All Aboard - Train News from Japan
Catch up on the latest train news from Japan, including Seibu Railway's new luxury sightseeing train to Chichibu, a new direct JR-Fujikyu train to Mt. Fuji and the Kawaguchi-ko area and a new station in Kyoto.
New Direct 'Fuji Excursion' Limited Express Train from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji and the Kawaguchi-ko Area
Think 'Japan' and the first thing that comes to mind is Mt. Fuji, right? Its exceptionally symmetrical snow-covered cone has captured the hearts and minds of the Japanese for hundreds and hundreds of years, not to mention foreign tourists too who head there in droves from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo some 60 miles away.
Until now, travellers to Mt. Fuji have had to embark on a roughly 2.5 hour-journey involving multiple trains before arriving at Kawaguchi-ko Station, the closest station to Mt. Fuji and the starting point for a number of hiking trails leading to the volcano's summit. But no more! From 16th March the new 'Fuji Excursion' service, a partnership between JR and the local Fujikyu Corporation, will provide a direct route from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchi-ko Station that takes just 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Before reaching Kawaguchi-ko, the Fuji Excursion also stops off at a couple of places that might just pique your interest: Ōtsuki and Fuji-Q Highland. From Ōtsuki Station you're well-primed to either head west by JR service and explore Honshū's Chūbu region, or hop on a bus to see the world's fastest train, the L0 Series at the Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center! Thrill seekers on the other hand need look no further than Fuji-Q Highland—Japan's largest theme park—for their fix of adrenaline right at the foot of Mt. Fuji! Ever done some sightseeing at over 110mph? There's a first for everything and there's no better place to try it than in Japan!
All seats for the Fuji Excursion are reserved and can be purchased at JR ticket counters or at Fujikyu stations. Two trains will depart from both termini on weekdays, with an increase to three on weekends. One-way fares between Shinjuku Station and Kawaguchi-ko Station start from around ¥1600 (£11) for adults and a reduced price of ¥900 (£6) for children.
New Direct Osaka Higashi Line between Shin-Osaka and Nara
There's so much to do and see in the Kansai area that it's nearly impossible to refrain from racing about the place in the hopes of ticking Himeji, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama and Nara off the checklist—phew! But wait, JR West has heard your prayers! That's right, as of 16th March the new Osaka Higashi Line will provide visitors with a direct route between Shin-Osaka Station and Nara Station in just over 1 hour - fantastic news if you're making your way via the Tokaido Shinkansen from either Himeji/Kobe way or Kyoto/Tokyo way. Here's to hoping JR take over our train services, eh...
Though 4 services will run each way daily, the weekday services to Nara will leave you with only a few hours of sunlight to see the city - booooo. Sorry but it looks like it'll have to be a weekend job—at least the trains leave Shin-Osaka Station at the more sociable hours of 10:17, 11:17, 17:32 and 18:32.
Three new stations are also set to open close to Shin-Osaka Station: Minami Suita Station, Awaji Station and Shirokita Kо̄en Station. Why not explore a different, more local side to Osaka?
New 'Laview' Luxury Limited Express Train from Tokyo to Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture
Whilst train travel in the UK very nearly matches the catastrophic image of "hell on earth", in Japan it's anything but - rather it's a pretty seamless and cost-effective means of travel. Enter Seibu Railway's new 'Laview' luxury limited express train; Laview will gracefully "trainsport" (ha!) passengers between Tokyo's Ikebukuro Station and Seibu Chichibu Station in Saitama Prefecture from 19th March. As if Japan didn't already have a ton of high-end train services? UK 0 - Japan 1.
Designed by world-famous architect Sejima Kazuyo, Laview is intended to "move seamlessly between urban and rural environments and adapt to each landscape". With its forested mountains and valleys, Chichibu is a gorgeous getaway from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Swim in the Arakawa River, go for a long walk in the nearby Nakatsu Valley or challenge yourself to visit the 34 temples located along the Chichibu Temple Pilgrimage. Time to discover the Kanto region!
There's plenty of scenery to soak up on the way, so it's a good thing Laview's not short of window space: the train's eight carriages are peppered with large windows throughout, ensuring plenty of natural light and wide views of this corner of Saitama Prefecture's spectacular scenery. Don't you just love when you get your money's worth? Head inside and you'll feel right at home - no, literally, the seats are like sofas-for-one - cushty! Once settled in your seat it's time to look outside - that is the purpose of this train, right? Should you however feel the need to turn your attention to your phone or any of your other devices, you'll be pleased to know that free Wi-Fi is available throughout the train and that each seat is fitted with plug sockets. Much like on the Shinkansen, the seats can also be rotated to face each other, perfect for group travellers. Spacious wheelchair spaces and multipurpose toilets throughout the train also ensure that travellers suffering from mobility difficulties are also well accommodated and comfortable during their journey.
There will be six inbound Laview services and five outbound services on weekdays. On Sundays and other holidays meanwhile there will be four outbound services. One-way fares between Ikebukuro Station and Seibu Chichibu Station start from around ¥1400 (£10) for adults and a reduced price of ¥3900 (£3) for children.
Hankyu Railway to Introduce New Kyoto-Themed 'Kyo-Train Garaku'
Hankyu Railway will be introducing the 'Kyo-Train Garaku' sightseeing train to their weekend 'Kyo-Train' service between Osaka's Umeda and Kyoto's Kawaramachi from 23rd March.
The current Kyo-Train, which has been in service since 2011, features an immersive interior design that pays homage to Kyoto's many iconic old-fashioned machiyatownhouses: namely wood paneling, wood-block printed wallpaper, washi paper posters and tatami straw headrests.
Kyo-Train Garaku goes one step further in its appreciation for Kyoto's traditional style with its added emphasis on refined elegance - garaku (雅洛) is in fact a portmanteau of the kanji for 'refinement' and an old kanji once used to denote Kyoto, the former imperial capital. When in Kyoto you just can't help but notice the confidence and pride that Kyotoites and the streets themselves exude - give in to the city's rich 1200-year-old history! Each of the train's six carriages have a separate seasonal theme, including autumn and a maple leaf motif; New Year and plum blossom; and spring and the city's world-famous sakura, to name but a few. Free on-board Wi-Fi is also available, but don't log on to Facebook or Instagram just yet! Access the exclusive 'Garaku View' Wi-Fi service on your smart phone or laptop for a real-time view from the driver's cabin!
The original Kyo-Train and the new Kyo-Train Garaku will run on weekends and public holidays only. The two trains will run alternate hours and in total run seven return services each day. The Kyo-Train Garaku will stop at Umeda, Juso, Awaji, Katsura, Karasuma, and Kawaramachi Stations. For beautiful Arashiyama passengers should change at Katsura Station. At a mere ¥400 (£3) and clocking in at just under 45 minutes a ride on the Kyo-Train Garaku is an absolute steal.
JR West to Open Umekо̄ji-Kyо̄tonishi Station this Spring
This spring JR West will open a new station by Kyoto's famous Umekoji Park named Umekо̄ji-Kyо̄tonishi Station. This new addition to the JR network will be located between Kyoto Station and Tambaguchi Station on the JR Sagano Line and is just one phase of JR West's ongoing project to revitalise West Kyoto.
Until now, visitors to the Kyoto Railway Museum and Kyoto Aquarium, both located within the park grounds, had to walk roughly 20 minutes from Kyoto Station to reach them. But with the construction of Umekо̄ji-Kyо̄tonishi Station on the park's north-west corner these attractions and the park as a whole will be more accessible than ever before.
JR West to Launch Online Train Reservation Service
Japan may be a beacon of superhuman efficiency but it's fair to say when booking a holiday it's nice to have everything sorted before you get there, right? Well despite its well-earned global fame on account of the quality of service, train travel in Japan just cannot be booked online! Stress! That being said, times are a changin' - just last week JR West announced the launch of an online reservation system. Hallelujah!
From 26th March customers will finally be able to book standard tickets online, whilst for overseas visitor-exclusive products such as the JR West Rail Pass it'll be from 21st May. JR West operates a pretty large section of Honshū so this is a great opportunity to explore what the Kansai and Chūgoku regions have to offer. And with Rugby World Cup 2019 just a couple of months away, now is the time to plan and book some of those exciting excursions you've been thinking about!