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Sightseeing Trains & Boats

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Dinning car in gourmet Train.
Sightseeing Train by the coast
family seal, Kamon
Sightseeing Train, beautiful lounge

Sightseeing Trains & Boats

Yufuin no Mori Train .jpg

Japan has over 150 unique trains dedicated to tourists. From a train that climbs mountains to a luxury train with beautiful decor and fine dining, you'll find a variety of railways that make your travels simply unforgettable. 

 

Since I was very young, I have always enjoyed riding on scenic trains. I would pack my favorite snacks and a manga book, and I was ready to go. Getting the regional bento box for lunch is a must. On a commuter train, you’re not supposed to consume any food or drinks, but on scenic trains it's encouraged. Get a bento box or stop by the dining car for gourmet meals to fully enjoy the journey. Either way, you'll get the best seat in the house with a spectacular view for sure. 

 

Here are some of the most famous trains in Japan. Be sure to make your reservation ahead of time. 

Scenic Trains

JNTO has a great list of scenic trains and allows you to browse by region. Below I’ve listed some of the major railway companies that offer joyful trains.


 

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Sightseeing trains
Luxury trains

Luxury Trains

Twilight Express Mizukaze

The train has a maximum capacity of only 34 passengers. It’s absolutely the most exclusive trains in the world. You can travel in a 5-star hotel with the enchanting views of Western Japan while you enjoy exclusive dinning experience created by the top chefs. The interiors are nostalgic, yet modern and timeless at the same time. It was designed by a team of well know designers, Tetsuo Fukuda and Kazuya Ura. They has been designing numerous trains like N700 Series Shinkansen (bullet train), the Sunrise Seto & Sunrise Izumo trains and also luxury hotels. This train is so popular that the waitlist can be over 6 months. Be sure to purchase tickets ahead of time. It is a true privilege to get on board. Mizukaz will  make your trip the most unforgettable trip I’ve ever taken.

 

 


 

Nanatsuboshi 

Nanatsu means seven, and boshi/hoshi means star in Japanese. This Seven Stars luxury sleeper train is simply out of this world. It travels in the beautiful island Kyoshu. The cars were designed by the famous designer, Eiji Mitooka. He has designed numerous trains and stations, and is known to create esquisite spaces with natural materials. The name represents the seven prefectures of Kyushu and from the seven notable aspects of the regeion: the superb train system, beautiful nature, enchanting spiritual spots, rich history, the relaxing hot springs, amazing cuisine, and lastly the friendliness of Kyushu people. 

Shikishima

The Shiki-Shima means “Island of Four Seasons,” in Japanese. It takes you to Tohoku and Hokkaido region from Tokyo and allow you to enjoy some of the most notable “must see” sights. This trains has been designed by the famous designer, Ken Okuyama. He has designed numerous trains and luxury vehicles. He is known for his incredible work with Ferrari, Maserati, and porsche. Just like Mizukaze, this train is absolutely exclusive and has a maximum capacity of 34 passengers. The six cars has 17 rooms with luxuriousy contemporary Japanese tyle furnishing. They perfected the convenience and timeless design and has western style beds with traditional Japanese furnitures.
 

The Royal Express Hokkaido

This glamorous and classic train is truly special. THe interiors are designed by the famous Eiji Mitooka. He is known to use the Japanese traditional materials such wood and washi paper. You will also find his own calligraphy painting that hans in a gold roof carriage. This trains takes you to Shimoda from Yokohama and shows you the most stunning views of Japan’s Paific coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yufuin no mori

This is  a luxurious express train that travels in Kyushu between Fukuoka (Hakata station) – Yufuin and Beppu in the Kyushu area. Mori means forest in Japanese and the train reminds of the beautiful forest with wood and green interiors. This isn’t a sleeper train. If you want to experience a luxurity train but don’t have much time, it is a good choice. 

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Shimakaze 

This connects the Ise-Shima region to Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. You can enjoy local cuisines with magnificent views. This trains also isn’t a sleeper train, so if you don’t have much time, this is a great choice to experience a luxury train for the first time.

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Blue Symphony

It’s a limited express sightseeing train, runs between Osaska, the second largest sity to Nara, the ancient capitol.  This beautiful deep blue train takes you to the countryside of Nara in about one hour. It arrives in the foot of Mount Yoshino, which is famous for its thousands of cherry trees blooming in the spring and maple tres in the fall.  

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Echigo Tokimeki Railway Company

Setsugetsuka 

This train is truly unique with full of colors. The red trains go through white snow mountain in winter, dark green in sumer whiling showing the deep blue ocean of Sea of Japan. It’s actually awarded the 2017 Laurenl Award from the Japan Railfan Club for the innovative and beautiful design. It has high observation deck to enjoy the full views. You also enjoy the 3-course menu of the  local cuisine along with local sake an wine. It’s ranked number 1 for non-sleeper luxury train in Japanese poll.

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Aru-ressha Train

This luxury train has an interesting history behind it. Kyushu Railway Company ordered a luxury trainfrom an American company the J. G. Brill Company back in 1906. However, Kyushu Railway was nationalized shortly after, and the train at the time called “Aru Ressha” never had an opportunity to be of the service. Based on the original desgine by Nobutaro Hara, Eiji Mitooka re-designed it in 2015 and brought the train to life. It runs for about 3 hours from Hakata to Yufuin once a day in the Kyushu area. Though the trip is short, you experience the pinnacle of Japanese hospitality and  the most luxurious sustainable treat created by renown chef, Yoshiiro Narisawa.

There are countless fun trains to check out, such as Rokumon in Nagano, Resort Shirakami in Aomori & Akita, Shikoku Mannaka Sennenn Monogatari, Iyonada Monogatari in the Shikoku area, The Noto Satoyama Satoumi Go in Ishikawa, and High Rail Stargazing train 1375  in Nagano & Namanashi, etc.

Trains with unique theme & design

Unique Theme & Design

  • TripZilla has a list of uniquely themed trains in Japan. Below are a few of my favorite unique trains:

 

  • If you love modern art, you'll love these unique trains:

  • The following uniquely designed trains have a captivating retro feel to them:

  • You can feel like you’re going back in time when riding a Steam Locomotive Hitoyoshi

  • If you love Hokuriku regional crafts, you will love the Hanayome Noren train. Enjoy experiencing Kaga-Yuzen (silk dye), Kanazawa gold leaf, and Wajima lacquerware. The entire train is beautifully decorated and looks like a 5-star hotel.

  • Koshino Shu*Kura - The concept of this train is "Sake," the pride of Niigata Prefecture. Passengers are offered free tastings of locally brewed sake, and a "Sake Tasting Bar" at the Car #2 with carefully selected local sake from the region. Five different brands of super tasting are available at any given time. 

  • 52 Seats of Ultimate Bliss - This traveling restaurant "52-Seat Ultimate Bliss", which began operation in 2016, is a sightseeing train easily accessible from central Tokyo, including Ikebukuro and Seibu Shinjuku stations. The exterior and interior design 4was created by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma. The interior design also uses and Kakishibu (dyed with fermented unripe persimmon juice) Japanese paper and the locally grown wood, Nishikawa wood are also used for the interior ceiling. The train is very popular as a restaurant train where passengers can enjoy a course meal prepared by a celebrity chef. 

  • The Rail Kitchen Chikugo - Launched in 2019, THE RAIL KITCHEN CHIKUGO, this train offers dishes made from seasonal ingredients along the train line. Especially popular are the hot pizzas baked in the pizza oven inside the train! The dough is made from Chikugo wheat, and the pizza plates are made by craftsmen in Okawa. The interior is decorated with traditional crafts and stylish furniture from along the train line, such as a woven bamboo ceiling made from Yame's bamboo, Okawa furniture, and Jojima roof tiles

  • The Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari - This trains has been popular since its launch in 2017. The concept of "yuzan," going out to play in the fields and mountains, passengers can experience a casual and enjoyable excursion. The train is also attractive for passengers to enjoy the beautiful scenery from the train windows, cuisine made with local ingredients, local sake, handicrafts, and other specialties. The interior is decorated in the motif of an old private home, wrapped in wood. Each car is designed with a different image. The sofa seating bring you much comfort.  

Gourmet Trains

Gourmet trains

Gourmet Trains are exactly what you are hoping they are, gourmet restaurants on wheels. You enjoy local wine and Kaiseki dishes on the Rokumon  train, or sip the most refined Sake in the Koshino Shu*Kura. To enjoy fresh local ingredients, hop on the Orange Restaurant train, which serves delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. 

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The best scenic trains

The Best Scenic Train

The Sagano Romantic Train  ride lasts only 25 minutes, but travels at an average speed of 25km/hour or 15 miles/hour to showcase the best views. This scenic train is known as a great option for passengers looking for a chance to take some great photos. 

 

The Kurobe Gorge train is another short train and offers the best view of a river gorge. 

 

If you love winter wonderland scenes, I highly recommend the Stove Train! Enjoy the idyllic views from inside the cozy train that is kept warm with, you guessed it, a stove.

 

For those looking for an adventurous train ride, the Tenku Train takes you through 24 tunnels and climbs 433 meters, 1453 feet in Koyasan mountain. 

 

Resort Shirakami  shows you the best view of the Japanese sea. While on the train, you can enjoy the local cuisine and a traditional Shamisen concert.

Watch the Video

Houseboats

Local Cruises

House Boats/Yakatabune

Yakatabune is a traditional pleasure boat that looks like a small house. They serve delicious lunch and dinner on the ship while showing you all the famous landmarks. In the evening, you can enjoy spectacular city lights or fireworks. There are a few dozen companies which operate over 100 Yakatabune boats in the Tokyo area. You can learn more on the “Go Tokyo” website or plan your cruise on the Tokyo Yakatabune Associate website. 

 

Below, you can look at a few of the major companies that offer Yakatabune boat cruises:

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Small river rafts

Small River Rafts/Kawakudari

Kawakudari means "going down the river." It's a great way to enjoy nature in the warm seasons. If you choose this adventure, you will want to be sure to capture the amazing views of the river and the mountains as you go down the river in a small boat. 

Here are a few famous river rafts. 

Canal/waterway cruises

Canal/Waterway Cruise

Old waterways played an essential role in transporting goods and people throughout Japan’s history. A waterway boat ride makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Travel on the water and see old samurai residences and merchant homes from a unique perspective. 

 

Here are some of my top recommended waterway cruises:

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Ocean cruises

Notable Ocean Cruises

Local scenic lines offer memorable trips which allow you to experience the oceans around Japan. Below is more information about the most popular Ocean Cruises I believe are worth noting:

 

The Whirlpool Cruise allows you to observe the famous giant Naruto whirlpools which spin rapidly in the strait between Tokushima and Hyogo. 

 

The Glacier Cruise is a unique vessel that breaks the ocean's ice in Hokkaido.  

 

The Matsushima Islands Cruise in Miyagi takes you around beautiful islands covered with majestic pine trees. 

 

The Tojinbo cruise in Fukui takes you through the Sea of Japan. You can enjoy the spectacular 30 meter (98 feet) high cliffs that were formed 12-13 million years ago and stretch for over 1 Km (3281 feet). 

Recommended Resources:

If you like the convenience of joining a tour group or economizing with package deals, you can search for your goal destinations/activities with the following travel companies. The companies listed below are the most prominent and reputable companies in Japan that also have English web pages. 

 

Organized local tours by the significant Japanese tour companies

Activities & Interests

Discover Topics

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Useful Tips & App

Torii, Japanese traditional gate or arch in shrines and temples
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