Ah, Japanese trains. They’re clean, comfortable, and on time 99.9% of the time. Plus, it’s not unusual to spot a themed train complete with a cute mascot onboard during your daily commute. In fact, more than just being efficient, Japanese trains are often quirky, colorful, or downright weird. Below are five of Japan’s most interesting trains, sorted by category.
Japan Railway (JR) trains are ubiquitous in Japan. The JR is responsible for keeping Japan’s main islands connected, the operation of the shinkansen (新幹線; bullet train), and making me late to work at least three times a month (the 0.1% of train delays happen on my commute). The Pokémon train is one of JR East’s “Joyful Trains.” It began operating in the Tohoku region of Japan in 2012 to cheer up children who lived in the area devastated by the 2011 earthquake. It even has an indoor playground and a new Pikachu-themed design.
The Twilight Express was a luxury train that ran from Osaka to Sapporo from 1989 to 2016. When the service stopped, the nation mourned (okay, it was just me). Then, just over a year later, a brand new Twilight Express was introduced called “Mizukaze” (yay!). This new train is described as “a hotel rolling through the beautiful Japanese landscape” and costs more than any of us will ever be able to afford, but isn’t it nice to look at? Now, excuse me while I go cry forever.
Not to get off track, Cruisetrain Seven Stars in Kyushu is a similarly fancy ride. Just look at the nice pics and avoid the price page.
Yes, Japan still has steam-powered locomotives, otherwise known as “SL” trains. In fact, there are many SL trains that have recently started running again. The SL Express in Shizuoka passes through the Oigawa river valley and features a retro design that truly captures the Showa Era of early 1900s Japan.
Before you run out of steam, you can also check out old trains at one of Japan’s many railway museums.
Known as “Ibutama” for short, this train’s name means “Ibusuki’s treasure box”, a name with roots in its island home’s folklore. Ibutama is located in southern Kyushu, and takes passengers to the lovely seaside town of Ibusuki, a place of long history, volcanic sand, and some of the best spas and hot springs in the country. The train has special seats so you can enjoy the beautiful, rural scenery along the way.
I’ll end this list here, before I go off the rails. However, there are many other themed, luxury, seasonal, historic, and other unusual trains running regularly — from a train complete with foot baths to an entire line with stations decorated and named after monsters from Japanese folklore — there is truly something for everyone.
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