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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.