Japan’s on track to becoming a major player in the luxury rail travel scene. Two new luxury trains are due to launch in 2017 alone, each promising breathtaking views, tasteful interiors and comfortable passage.
The first, Twilight Express Mizukaze (loosely “wind through Japan”), will explore the rich culture and history of Kyoto, the “shrine island” Miyajima, and the coasts of Izumo and Matsue in the north.
The 10-car train is styled with art deco-inspired furnishings. Six are sleeper cars and two are dedicated to sightseeing (with al fresco platforms attached). There’s only room for 30 passengers per trip, and they’ll all get to savour seasonal menus designed by Japan’s most Michelin-starred chef, Yoshihiro Murata. Murata’s gone the extra miles, and deliberately picked ingredients from along the route to showcase in his washoku menus.
The second luxury train, the Shiki-Shima, and will head north-east towards Tohoku and into Hokkaido. Expect immersive experiences such as trips to onsens and fish markets, while getting plenty of insight into the local arts and crafts. The train’s layout is similar to the Mizukaze, and it boasts capacity for 34 passengers across 17 lavish rooms. The most premium suite includes a bath made of Japanese cypress wood.
These new forays, slated to debut in the middle of the 2017, set in stone the birth of a new travel category in Japan. The first of such luxury train “cruises”, the Nanatsuboshi (Seven Stars), was launched in 2013 to much fanfare. To this day, the weekly tours are oversubscribed seven times over, and even well-heeled regulars have to beat a balloting system to land their tickets. If you’re keen to try your luck, make sure you enlist a Japanese friend, or you’ll have to wait till overseas travel agents get in on the action; the original application forms are in Japanese only.