Started as a collaboration between Hello Kitty creators Sanrio and JR West in 2018, the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is a single train set that plies the Hakata (Fukuoka) to Shin-Osaka route once each day in both directions.
When the bullet train with the fetching pink paint job and Hello Kitty decals rolls into the station, there is no mistaking this for any other train on the network. Although there are decals and small touches throughout the eight carriages, all the action happens in carriages 1 and 2 (at the front leaving Shin-Osaka or at the rear if leaving Hakata). Carriage 1 is given over to a Sanrio shop called “Hello! Plaza” with three uniformed attendants and all manner of Hello Kitty merchandise—including limited-edition station master Kitty-chan.
If you visit the first carriage shop, you’ll get a souvenir “short story” booklet that you can sell on eBay for at least a dollar. Aside from the plush toys, there are lots of snacks and smaller items for the kids.
If you want the experience for the whole trip, you’ll have to get on carriage 2—the only passenger carriage that is fully decked out with Kitty-chan–themed flooring, seats and window shades.
At the back of the carriage is an area for taking those all important commemorative photos.
How to catch the Hello Kitty Shinkansen
The Hello Kitty Shinkansen is a regular ‘Kodama’ service that runs from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Shin-Osaka from 6:42 am to 11:13 am and then reverses direction at 11:29 am, arriving back in Hakata at 3:38 pm. The eight-car Kodama, stopping at all stations, is a much slower train (relatively speaking) than the 16-car Nozomi or Hikari services that whiz up and down between Tokyo and Hakata. Four-and-a-half hours for the journey between Shin-Osaka and Hakata is more than double the time of the faster services. Unless you’re a fanatic, it would be best to use it to get to one of the smaller stations (such as Himeji or Shin-Shimonoseki) or for doing a small hop—like Shin-Osaka to Shin-Kobe.
If you’re hoping to reserve a seat, then you’re out of luck. Carriage 2 of this service is “jiyuseki” (free unreserved seating), so your best bet is to line up and take your chances.