Travel Japan by Train: The Most Scenic Routes to Add to Your Itinerary

Embark on a captivating journey through Japan, a country where modernity meets tradition in the most seamless and picturesque ways. Train travel in Japan is much more than a way to get from point A to point B—it’s an immersive experience that offers stunning views of the country’s diverse landscapes, from bustling cityscapes to tranquil rural areas and dramatic coastlines. 

Let’s take you through the best train journeys across Japan, highlighting scenic routes that offer not only comfort and efficiency but also breathtaking vistas that are quintessentially Japanese.

1. The Seven Stars in Kyushu

Experience luxury like never before on the Seven Stars train in Kyushu, a masterpiece of Japanese craftsmanship and hospitality. This train offers a unique journey through Kyushu’s most picturesque landscapes, from volcanic mountains to serene coastlines.

Highlights of the Journey

Mount Aso: Witness the breathtaking views of one of the world’s largest calderas.

Kirishima Mountains: Traverse through the mythological grounds of the gods, adorned with lush greenery.

Coastal Vistas: The train skirts the stunning coasts, offering expansive views of the azure seas.

Luxurious Amenities

The train is equipped with opulent suites, each designed with traditional Japanese motifs and modern comforts. Guests can enjoy gourmet dining onboard, featuring Kyushu’s finest ingredients, prepared by top chefs.

Exclusive Experience

With only a few cabins, the Seven Stars offers an intimate setting, ensuring personalized service. The observation cars provide panoramic views, perfect for capturing the scenic beauty.

2. The Resort Shirakami

Embark on a journey that weaves through the untouched beauty of northern Japan aboard The Resort Shirakami. This train offers travelers a rare view into the serene landscapes and cultural richness of the Tohoku region, making it a must-experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Route Highlights

Shirakami Sanchi: Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its expansive, untouched beech forests.

Sea of Japan: Enjoy the dramatic coastline views that contrast sharply with the lush greenery.

Rural Landscapes: Pass through quaint villages and rice fields, offering a glimpse into rural Japanese life.

Train Features

The Resort Shirakami is designed to enhance the sightseeing experience. Large windows in each carriage ensure unobstructed views of the passing scenery. Additionally, the train occasionally hosts live performances, showcasing local music and dance, enriching the cultural journey.

Seasonal Beauty

Traveling in different seasons offers varied scenic experiences. Spring brings vibrant new greenery, while autumn dazzles with fiery foliage. Each season paints the landscapes with unique colors and textures, promising a fresh beauty with every visit.

3. The Sunrise Seto & Sunrise Izumo

Discover Japan by night aboard the Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo, Japan’s premier overnight sleeper trains. These trains offer a unique way to travel between Tokyo and the western regions of Japan, combining comfort with the thrill of waking up to a new destination.

Unique Journey Experience

Overnight Travel: Start your journey at night in Tokyo and wake up to the beautiful landscapes of either Takamatsu or Izumo.

Japan Rail Pass Accessibility: These trains are a boon for pass holders, offering a budget-friendly overnight travel option.

Cabin Comforts

Choose from various accommodation types to match your privacy and comfort needs. Options range from single compartments to luxurious single deluxe rooms. Each cabin is designed to provide a cozy, restful night’s journey.

Key Destinations

Takamatsu (Sunrise Seto): Known for its traditional Japanese gardens and as a gateway to the art islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

Izumo (Sunrise Izumo): Famous for Izumo Taisha, one of Japan’s oldest and most significant Shinto shrines.

Sunrise Views

Position yourself to catch the first rays of the sun as you approach your destination. The east-facing windows offer a mesmerizing sunrise view, a perfect start to your day.

4. The Hokkaido Shinkansen

Experience one of Japan’s most impressive feats of engineering on the Hokkaido Shinkansen. This high-speed train connects the main island of Honshu with the northern frontier of Hokkaido, offering a seamless journey through the depths of the Seikan Tunnel, one of the longest underwater tunnels in the world.

Engineering Marvel

Seikan Tunnel: Travel through this engineering wonder that spans an impressive 53.85 kilometers, linking the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.

High-Speed Travel: Cover great distances quickly, making more time for exploring the diverse landscapes and attractions of Hokkaido.

Scenic Attractions

Rural Landscapes: As the train speeds north, watch the change in scenery from urban sprawl to serene pastoral landscapes.

Seasonal Views: Each season offers a new reason to travel—cherry blossoms in spring, lush greenery in summer, vibrant autumn colors, and snowy vistas in winter.

Tips for the Best Experience

Seat Selection: Choose a seat on the right side of the train when traveling north for the best views of the rural and coastal landscapes.

Travel Times: Consider traveling during daylight hours to maximize the scenic views available during your journey.

5. The Romantic Train (Sagano Scenic Railway)

Step aboard the Romantic Train for a nostalgic journey along the scenic Hozugawa River. This beloved route, also known as the Sagano Scenic Railway, offers breathtaking views of Kyoto’s lush mountainous landscape, making it a favorite for both locals and tourists seeking a tranquil escape.

Journey Through Arashiyama

Hozugawa River: The train runs parallel to this river, providing stunning views of the water and its surrounding natural beauty.

Arashiyama: Famous for its bamboo groves and temples, this district is a highlight of the train’s route.

Train Features

The Romantic Train is designed with an old-world charm, featuring wooden carriages that enhance the nostalgic experience. Open-air cars are available, allowing passengers to feel the breeze and hear the sounds of nature as they travel.

Photographic Opportunities

Kameoka: The train’s journey starts or ends here, depending on your direction. The rural town offers picturesque scenes, especially during cherry blossom and autumn leaf seasons.

Seasonal Beauty: Spring and autumn are particularly magical, with vibrant flora framing the river and mountains.

6. The Gono Line

Embark on a lesser-known but equally spectacular train journey along Japan’s northern coast via the Gono Line. This scenic route offers a unique glimpse into the rugged coastline, remote landscapes, and the traditional way of life in the regions it traverses.

Exploring the Japan Sea Coast

Senjojiki Coast: Experience the dramatic scenery where expansive cliffs meet the waves of the Japan Sea.

Mt. Iwaki: Catch a view of this iconic mountain, often called the “Mt. Fuji of Tsugaru”, which dominates the local landscape.

Traditional Villages: The train passes through quaint fishing villages where time seems to stand still, offering a peek into traditional Japanese coastal life.

Train Characteristics

The Gono Line is known for its smaller, cozy trains that enhance the intimacy of the journey. The route is famous for its sharp curves and steep gradients, which provide varied and exciting views as the train navigates this challenging terrain.

Local Experiences

Fresh Seafood: Don’t miss the opportunity to try some of the freshest seafood in Japan, sourced directly from the local waters.

Cultural Insights: Engage with local culture through community-run stations where local goods and crafts are often sold.

Practical Tips for Enjoying Train Journeys in Japan

Maximize your train travel experience in Japan with these practical tips.

Booking Tickets

Advance Reservations: For popular routes like the Seven Stars or Romantic Train, book well in advance to secure a spot, especially during peak travel seasons.

Japan Rail Pass: Consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass if planning multiple journeys. It offers great value and flexibility but remember to check train eligibility.

Best Times to Travel

Seasonal Considerations: Spring and autumn are ideal for scenic views due to cherry blossoms and vibrant foliage. Winter offers snowy landscapes, particularly in the north.

Daylight Hours: Choose travel times that allow you to view the landscapes in daylight. Early morning or late afternoon trips can provide beautiful lighting for photography.

Day Trips vs. Overnight Journeys

Day Trips: Perfect for short scenic routes like the Sagano Scenic Railway. These allow you to return and explore more in the base city.

Overnight Journeys: Use sleeper trains like the Sunrise Seto or Sunrise Izumo to save on a night’s accommodation and wake up at a new destination.

Luggage Considerations

Storage Space: Be aware that storage space on Japanese trains can be limited. Pack light or use luggage forwarding services to ease your travel.

Onboard Etiquette

Quiet Carriages: Respect the quiet zones in trains. Keep conversations low and mute electronic devices.

Seat Reservations: Always adhere to your reserved seating, especially on busy routes.

Conclusion – All Aboard

Exploring Japan by train is not just a journey; it’s an experience that weaves through the heart of the country’s scenic beauty and cultural richness. Each route offers its unique allure, making train travel in Japan a must-do for any traveler.

Ready to embark on your scenic train adventure across Japan? Start planning today! Visit our links to purchase your Japan Rail Pass and book tickets for these incredible train journeys. 

Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guides for each destination to make the most of your travels.

We’d love to hear from you too! Share your experiences or any additional tips you might have in the comments below. Let’s make travel better together. Happy journeys!

The information provided in this article was accurate at the time of publication. However, it's important to note that dates, times, fees, and other related details are subject to change without prior notice. We will always make every effort to update the information whenever possible.

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