Local dignitaries and children break out into “Happy Birthday to You!” to celebrate the first anniversary of the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line service. The ceremony was held in Hokuto, Hokkaido, on March 26. (The Asahi Shimbun)

HOKUTO, Hokkaido--The Hokkaido Shinkansen Line linking the main island of Honshu with northern Hokkaido marked its first anniversary of operations March 26, buoyed by better-than-expected passenger numbers.

While total traffic exceeded initial expectations, operator Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) cautioned that the railway company needs to address steep fluctuations in ticket sales.

Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi told a ceremony in Hokuto: “Many people have visited Hokkaido from the Tohoku and Kita-Kanto regions, as well as the Tokyo metropolitan area. We should strive to maintain the momentum we gained after the opening.”

According to JR Hokkaido, passenger numbers totaled 2.29 million as of March 25. The service operates between Shin-Aomori Station in Aomori and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hokuto, southern Hokkaido, a distance of 149 kilometers.

Average occupancy on train runs was 32 percent, exceeding 26 percent in initial projections.

However, Osamu Shimada, president of JR Hokkaido who attended the ceremony, said: “There were sharp differences in loads, depending on the season, day of the week and time of the day. Our second year in service will put us to the test.”

While train occupancy was 48 percent in August, it dropped to 19 percent in January and February, according to the company.

JR Hokkaido plans to extend the service to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, by the end of March 2031.