All Aboard - More Train News from Japan
Catch up on the latest train news from Japan, including an art train in Setouchi, a cyclist-friendly train in Chiba, and a new JR sightseeing train in the western San’in region.
Art Train ‘La Malle de Bois’ Serves Setouchi Region
A new sightseeing train invites passengers to travel to the central Setouchi region on a ‘suitcase on wheels’. Named La Malle de Bois, meaning a ‘wooden suitcase’ in French. With interior design and supervision by Fran Kitagawa, exterior design and logos by Daigo Daikoku, and planning and design by Etsuko Kodaira, the exterior of the train is designed to look like a suitcase, with a bold modern design featuring an all-white train body and train windows with thick black frames designed to resemble suitcases or bags.
Operating at the entrance to the Setouchi region, known for its world-class modern art and scenic cycling routes, the train is equipped with everything passengers need on a journey across Japan’s picturesque Inland Sea.
Art lovers will appreciate the train’s clever artistic finishing touches, such as its well-stocked bookshelves, lined with art books and books about islands, allowing passengers to plan their journey or make new memories while on the train, and art objects such as old-fashioned cameras, train and ship models, including an original suitcase-shaped picture book by modern artist and author Masahiro Hasanuma mounted on a kinora, an early moving picture device.
Meanwhile, cycling enthusiasts will appreciate the special facilities aimed at cyclists taking their bicycles onboard with them, such as the bicycle storage space with room to stow eight bicycles (reservation required, free of use for passengers with seat reservations for the train) and the bicycle assembly area on the platform at Okayama Station, available for passengers who have made reservations for bicycle storage space on the train to assemble and disassemble their bicycles before or after boarding.
Other on-train services include train conductors on hand to provide travel information and take photographs; a service counter selling drinks, souvenirs and local specialty products, such as tote bags, pencil cases, and handkerchiefs as well as La Malle de Bois pin badges and wind-up tinplate toys; and original background music by Japanese harp player Mika Agematsu. All passengers also receive free wifi and a commemorative train ticket from their ride.
La Malle Setouchi operates between Okayama-Uno every Saturday and 14-17 August (passengers may only get on and off at Okayama and Uno)
La Malle Shimanami operates between Okayama-Onomichi every Sunday (passengers may get on and off at Okayama, Kurashiki, Fukuyama, and Onomichi)
La Malle Kotohira operates between Okayama-Kotohira on national holidays (passengers may get on and off at Okayama, Kojima, Tadotsu, Zentsuji and Kotohira)
Trains depart from Okayama Station at 10:11, with return journeys from the final destination departing between 14:00 and 15:45 depending on the route. Fares for single tickets range from ¥1,350-2,310 (£9.30-15.90) for adults and ¥1,060-1,640 (£7.30-11.30) for children. Tickets can be purchased from JR Midori-no Madoguchi ticket counter at main JR train station and major travel agents from one month before the day of travel.
New Weekend Train for Cyclists from Tokyo to Chiba Coast
B.B.Base, short for Boso Bicycle Base, is a new train operated by JR East that has been designed to transport keen cyclists and their wheels between Tokyo and the Boso Peninsula in neighbouring Chiba prefecture at weekends. With mild weather, sandy beaches, seasonal flowers and scenic coastal views, the Boso Peninsula is the ideal destination for city-bound cycling enthusiasts chasing fresh air and scenic views on their weekend excursions.
The train has six carriages with seating and bike racks for 99 passengers. Each carriage is fitted with space-saving upright bike racks, so that cyclists can quickly and easily board and stow their bicycles, and a special non-slip rubber floor suitable for cycling shoes. All seats are equipped with electronic power outlets so that passengers can recharge the batteries of their electronic devices - whether it’s their mobile phone or their bike lights - during their journey.
The Sotobo Course travels to Katsuura Station - top attractions on this route, which incorporates both coastal and hilly sections, include sand dunes, Uomizuka Observation Deck, and Onjuku Beach, a 30-minute cycle ride from the station
The Sawara Course travels to Sawara Station - top attractions on this route along a scenic cycle path replete with cultural and historical heritage include Katori Jingu Shrine, head shrine of 400 Katori shrines around Japan, and the traditional townscape of Sawara
The Choshi Course travels to Choshi Station - top attractions on this route with photogenic views of the Pacific Ocean include Inubosaki Lighthouse, Byobugaura cliffs, known as the Dover of the East, and Uosse 21 & Port Tower, a fish-themed tourist facility.
JR West Sightseeing Train ‘Ametsuchi’ to Launch July 2018
JR West will launch a new sightseeing train, Ametsuchi, this July. The train will serve the area between Tottori and Izumo Stations in the San’in region in the west of Japan, generally considered to refer to Shimane, Tottori and Yamaguchi prefectures.
The train’s name is taken from in the opening phrase of the Kojiki, the Record of Ancient Matters, Japan’s oldest known book, which was written in the 8th century: 「天地（あめつち）の初発（はじめ） のとき」(Ametsuchi no hajime no toki, roughly translatable as ‘at the beginning of the heavens and the earth’). The San’in region of Japan is the setting for many of the myths that are told in the Kojiki.
The San’in region is also home to the roots of many aspects of Japanese culture, including shrines, sake (Japanese rice wine), kabuki, and sumo, as well as bountiful nature for which the region is especially well-known. This nature and the roots of Japanese culture are worked into the design of the train under the concept of ‘native Japanese’ culture, offering passengers a unique journey of discovery of ‘old and new Japan’ through the San’in region.
The train's interior will make active use of local materials, including Chizu cedar from Tottori prefecture and pine from Shimane prefecture, lampshades made from Inshu Washi (Japanese paper), tiling made from the same material as Sesshu tiles, and frequent use of wood-grain panels to recreate the texture of plain, unvarnished wood. It will feature a colour scheme of blue, designed to reflect the rich colour of the Sea of Japan, and green, designed to reflect the colour of the San’in region’s sacred mountains.
Yufuin no Mori Train Back in Service from July
The train is currently operating on a reduced detour route between Hakata and Yufuin via Kokura and Oita, with no service between Teruoka and Hita Stations, due to the effects of heavy rainfall in northern Kyushu in July 2017. However, it will resume its original service along the Kyudai Main Line from July 14, 2018.
There are also a large number of ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) dotted throughout the town, so an overnight stay is possible for people who want to stay and soak up Yufuin’s relaxed yet refined atmosphere for a bit longer before hopping on the Yufuin no Mori train for the return journey back to civilization in Beppu or Fukuoka.
New JR Rapid Train Serves Hokkaido’s Flower Fields
Cool off as you stroll around Biei’s colourful patchwork flower fields and Furano’s rolling meadows of purple lavender - you can get there easily using JR Hokkaido’s trains. The Limited Express Kamui and Limited Express Lilac already make daily journeys from Sapporo to the Furano and Biei area via Asahikawa.
Dep. Sapporo 8:30 (Ltd. Exp. Lilac No.5) or 9:00 (Ltd. Exp. Kamui No.7) -> arr. Ashikawa 9:55 or 10:25 -> dep. Asahikawa 10:29 (Rapid Furano Biei Train) -> arr. Lavender-Farm Station 11:30 -> walk 7 mins to Farm Tomita