TOKYO • At 8.30am last Saturday, the Fuji Kaiyu (excursion) limited express pulled out slowly from Platform 9 at Tokyo's JR Shinjuku station, with a crowd of railroad enthusiasts on hand taking photos.
One of the highlights of East Japan Railways' latest timetable changes was the roll-out of this new limited express service, which takes passengers directly from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko station in Yamanashi prefecture, located near the famed Mount Fuji, in just under two hours.
Fuji Kaiyu runs with Kaiji, another limited express service, to Otsuki station in the prefecture, before separating to continue its run on the Fujikyuko Railway Line.
According to the Yamanashi prefectural government, the area received about 32.16 million tourists, including domestic visitors, in 2017, thanks to an increase in the number of foreigners visiting Mount Fuji, a Unesco World Heritage site, and the nearby Lake Kawaguchi.
This was a record high for the sixth year in a row.
To reach this area via limited express services from Shinjuku station, passengers previously had to change trains at Otsuki station, except for direct services available only on holidays.
A 35-year-old American tourist from Arizona used the new service last Saturday. Upon arriving at Kawaguchiko Station, he said it was convenient to be able to get to Mount Fuji in two hours without having to change trains. The ride was very comfortable, he added.
JR East also aims to increase the use of its shinkansen bullet train services through the latest updates.
The Joetsu shinkansen line, for example, goes to many ski resorts popular with foreigners, such as Gala Yuzawa in Niigata prefecture.
The latest E7 series, which provides a smoother ride, has now been deployed for some services on this shinkansen line.
In the service areas covered by West Japan Railways, the full length of its Osaka Higashi Line has now opened, offering direct services between Shin-Osaka station, a shinkansen stop, and Nara station in about an hour.
Previously, tourists heading for Nara had to change trains at Osaka or Kyoto station. It is hoped that the Osaka Higashi Line will provide better accessibility and bring more tourists to visit Todaiji temple and other tourist spots in Nara.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organisation, 31.19 million foreign tourists visited the country last year, an 8.7 per cent increase from 2017 and the first time the figure has topped 30 million.
The figure has nearly tripled since 2013, when it passed 10 million for the first time.
The government aims to increase this number, setting targets to hit 40 million tourists in 2020 and 60 million in 2030.
YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK