We all know that Japan is very capable of going beyond our expectations of converting something into more unique and extraordinary. The Robot Restaurant, vending machines, digital art museums and Pachinko… and train rides! While Japan is famously known for its efficient and extensive railway network, some have levelled up to provide an experience that is more than just a means of transportation. There is no longer a need to kill time on your phone while on these trains! From a railway journey with well-known anime characters to world heritage scenic views, here is a list of unique train rides that should be up on your bucket list for your next trip to Japan.
TAMA DEN (Wakayama Prefecture)
This is a must-do for all cat lovers! Wakayama Electric Railway Kishigawa Line has developed the cutest train journey ever. This cat-themed train was designed after a calico cat ‘Tama’ who served as the Kishi stationmaster. Tama saved this line from closure by attracting many commuters and tourists hence contributing to revival of the line.
TAMA DEN has all the traits of Tama with the design including whiskers, paws and 101 images of Tama outside and inside the carriage.
Unfortunately, Tama passed away a few years ago as Nitama has succeeded the role as ‘Tama the 2nd Stationmaster.’ Wakayama Electric Railways has introduced other themed trains such as ‘Strawberry Train’, ‘Toy Train’ and ‘Picked Plum Train.’ Whether you are a cat-lover or not, this cute train ride will take you through the beauty of untouched farmlands and towns of Wakayama.
POKEMON TRAIN (Tohoku Area)
This Pikachu-themed train was first launched by a collaboration between the Pokemon Company and Japan Railway to support areas which were devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It currently runs the JR Ofunato Line between Ichinoseki and Kesennuma Station with two cars- one with seats and the other as a playroom where the pretend train driver’s seat and an engine room are.
They are completely furnished for kids to have the train driver’s experience. Pokemon characters cover the train interior and there are few stops where you can get off to take pictures with Pokemon statues and collect stamps for the stamp ralley. Not only does it take you to the world of Pokemon, but it also introduces you to the rich nature that Tohoku region has. Located along the coastline, Kesennuma is well known for its seafood. You can also easily travel from Ichinoseki to Geibikei Gorge to enjoy a boat ride. You will be able to experience both the world of Pokemon and the hidden gems of Tohoku.
THE KOTATSU TRAIN (Iwate Prefecture)
Japanese winter can be intensely cold in some regions, which is why the Japanese have created what is called a ‘kotatsu’, a small table with an electric heater underneath and covered by quilt or blanket to keep themselves warm. Now, the Sanriku Railway Company is offering a scenic ride with the kotatsu equipped trains to offer passengers the Japanese way of spending the winter.
The special two-car train also caters to foodies, as passengers can order a special lunch box, abundant with the local delicacies. They also offer a scallop-peeling hands-on experience on the trains. You might be lucky enough to encounter two Namahages from the local folktale. They are fierce demons looking into houses to admonish children who have been misbehaving by yelling phrases such as ‘Are there any naughty children around here?’
This train will take you to the relaxing scenic journey with the comfort of being like home.
KOSHINO SHU KURA (Niigata Prefecture)
For those who have fallen for Sake, this train might be the one you have been looking for. This special train runs through Niigata which is famously known for numerous sake breweries due to its rich rice production. Wide selections of Niigata Sake and locally produced finger food welcome you once on board. They have a Sake Tasting Event and other sake-related functions, as well as jazz and classical music performances that are carried out en route.
Local Sake is complimentary for the first and the third car. The second car passengers can also enjoy paid sake drinking from the bar counter as well.
The whole train ride with the fascinating combination of a sake brewery experience and the amazing view will provide you an experience like no other.
THE FUJIKYU VIEW EXPRESS (Yamanashi)
There is no doubt that Mt. Fuji is an iconic volcano. Mt. Fuji climbing or observing from designated areas have been the popular activities, but some give up due to time and health restrictions. Thus, the Fujikyu Railway launched The Fujikyu View Express as an alternative where everyone can enjoy the symbolic mountain by offering the closest view than any other trainline. Not to mention the comfort and elegantly designed carriage. What’s more, this train was designed by a famous train design consultant who emphasized on decorating with all wooden interior so that it would go along with the natural surroundings.
What makes this journey more heart warming is the Sweets Plan. If you are willing to pay a bit extra, a lunch box full of sweets made by the pastry chef will be served to treat yourself during the ride.
Japan has successfully made train rides more interesting by including some form of activity and accommodating the scenic views along the journey. Even on public transportation in the city, you will find most of them are equipped with TV monitors airing event information or weather forecast. So why not look around to see if there are any efforts made to utmost the passengers’ rides and add these trains above to the bucket list for your next trip to Japan?