Japanese trains are some of my favourite in the world – they also maintain a tradition of naming unique routes and train types. I have always wanted to make a network wide map based on these trains, as well as making a reasonably practical map for users as these trains cover much of the national network. As far as I am aware, a map like this has not been produced.
This has been a long term project of mine that has gone under a number of different iterations but I finally feel confident to share this map of named trains running on the Japan Railways (JR) network.
This map reflects the most common routes and stopping patterns based on the normal operating timetable of October 2022.
You can download full resolution versions of this map in both PDF and PNG formats via Gumroad.
Use as a reference for JR Passes
This map can be used as a guide for JR Pass users as a navigational/planning tool – however it’s best to double check official schedules as some trains on this map may have frequencies as low as two trains per day. This map also does not present all possible routes and destinations. Care should also be taken for some of the routes that use non-JR tracks as these sections are not covered by some JR Passes.
Design Notes and Comments
This is not an official map and has been designed for artistic purposes.
This map may not be 100% accurate. Although attempts have been made to make this as correct as possible using official timetables and maps, care should be taken if this map is used as a reference. This map is not to scale, but attempts have also been made to keep relative geographical positions of stations and routes.
In reality, most lines are far from the straight lines represented in this map, but for the purpose of legibility and clean lines, all Shinkansen services are designed to be the main “trunk” of this map. The Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Kodama, Hikari, Nozomi, Mizuho, and Sakura routes) is the central element with most other trains extending from this “trunk.” However, what this “trunk” may misrepresent is that there are significantly more Nozomi trains per day than all the others on this line combined.
Similarly, the Shinkansen trains out of Tokyo Station to the north do not accurately reflect the frequency. It looks like there are tons more trains going north than anywhere else, but the fact is there is the same number of tracks between Omiya and Tokyo, and Tokyo and Shin-Yokohama.
Using one line to represent both trains that run twice a day and those that may run up to 18 times an hour is admittedly not ideal.
By far the most challenging part to organise of this map was the Kansai area (mainly Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto) as the real-world track alignments here create some inconsistent stopping patterns for some trains here. This is may all have to be redesigned in the coming years as Osaka Station gets some much needed extra platforms (in the form of Kita-Umeda Station) in 2023 that will hopefully streamline this chaotic area. (Not to mention a complete redesign if and when the Hokuriku Shinkansen gets extended to Shin-Osaka and the Chuo Shinkansen opens in the 2030-40s)
I’m also not proud of how the diagram represents the Kyushu area – especially since the newly opened West-Kyushu Shinkansen opened and is disconnected from the rest of the Shinkansen network. I’m sure there’s a cleaner way to present this area’s trains, but I haven’t found an elegant solution yet. Interestingly, the Ibusuki no Tamatebako is really a tourist train – but it runs almost every day with a three times frequency so I have decided to include it in this map.
I believe Hokkaido comes out alright – helped by the relative simplicity of the network and most trains starting/ending at Sapporo. (It is a shame that it does have to be a box inset though, making it feel disconnected from the rest of the network, even though it is linked by the Hokkaido Shinkansen) Although services presented on this map are correct at time of publishing, JR Hokkaido has talked about abolishing some of these trains in the near future if their financial situation doesn’t improve – which would be unfortunate as these are some of my favourite trains in all Japan.
The “Notable JR Lines” in grey I’ve chosen to include somewhat arbitrarily. The idea was to present alternative and branching routes, as well as to serve as sort of “map fillers,” if you will, to indicate that there are still JR trains in these areas. I did think about parallel local lines too, but it would have been impractical and ruin the legibility of the map.
As with most maps I create, the entire map was made with standard paper sizes in consideration – legible for a print as small as A3 in this case. Although I would prefer to create a map that was better representative of the geography of Japan, the compromise certainly creates a much more easier to read map in my opinion.
In the future I may attempt to make a bi-lingual version, or even a full line network map – but this would be a huge and time consuming challenge. But maybe…