The Hello Kitty Shinkansen - the cutest bullet train to grace our train tracks thus far - started its service on June 30, 2018. This Kodama train on the Sanyo Shinkansen with the special livery makes one round trip a day between Shin-Osaka and Hakata stations. It is the slowest category of shinkansen and stops at all the stations along the way, including popular destinations like Himeji and Hiroshima.

The exterior of the train is completely decked out in special Hello Kitty livery, and cars 1 and 2 carry additional special decorations on the inside. It was great to see the smiles and excitement on the platform when fellow passengers turned up without realizing that their train was going to be the cutest one.

Car 1, the Hello! Plaza, has been outfitted to carry a small shop as well as an exhibition space and is open to all passengers on board the train. Until September 30, the car's exhibition focuses on Shimane and Tottori prefectures, displaying pictures from those two places. There are also special prizes to be won for those who visit the two prefectures in addition to taking the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. Limited edition and original souvenir products are sold on board here, as well as drinks. There are limited seats in car 1 to enjoy drinks in a moving cafe.

Car 2, the Kawaii! Room, has also been spruced up to reflect the Hello Kitty design. The car carries unreserved seating, and areas to look out for include the floor which has been covered in pink bubbles and the shape of Hello Kitty's head, the seat headrests, the side of the armrests and not forgetting the window blinds. At one end of the car, there is a large standing Hello Kitty statue wearing the train conductor's uniform (the look definitely suits her and I thought she looked incredibly cute!) for photo opportunities. There was a lot to see and be excited about, and I didn't feel that the seating area in car 2 was overly pink and girly.

The rest of the train, Cars 3 to 8, is not as tricked out as cars 1 and 2, but it is still obvious that the train has special livery. There are decals of Hello Kitty and Friends in the decks and all the car doors also carry the Hello Kitty design. The attention to detail extends to the original melody that plays before arriving at the stations. Talk about an all-immersive experience!

In addition to the actual train, there are two places to further enjoy the Hello Kitty madness at Hakata Station, the terminal station in Fukuoka. The first is the Hello Kitty Shinkansen Cafe which can be found inside the paid shinkansen area. The cafe has a Hello Kitty menu and a part of it is decked out in Hello Kitty Shinkansen paraphernalia. The second is the Hello Kitty Shinkansen Marche, a merchandise shop in the free area near the ticket gates. Goods commemorating the special collaboration bullet train as well as limited edition products can be purchased here.

The Hello Kitty Shinkansen departs from Hakata Station at 6:40 in the morning and arrives in Shin-Osaka at 11:13. In the opposite direction, the train departs at 11:29 and arrives back in Hakata at 15:38. Currently, this special livery train is scheduled to run almost everyday with a few days off each month (see official website). The train is expected to keep operating for some time, but exact dates have not been published. In comparison, its predecessor, the Evangelion Shinkansen, was initially supposed to run for 1.5 years, but ended up running for 2.5 years until May 2018 due to its popularity.

The one way journey between Shin-Osaka and Hakata takes about 4.5 hours and costs around 14,480 yen for an unreserved seat. As this train operates as a regular bullet train, all you need is a regular ticket. Alternatively, the entire ride is covered by the Japan Rail Pass and the JR Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, while sections of it are covered by some other passes offered by JR West, like the JR Kansai Wide Pass which covers the section between Shin-Osaka and Okayama. Cars 4 to 6 carry reserved seats while the rest of the train does not require seat reservations.