Hello Kitty Shinkansen: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Japan’s Most Unique Bullet Train

If you are planning a trip to Japan, you’ve probably heard of the various themed experiences across the country, ranging from theme parks, cafes, shops, and even transportation. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture, one easy way to do it is by riding the Hello Kitty Shinkansen.

It will not only transport you from one area of Japan to another, but it will also provide entertainment along the way.

As a seasoned fan of Japan’s Shinkansen network as well as quirky theming, I included riding the Hello Kitty Shinkansen in my itinerary on my most recent trip to Japan. This guide will help you learn how to ride the one-and-only Hello Kitty Shinkansen as easy as 1-2-3.

I will share my experience riding this high-speed, cute, and pink bullet train while providing step-by-step instructions on using the calendar, timetable and purchase tickets so you can board the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. After reviewing the how-to’s and answering all your questions, this guide will make riding the famous Hello Kitty Bullet Train a breeze.

Welcome aboard the Kawaii! Room of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen
Welcome aboard the Kawaii! Room of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen.

Overview of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

The Hello Kitty Shinkansen, in its current form, debuted in June 2018.

It’s not the first specially themed Shinkansen train, as it was preceded by a Shinkansen decorated in Evangelion, a famous Japanese anime.

That train only ran for about three years, and it is unknown how long the current train will last, so make sure you ride it while you can! The schedule is only published for the next two months, so the end of the run could come with little notice.

On the outside, the train is immediately recognizable by its dominant pink colours. The top of the train down to the nose is entirely pink, while the side of the train is painted white with pink ribbons and Hello Kitty characters on each car.

The Hello Kitty Shinkansen parked in Hakata Station
The Hello Kitty Shinkansen parked at Hakata Station.

On the inside, a few cars are entirely unique to this train and can’t be found anywhere else on the Shinkansen network.

The Hello! Plaza Car #1 doesn’t even hold passengers but has a Hello Kitty shop and displays!

Next door in Car #2, passengers can enjoy a photo op with a Hello Kitty Train Master statue and sit in this specially-themed Kawaii! Room. There are special seat covers, purple seats, and even Hello Kitty characters on the doors, window shades, and even in the lavatories. 

Kawaii! Rom with special seat covers and window shades
Kawaii! Rom with special purple seats and window shades.

Why You Should Ride the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

No explanation is even needed if you are a fan of Hello Kitty. But even for those who are not fans of the brand, the characters and names are instantly recognizable worldwide (unlike the previous Evangelion train).

This experience makes for a fun change from the normal Shinkansen, and the photo ops mean you can share the fun culture of Japan with friends and family. And for everyone that enjoys trains, every unique experience different from the norm is something special and fun. I don’t know how it doesn’t put you in a good mood. 

You don’t even have to go out of your way for the experience since the train will also take you from place to place on your trip, as the train visits many popular destinations like Osaka, Himeji, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.

Instead of just sitting in your seat with only your own entertainment, this train provides something fun to do with photo ops, a shop to browse, and other displays to entertain adults and children alike. There is no shame in enjoying this experience at any age or from any background! 

One of the two photo op areas inside the Hello Kitty Shinkansen
One of the two photo-op areas inside the Hello Kitty Shinkansen.

A Detailed Look Into the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

Unique purple seats and headrest covers of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen
Unique purple seats and headrest covers of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen.

This section will take you on a dive into the exterior details as well as the Hello! Plaza Room, and Kawaii! Room. Join me for a whimsical tour of the unique paint job, cute characters and attractions that await inside.

The Exterior

While the body of the train is white like other Shinkansen trains, there is no mistaking the bold pink roof and ribbon of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. The train’s name is plastered on the front, and along each of the cars the entire length of the train, you will find cute symbols like bowties and the Hello Kitty characters created for each region of the train. 

The name of the train is on the front before the beginning of the iconic pink ribbon
The train’s name is on the front before the beginning of the iconic pink ribbon.

The design of the continuous ribbon along the train is inspired by linking the eight regions of Japan that the Hello Kitty Shinkansen runs between. It is even more appropriate considering that Kodama services make every stop along this route.

And just as eight regions are covered, this train has eight cars! It truly pays homage to Western Japan in a fun and quirky way. 

Hello! Plaza Room

This is the most unique car on the train, and perhaps of any Shinkansen! There are no passenger seats in this first car, but instead, it is completely dedicated to Hello Kitty merchandise and fun.

Merchandise shop inside part of the Hello! Plaza Room
Merchandise shop inside part of the Hello! Plaza Room.

There are Hello Kitty displays and photo ops, and even a small Hello Kitty theatre. There is a rest area to sit and enjoy your Hello Kitty snacks.

Special theatre in the Hello! Plaza room
Special theatre in the Hello! Plaza room

But the main attraction is the shop, with limited edition Hello Kitty merchandise special to each region featured in Western Japan. Check the JR Hello Kitty Shinkansen site for further information.

There are also vending machines, small snacks like cookies or crackers, and, if available, even a small bento box inside a miniature Hello Kitty Shinkansen car!

So while a JR or Area Wide Pass may have covered your train ticket, visiting this room will still make you want to open up your wallet.

Kawaii! Room

All passenger cars in the Hello Kitty Shinkansen are appointed with purple or pink seats; white headrest covers with the train’s namesake, and pink and white flooring full of Hello Kitty bowties and other motifs. However, the walls of the train are otherwise grey and plain. 

But this is not the case in the Kawaii! Room, where Hello Kitty characters are plastered all over the walls, and my personal favourite, the window shades!

The Kawaii! Room allows you to sit in a heavily themed train car
The Kawaii! Room allows you to sit in a heavily-themed train car.

The seats pictured above in the forward section of this car are UNRESERVED, so if you would like to sit in this car, make sure you get to either terminus early to queue up.

This room also has the Hello Kitty character in the Shinkansen station employee uniform next to a large logo and map of the eight regions on the wall.

This guide will help you explore the 8 regions of Western Japan with Hello Kitty
This guide will help you explore the eight regions of Western Japan with Hello Kitty.

If you are boarding the train in the middle of its run, it is possible some passengers may be getting off and vacating their seats. However, you will still enjoy riding in other cars and can walk to Car #2 to enjoy the decorations from the end of the car, where there is standing room and photo ops. 

Route and Schedule for the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

The Hello Kitty Shinkansen runs on a regularly scheduled Kodama train once per day. It originates from Hakata Station in Fukuoka and travels to Shin-Osaka before immediately turning around for the return journey.

The current timetable of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen in each direction
The current timetable of the Hello Kitty Shinkansen in each direction

Currently, the train from Hakata to Shin-Osaka is Kodama 842, while the return trip from Shin-Osaka to Hakata is Kodama 849. The one-way trip between these two terminal stations takes a little over 4 hours!

However, you don’t have to ride the Hello Kitty Shinkansen for the entire duration of the trip. It is a Kodama train, which means this bullet train makes many stops along the way.

Many of these are popular and scenic tourist destinations, including but not limited to Kobe, Himeji, Hiroshima, Osaka and Fukuoka.

If you are planning to visit Himeji Castle, you can do so with only a 38-minute ride on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen to or from Shin-Osaka. Or if you are heading down to Hiroshima or Miyajima, you can make it a 2.5 hour experience.

No matter where you are visiting in this corridor between Osaka and Fukuoka, make sure to view the timetable to build the Hello Kitty Shinkansen into your plans. 

Current schedule of which days the Hello Kitty Shinkansen operates
The current schedule of which days the Hello Kitty Shinkansen operates.

It is important to note that the Hello Kitty Shinkansen does NOT run every single day. It runs most days of the month, denoted by a Hello Kitty bowtie on the calendar.

There is a slash in the schedule on the days it does not run. The Kodama 842 and 849 still operate on these off days, but they will be standard Shinkansen trains. Luckily in August and September 2023, there are only a total of 6 days combined where the Hello Kitty Bullet Train is resting. 

Both the current timetable and calendar for the Hello Kitty Shinkansen can be found on the official JR website:

Tickets for the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

The good news is riding the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is just like any other bullet train in Japan – there are no special tickets!

If you have a JR pass, it includes rides on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen between any of the stops. You can reserve your seats online if you would like to guarantee your spot but then walk freely to the special themed cars.

You can also purchase point-to-point shinkansen tickets, either through Klook, the SmartEX app or at most train stations.

If you have a JR Pass, the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is included!
If you have a JR Pass, the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is included!

Regional train passes also cover the area where the Hello Kitty Shinkansen runs. Examples include but are not limited to various Kansai area passes, Hiroshima and Okayama area passes, Sanyo area passes, and the JR West All Area Pass.

If you are using a regional pass, just be sure to check which stations are included in the timetable in your pass. You will have to purchase a ticket if you ride outside the region covered by your pass.

Individual tickets can be purchased online or at JR train stations just like any Shinkansen train – just be sure the ticket is for the Kodoma 842 or 849 train, depending on which direction you are riding. As the train schedule and timetable can change at any notice, be sure to check them before purchasing tickets for this train.

My Experience Riding the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

I enjoyed a perfect early morning ride on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen on my trip to Japan in March of 2023. I had just finished a visit to Fukuoka, and my next destination was Miyajima, so a Shinkansen ride from Hakata to Hiroshima was exactly what I needed.

The 7 am departure from Hakata was perfect for maximising my day in Miyajima. I had a JR Pass and booked seats ahead of time. Since the Kawaii! Room is unreserved; I booked seats in Car #3 so I could easily walk over to the special-themed cars to enjoy them.

When I arrived at Hakata Station, I picked up some snacks from Mister Donut for breakfast since I didn’t know if I would like any of the products sold on board. It turns out the cute doughnut hole basket and Sakura doughnut were perfectly themed to fit in on the train!

Fun breakfast to accompany my fun ride on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen
Fun breakfast to accompany my fun ride on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen

When I arrived at the platform for Kodoma 842 in Hakata 15 minutes before departure, I was surprised to see not a single person waiting for the train. Therefore I waited for Car #2 so I could sit in the Kawaii! Room. A few more folks joined me, but it turns out we were the only few riders this morning.

Therefore, I highly suggest starting your train in Hakata. The early start is less popular for everyone, and being the terminal station means the train is empty and full of seats.

As the train goes down its route, more and more passengers will join. The mid-day return from Osaka will be much busier, as it’s at a great time for visitors, and it’s easy to take a quick ride to nearby tourist destinations like Kobe or Himeji.

The train will be empty starting at Shin-Osaka, though, so arrive early if you don’t have a reservation to beat the queues that will form for unreserved cars. 

When I first boarded, I was surprised to find the Hello! Plaza Room was empty. However, as soon as the train began moving, a train staff member quickly set up the Hello Kitty shop, and it was open for business. This wasn’t an issue at all, as I and the other family on board enjoyed taking pictures in the empty train with all of the Hello Kitty figures and signage. 

Final Thoughts

Japan is synonymous with train travel and special-themed experiences, so the Hello Kitty Shinkansen is an affordable and useful way to embrace the culture of Japan.

This isn’t your everyday experience – whether the striking exterior, the fun atmosphere of the interior, the chance to purchase very limited edition merchandise or cute, memorable photo ops.

All Hello Kitty fans, train enthusiasts, or visitors from abroad should ride this train and share the fun memories with all of your friends and families – it embodies and screams ‘only in Japan’.

The icing on the cake is you can use the train to explore beautiful places in Japan outside the typical Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka routes. Western Japan has a ton to offer! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Hello Kitty Shinkansen Pinterest Image

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