Discovering Japan by Train

Aaaaaaaall Aboooaaard! Railways are one of the most important means of transportation in Japan since the 19th century. Today, the Shinkansen (新幹線), or new trunk line, is a network of high-speed railway lines called bullet trains: an essential mode of transportation that gets people around the country. Japan has a long history with trains that helped propel the industrialization of its economy. Japan was also the first country to build high-speed railway lines. Steam locomotives still run in Japan, giving visitors a nostalgic way to appreciate Japan’s beautiful sights and scenery.

loco3The Japanese government issued a policy that promoted railways as an efficient transportation for a nation that has a limited supply of fossil fuels and is dependent on imports to meet such a demand. Private railway companies acquired rural land beginning in the late 19th century. Japanese railway lines built on these lands became the backbone of Japanese urban transport between the cities and outlying areas.

Japan Government Railway type 150 steam locomotive, 1871. | Japan National Railways

The bullet train may be the best mode of transportation to get you to where you need to go, fast. But it isn’t exactly an ideal sight: a sea of blur, and you’ll most likely get dizzy trying to catch a glimpse of something that is moving at close to 200 miles per hour. Other varieties of sightseeing trains in Japan are more suited for a relaxing ride. These trains offer beautiful interiors and serve delicious meals, and some even have games and scheduled events for passengers to enjoy. There are trains that are equipped with large windows and comfortable seats and tables facing the window to give visitors a better view.


Sightseeing trains usually require an additional fee, such as a limited express ticket and a reserved seat ticket plus the train ticket itself. Reservations can be made at a ticket window of the train station or at travel centers, agencies, and airports in Japan. Normally, the Japan Rail Pass or JR lines do not require an additional fee. However, when your trip will take you to a line of another railroad company, the shared section requires a separate fare and an additional fee. It is best to plan your route wisely so you can cut on travel costs and see more of Japan. The trip in southern Kyushu offers three sightseeing trains in a row. It is recommended to start with a train from Kyushu Shinkansen, disembark at JR Kumamoto Station, and take the SL Hitoyoshi for a full retro experience. Travelling south to Hitoyoshi gives visitors a chance to see the Kumagawa River.

 Sagano Scenic Railway, a sightseeing train line. | Peter Broster

Take a look at this YouTube video by MK Biswas73 that presents a compilation of steam locomotives in Japan:


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