Home ยป Traveling In Style on a Japan Luxury Train
japan luxury train

Traveling In Style on a Japan Luxury Train

The luxurious trains of Japan offer more than a way to get from A to B, and we aren’t talking about the slight upgrades of bullet train first-class tickets. These are more in line with a 5-star hotel rolling through the countryside, comparable to a luxury cruise, and complete with stops and excursions and a competent, dedicated service staff.

Why should I be interested in a Japan luxury train?

The luxury trains in Japan are highly sought after for their beauty and unique experience. Highlighting the local cuisines, the scenic landscapes, and the traditions and art of Japan, they offer a scarce but desirable view of Japan while providing a relaxing escape.

How do I book the luxurious trains in Japan?

The Shiki-Shima, the Twilight Express Mizukaze, and other adventures on this list provide a bit of a challenge to book. The luxurious train journey requires an application that enters you into a lottery. Instead of a first-come-first-serve Western group style, you apply and are put into a lottery for the trips. You are not able to select your car unless you are opting for the most luxurious sleeper train suites.

Due to the popularity and limited availability, the lotteries are run during periods one or two years in advance of the tours. At the time of writing this article, the application period for the 2023-24 season is over for three of the four trains. There are applications available for the Royal Express here.

What are the different luxury train options in Japan?

When you travel to Japan, there are four main trains included on this list that you should know about. From northern Japan in Hokkaido, down to the southern tip of Honshu, and into Kyushu, these are some of the best luxury train offerings you’ll find anywhere and span nearly all of Japan.

We’ll cover in detail the Shiki-shima, Mizukaze, Royal Express, and the Seven Stars train.

Eastern Japan and Train Suite Shiki Shima

With all the trains on this list, you are riding less to get somewhere and much, much more for the experience. Meant for two guests a room, the luxurious Shiki Shima, meaning “the island of four seasons”, is no exception and is a competitor for most luxurious in Japan.

Coming from the industrial designer Ken Okuyama, famous for supercar designs, the train boasts a resplendent journey in a champagne gold theme.

The routes

Japan luxury train routes

Passengers depart from Ueno station, Tokyo, and travel through Eastern Japan. Depending on the season, there are a number of routes available of varying length for the train journey. Some of the routes stay on Honshu, and others journey into the Hokkaido region.

The shortest routes are two days and one night. One such current course in operation is the Yamanashi route. After leaving Tokyo in the morning, the train takes visitors to visit an ancient Geisha village and estate, make available a meal by a renowned chef on the train while gazing at the beauty of the region, cocktails, and then finally a winery and after-party on the final day.

The longer are three nights and four days. These are more elaborate in offerings with sophisticated food at the ready. There are more chances to sightsee. One current route takes a journey through Hokkadate in Hokaido, Upopoy Ainu Museum, and includes staying in an onsen, among other activities.

Highlights from aboard the Train

The main draw for all these trips is the train itself. The offerings are out of this world, with sophisticated interiors and cars dedicated to the view and relaxation, not to mention regional food and a relaxing train suite for each couple.

The craftsmanship and food

What makes Shiki-Shima special inside is the dedication to the region. Much of the furniture within the 10 cars originated from master craftsmen of the Tohoku region. The fine goods avail to the train sense of traditional and fine luxury. Even some of the carpets are handwoven. It’s definitely the high-life Japanese style.

In addition to the furniture, the food is all from the Tohoku region as well. The top-class culinary artisans onboard offer the best of Japanese fine dining as well as Western meals. Some of the offered meals on the current routes include seafood breakfast, southern Hokkaido regional fare, French options, sushi, and a host of fusion foods. Many of the meals are timed to match the location of the travel, so you’ll eat locally sourced dishes from some of the areas of the viewing scenery.

The cars

There are 6 cars dedicated to suites plus one that acts as a lounge, one for dining, and two cars for viewing the scenery, for 10 in total.

The Suites

The train suite rooms are equipped with fine lacquered paneling, a shower and toilet, and two hand-woven sofas that double as beds. If you are looking for the larger and more expensive option, one full-car train suite has Japanese-style rooms featuring tatami and a cypress bath, plus a second floor for viewing the scenery.

The “terrace” cars

The first and last cars are full of comfy sofas where one can splay out and watch the scenery pass by. Open at all hours, it’s possible to also catch the stars as the train meanders through the East of Japan.

Lounge car and dining car

The dining car offers the experience of a fine dining restaurant. Chefs on board prepare the food using ingredients from the regions, offering a wealth of Japanese and Western cuisines. Food and drinks are available 24/7 anywhere in the train.

Another location where one might enjoy a drink or a meal is the lounge car. Featuring a a piano and a fireplace, and beautiful decorations in the theme of a forest in champagne gold, it’s another location to wile the time away and enjoy the scenery from the expansive windows

Price

No lie, the trips are pricey. The range is roughly between $2500 and $10000 USD depending on the trip and accommodations.

Summary of Shiki Shima

Shiki Shima offers a fabulous and rich train ride that fills the time with enticing foods, drinks, views, and excursions. It’s a great option through the east of Japan, especially if you’ve spent time already exploring Tokyo and Kansai, this ride definitely provides something off the beaten path.

Western Japan and The Twilight Express Mizukaze

The Twilight Express Mizukaze train in Japan

The Twilight Express has similar claims to fame as the Shiki-Shima, being a luxury train that highlights a specific region both in food and decor. What sets the train apart is that it is reminiscent of the famous night trains, travels through one of Japan’s most beloved areas, and is a bit more dedicated to providing spectacular views. Built by the famous industrial designer Tetsuo Fukuda, it has nearly unparalleled beauty in both its outward and inward appearance.

The routes

The train travels through Sanin and Sayo regions of Western Japan. Sanin is the region making up the northwestern island of Honshu, and the southwestern part of the island contains the entirety of Yamaguchi prefecture.

The routes either begin at Kyoto station or Shimonoseki station. Most routes are one-way, though there is a round-trip route beginning in Kyoto and ending at the same station.

In addition to the final destinations, there are a number of sightseeing excursions. The excursions include Konosaki Hot Springs and Miyajima Island. The latter is particularly famous for the Shinto shrine hosting an impressive torii gate in the water, one that is a common picture used to advertise Japan.

Historical Context

It would be a disservice to not discuss the historical context of the lines. Japanese sleeper trains used to run the gauntlets from major cities and locations during the boomer years. Up until 2015, they were still common. Though not like the luxury sleeper train discussed here, these trains of the past featured sleeper cars with places to lie down while you road through the night, and have been heavily romanticized.

Because of the Shinkansen bullet trains and altogether faster service, there are fewer sleeper cars available. However, one can still find them, and not just in the luxury train ride variants. Depending on the car, a JR pass may be used to ride the iconic routes. A JR pass will not work for the Twilight Express Mizukaze, being run by a train company separate from the purpose of merely passenger trips.

The Twilight Express Mizukaze runs on these old sleeper lines and is designed to invoke the memory of the routes. It’s been impressively furbished and designed to invoke modern nostalgia.

Highlights from aboard the Train

Keeping in touch with the glory days of the past, both the exterior and the interior remind of the heyday of trains in a bygone era. Borrowing heavily from art deco, the appeal is like a rich hotel transported from the 1920’s in train form.

Craftsmanship and Food

The majority of the furniture inside is handcrafted from the regions the train travels through. The train suits, for example, have sophisticated interiors and contain doors from the Chugoku region. The rest of the train features traditional crafts and wood art from the traveled prefectures.

For gastronomy, the seasonal ingredients all come from Western Japan and are created by top-class culinary artisans to create a unique dining experience. Besides the chefs, you will find on board the Twilight Express Mizukaze a dedicated staff ready to serve you.

The Cars

There are 10 cars that make up the Twilight Express Mizukaze. Highlights are the Royal Suite and the observation decks.

The Suites

The train suite rooms consist of twin beds that fold back to make room during the day. Large windows from the rooms allow one to gaze out upon the passing scenery.

If you want ultimate luxury, the royal deluxe suite consists of an entire train car and comes equipped with a private bathtub and a king-size bed.

The observation cars

The first and final cars are for observation, and these up the game a bit when compared to other trains. The cars feature floor to ceiling windows and allow overhead viewing. While the Shiki Shima held a slightly more restrictive view due to the design, these windows allow guests to easily catch panoramic views of everything from the passing trees to the stars above. In keeping with the name, you’ll have no trouble catching a glimpse of twilight as well as the rising sun.

Price

The price is mid-tier for the list, coming in between $2800 and $5500, depending on the length of the trip and selected accommodations.

Summary of the Twilight Express Mizukazi

Full of nostalgia, if having an adventure reminiscent of bygone times while traveling in luxury fits your description of a good time, this could be a great choice. The views promise to be spectacular while you’ll see parts of Japan that are much the same as the pre-industralization era. The train itself is gorgeous and relaxing if not quite as luxurious feeling as the Shiki Shima. This train is bound to be a great adventure.

Various Locations and the Royal Express

The newest addition to luxury trains within Japan, the Royal Express is run jointly by two train companies and has a far wider range of tracks.

The routes

Unlike the other trains on this list, this one runs through different parts of Japan depending on the time of year. For example, in September the train ventures through Hokkaido in Northern Japan, and in January it can be found traversing Shikoku island.

Because of the various routes, the start and end locations will differ. You may begin in Sapporo, and end in Chitose Airport, or you may begin in Okayama stations, travel through Matsuyama, Ibari, see Kochi Castle, and end back in Okayama for the Shikoku route.

All trips are either three nights and four days, or one night and two days.

Check out all the routes here.

Highlights from aboard the train

The train consists of eight cars. While beautiful, it is both less luxurious and less open than its counterparts.

No suites, instead accommodations are planned

Unlike the other cars on this line, the passengers do not sleep in their own personal room on the train. Locations and accommodations are part of the trip package. Disembarking for both sightseeing stops and overnight accommodations around Japan is part of the voyage.

More cars to explore

Compared to the other trains on this list, there are actually more cars that passengers can enjoy. While fewer cabs overall (from 10 to 8), thanks to not having train suite cars, there are more cars open to the guests. Besides the dining cars, there is also a library car and a “multi-car” that at times may feature art to enjoy during the luxury train ride.

Food

Like the other trains on this list, the chefs on board boast of using local ingredients from the traveled regions. Various meals are available depending on the time of year and region.

Price

Due to the many routes available and options, route prices range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, making this train one of the cheaper options on the list.

Summary of the Royal Express

The Royal Express boasts an impressive array of luxury cars that offer something unique among the trains on this list. Not the most luxurious voyage, the routes are various and adventurous, and allow an adventurer to explore regions not covered by the other companies.

With the most varied options, this is definitely one to consider for a unique trip in Japan.

Seven Stars in Kyushu

Seven Stars in Kyushu

The train dedicated to the southern island of Kyushu is famous and praised by local fans for its outward and inward beauty. A sleeper that contains seven cars and is operated by JR Kyushu, this car is a happy meeting place between elegance and travel.

The routes

The routes are either one night and two days or three nights and four days. Traveling around Kyushu along the Hisatsu Line operated by JR Kyushu, not only are you greeted by the sheer beauty of the scenery, but a host of sites, including UNESCO world-famous locations.

Boasting of the rich history of Kyushu, guests can explore onsens, pottery, and traditional sandal shops. Or, if you choose a shorter route, you just might spend the entire time on the train, experiencing the beauty of the interior and countryside.

Highlights from aboard the train

The seven cars pack a lot in. With four cars dedicated to 10 suites, there are three communal cars comprising locations to socialize, eat, and relax.

The Train Suites

The Seven Stars does not disappoint as a luxury sleeper train. The guest rooms are splendidly furnished, with a mix of wood paneling and Japanese latticework. Each room is equipped with a bathroom and air conditioning, and contains sofas that fold out for sleep.

There are also two deluxe sleeping cars, with one boasting floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the train. Both deluxe suites have separate styles in furnishing, offering a unique experience to the passengers.

The lounge cars

There are four styles of lounge rooms spread out between the three general-use cars.

Besides a dining car and bar, there is also a lounge car and a tea room. Among the cars, the lounge car exhibits the best views, with the most open windows. The tea room is also something special, featuring tatami floor mats and traditional seating, it offers a unique experience among all the trains on this list.

All the rooms are exquisitely decorated with wood paneling, mixing Western comforts and Japanese style.

Food

The Kyushu is rich in culinary delights. The chefs exhibit artisan dishes using regional food, with a heavy focus on Kyushu local cuisine and some French fusion.

Price

The two-day itinerary costs roughly $2500 USD per person. The longer, four-day itineraries start at $5400 USD per person.

Summary of Seven Stars in Kyushu

The Seven Stars is near the top of the list for luxury. A beautiful interior mixing passions from east and west, it traverses the gorgeous Kyushu island where you can take in the beautiful Japanese landscape. It makes up for the lack of observatory cars with various onboard experiences ranging from a tea room to a classic bar to a social and activity lounge.

Can I use my Japan rail pass for the train journey?

Train passes cannot be generally used for the luxury trains listed here. The luxury sleeper train rides are far more expensive than the passes allow. However, there are other sleeper trains that still fit the description of a luxury train ride. Passengers looking to use their rail pass are encouraged to look into the Sunrise Seto Inland Sea and Izumo.

Summary

All the trains on this list are bound to impress. Each offers something unique, with creative and extraordinary interiors, elaborate and delicious foods, and plenty of options for relaxing. On the pricey side, and competitive to book, managing to take a trip on one of these amazing journeys will definitely put you among a select and lucky few.

Jonathan Mcnamara

Jonathan is a veteran of the Japan and Korean expat life. He lived in Japan and Korea for almost 10 years, and speaks Korean and Japanese. A blogger, a writer, website maker who's had his share of relationships while living abroad, he's now turned his attention to helping others navigate traveling, living, working, and relationships in Japan.

More Reading

Post navigation

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Find Cheap Tickets to Japan in 2024 – The Best Prices

The Legal Drinking Age in Japan and Drinking Laws in 2024

Best Japan eSIM Options While Visiting Japan in 2024