Photo by Alex Chen
If you’ve started your research about getting around in Japan, you’ve discovered that trains are the most popular mode of transportation, both in major cities and between them. Although they can be a bit complex to use, they are notorious for being punctual and are the most efficient way to traverse the country once you get the hang of it. Since it’s inevitable you’ll be spending at least some time on trains while you’re traveling here, we’ve compiled a list of breathtaking train rides in Japan that will make all your efforts worth it.
#7: Tetsudo Hobby Train on the Yodo Line
Photo by Kzaral
This trip is one we sussed out for the train enthusiasts among us. This particular one was remodeled to resemble the “o series,” the first line of Shinkansen, or bullet train, that came onto the transportation scene more than 50 years ago.
The charm of this train ride in Japan between Kubokawa and Uwajima stations is a two-parter. First, the route is along the crystal clear Shimanto River, famous for being one of Japan’s last limpid streams. The river has 26 low water crossings, and is surrounded by natural, untouched beauty. Second, as you make your joyful journey, train geeks will find many fascinations in the interior of the train; it has been converted to a showcase of model trains of the past and present, so you get a museum and a nature tour in one!
#6: Hanwa Train Line in Kansai
Photo by Pedro Martín
Japan is definitely famous for its sakura, or cherry blossoms. The sakura is the national flower, appears on Japanese money, and is a Buddhist metaphor for the brevity and beauty of life itself. If cherry blossom viewing is on your vacation bucket list, they are at peak season in April.
Located in the Osaka Prefecture of the Kansai Region, this train ride in Japan takes you from Osaka City to Wakayama, with eye candy galore along the way. Both sides of the rail are filled with pink or white sakura, allowing for a peaceful and alluring view that is quintessential to any trip to Japan.
#5: Kyoto’s Sagano Scenic Railway
Photo by cotaro70s
If foliage is your cup of hot sake, another essential item on your list of train rides in Japan should be the Sagano Scenic Railway. Although this particular ride is only 7 kilometers (about 4.5 miles) long, it’s likely the best 25 minutes you could spend in this region.
The train moves at a deliberate, lounging pace so you can take in views of the Hozugawa River and is especially pleasant in autumn. Although Japan is indeed famous for their plum and cherry blossoms in the spring, the vibrant colors of fall are not to be missed. This train line is ideal for koyo, or the viewing of the shifting shades.
#4: Kurobe Gorge Railway in the Northern Japan Alps
Photo by tsuda
This railway was originally built for the construction of the Kurobe Dam, the tallest dam in Japan, and arguably the most beautiful, as it contains a gorgeous artificial lake and is surrounded by the Japanese Alps. It has since been repurposed for visitors who wish to explore this exotic area.
For almost an hour and a half, this train takes you through forested mountains, past rivers, over 20 bridges and through 40 tunnels. You can also stop at one of the many onsen, or hot springs, along the way for a relaxing dip. As a bonus, this train ride in Japan is another exceptional way to see the fall foliage.
#3: Hakone Tozan Railway in Kangawa
Photo by Jordi Sanchez Teruel
For anyone staying in Tokyo but still looking for a taste of life outside the city, this train ride in Japan is ideal. Hakone has many onsen resorts, making it perfect for a day or two outside the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. On the train, both the hydrangea blooms in June and the changing colors of autumn make this trip worthwhile. Once in Hakone, onsen, lakes, shrines and an open-air museum make this mini vacay complete!
#2: Mount Fuji From the Shinkansen
Photo by Kosho Owa
As Japan’s highest mountain, Mount Fuji is a must-see on your itinerary. One of the best ways to do this is on the Shinkansen bullet train line between Tokyo and Kyoto. Fuji is visible from the train for 10 minutes or so about an hour after leaving Tokyo.
On this train ride in Japan, you should plan your seating accordingly; if you’re heading South to Kyoto, Mount Fuji will be on the right side of the train, and if you’re headed North to Tokyo, it will be on the left. If you have time and would like to explore a bit more, you can take the bullet train to Fuji’s 5th station and spend the day around the mountain. There are lakes, shrines and an aerial tram to the top of neighboring Mount Komagatake for superb views of Fuji and its valley.
#1: North Honshu’s Gono Line
Photo by Kzaral
Running between the Akita Prefecture to the Aomori Prefecture, this train ride in Japan has some of the best coastal scenery in the world. We especially recommend you hop on this trip if you’re traveling to Japan during the winter; the line runs along the Sea of Japan, and juxtaposed with the snow-covered natural rock formations of the region, is sure to be unforgettable. As a bonus, this excursion also affords you views of Mount Iwaki, an inactive but still impressive volcano.
Trains are one of the best ways to travel in Japan. From cityscapes to countrysides, mountains to the sea, a train ride in Japan is guaranteed to never disappoint. For a totally unique and unforgettable experience, make sure you fit these locomotive locations into your itinerary!