5 Years Since Opening, Effects Tending to Concentrate on Major Cities
Since the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Kanazawa extension, expansions of foreign hotels and constructions of condominiums have spread into areas around Kanazawa Station and Toyama Station; while these effects continue, there are also areas far from the stations, which are unable to keep up with the flow. Uozu Station (in Toyama Prefecture, Uozu City), is on a conventional train line and was the starting station of a Limited Express line; the station has experienced more than a 10% decrease in users, with the surrounding land values continuously dropping. In Toyama Prefecture, with the effects tending to concentrate on Toyama City, the issue is spreading its influence out to a wider area. After the Tsuruga extension opens, stations within Fukui Prefecture, similar to Uozu, like Sabae Station, holds the possibility to lose its Limited Express train service; those concerned have been gaining an increasing sense of crisis.
During the late afternoons in March, there would be a few commuters at Uozu Station. A manager (aged 66) of a liquor store located south-west of the station lamented, “In the past, cars would fill the parking lots of the shopping district, but now it’s bare. It’s difficult to see how things will go from here.”
Located in the east part of Toyama Prefecture, Uozu City has a population of approximately 42 thousand people. Before, the city had connections towards Niigata, which served as a bridge to the Tokyo City area with the “Hakutaka” Limited Express line, and was connected to the Kansai region with a stop for the “Thunderbird” Limited Express line; being rich with marine products, many fans visited from within and outside the prefecture.
However, after the Kanazawa extension opened, the demand for transfers had disappeared, and riders would travel past Uozu on the Shinkansen from Tokyo. According to Japan Rail, during a recent three-year period (2016 – 2018), the average daily ridership was 4,122 passengers, a roughly 15% drop from before the extension opened (comparing to 2012-2014’s numbers).
“I think it’s the number of business people and tourists that went down. We can only work hard and value our regular customers, and not lay the blame on the Shinkansen,” said a manager (aged 51) of a lacquerware shop in the shopping district.
“Tateyama Kurobe Alphine Route” is a significant tourist attraction in Toyama Prefecture. According to the operating company, during the first year of the Kanazawa extension, the number of visitors rose by 10% to 997 thousand people, but the numbers have been sluggish since then. The 2019 fiscal year experienced a large drop, going below 900 thousand visitors, for the first time in seven years.
Nonetheless, there are different ways to look at the situation, like at the passing effects of the typhoon in 2019. As the number of tourists visiting Japan continue to increase, promising signs also emerge.