If you’re a train enthusiast, Japan should definitely be on your hit list.
Even if you’re not, traveling the country by railway will open your eyes to the country’s beauty and culture.
Let’s take a look at eight of the most scenic railway journeys that you can take in Japan:
- Kurobe Gorge Main Line
- Ōigawa Main Line
- Chuo Main Line
- Tokaido Shinkansen Line
- Sagano Scenic Railway
- Hakone Tozan Line
- Gono Line
- Sanriku Railway
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What to Expect from Your Journey?
Not only are Japan’s railways extremely efficient, but they’re also pretty complex too. Almost every place in Japan is accessible by train.
You likely won’t need a hire car on a visit to Japan, and you won’t have the bother with traffic either. The trains are punctual and fast, not to mention relatively affordable.
No matter the style, you’re pretty much guaranteed stunning scenery.
1. Kurobe Gorge Main Line
The Kurobe Gorge Main Line railway operates within the Toyama Prefecture.
It is run by a private company and is famous for its views of deep valleys and the most stunning emerald-green lake.
The 20-kilometer (12.4 miles) distance from Unazuki station to Kayakidaira station takes around 80 minutes and follows the Kurobe River with priceless views of cliffs, valleys, ravines and mountains.
It also goes across more than 20 bridges and through many tunnels. But be aware that this line isn’t a year-round possibility.
Its operating months are from mid-April through to the end of November. The most popular time to travel on the line is in the fall when the trees all change into magnificent reds and oranges.
One of the most exciting prospects when traveling on this line is that you can travel in an open-air train car!
2. Ōigawa Main Line
The Ōigawa Main Line is also owned by a private rail company and is situated in the Shizuoka Prefecture.
It’s a line that links Shimada and Kawanehon and offers beautiful views of the river, countryside, and mountains. You may even spot some interesting and rare wildlife along the way.
Not only that, but many people also travel this line due to the attraction of the train itself as it is still a steam train in a Western, old-fashioned style.
The best time to take a ride is supposedly in the fall with the breathtaking views that the autumn leaves color explosion brings.
3. Chuo Main Line
The Chuo Main Line runs from Tokyo to the Aichi Prefecture and is around 425 kilometers (264 miles) in length.
As such, it’s one of the main trunk railway lines in Japan.
Linking Tokyo and Nagoya, it travels through many scenic spots, including:
- the countryside of Kanagawa and Yamanashi
- as well as Nagano and Gifu
Traveling along the line in spring affords you the stunning backdrop of cherry blossom trees in full bloom, covering the hills and fields.
4. Tokaido Shinkansen Line
If you’re heading to Japan, you’ll want to spot Mount Fuji.
The Tokaido Shinkansen Line (the bullet train) is one such way of doing so. It connects Tokyo and Kyoto in a time of just two hours and 20 minutes.
It passes by the majestic Mount Fuji in either direction, with picture-perfect views of the most famous and highest peak in the whole of Japan.
If you’re headed to Kyoto from Tokyo, take a seat:
- on the right-hand side of the train for the best views
- or the left-hand side if you’re traveling toward the capital.
If you want the very best of vistas, reserve the seats in Row E on the window side.
5. Sagano Scenic Railway
In Kyoto, the Sagano Scenic railway is a popular option for sightseers.
It’s a short railway of only 7.3 kilometers (4.5 miles), but it showcases the historic city’s natural beauty.
The train carriages are in a traditional style with wooden benches, and the train travels at speeds that are much slower than you’d expect. In fact, it takes just 25 minutes one-way.
It follows the beauty alongside the Hozugawa River, letting you soak up the magnificent scenery en route.
Be aware that the line closes during the winter months, from the end of December until the end of February normally.
6. Hakone Tozan Line
This line is a sightseeing train line in the Kanagawa Prefecture.
Running between Odawara and Hakone, the 15-kilometer (9.3 miles) journey treats you to the stunning sights of the mountains and valleys with their bright hydrangea flowers and thick, dark forests.
The best time to ride this route is in June and July as the flowers on the track sides are in full bloom.
If you’re staying in Tokyo but want to leave the city for a couple of days, this is a perfect choice. You can get there by taking a train from the city to Odawara station and then hopping onto the scenic line.
7. Gono Line
This line connects the prefectures of Akita and Aomori, in the northern part of Japan.
The line is 147.2 kilometers (91 miles) long, and it runs along the Sea of Japan’s coastline.
Here, you’ll witness the beautiful horizon and Japan’s marine waters:
- In the wintertime, you’ll see the scenery covered in snow, especially Mount Iwaki, a mountain measuring 1,625m (1 mile) in height!
- You’ll also get to see the virgin forest of Japanese beech trees at Shirakami-Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The seats on this line tend to be booked up quickly, so try and book your ride in advance.
As you’d expect in Japan, this line is dependable, efficient and pretty comfortable. If you want a little added extra, you can book the Joyful Train.
This one has special dining carriages and on-board activities, including storytelling and live music on the shamisen, a traditional Japanese three-stringed guitar.
8. Sanriku Railway
The Sanriku Railway was destroyed in the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. It took three years to rebuild it and it finally reopened in 2014.
If you’re looking for a ride along a coastal track with picturesque ocean views and filled with Japanese history (not to mention pride), the Sanriku railway makes an excellent journey.
Unless you’re a train enthusiast, the chances are that a visit to Japan will afford you a couple of scenic train journeys at best. With this fantastic list above, how do you possibly choose?
No matter which you opt for, you are guaranteed the best seat in the house when it comes to Japanese scenery: mountains, rivers, cherry blossoms, hydrangeas, forests and valleys. The colors and possibilities are second to none. What are you waiting for?
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