10 Cool and Unique Trains in Japan

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ウツダー, CC BY 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons
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Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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Japan has an excellent network of railroads with trains crisscrossing the country from Kagoshima in the south to Hokkaido in the north. Stations across Japan come in unique and impressive designs and are loved by tourists and locals alike. However, did you know that Japan is also home to an array of special trains which have gained popularity in recent years due to their cool or cute designs? Japanese trains are evolving in their own unique way, boasting nostalgic retro designs and featuring Japanese characters and mascots. In this article we are going to introduce some special Japanese trains that are sure to wow you and will make you want to ride them all whether you’re a railroad fan or not!

1. Aso-Boy!

JR Kyushu‘s train “Aso-Boy!” operates between Kumamoto and Beppu and is especially fun for those traveling with children. The train’s interior is bright, and car 1 has panoramic viewing seats making you feel like you’re a train conductor. Car 3 is equipped with parent-and-child seats where everyone can enjoy Kyushu’s spectacular nature through the wide windows. There is also a ball pit inside this car which is great fun for younger children. Between Akamizu and Miyaji the train passes through the caldera of Mount Aso, providing a truly unique experience.

Official website (Japanese): Aso-Boy! 

2. Setsugekka

IRishikawa521, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Setsugekka” is a resort train that runs in the Joetsu region of Niigata Prefecture, allowing passengers to fully enjoy the natural scenery of both sea and mountains. The train is divided into two cars, both boasting extra large windows to allow passengers unrestricted views of Niigata’s beauty from their seats. Furthermore, some outstanding meals are served onboard this train that you wouldn’t want to miss out on. The French bento box, created by a local two-star Michelin chef from Tokamachi City, is a luxurious lunch made with an abundance of local fresh ingredients. This is the perfect train trip for those who want to enjoy the scenery of Niigata with a feeling of grandeur.

Official website: Setsugekka

3. Sagano Romantic Train

Sagano Romantic Train
The Sagano Romantic Train has an open car with no windows, perfect for summer

The “Sagano Romantic Train” runs between Kameoka and Arashiyama, one of the most famous sightseeing spots in Kyoto. This train can be enjoyed during all four seasons: cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greenery in summer, autumn leaves in fall and snow in winter. The train makes the journey from Kameoka to Arashiyama in 25 minutes, and you can admire the nature of the Hozugawa Valley from inside the train. The fifth car of this train is an open car with no window glass, making it the perfect car for summer as you can enjoy the fresh air. If you come to Kyoto for sightseeing, why don’t you add the charming “Sagano Romantic Train” to your itinerary?

Official website: Sagano Romantic Train

4. fifty two seats of happiness

SEMISAYAMASHI, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The mysteriously named “fifty two seats of happiness” is, as the name suggests, a sightseeing train offering 52 seats and a delightful experience. This train is operated by Seibu Railway with the concept of “a traveling restaurant”. It runs between Ikebukuro and Seibu-Chichibu, and between Shinjuku and Seibu-Chichibu, making it an easy train to ride from Tokyo. Brunch and dinner courses are available for passengers to enjoy during their journey. The menu changes every three months, so you can try a different meal on every ride. With reservations, this train is also available for weddings and private tours, making it a great choice for special occasions.

Official website: fifty two seats of happiness 

5. Thomas The Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank
Fans of the Thomas the Tank cartoon will love this special train ride in Shizuoka Prefecture

Thomas the Tank Engine, operated by Oigawa Railway, is a train that runs between Shinkanaya Station and Senzu Station in Shizuoka Prefecture. Thomas the Tank Engine is a British-born animated CG railroad cartoon, and now Thomas has come to Shizuoka Prefecture from the island of Sodor! Inside the train there are many special experiences for Thomas the Tank fans, including the sale of Thomas the Tank goods and train announcements made by Thomas on behalf of the train crew. A boxed lunch made in collaboration with Thomas the Tank is also available in front of Plaza Loco at Shinkanaya Station. Enjoy nature and Thomas the Tank nostalgia together in Shizuoka Prefecture!

Official website: Thomas the Tank Engine

6. Aru Ressha

Aru Ressha
Aru Ressha will take you to one of Kyushu’s best hot spring towns

One of the most popular sightseeing trains departing from Hakata is JR Kyushu’s “Aru Ressha” (或る列車). The story behind the creation of the “Aru Ressha” is that the former Kyushu Railway company in 1906 ordered a luxury train from an American railroad company, but the train never saw the light of day because Kyushu Railway was later nationalized. A century later, “Aru Ressha” finally made its debut in the summer of 2015! With Fukuoka as the starting point, this luxury train will take you to Yufuin which is very famous for its outstanding hot springs. The onboard meal sets are not to be missed as the cuisine, using local Kyushu ingredients, is nothing short of exceptional. Indulge in a luxurious rail journey through Kyushu onboard the “Aru Ressha”!

Official website: Aru Ressha

7. Pokémon with YOU Train

Pokemon with YOU train
Pikachu is everywhere on one of Tohoku’s cutest trains

Pokémon lovers around the world, gather ‘round! You can enjoy a unique train ride together with everyone’s favorite Pikachu in the Tohoku region! The “Pokémon with YOU Train” runs between Ichinoseki and Kesennuma and is overloaded with Pikachu inside and out. This train is so cute that you will definitely want to snap a few photos in front of it! Other than Pikachu, there are several other Pokémon lurking around the train, so go Pokémon-hunting and try to spot them all during your ride. A journey with the “Pokémon with YOU Train” is sure to become an unforgettable memory!

Official website: Pokémon with YOU Train

8. Hello Kitty Shinkansen

Rsa, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A cute bullet train dressed in pink ribbons!? Yes, this is “Hello Kitty Shinkansen”, created in collaboration with Sanrio’s Hello Kitty. This special shinkansen operates in western Japan between Shin-Osaka and Hakata. Each train car has a different Hello Kitty design, and the carpets inside are pink and decorated with ribbons. It’s a bullet train overflowing with kawaii culture that fans of the adorably cute cat are sure to love. Board this train for a unique ride through western Japan in the company of Hello Kitty!

Official website: Hello Kitty Shinkansen

9. Train Suite Shiki-shima

Train Suite Shiki-Shima
The unique windows allow for amazing views of the landscape outside this luxury train

“Train Suite Shiki-shima” is the train to ride if you want to experience the highest level of attentive service on a luxurious train journey. They provide train itineraries for overnight journeys of either one or two nights, and you can indulge in mouthwatering meals during your ride on the “Train Suite Shiki-shima”. Shiki-shima Suites and Deluxe Suites in car 7 area are equipped with a special hinoki cypress bath, and guests can relax in the tub while enjoying the fragrant wood. For those who want to experience ultimate hospitality, “Train Suite Shiki-shima” is a perfect choice.

Official website: Train Suite Shiki-shima

10. TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE

Twilight Express Mizukaze
A ride on the Twilight Express Mizukaze is a journey you will never forget

We saved one of the best for last: the “TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE” is a luxury train offering overnight journeys where passengers can savor delectable meals prepared by a top chef. Operating in western Japan, “TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE” travels to various sightseeing spots in a few different regions. The lounge space in car 5 is also a place to relax and meet other passengers, with concerts, tea ceremonies and other events being held there. For an overnight train ride experience offering the utmost in luxury and comfort, we highly recommend the “TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE”!

Official website: TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE

In this article we introduced 10 special Japanese trains with different concepts and designs, but which one made it on your bucket list? Japan’s railroad companies are constantly striving to attract more people, so we are sure we will see even more special trains in the coming years! Some trains require reservations, so be sure to check the official website well in advance. Enjoy Japan from the seat of your favorite special train on your next visit!

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