One of the wonders of our modern world is traveling by train in Japan, whether you want to relax on a comfortable regional express train (known as Limited Express trains in Japan) or get a taste of Japanese culture on a “Joyful Train” day trip. Other options include whizzing through the countryside at up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 mph).
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Japan will be closed for a significant portion of 2020 and 2022. As a result, visitors who were unable to ride the country’s trains now have numerous alternatives.
If you haven’t been to Japan in a while or are planning your first trip, the following is a list of some of the great new and refurbished trains you should check off your list.
Kyushu: The Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen to Nagasaki
Takeo-Onsen now serves as the interim terminus for the long-awaited high-speed line connecting Nagasaki to the rest of the Shinkansen (bullet train) network. In the hilly coastal region in far western Japan, which was previously served by slow conventional trains, five stations are now complete.
On brand-new N700S trains with striking cabin interiors designed by Mitooka Eiji, the Kyushu Railway Company’s design partner, Kamome (Japanese for “seagull”) services have taken their place. Because of how you get there, it’s a must-do for any train fan.
Due to local politics, the remainder of the line has not yet been constructed. Passengers can connect to the rest of Japan by crossing the platform to one of the Limited Express trains or Relay Kamome, typically at the Shin-Tosu Shinkansen station or the Hakata station in Fukuoka.
Try the traditional Castella cake, which was adapted from recipes brought by Portuguese sailors visiting Japan, at the newly redeveloped Nagasaki train station’s dining and shopping precinct.
Kyushu: New tourist trains
Travelers will adore Japan’s Joyful Trains, day-trip trains for tourist excursions that highlight local culture and cuisine. JR Kyushu also launched a brand-new Joyful Train known as the Two Stars 4047 to commemorate the Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen’s opening.
Its course starts at Takeo-Onsen and follows the old Nagasaki Fundamental Line that the Kamome administrations on the Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen have supplanted, moving around rough bays, gulfs and narrows.
The Joyful Train’s charming vintage railcars, a KiHa 40 and KiHa 47 set, are the inspiration for the name.
At Kohoku station’s platform, fresh fruit and snacks are available for purchase. At Hizen-Hama station’s waiting room, there is a sake bar where you can also purchase items to bring on the train. Additionally, a unique bento lunchbox set is available.
Additionally, Kyushu is home to some of Japan’s most charming Joyful Train routes, such as the jazz music-focused A-Train and the delightfully programmed long-weekend train 36+3.
In recent years, storms that washed out rural tracks have disrupted a number of Kyushu Joyful Train schedules. Book well in advance and look for their return on the JR Kyushu website.
Okayama: New Sakubi Sakura sightseeing train
JR West’s brand-new bright pink Sakubi Sakura train travels from Okayama to the hot springs region near Tsuyama in the mountainous region west of Osaka.
The train is an atmospheric old KiHa 40 railcar that has been in use in the area for more than 40 years. The interior is a vintage green and wood color, so there is no pink in the train.
Special lunch boxes and dessert sets are available on the train, which runs on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. Take advantage of them as you travel through the countryside.
Tokyo to Nikko/Kinugawa: New Limited Express Spacia X N100 trains
This July, Tobu Railway’s brand-new N100 trains, the “Limited Express Spacia X,” will begin operating. It will offer six separate sorts of seating choices – the Cockpit Suite at the front of the train, confidential compartments, the Cockpit Parlor bistro zone, semi-private Box Seats, more extensive Premium Seats and standard seats.
These brand-new trains, which connect Tokyo’s Asakusa station with the cities of Nikko and Kinugawa Onsen in the Tochigi prefecture, appear to make a trip outside of Tokyo to the countryside north of the city a must.
Nagano/Yamanashi: New High Rail 1375 Joyful Train
The newest Joyful Train from JR East, which debuted at the end of last year, is located in the mountains of Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures, just over an hour northwest of Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line.
The High Rail, an astronomy-themed train with an onboard mini-planetarium, travels up the Koumi Line, the highest railway line in Japan, through the Japanese Alps. On its night run among Kobuchizawa and Komoro stations, there’s a 50-minute stargazing experience at Nobeyama – Japan’s most noteworthy station and home to the Nobeyama telescope observatory.
The JR East locale offers numerous other spectacular Blissful Train outings. Particularly enjoyable are the steam train trips between Niigata and Aizu-Wakamatsu (SL Banetsu Monogatari) and Takasaki (SL Gunma; SL is short for steam locomotive). Unfortunately, the latter has been suspended since August 2022 due to washed-out tracks caused by a storm; however, work is reportedly underway to restore the line.
Hokkaido: New cars on the steam train Fuyu-no-Shitsugen
The Kushiro Shitsugen wetlands are well-known to nature and birdwatchers as the home of the endangered red-crowned crane, which is one of Japan’s symbols. Found in the most distant upper east of Japan on the island of Hokkaido, the Fuyu-no-Shitsugen train chuffs through this public park with retro style in the cold weather months.
The train now features brand-new scenic Tancho Cars after two carriages were renovated in 2022. Seats on one side face out toward the wetlands, and elevated box seats on the other side give passengers on the other side of the train a view of their heads.