Even before the advent of the shinkansen bullet train in 1964, luxury trains, often called “blue sleeper trains,” were a common sight across Japan. These trains were designed, not only as an efficient mode of transportation but as an experience in themselves. Getting there truly was half the fun.
In recent years, however, the use of luxury trains has largely given way to the rapid travel offered by the shinkansen. The last of the “blue trains” ceased operation in 2015. While some have called this “the end of an era,” luxury seekers are not to be disappointed by Japan’s all-new line up of first-class rail accommodations. Beginning in spring 2017, JR East and JR West launched two “cruise trains” for your traveling enjoyment.
Train Suite Shiki-Shima
Would you like to experience daily life in Japan, glimpsing the country’s true culture? That is the immersive experience promised by JR East‘s Train Suite Shiki-Shima.
The Shiki-Shima, whose name means “Island of Four Seasons,” began operation on May 1, 2017. Journeys depart from Ueno Station in Tokyo and meander through the natural scenery and interesting stops in the regions of Tohoku and Hokkaido.
The Shiki-Shima’s route is full of excursions to richly cultural sites such as the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, relaxing onsen, the shops of skilled artisans, and local fish markets.
The Shiki-Shima has been designed by Ken Okuyama, known for his luxury-car work with Ferrari, Maserati, and Porsche, and features ten cars with a capacity of thirty-four passengers. Six cars house seventeen rooms, each lavishly decorated in contemporary Japanese style. It even has its own melody for arrival in stations, “Train suite”.
The rooms include western style beds, as well as traditional Japanese tables and seating. The suite includes a bath constructed of Japanese cypress. The remaining four cars are designated for dining, a lounge, and sightseeing cars for viewing the scenery. The aptly named “glass train” has floor to ceiling windows along the carriages.
Itineraries and prices
Both four day, three night and two days, one-night train cruises are available. Routes and stops vary by season. Fares begin at ¥320,000 per person.
The application is currently only available in Japanese, but international travelers can receive assistance through the Japan National Tourism Organization. Applicants are chosen using a lottery system. Beginning in 2018, tickets became available through international travel agents.
Twilight Express Mizukaze
Imagine a leisurely stroll along the coast of the Sea of Japan, views of majestic Mount Daisen and the Seto Inland Sea Islands in the distance. Now, imagine viewing the breathtaking scenery of western Japan from the comfort of your own room while traveling to your next destination.
This is just the experience that the Twilight Express Mizukaze, operated by JR West, seeks to deliver. The name of the train itself can be translated “the train that speeds through the beautiful land of Japan like the wind.”
The Twilight Express Mizukaze has been described as “a rail car with the superior quality of a hotel.” This sightseeing train’s accommodations leave nothing to be desired: The ten cars can house up to thirty passengers. The six sleeper cars offer a nostalgic art deco style and include western style beds that retract for extra room during the day. The suite – which uniquely encompasses an entire rail car – provides not only a sleeping area, but a large “living room” or sitting area, and a fully equipped personal bathroom facility, complete with a full-size bathtub.
Meals are prepared daily by onboard chefs in classic washoku, or Japanese style, often utilizing ingredients sourced locally from stops along the route. Meals may be enjoyed in the dining car alongside enormous panoramic viewing windows. The train also has a lounge car with a bar and two sightseeing cars with outdoor viewing platforms located on each end.
Itineraries and prices
The Twilight Express began operation on June 16, 2017. The Sanyo Course from Kyoto Station to Shimonoseki Station, and the northern Sanin Course from Osaka Station to Shimonoseki Station, both have a duration of two days and one night.
The Sanyo/Sanin Course includes the routes taken by both of the other courses and lasts three days and two nights, winding through the beautiful scenery of Kyoto, Matsue, Miyajima, and Izumo. Tickets may be purchased upon your arrival in Japan. At time of publication, prices were yet to be announced.
Seven Stars Kyushu
Of course, the Twilight Express and the Shiki-Shima are not the only luxury trains Japan has to offer. When traveling in Kyushu, around Fukuoka, you can enjoy the Seven Stars luxury train.
This train offers suites and deluxe suites for your comfort. You will dine on delicacies from the sea as you tour the island, do some sightseeing, and experience a ferry ride and a hot spring resort.
Whichever luxury train you choose, your excursion in Japan is sure to be a trip to remember!