All Aboard - More Train News from Japan

La Malle de Bois

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

Malle de Bois seat

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.

Malle de Bois side

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.

Malle de Bois conductor

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.

The train operates on weekend and national holidays between March and September, making one return journey per day on one of three selected routes. Departing from Okayama Station, it services nearby destinations including Kurashiki, Onomichi, Uno, Kojima on the mainland, and Tadotsu and Kotohira on the island of Shikoku. Regardless of which route they choose, passengers will be able to take in the classic Setouchi scenery as the train races past the backdrop of the hills, sea and islands of Naoshima, Setouchi Ohashi Bridge, and the Onomichi channel.
La Malle de Bois exterior

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 Train

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.

Sawara townscape

The service departs from JR Ryogoku Station in eastern Tokyo every Saturday and Sunday. It operates along four slightly different routes, offering a different route each weekend. Reservations must be made at least five days in advance via JR Easts official B.B.Base website (Japanese only - travel agents and hotel concierges should be able to help with this).
Each of the train’s four routes offer different attractions to cyclists - whether you want to enjoy them from your saddletop or hop off and spend longer. The B.B.Base website suggests short, middle and long courses to suit cyclists of all abilities and experience (Japanese only).
Inubosaki Lighthouse
The Uchibo Course travels to Tateyama and Wadaura stations - top attractions on this route along the coast include Nagisanoeki Tateyama Museum, Nojimazaki Lighthouse, and the Boso Flower Line, 20km of flower garden-lined coastal roads

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
Onjuku Beach

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

Kaka-no-kukedo Caves

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.

Daisen-Oki National Park ©MOEJ

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.

Passengers will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the San’in region, such as ocean views of the Sea of Japan, the magnificent scenery of Mt. Daisen and sunsets over Lake Shinji, from the train windows during their journey as the train travels at reduced speed. Food and drinks using local products and ingredients will be on sale onboard, and JR West also hopes to collaborate with local residents on planning for performances and events, with the aim of bringing out a rich local San’in flavour.
Lake Shinjiko
The train’s exterior design will pay homage to the local surroundings and mythology, starting with the train’s body colour, a deep blue colour designed to represent the San’in region’s beautiful skies and sea. The bodywork will be finished in a metallic hue designed to create a mystical atmosphere, while the undulating silver band on the lower section of the train is designed to represent both the overlapping peaks of the San’in mountain range and ‘hamon’, the temper pattern on Japanese swords.

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

Mt. Yufu ©Promotion Airport Environment Improvement Foundation
Yufuin no Mori, a "resort train" transporting passengers from Hakata or Oita to Yufuin Onsen, a sophisticated hot spring resort in Oita prefecture on Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushu, will resume its regular service this July after it was disrupted by heavy rains one year ago.

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.
Operating between Hakata Station in Fukuoka and Beppu Station in Oita, the limited express will once again whisk passengers directly to Yufuin Station for Yufuin Onsen hot spring resort, with the journey time from Hakata Station taking around two hours. The train makes two round trips per day with daily departures (different rolling stock is used for different departures).
Yufuin Hot Springs ©Promotion Airport Environment Improvement Foundation
Stepping inside the train, passengers are greeted by a sophisticated yet welcoming atmosphere, with double-decker carriages linked by connecting bridges and passenger carriages furnished in a classic and elegant resort style with varnished wood, gold fittings, and comfortable spacious seats in muted greens and blues. Passengers travelling in groups of three or four can also reserve private booths with four seats and a table.
All passengers also have free use of the train’s lounge, where cabin attendants will provide you with travel information on the resort just before arrival. There is also a snack bar selling bento boxes, beverages and desserts, and passengers are encouraged to avail themselves of the opportunity to borrow a cabin attendant's hat for souvenir photos!
Lake Kirinko
Once in Yufuin, passengers will find themselves surrounded by rich nature, including breathtaking views of the lakes, shrines and mountains encircling the town. The town centre is home to a wealth of stylish and vibrant cafes, boutiques and art museums, however venturing just a few steps out of town will bring visitors to tranquil area populated by farmhouses and rice paddies, as well as Lake Kirinko with its shrine and public bath house.

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

JR Hokkaido
With no rainy season and much cooler conditions than the rest of Japan, Hokkaido has long been a popular summertime retreat to escape the roasting temperatures of the Japanese mainland in summer for domestic and international visitors alike.

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.
Fields in Furano & Biei
From Asahikawa, the new Rapid Furano Biei Train now links Asahikawa with Furano, whisking passengers to Lavender-Farm Station, the closest station to Farm Tomita, Japan’s top destination for lavender sightseeing, depositing passengers just a short walk from the farm. JR Hokkaido recommends the following journey:

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
Make your journey even easier by using the Furano Biei Rail Ticket. Valid for four days, it includes a return journey in the non-reserved seating carriage on the limited express train between Sapporo and the free-ride area covered by the ticket, as well as local trains within the free-ride area. It can be used on the trains listed in the recommended journey above. Find out more about the Furano Biei Rail Ticket here.
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