On March 12, 2011, the missing northern half of the Kyushu Shinkansen between Hakata and Shin-Yatsushiro Stations was opened, dramatically reducing travel times to southern Kyushu. However, due to the earthquake and tsunami disaster on the previous day, all opening ceremonies were canceled.

On the same day, new direct trains started operating all the way between Osaka and Kagoshima. The trains are named Mizuho and Sakura, with the Mizuho being slightly faster than the Sakura. However, initially there are only four Mizuho trains per day, while the Sakura are running hourly and are expected to eventually replace the Hikari Rail Star trains along the Sanyo Shinkansen.

Tsubame trains are operating hourly as the slowest train category between Hakata and Kumamoto (some as far as Kagoshima) and are complemented by an additional hourly Sakura service between Hakata and Kagoshima that will serve all stations south of Kumamoto. All Nozomi and Hikari Rail Star trains enjoy quick and easy connections to a Sakura or Tsubame train at Hakata Station and vice versa.

New train sets for the new trains

The new Mizuho and Sakura trains are using newly designed train sets based on the N700 series. The new 8-car trains feature luxurious green car seats (4 per row), reserved ordinary seats which are almost as comfortable as the green car seats (4 per row) and non-reserved ordinary seats (5 per row).

The Tsubame trains continue to use their uniquely designed 800 series train sets, as will some of the Sakura trains that operate solely within Kyushu.

The new trains and rail passes

The Japan Rail Pass is valid on Sakura trains but invalid on Mizuho trains (like Nozomi trains). The JR West Sanyo Pass covers both Sakura and Mizuho trains (like it covers both Hikari and Nozomi trains). Likewise, the Kyushu Rail Pass is valid on all shinkansen trains between Hakata and Kagoshima-Chuo (the Northern Kyushu Pass between Hakata and Kumamoto).

Travel time reduction

The completion of the Kyushu Shinkansen brings dramatic reductions in travel time (and moderate price increases) to reach various places in Kyushu, including the major cities of Kumamoto and Kagoshima. The table below shows approximate travel time reductions from Hakata to selected tourist destinations:

1 hour 10 minutes
30 minutes
-40 minutes
2 hours 10 minutes
1 hour 20 minutes
-50 minutes
2 hours
1 hour 15 minutes
-45 minutes
3 hours 10 minutes
2 hours 20 minutes
-50 minutes
4 hours 30 minutes
3 hours 40 minutes
-50 minutes
2 hours 30 minutes
1 hour 50 minutes
-40 minutes

The completed shinkansen line also creates a more serious competition to air travel on the Osaka-Kumamoto and Osaka-Kagoshima routes, as the shinkansen allow for direct train rides between the city centers with very competitive, reduced travel times:

Train Before
Train After
Air (center to center)
Osaka - Kumamoto
4 hours 10 minutes
3 hours 10 minutes
3 hours 30 minutes
Osaka - Kagoshima
5 hours 10 minutes
3 hours 55 minutes
3 hours 40 minutes