You’ll find trains of all shapes, sizes and classes in Japan. But did you know there's a series of luxury trains offering premium experiences, breathtaking vistas and, in some cases, Michelin-star fares? Japan luxury trains rarely make it to the top of travel recommendations lists, but trust us, some of these journeys are worth saving for.
What is the experience like on a luxury train in Japan?
The experience on a luxury train in Japan is unparalleled. From stunning panoramic countryside views to top-notch service and amenities, these trains offer a unique and luxurious way to explore Japan. Sit back, relax, and indulge in the ultimate luxury travel experience.
9 of Japan’s Most Luxurious Trains
Here is a list of 9 bucket-list-worthy Japan luxury trains:
- Seven Stars in Kyushu
- Spacia X
- Twilight Express Mizukaze
- Tohoku Emotion
- Sunrise Seto & Sunrise Izumo
- Aru Ressha
- Saphir Odoriko
1. Seven Stars in Kyushu
The most exclusive luxury train on this list, the Seven Stars in Kyushu takes passengers around the region through carefully curated itineraries. The packages offered generally present different facets of Kyushu's unique culture. Expect activities like pottery making and brewery tours.
Fun fact: The Seven Stars in Kyushu was voted number one on Condé Nast Traveler's The Best Train Trips in the World: Readers' Choice Awards 2023 list. It's the third consecutive year the sightseeing train has taken first place, making it one of the world's most popular train journeys.
How to Book: Travelers must apply several months in advance, and passengers are randomly selected via lottery. While applying does not guarantee a seat, it's still very much worth trying! Visit the Seven Stars in Kyushu website for more information.
When in Kyushu, get to know its major cities by signing up for one of byFood's experiences. Check out this tour of Fukuoka bars and street food.
2. Spacia X
Sightseeing trains often have a retro-inspired design, but Tobu's Spacia X looks like it comes dashing straight out of a science-fiction novel. The limited express train runs between Asakusa in Tokyo and Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture.
The "X" in the train's name refers to Tobu's vision for the future of rail travel and to Kanuma kumiko, a Tochigi woodworking technique most often associated with Japanese screen doors. You'll notice hints of this beloved craft in the Spacia X's exterior and interior design. Various seating options are available, ranging from a unique cockpit lounge to premium and standard seats.
How to Book: You can purchase tickets for the Spacia X at major stations on Tobu lines. See the Spacia X website for details.
If you're heading to Nikko, sign up for a fire ceremony and kaiseki dining experience.
3. Twilight Express Mizukaze
The Twilight Express Mizukaze hopes to provide its passengers with nostalgia, unforgettable views of Japan, and top-notch fare prepared by world-class chefs. Truly a dream come true.
The train runs through the Sanyo and San'in regions (different routes are available), partly along the northern coast of Honshu. Notable landscapes include views of Akashi Kaikyo Bridge — the world's second-longest suspension bridge that connects Kobe City and Awaji Island — and Orii Coast in Shimane Prefecture.
The Twilight Express Mizukaze takes great pride in providing travelers with delicious meals made with Japan's finest ingredients. Working with ten chefs and culinary artisans, you can sample the delectable cuisine of some of the Sanyo and San'in regions' best restaurants aboard. Be sure to check what menu is available at the time of booking!
How to Book: Like the Seven Stars in Kyushu, the Twilight Express Mizukaze is an exclusive train. Applications for upcoming trips open five to six months in advance, and passengers are selected at random via lottery. See the Twilight Express Mizukaze website for more information.
Deep dive into history and culture through a guided tour and food experience in Shimane Prefecture.
4. Tohoku Emotion
The Tohoku Emotion is the only train on this list that can be described as a "restaurant train." It runs between Hachinohe and Kuji stations, crossing the Aomori-Iwate prefectural border. Travelers can dine anywhere along the train or watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen in Car 2. Every table boasts a view of the Tohoku mountainscape or the Sanriku Coast.
The menu features loads of Tohoku ingredients. To keep its selection of dishes fresh, chefs change twice a year, and the menu itself is reimagined every season, all served in Tohoku tableware.
How to Book: You can reserve seats on Ekinet or at JR Ticket Offices at major JR East stations. See JR East's official page for the Tohoku Emotion for more information.
If you're heading north of Honshu, chances are you'll pass through Sendai. Extend your stay and explore Tohoku's largest city. You can even book a Sendai food tour to make the most of your time there!
5. Sunrise Seto & Sunrise Izumo
The Sunrise Express is a sleeper train that runs daily between Tokyo and two central Japan destinations: Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture and Izumo in Shimane Prefecture. The train splits Okayama Station, becoming the Sunrise Seto if it's bound for Kagawa or the Sunrise Izumo if it's headed for Shimane.
A journey lasts about 9 hours and 30 minutes. Unlike other trains on this list, the Sunrise Seto only runs at night, departing from Tokyo around 9pm and arriving at Takamatsu City around 8am.
How to Book: You can book tickets for the Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo at JR Ticket Offices at major JR stations around Japan up to one month in advance. Holders of a JR Rail Pass can reserve single seating free of charge.
A newer player in the Japan luxury train world, the Shiki-Shima offers 2- to 4-day itineraries in the Kanto region. Journeys start at Ueno Station and take riders to through the Japanese countryside, with the longest crossing Tohoku and southern Hokkaido. The idea behind the Shiki-Shima is to showcase Japan's lush natural landscapes through the seasons. There are many available multi-day routes, including seasonal ones, so be sure to check what each include.
How to Book: Like the Seven Stars in Kyushu, the Shiki-Shima accepts applications at certain times of the year. Best plan in advance and check the Shiki-Shima website regularly.
7. Aru Ressha
The Aru Ressha is best known for its focus on gastronomy. Passengers are treated to delicious fare inspired by the people and flavors of Kyushu.
The on-board courses are designed by Yoshihiro Narisawa, best known in Japan for his sustainable practices and contributions to satoyama cuisine. Narisawa's delectable dishes, possible through close collaboration with Kyushu producers, are served in Kyushu-made pottery and ceramic ware.
How to Book: You can book a ride aboard the Aru Ressha through the train's official website.
8. Saphir Odoriko
The Saphir Odoriko is a luxury sightseeing train that runs between Tokyo and Izu, taking passengers from the concrete jungle to the peninsula in just under 3 hours. There is a range of seat types available, including private lounges.
The cafeteria in Car 4 of the Saphir Odoriko offers light meals and drinks should you get hungry during the 2-and-a-half-hour journey. Items on the menu were created by Miyuki Igarashi, who runs the Chinese restaurant Miyu in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture.
How to Book: You can reserve seats on the Saphir Odoriko on Ekinet or at JR Ticket Offices at major JR East stations.
The 36+3 is a relatively new sightseeing train that rounds Japan's southern Kyushu region. Five out of seven days a week, it rushes through different parts of Kyushu. The train's name is a play on the Japanese reading of the number 39 (sankyu), which sounds like the katakana pronunciation of "thank you," inspired by the 36+3's concept of celebrating the people of Kyushu and the region's history and art.
The 36+3's interior is reminiscent of first and second generations of sightseeing trains, with comfy seats and wood panels all around. Look closely and you'll find subtle references to Kyushu crafts.
How to Book: Book your preferred journey via the 36+9 website. Securing your seat a few weeks or months in advance is recommended.
Japan may be known for Tokyo's chaotic train and subway system or the Shinkansen, but Japan luxury trains are on another level. It's not about the destination; it's about the journey — except it's also a little bit about the destination. Make sure you make the most of your trip in any Japanese region by booking unique experiences.