Japan's northernmost region. Please continue riding it for years to come."
The bullet train entered the tunnel under the Tsuruga Strait around 20 minutes later. The windows fogged up -- perhaps due to the warm temperature inside the train -- making it difficult to see out. Mobile phones lost their signals, and the sound of the vehicle slicing through the air was audible. Passengers could be heard commenting on the lack of shaking, despite the fact that the train was traveling at such high speed.
The electronic signboard inside the train read, "We are now passing through (the Seikan Tunnel)," and also provided a brief explanation of its highlights.
There was then a quiz, asking passengers whether the Aomori side of the tunnel was the entrance or the exit (for which, incidentally, the answer was "entrance").
Tomoki Joichi, 9, a third-grade elementary school student from Inagi, Tokyo, who was riding the Shinkansen together with his family, traced a map with his finger and said, "I can't believe we're traveling underneath the ocean!"
The train emerged from the tunnel on the Hokkaido side at 7:16 a.m., where the snow-covered fields in the mountainous town of Shiriuchi gleamed brightly.
After one or two minutes, the Hayate passed through another tunnel. The train sped past Kikonai, the first train station on the Hokkaido side, and continued onward past the surrounding winter scenery, such as the glistening Tsugaru Strait and Mount Hakodate, dusted lightly with snow.
"Please enjoy your stay in Hokkaido as it experiences the last of its long, cold winter," the conductor said as the bullet train approached its final stop, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, where it pulled in at 7:38 a.m.
With so many people waiting such a long time for the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line, it is greatly hoped that the Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) will keep its passengers' trust through continuing to focus squarely on safe operations. (By Chie Yamashita, Hokkaido News Department)