Japan’s Luxurious, Unusual Trains

When it comes to trains in the US, things are pretty ho-hum. There are a lot of commuter trains across the country and a few Amtrak lines, but nothing with much style.

Fortunately Japan, with its love of trains, has its fair share of stylish, novel, and luxury trains running across the country. Some of them are so beautiful and carefully made, the most hardcore train otaku would shed a tear.

Let’s take a look at some of the most unusual, luxurious, and beautiful trains running the rails in Japan.

Cat Train

As a publicity stunt, in 2007 the city of Kinokawa made a calico cat named Tama the stationmaster of its local train station. Ever since, Tama has been a major tourist attraction for people across Japan and all over the world.

Tama has been a merchandising bonanza for Kinokawa, putting pictures of Tama on anything that stays still for long enough. That includes a special train, the たま電車, or Tama Train.

It’s less of your everyday commuter train and more like a cat lady’s living room, minus the cats.

tama-densha

Photo by Eiichi Kimura

tama-densha-interior

Photo by GENuine1986

tamaden

Photo by Eiichi Kimura

Kotatsu Train

The Japanese winters can be pretty harsh, especially up north. Fortunately, there are a plethora of uniquely Japanese ways to keep warm, including the beloved kotatsu.

A kotatsu is a low table with a heater strapped to the bottom, with a blanket on top to trap the heat. For the last couple of years in the northern Iwate prefecture, Sanriku Railway Co. has offered a special kotatsu train that brings the comforts of home to the rail.

The line was shut down last winter because of damage from the 3/11 earthquake, but has come back this year to offer cozy trips to all who want to take them.

kotatsu-train

kotatsu-demons

Demons from Japanese folklore occasionally show up

The Emperor’s Train

In the rare occasion the Emperor takes to Japan’s rails to travel or entertain foreign heads of state, he does it in style. You can’t expect the product of the world’s oldest monarchy to jump into just any old JR train.

The Imperial train (or お召し列車) has been a E655 series train since 2007. One car on the train is used exclusively by the Imperial Family, while the rest are reserved for special occasions.

The front of the train usually bears the Imperial Seal, Japanese flags and, if there are foreign dignitaries on board, the flag of those diplomats.

imperial-train

Photo by Eiichi Kimura

imperial-train-flags

Photo by Tkwave

Toy Train

The same people who run the line that features Tama and the Tama Train thought that a toy-themed train would be appealing to tourists as well. The train features coin vending machines for toys, a toy store, and the kind of colorful decor you might expect in a kindergarten. It even has a crib built into the train for the younger ones.

toy-train-exterior

Photo by GENuine1986

toy-train-interior

Photo by GENuine1986

toy-train-heads

Photo by Hairworm

toy-train-handles

Photo by Hairworm

Seven Stars in Kyushu

Seven Stars in Kyushu doesn’t exist yet, but it’s already generating a lot of attention. Billed as a “land cruise,” Seven Stars is a luxury train that’s set to open this fall. The cars will be filled with deluxe suites, there will be a dress code, and no children will be allowed.

Even though it’s months until the train makes contact with the rail, wealthy parties from the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong have already expressed interest. We’ll see if the Seven Stars lives up to all of the hype when it opens in autumn.

train_info_big_salon04

train_info_big_salon02

train_info_big_gaikan


It’s an impressive, mismatched collection, to say the least. I wish that people put as much care, attention, and professionalism into the railways where I live, but for now I’ll have to just deal with the creepy guy sitting across from me on my commuter train and staring at me.

  • デンツネ

    Wait, does this means Miyazaki-san didn’t create originally the Cat Vehicle?. This… changes everything! So instead of the traditional train horn, the Cat Train does “Nyan! Nyaaaan!”?.

  • http://gakuranman.com Gakuranman

    You missed the Pokemon train Hashi! http://www.pokemon.co.jp/info/2012/10/121012_e02.html

  • DAVIDPD

    Trains are great. Unless you’re in America.

  • http://www.sputniksweetie.com SputnikSweetie

    Kotatsu train? Yes, please!

  • Nicole

    This is why the Japanese are so awesome. They put great thought and detail even in the littlest things like commuting. XD My country’s trains look like garbage compared to these. XD

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Gah, you’re right! :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander

    Totoro came out almost thirty years before 2007, so the cat train hardly pre-empts Miyazaki. However, I’d very much doubt he invented the concept anyway, since nekomata have been around much, much longer.

    That said, the public transportation network in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is called “Capital Area Transit”, also known as CATbus for short…

  • Tora.Silver

    The Tama Train should run to Cat Island!
    Too bad that’s impossible though…

  • Steve

    “for now I’ll have to just deal with the creepy guy sitting across from me on my commuter train and staring at me”…’cos this never happens in Japan!

  • Xaromir

    Railway companies around the world complaint about people not having any interest anymore, and rather going by plane of car, the lack of all this is why.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    The JR Group of companies often have special trains called “Joyful Train,” which are highly-modified versions of retired passenger trainsets designed for short to medium range travel with specialized accommodations. They’re most run on weekends.

    The Kyushu Railway Company (JR Kyushu) is well-known for their more specialized tourist trains. One particularly famous one is “Aso Boy,” which runs on a route near Mt. Aso in Kyushu and is VERY popular during the summer months with families, since the seating was designed to specifically accommodate families.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Haha, good point!

  • Javi A.

    A very interesting article. But did’nt you write about the panda train of Wakayama!!

  • Hello Sandwich

    wow! I really want to go on the kotatsu train! I’ll have to head North!!!

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    “There are a lot of commuter trains across the country and a few , but nothing with much style.”
    A few what, Hashi?

    I wish the US had the kind of rail systems Japan has. I hate the traffic on the Interstate and most highways. It’d be nice to have better public transportation.

  • Caperucita

    Really nice post :)

  • TosaTravis

    We have an Anpanman train here in Shikoku…but it’s not near as elaborate as these

  • Chester

    Forgot the Kaiyodo train in Kochi. Hey, why haven’t you guys done a story yet on Kaiyodo’s Hobby Hall museum in Kochi prefecture yet, by the way? It is a story that is right up yours and your readers’ alleys, and it has a massive human interest aspect, as the founder of Kaiyodo himself returned to his home village to build a museum and support tourism to Kochi Prefecture. The guy goes all over the prefecture – the man who founded the world’s greatest action figure company, mind you – he goes around the prefecture doing events and speeches, and he’ll pat you on the back and give you business advice if you go up and talk to him, and he smiles constantly – and he’s in his ’80’s! He’s hands down the nicest old Japanese man I’ve ever met, and probably the nicest global business pioneer you’ll ever have a chance to meet.

    Oh, and they commissioned a train to go from the city all the way into the mountains directly to their museum that’s decorated with various Kaiyodo figures and statuettes. They call it the “Figure Train.” Huge miss on your part, here.

    Seriously, how are you guys not on top of this yet?

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I visited Tama, so I’ve seen the Tama train (there’s also a Tama tram and stuff), but I haven’t been inside of it as it wasn’t running that day. Instead I was inside a pretty cool strawberry train! ^^

    I’d love to take the Kotatsu train some day! :D
    Actually I want all the trains to turn into kotatsu trains in winter! ;P

  • Taro

    You studied well ! In Kyoushu, there are many attractive trains. Worth to visit the lines. In Aomori, a coast line train has a service of “live Shamisen music playing”, check this out if you were interested in it.

  • Taro

    If my memory was correct, in Japan, there are three stations which there agents ( stationmasters ) are real living cat or rabbit. Also newly introduced type of Shinkansen will be realize its top speed 320 km/h at this year. At least one station has Onsen – hot spring spa facility insides the station, you can check the arrival of the train by watching signal lights while enjoying the bath and will hardly miss your train. Enjoy not only the train itself but stations which want to entertain train lovers.

  • Lily Queen

    Isn’t there a train in Kyushu with wood paneling and stuff already? Not as fancy as the Seven Stars one, but I recall that it looked beautiful in photos. Sequel to this post…onegashimasu!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonallen1966 Jonathan Allen

    on the Izu peninsular there is a train called the black ships train. half of the seating is arranged facing outwards, so you see the scenery easily. seat plan here http://www.izukyu.co.jp/guide/guide3_2.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonallen1966 Jonathan Allen