12 beautiful Japanese train stations by the sea


RocketNews 24 (by Preston Phro):

Being an island nation, there is no shortages of beaches in Japan–though if you live in Tokyo, there are times when the only thing resembling the ocean to be seen is a sea of people. After a weekday morning commute spent sloshing around in a packed train car, it’s easy to find yourself wishing for a more relaxed environment like the beach. And with summer in full swing, there are plenty of beaches we’d rather be lounging on than just about anything.

But it’s a busy world and who has time to sit on the beach and just relax? Well, we sure don’t! But for those of us always on the go, there are a few train stations that at least will give you a view of the ocean on your way to whatever business you may have. Think of it like a vacation that lasts as long as the train stops!

Here are 12 of Japan’s stations on the sea–beautiful, serene, and just outside your train window!

Kitahama Station

Located on the Sea of Okhotsk in north-east Hokkaido, this is perhaps one of the coldest train stations Japan, though you couldn’t tell it from the first two photos below. However, it turns out that a train ride to Kitahama Station will provide you not only with a beautiful view of the ocean, but also of drift ice! In fact, Kitahama Station is apparently the only train station in Japan that regularly offers a glimpse of that fantastic frozen, floating phenomenon.




Todoroki Station

Heading to the mainland, this station in Aomori Prefecture is close to the Sea of Japan–extremely close! During stormy weather, waves actually wash over the track and up to the station. While we’re not sure if that’s the most practical location, it does make for beautiful photo opportunities. In fact, the station was featured in JR advertising in 2002, driving train- and station-loving fans out to Aomori. We can’t blame them–a dip in the sea sounds great right now!


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Nebukawa Station

Located in Kanagawa Prefecture, this is the only station on the Tokaido Main Line between Tokyo and Kobe that is unmanned, though it is apparently a popular destination during New Years. It also provides a stunning view of open waters.

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Shimonada Station

Another unmanned stop, Shimonada Station is located in Ehime Prefecture on the Shikoku Yosan Line. Having been featured in numerous posters and other JR advertisements, the station has become popular among train lovers and photographers across the country as a location for breathtaking landscape photos. It even has its own Facebook page!


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Baishinji Station

Another station in Ehime PrefectureBaishinji Station is not famous just for its location–though it certainly is beautiful. The station captured the popular imagination in 1991 thanks to the TV drama Tokyo Love Story, about three Ehime friends who eventually reunite in Tokyo. As you may have guessed from the photo below, Rika, one of the main characters of the show, ties a “bye-bye handkerchief” to the railing in a climactic scene. Fans of the show and travelers have kept up the tradition for over two decades!

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Yoroi Station

This Hyogo Prefecture station isn’t much to look at itself–it could easily be mistaken for a run-down bathroom in an interstate rest area–but the view from the platform certainly makes up for it. Not only is the station unmanned, there aren’t even any automated ticket machines! Despite its desolate appearance, the station has become a bit of an attraction for train lovers following its appearance in some TV shows. It has also appeared in JR advertisements, where it was written that “you can feel the sea breeze blowing off the ocean right under your eyes just standing on the platform.”

▼The station itself


▼The view from the platform.


Oobatake Station

One of the more rural areas of Japan, Yamaguchi Prefecture is also home to Oobatake Station, which sits right along the sea. An hour train ride from the Shinkansen station in Hiroshima, this station is an excellent sightseeing destination–though that’s about all you’ll have time for! In this part of the country, you can usually find only local trains.


Oumikawa Station

Apparently this Niigata Prefecture station is the closest to actual open waters in Japan, though judging from other entries on this list, the competition for that honor is fierce. In fact, the train line runs right along the coast for several miles, making not just this station but the entire route a beautiful destination for sight-seers. And, like many other stops on this list, the station is unmanned. We’re starting to wonder how JR gets people to pay for tickets…

Yukawa Station

Located in Wakayama Prefecture, Yukawa Station provides a magnificent view not only of the sea but also of the prefecture’s mountains. And if you’re a fan of the beach, the station is just a stone’s throw away from the Yukawa Kaisui Yokujo (Yukawa Swimming Area). Best of all, this station is also unmanned, so there won’t be any attendants to scold you for tracking sand and water all over the platform!


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Umashibaura Station

Situated on Tokyo Bay in Kanagawa Prefecture, this station is probably not where you’d want to wait out a storm with large waves. It is, however, an excellent destination for sight-seeing. In addition to the view of the bay, rail riders are afforded an excellent view of the Yokohama Bay Bridge, Tsurumi Tsubasa Bridge, and fireworks launched from Yamashita Park in the summer.


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Kamakurakoko Mae Station

As you may have guessed from the name of this station, it’s located in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture near Kamakura High School. Kamakura City, in addition to its beautiful temples, shrines, and German sausages, is a popular destination for its gorgeous beaches. The station offers a beautiful view of the ocean and as well as Enoshima, Miura Peninsula, and even Mt. Fuji on clear days. That said, we’re sure it’s a horrible way to start the school day–imaging having a gorgeous beach dangled in front of you only for it to be ripped away and replaced with an hour spent conjugating English verbs!


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Tagi Station

This beach-front train stop is located in Shimane Prefecture, the second least populated prefecture in Japan. Despite the lack of people around to use it, Tagi Station and the area between it and its neighbor down the line Oda Station are famous as sight-seeing destinations and have appeared in numerous magazines. Apparently there is also a sakura (cherry) tree next to the platform, providing a unique photo opportunity when the tree blossoms in the spring.

Tagi Station

The Genbi Shinkansen: Japan’s newest bullet train is the world’s fastest gallery, packed with contemporary art inside and out

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

From an engineering standpoint, Japan’s famed Shinkansen is already a work of art. Recently, though, the country’s bullet trains have been putting a renewed effort into their appearance, taking inspiration from centuries-old tradition and science-fiction anime.

The latest Shinkansen to be unveiled, though, incorporates design cues more modern than tatami reed floors yet not as futuristic as giant robots. Instead, it’s envisioned as a travelling gallery of contemporary art, allowing for what operator East Japan Railways calls “the world’s fastest art appreciation.”

A special train needs a special name, and the new Shinkansen has been christened Genbi, combining the kanji gen (), meaning “contemporary,” and bi (), “beauty.” The Genbi Shinkansen will run along the Joetsu Shinkansen line between Niigata and Echigo Yuzawa Stations in Niigata Prefecture.

▼ Fittingly, the kanji used in the Genbi Shinkansen’s logo are heavily stylized.

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Seven of the carriages will be used as art exhibition spaces, with different painters, sculptors, and visual creators represented in each. The contributing artists have been announced as Nao Matsumoto, Yusuke Komuta, Kentaro Kobuke, Naoki Ishikawa, Haruaka Kojin, and Brian Alfred.

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If you’d like your sense of taste to be stimulated along with your sight, there’s also a cafe. On the menu you’ll find sweets made with rice flour from Niigata’s prized (and pricy) Uonuma-grown Koshihikari rice and butter from dairies on Sadogashima Island.

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And it’s not like only passengers inside the train will have something pretty to look at, either. The non-windowed side of the Genbi Shinkansen’s exterior is covered with colorful photographs of Niigata’s Nagaoka Fireworks Festival, one of the largest in Japan, taken by photographer Mika Ninagawa.

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The Genbi Shinkansen goes into service next spring.

The Chinese concept train that never stops at stations

Business Insider (by Dylan Love):

A train in motion is a train carrying out its purpose. So why bother stopping at stations?!

That’s the idea behind this concept train from China. Check out the video below which demonstrates how it works:

Passengers step onto a compartment platform above an incoming train, which is then snagged by the train as it moves through the platform. At the next station, anyone wanting to get off moves up into the compartment, which is then snagged by the station. The train itself never stops, it simply trades embarkation capsules as its moves through a station, giving passengers a window of time to board without the train needing to stop.

Taiwanese man waits outside train station for his date for 20 years – she still hasn’t shown


RocketNews 24:

When you hear the story of Hachiko, the dog who waited for his owner outside of Shibuya Station for 10 years, your heart wrenches in pangs of sadness, yet is warmed by the thought that such love and dedication exists in this world. But, what if Hachiko had been a man and his owner was some girl who stood him up, is your heart still warmed?

You don’t just have to imagine this situation, because it actually happened, or, should we say, is currently happening. A Taiwanese man has been waiting outside of Tainan train station for his date who never showed up… 20 years ago.

It all started when Ah Ji was a well-dressed 27-year-old man. He fell in love with a girl from Tainan and was ready to take her out on a hot date. They’d planned to meet at Tainan Station at a certain time, but she didn’t show up.

It’s not clear whether this was a first date or if they’d been seeing each other for a while, but apparently, she wasn’t interested enough to show up for the date. There’s always the possibility that she messed up the place or something happened that held her up, but Ah Ji never heard anything about it.

But then again, how could he have gotten word if he never left the train station? And by never left, we mean, 20 years later you can still find him waiting for her outside. She must have been one great lady.

▼ Ah Ji’s new home after that fateful date night.

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In his heartbroken state, Ah Ji chose homelessness and hunger, surviving on the generosity of social workers, passersby and confused family members who supply him with food and fresh clothes from time to time.

His family has tried to get him to come home, but he won’t. Even when social workers found a new place for him to live, he refused it, saying that he “doesn’t wish to leave” and that at this point, he’s “used to waiting.”

If she really was from Tainan and just stood him up, she probably had to avoid the train station for 20 years, which would be pretty inconvenient, really. Perhaps time has aged her enough that he can’t recognize her anymore, though…

▼ Hachiko at least went home every evening and returned the next day.


Is Ah Ji’s Hachiko-like, 20-year wait for his long-lost love endearing, or do you think he’s just a little nuts?

Just how fast is Japan’s new maglev train? See for yourself…

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RocketNews 24:

It may not be due to begin ferrying passengers between Tokyo and Osaka for another 10+ years yet, but Japan’s magnetic levitation (maglev) train is already zipping up and down a special section of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, and it’s nothing short of spectacular.

Check out our video of this thing in motion – oh, and try not to blink because you really might miss it.

The Japanese maglev broke world records last week when its parent company, Central Japan Railway Company, announced that it had recorded speeds of 590 kilometres per hour (that’s 366 mph) on a stretch of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, smashing a world record that has stood for over a decade.

But these are all just numbers; what does a train travelling that fast actually look like? Well, you’re about to find out…

Scheduled to start serving the public between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, the line is set to be extended all the way to Osaka by 2045, making it possible to travel between the two cities in just 67 minutes – roughly half the time it currently takes by bullet train. It’s going to be a long time coming, but with speeds like that, we’ll probably have clawed back our lost time after about a week of commuting.

If you’d like to check out the maglev for yourself, head over to the Yananashi Prefecture Maglev Exhibition Center website for more info.

Nine tips for surviving Japan’s hellishly crowded trains

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RocketNews 24:

If you have ever ridden a train during rush hour in Japan, you know it takes a certain amount of fortitude to survive it. If you are just visiting the country, sometimes you can avoid those super stuffed trains, buy if you live or spend an extended length of time in any big city in Japan you just can’t avoid taking a packed train. Whether it’s rush hour in the morning, rush hour at night, or the last few trains home, you will often find yourself in a position where you have to give up the luxury of personal space in exchange for a ride home.

It takes a certain amount of skill to stay upright as well as a bit of creative ingenuity to pass the time and avoid feeling claustrophobic in order to survive the crowded train.

We’ve collated nine of the best tips to help you get through a hell-like train ride:

1. Rock Climbing

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On these packed train rides, unless you’re really, really lucky, you’re probably not going to be able to claim a seat, so having access to a handrail or a strap is like you’ve been chosen by the train gods. For most of the other people, they have to maintain their stability in some other way. The best way to do that is a riding technique dubbed “rock climbing”. Just like the sport of the same name, riders use whatever surface they can find to keep their balance. You are going to be relying on your fingertips here, so make sure you’ve warmed them up a little. Maybe even take a little chalk with you to increase the friction; whatever divot you can get your fingers into may be the difference between getting to your destination on two feet and falling face-first into a crowd of strangers.

2. One Finger 

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Sometimes you don’t even have access to any sort of protuberance to grab on to. For those times, how about trying the technique known as the “one finger”? Perhaps the best place to try this is right by the doors as you can use the frame as your point of contact. Just plant your feet firmly on the floor of the train, and – provided you’re tall enough to do so – push up against the frame with your one finger and you will achieve stability. Like a monopod, you’ll become a rock which other people wished they could be. Some exceptionally tall people can also use this technique by using the ceiling. In this way, you basically become a post on a train and you can achieve a peaceful state of mind as you become one with it.

3. The Accidental Kabe-don

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Ah…the kabe-don, always finding a way into our lives. This one’s by no means the most desirable of options, but it’s valid nonetheless. You may occasionally find yourself on the giving or receiving end of an unintentional kabe-don while riding a crowded train, perhaps because the train car shifts unexpectedly and, without anything to hold on to, you risk crashing into a fellow passenger otherwise. Sometimes the only way you can keep from bumping into the person beside you is to slam your hand out against the train wall or door’s window. These passionately awkward encounters are sometimes unavoidable, but the unwritten rule is that both parties involved must look away, thus killing any anime-esque romance dead immediately. Use it wisely – you wouldn’t want your balancing technique to be mistaken for a pick-up technique!

4. Michael Jackson 

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This move gets its name from the fancy dance moves of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. His deft balancing and ultra-cool dance moves are truly invoked when forced to employ this technique on a train. Not only is body space a premium, but floor space is also pretty scarce. Everyone wants to be able to plant their feet to achieve maximum balance, but sometimes there are just too many feet and not enough space to put them down flat. Thus you call upon your inner Michael Jackson and stand on your tippy-toes. Those who have mastered the King of Pop move can graduate to the higher level version that involves only one leg to stand on. It’s too bad no one will be able to see your sweet moves since everyone is squished together.

5. Go with the flow

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The previous four techniques were for standing your ground and relying on your own balance to survive the ride, but this one is the total opposite. If you surrender yourself to the movement of the train, like a seaweed that floats in the ocean, this path of nonresistance allows you to achieve great calm on your busy commute. Provided there are enough bodies in the train car to keep everyone more or less in place, you’ll soon feel the tension melting away from your body until, suddenly, you’re already at your stop.

6. Nape of the neck and the 007

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This is a strange one, but it tackles a different challenge of being on a crowded train: your time. Since the cars are packed in tight, there is not a lot of room to move around, let alone raise your cell phone up to face-level to play games on it. So how about playing a little game with what’s around you? The only thing to see are other people’s necks. Let’s play a game with that. You can play this creative game by carefully looking at the nape of someone’s neck and evaluating what kind of person he or she is, just by that little part of the body. You can make up some really intricate stories about the passengers around you and it makes the hell train a little more fun.

If you are feeling a little less imaginative, you can try a time waster that is much simpler. Start with the back of someone’s head, and look at the back of the head of where they are looking. Keep following that line of heads until suddenly a face pops out that is looking in your direction — a secret 00 agent???

7. Omiai (formal marriage interview)

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This one isn’t so much a survival technique as an accident to avoid where possible. When you are riding and you misread the timing of the doors and the timing of the people around you and you happen to turn so you are completely face to face with the someone around you. This is called omiai, which translates as “formal marriage interview”, because there is so little distance between your two faces. It’s almost like you are about to initiate a kiss!

If it’s so awkward, why doesn’t one of you turn around again? Besides the fact that there is really little room on the train, the train door you need is behind the other person, and you’ve got places to go once those doors open. There isn’t any time to turn around again before pushing your way out the door, so you stand there waiting out the longest…five…seconds…of…your…life.

8. I am a right angle

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If you are able to get your hands on one of the overhead straps, you might be able to employ this technique to pass some time. If you’ve got a newspaper, you can roll it up and put it in the hand that is holding onto the handle. Then you can tip your head back and read the newspaper on your way to work, no matter how crowded it is — you’ve gotta make the most of that vertical space after all! Sure, maybe you can only adjust what you are reading at each stop, but for the people who employ this technique, some sports news is better than no sports news at all.

9. Guard 

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This last technique may appeal to your protective nature. After people board a train, there often appears to be a dividing line down the middle. These two sides are made up of people who are facing the door on the left, and those who are facing the door on the right. The two sides generally fight for dominance as people get on and off the train. However, normally a cease-fire line separates the front lines of the battalions. The two armies of people stand back to back at the center and a civil peace is kept.

That is, until one of the doors open and a flood of people start to pour onto the train. At that time to prevent your side’s line from falling, many people will unconsciously “guard” with their back. They steel up and plant their feet and protect their space with their backs saying “this far…and no further!” Not only do you protect the space in front of you, but your army helps to mitigate the loss of space as a whole. If people didn’t do this, most likely the number of people entering the train would increase five-fold, making it an even more uncomfortable ride than it already is.

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How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today

Shinkansen bullet trains at a depot in Fukuoka in 1975.


The Guardian:


At 10am on 1 October 1964, with less than a week and a half to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the two inaugural Hikari Super Express Shinkansen, or “bullet trains,” arrived at their destinations, Tokyo and Osaka. They were precisely on time. Hundreds of people had waited overnight in each terminal to witness this historic event, which, like the Olympics, heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower. The journey between Japan’s two biggest cities by train had previously taken close to seven hours. The Shinkansen had made the trip in four.

The world’s first high-speed commercial train line, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was built along the Tokaido, one of the five routes that connected the Japanese hinterland to Edo, the city that in the mid-1800s became Tokyo. Though train lines crisscrossed the country, they were inadequate to postwar Japan’s newborn ambitions. The term “shinkansen” literally means “new trunk line”: symbolically, it lay at the very centre of the huge reconstruction effort. All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital.


A couple say goodbye as he leaves on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.

A couple say goodbye as he leaves on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.

After the war Tokyo was in ruins, but its rebuilding progressed without any master plan. As industries gravitated to the city, young people flocked to Tokyo to work; and as they started families they were encouraged to buy homes. The only land they could afford, however, was outside the already densely populated city. Property prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, and even more during the “bubble era” of the 1980s, forcing newer families even further from the city centre. Tokyo swelled to elephantine proportions. The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, composed of four prefectures, became the world’s pre-eminent megalopolis – some 35 million people by 2010, or 27% of Japan’s total population. It isn’t unusual for commuters to spend two hours getting to work every day on trains that exceed 150% of capacity.

This “rush hour hell” has been made famous worldwide by images of station employees stuffing stragglers into packed train cars – potent symbols of the superhuman forbearance of the Japanese worker, but also the dogged efficiency of Japan’s railways. All foreign visitors to Japan invariably ride the trains and come away with the same impression: Japan’s public transportation is the cleanest, most courteous in the world, run by uniformed, be-gloved men and women who still epitomise a hallowed Japanese work ethic that most companies struggle to maintain in an economy that has remained sluggish for two decades.


Prince Hiro on board a Shinkansen bullet train  in 1968.

Crown prince Naruhito on board a Shinkansen bullet train in 1968.

But the most vital aspect of this efficiency is that trains run on time, all the time. This is not just a point of pride. It is a necessity, given the huge number of people that have to be moved. Transfers are timed to the split second, and the slightest delay has the butterfly effect of delaying connections. The Shinkansen is no exception, as exemplified by the “angels”: teams of pink-attired women who descend on a train as soon as it arrives at its terminal and in five minutes leave it spotless for the return trip.

The first Shinkansen skirted the Pacific coast through the huge industrial corridor that links the capital with Osaka. This is a nearly unbroken stretch of urbanisation: it has few parallels on the planet. By the early 1950s the conventional train that ran on this route was crammed. Taking a hint from the private Odakyu Electric Railway, which launched a train that could reach speeds of 145km/hr, Japan National Railways (JNR) decided to develop an even faster train, and in April 1959 construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen commenced with an initial budget of ¥200bn (£1.1bn), though the eventual cost would be double that.

The high-speed network now reaches all the way west to the island of Kyushu and north to Akita, at the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. Next March, the Hokuriku Shinkansen will be extended to Kanazawa near the Japan Sea; there are plans to build a new line connecting Honshu to the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Each line is under the authority of one of four JR (Japan Railways) companies that formed when JNR was privatised in 1987. But the central government has overseen the construction of all new Shinkansen lines, usually covering 35% of the cost (JR companies pay 50% and local governments 15%). That means the construction ministry makes the relevant decisions about where lines go, or which cities get stations.



In an interview in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper last week, Takashi Hara, a political scholar and expert on Japanese railroads, said the policy of extending the Shinkansen was promulgated by Kakuei Tanaka, Japan’s prime minister from 1972 to 1974. “The purpose was to connect regional areas to Tokyo,” Hara said. “And that led to the current situation of a national Shinkansen network, which completely changed the face of Japan. Travel times were shortened and vibration was alleviated, making it possible for more convenient business and pleasure trips, but I have to say that the project just made all the [connecting] cities part of Tokyo.”

And where the Shinkansen’s long tentacles go, other services shrivel. Local governments in Japan rely heavily on the central government for funds and public works – it’s how the central government keeps them in line. Politicians actively court high-speed railways since they believe they attract money, jobs and tourists. In the early 1990s, a new Shinkansen was built to connect Tokyo to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The train ran along a similar route as the Shinetsu Honsen, one of the most romanticised railroads in Japan, beloved of train buffs the world over for its amazing scenery – but also considered redundant by operators JR East because, as with almost all rural train lines in Japan, it lost money. There were only two profitable stations on the line – Nagano and the resort community of Karuizawa – and both would be served by the new Shinkansen. A large portion of the Shinetsu Honsen closed down; local residents who relied on it had to use cars or buses.

Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.


A Marunouchi Shinkansen bullet train passes through central Tokyo.
A Shinkansen bullet train passes through central Tokyo.

The Shinkansen’s focus on Tokyo, and the subsequent emphasis on profitability over service, has also accelerated flight from the countryside. It’s often easier to get from a regional capital to Tokyo than to the nearest neighbouring city. Except for sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which serves northeastern Japan, local train lines don’t always accommodate Shinkansen rolling stock, so there are often no direct transfer points between local lines and Shinkansen lines. The Tokaido Shinkansen alone now operates 323 trains a day, taking 140 million fares a year, dwarfing local lines. This has had a crucial effect on the physical shape of the city. As a result of this funnelling, Tokyo is becoming even denser and more vertical – not just upward, but downward. With more Shinkansen passengers coming into the capital, JR East has to dig ever deeper under Tokyo Station to create more platforms.

Deepest of all is the new Tokyo terminal for the latest incarnation of the bullet train – the maglev, or Chuo (“central”) Shinkansen, which is supposed to connect Tokyo to Nagoya by 2027 and is being built 40m underground. The maglev is the next technological stage in the evolution of high-speed rail travel. It is meant to be a morale booster for Japan’s railway industry, which no longer boasts the fastest trains or the biggest ridership in the world, distinctions that now belong to Japan’s huge neighbour to the west.


A passenger in traditional dress on board a Japanese hikari shinkansen bullet train in 1965.

A passenger in traditional dress on board a Japanese Hikari Shinkansen bullet train in 1965. 


It is being built by JR Tokai, the company that runs the original super-profitable Tokaido Shinkansen, though experts assume the central government will eventually have to contribute money due to snowballing costs. The Chuo Shinkansen will cut the time it takes to get to Nagoya to 40 minutes, theoretically putting the central Japanese capital within commuting distance of Tokyo – in much the same way that the proposed HS2 will make Birmingham a bedroom community of London. “The Chuo Shinkansen will make Nagoya feel like a suburb of Tokyo,” said Hara.

If you have any doubt about that, consider that the maglev – short for “magnetic-levitation”, and known in Japanese as “linear motor car” – has to move in as straight and as level a line as possible in order to reach the speeds that will make it the fastest train on Earth. But since Japan’s topography is mostly mountainous, 86% of the journey will be underground. (The technology probably makes more sense on a flat, open terrain, and JR Tokai is trying to sell it abroad.) In other words, the maglev will essentially be a very long subway ride. Certainly few tourists will find it appealing.

Plans are to extend the maglev to Osaka by 2045, by which time potential ridership will have declined by a third, due to Japan’s shrinking population and more efficient air travel due to new regional airports. The Shinkansen is expensive; with the rise of low-cost carriers, any train trip that takes more than two hours from Tokyo is less cost-effective than flying. The development of the Shinkansen can’t be separated from geography. China’s faster, vaster high-speed rail service isn’t all focused on Beijing, because the country itself is huge; in Japan, however, until recently the Shinkansen was the best way to get to Tokyo from almost anywhere. Like the first Shinkansen, the maglev is a national project, even if the central government hasn’t spent any money on it (yet), but national priorities aren’t as clear as they were in the 1950s. Tokyo can’t get any bigger. Other areas of Japan are barely hanging on. Japan’s high-speed rail system may end up being the victim of its own success.

Get your chills on the rails with Kyoto’s Ghost Train

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RocketNews 24:


Fear is commonly held to be a cold sensation, which is how we ended up with English phrases like “bone-chilling” and “a chill ran down his spine.”

Those idioms may not translate directly into Japanese, but Japan has also traditionally thought of feeling cold as part of being scared.

Figuring that when life hands you horror lemons, you make horror lemonade, long ago Japanese society decided to use this to its advantage, which is why in Japan summer isn’t just the season of lightweight kimonos and all-you-can-drink beer gardens, but the time for ghost stories, too.

But in this modern age, maybe you’re too busy to sit around candlelit rooms in old manor houses swapping creepy tales with your friends. So if you’ve got an active lifestyle and need to keep moving while you get your terror on, a ride on Kyoto’s ghost train might be in order.

Even by the standards of Japan’s elegant former capital, Arashiyama is a tranquil place. Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, the district is famous for its scenic Togetsukyo Bridge and bamboo groves.


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One of the easiest ways to get to Arashiyama is by using the Keifuku railway line. Just hop on at Shijo Omiya Station conveniently located in central Kyoto, and ride all the way to Arashiyama Station at the end of the line. The trip takes a little over 20 minutes, and since you’re consistently moving farther away from the population center and closer to beautiful natural surroundings, it makes for a relaxing ride.

Unless, of course, you’re on the Yokai Train.


▼ They’re not nearly as friendly-looking as their counterparts from video game series Yokai Watch.

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Every summer, Keifuku infests a few of its trains with yokai, the supernatural creatures that feature prominently in Japanese folklore. Different linguists have made compelling arguments for translating yokai as ghosts, goblins, or monsters, but we’re also satisfied with Keifuku’s official English name for their spooky carriages.


▼ Haunted Train

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The company has yet to release a time table for the 2014 Yokai Trains, but Japanese website Kyoto no Sakura reports that the service will be starting on August 1. Fittingly, the yokai trains only run after dark, with their window shades shut and the only illumination coming from interior black lights.


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Adding to the atmosphere is the eerie background music played inside the yokai train. Oh, and one more thing to keep in mind: The Yokai Train runs both ways from Shijo Omiya and Arashiyama, but it doesn’t stop at any of the usual stations along the way. Once the doors close, you’re trapped with the yokai until the end of the line.

Having the intestinal fortitude to travel with ghostly entities isn’t without its advantages though. A ride on the Yokai Train costs 200 yen (US $1.98) for adults, a 20-yen savings compared to the price for Keifuku’s human-only trains.


▼ A Yokai Train ticket from 2013

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Kids’ tickets are cheaper still at just 100 yen, but even they’re not the most economical way to make the trip.


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That’s because yokai can ride for just 50 yen. Since Keifuku is, first and foremost, a rail company, it doesn’t employ a team of mystics, mediums, and exorcists to officially verify passengers’ yokai status. Instead, that judgment call gets left to station attendants, who have the power to bestow the discount on anyone who “looks like a yokai at first glance,” so if you’re looking to get some summertime use out of your Halloween costume, this could be your chance.

Just don’t be surprised if no one wants to sit next to you when you transfer to another line on your way home.


Get the most out of your visit to Japan with these tourist-only deals



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Japan has a reputation as a very expensive place to travel, but it is trying to raise its profile as an international destination with some deals available just for foreign visitors. We here at RocketNews24 have gathered all the information together in one place for your travel-planning pleasure, so now you have no excuse not to visit us!



An oldie but a goodie, the Japan Rail Pass allows for free travel around Japan’s bullet train system, as well as city trains run by JR. The fastest bullet trains, called Nozomi and Mizuho, are not included, however. Passes are available in 7-, 14- and 21-day increments for either unreserved seats or the Green Car reserved seats.


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The JR Pass cannot be purchased inside Japan, so you will need to buy it up to three months in advance of travel from a licensed dealer. They will give you a tickets that can be exchanged for the actual pass at a JR ticket office once you reach Japan. If you are planning to cover a lot of ground during your trip, this is an excellent deal.

It is also possible to buy a JR Pass limited to one region, which is cheaper than the full pass. The same purchasing procedure applies. See this excellent JNTO page for more details.


If you are planning to rent a car to drive around Japan, which can be a good option in more rural areas where public transportation is spotty, you may want to consider an ETC pass. ETC is an electronic toll collection system that allows you to enter and exit toll roads without stopping. For Japanese, it is usually connected to a credit card and the toll is automatically deducted, but for foreign visitors there is the fixed-rate Expressway Pass available for Central Japan and Hokkaido.

Naturally, the first thing you will need is an international driver’s license. After that, you can reserve a rental car and the Express Pass at Toyota Rent-a-Car or Times Car Rental. The passes are available for up to 14 days, with the cost starting at 5,000 yen ($49) for two days, up to 16,000 yen ($157) for 14 days. The pass is simply returned with the rental car.


The two major domestic air carriers, ANA and JAL, have special deals for foreign visitors as well. JAL has the Yokoso/Visit Japan Fare and the Welcome to Japan Fare, which offer discounted flat-rate prices on domestic flights to over 30 cities when purchased in conjunction with an international flight to Japan on JAL or a oneworld partner airline. ANA has a similar deal on for Star Alliance customers. Both companies have some blackout dates, so check carefully before booking.


Transportation/Sightseeing Combo Passes
Many cities have begun offering passes that combine unlimited travel on public transportation with discounts at popular tourist attractions. There are really too many to list and many of them are not even restricted to foreign visitors, so be sure to ask at the local tourist information counter what’s available at your destination, but here are some popular ones only for you lucky visitors:

Osaka Amazing Pass– Any schlub can get the 1-day pass, but only foreign visitors get the better value 2-day pass.

Kansai Thru Pass– Unlimited travel throughout the Kansai region with lots of discounts on attractions and it can even be used on non-consecutive days, so take your time!

Feel Kobe– Not a pass per se, but a bunch of coupons that can be used in conjunction with your passport around the Kobe area, including the city loop bus.

Tokyo Metro Open Ticket– International visitors can get a discounted version of Tokyo Metro’s 1- and 2-day unlimited passes. These passes don’t come with any attraction discounts, but they can be purchased in combination with things like the Grutt Pass, a discount coupon book for 78 art galleries, museums, zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens around Tokyo, and offer an additional 8 percent discount at select Bic Camera electronics stores


Welcome Cards

Some cities and regions in Japan offer a guidebook filled with coupons for foreign visitors called a Welcome Card. The coupons are valid for discounts, free gifts or other special services at attractions, lodging and restaurants in the area. Currently, northern Tohoku, Narita, Tokyo, Shoryudo (a region between Tokyo and Osaka comprising nine prefectures), Kobe, Kita-Kyushu offer Welcome Cards. All are available at local tourist information centers, and many of them can even be printed out online.



Tax-free Shopping
As with many other countries, foreign shoppers are exempt from consumption tax on purchases over 10,000 yen ($98). Some shops deduct the tax from your purchase, but most large department stores have a special counter where you take all of your receipts after shopping. Either way, you will have to show a passport, so be sure to bring it with you.

Certain items, such as cosmetics, food, alcohol, cigarettes, medicine, film and batteries are not currently included in the tax-refund scheme, but will be from October 2014, when the law will also change to exempt purchases over 5,000 yen ($49).


Store-Specific Discounts

In an effort to attract overseas shoppers, some Japanese department stores and retail chains have started offering discounts only available by flashing your passport. Sometimes these are run as promotions only during high seasons, so it never hurts to ask at the customer service counter what deals they might be running, but at the time of writing, we were able to find some more established offers as well:

AEON– Budget retailer AEON offers foreign shoppers a 5% discount

Bic Camera– In a tie-up with Visa, electronics giant Bic Camera is offering 5% off and a free gift when foreign shoppers pay with their Visa card


Free Walking Tours

Why pay for a tour guide when you can get one for free? Volunteering as a foreign-language guide is a popular activity for students and the elderly in Japan, so make use of their friendliness and generosity with their time, and not only will you get a free tour with a local, you might just make a friend too. Larger cities like Tokyo often have established programs, but smaller towns should be able to arrange something through the tourist information office as well. The JNTO has an extensive list of volunteers by region. These volunteers can often be spotted at the entrance to popular cultural sites too.


Other Tips
It’s been mentioned several times already, but the tourist information office is your friend. Not only can they help you with everything from finding accommodation to suggesting local delicacies, they are also a treasure trove of coupons! Most offices have racks and racks of brochures that include coupons, as well as maps that include coupons, and some plain old coupons lying around. Make use of them.

Beautiful new luxury train for Ishikawa dazzles with gold leaf and lacquer interior

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For the past few decades, getting around Japan has been a snap using the extremely efficient rail network that crisscrosses the country. Even better, in just a few years, not only will you be able to go anywhere on the main island of Honshu by train, but you’ll be able to do it in style, thanks to luxurious new trains servicing the ChugokuKanto, and Tohoku regions.

Hokuriku, the part of Japan running along the central northern coast of Honshu, isn’t about to be left out though, and its upcoming train may be the most opulent of all, with an interior decorated with traditional lacquer and gold leaf.

Compared to the other new trains listed above, Hokuriku’s initially seems like a much more modest travel option. The Tohoku train is an ultra-fast Shinkansen model, and Kanto’s and Chugoku’s are sleeper trains. In contrast, the new train for the Hokuriku area, which will run between Kanazawa and the Wakura Onsen hot spring resort in Ishikawa Prefecture, is neither, plus only two cars long with seats for just 52 passengers.

The small scale doesn’t mean any less effort is going into the aesthetics, though, as revealed by concept renderings recently released by Japan railways.


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The design cues for the project are “beauty,” and “Japanese tradition,” and plenty of both are apparent in this early artwork. Ever since gold was discovered in the surrounding area centuries ago, Kanazawa has been associated with the precious metal, and the city remains Japan’s most famous producer of gold leaf handicrafts. Lacquerware from the town of Wajima, also located in Ishikawa, is similarly prized, and both elements are prominently featured in the interior of the train’s carriages.


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The exterior also gives a nod to Hokuriku’s traditional culture, with imagery evocative of the patterns that grace Ishikawa’s Kaga-Yuzen kimono.


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Inside, travelers can snack on Japanese-style desserts or sample a selection of Hokuriku sake. There’s even a stage for folk music performances in one car, which is then relayed by monitor to passengers riding in the other.


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Hokuriku’s snazzy new train has its first run tentatively scheduled for October of 2015.