The Big Attraction of Luxury Sleeper Trains


Rail Update Japan

◆Artist’s depiction of the Nanatsu-boshi sleeper train, from the rear. The large plate glass will offer superlative views from the Deluxe Suite. (Credit: JR Kyushu)

Now that business travellers are spurning Japan’s long-distance “Blue Train” sleepers, some JR companies are planning to offer overnight excursions, using luxury as the selling point. The target market is seniors with extra time and money on their hands. JR Kyushu will launch such a service in October 2013, with tickets starting at 150,000 yen per passenger. Not cheap, but demand is already more than seven times the supply. JR East has decided to get into the act too, and JR West is considering doing so. Before long, Japan’s own versions of the Orient Express may be running in different parts of the country.

Seniors the target of JR railway company plans

■ Suites in every car

“We’re going to organize relaxing excursions on an out-of-the-ordinary train for passengers to experience Japan’s natural beauty, culture and food, all in quality surroundings,” said Tetsuro Tomita, JR East’s President and CEO, announcing plans for a 10-car luxury sleeper train accommodating 30 to 35 passengers. The six passenger cars will each have just two or three suites. Other cars include a restaurant car.

In October 2012, JR East offered a two-night three-day excursion in eastern Japan, on rolling stock generally used by the popular limited express sleeper Cassiopeia between Tokyo’s Ueno Station and Sapporo. Tickets were priced high, at between 200,000 and 250,000 yen, but sold fairly well. The company has found a way to satisfy new demand for a quality experience never offered before.

JR East predicts it will be able to price a two- to three-day tour on its upcoming newly designed sleeper train in the hundreds of thousands of yen per passenger. It is considering a circuit around eastern Japan, and trips to Hokkaido.

■ JR Kyushu’s luxury sleeper train
The first to introduce luxury sleeper train services will be JR Kyushu. Its “Nanatsu-boshi in Kyushu” train will begin operating in October 2013, twice a week, with a total of 14 suites (capacity: 30 passengers). The tour will circle the island of Kyushu over three nights, four days. The Deluxe Suite (the most expensive) will cost 550,000 yen per person, but even at that price demand for tickets, sold by lottery, is 87 times the supply.

The cheapest Nantsu-boshi tours, one night and two days to Nagasaki or Oita, will begin at 150,000 yen per passenger. JR Kyushu is confident it can satisfy its target market (people from the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas, and senior couples) with top grade services and cars.

■ JR West also considering getting into the act

JR West is now thinking about launching its own luxury train services for several-day excursions, possibly to the Setouchi and San’in regions. For this company, too, the target market would be seniors with a keen interest in rail travel.

■ Inspector Totsugawa’s explanation

Why are seniors keen to travel by luxury sleeper train? Kyotaro Nishimura (82), famous for his train mystery series featuring Inspector Totsugawa, explains: “All railway track links one location to another, and this creates a feeling of security for travellers, more than a ship or airplane can. That’s why rail travel is so appealing. Another attraction is, you can get off the train on the way to your destination, to experience different environments and traditions.”

Nishimura says young people should shun luxury and choose a hard mattress on a sleeper bunk instead. To obtain background information for his many novels, he himself often took such sleeper trains. But after luxury sleeper trains begin setting out from Tokyo, he wants to ride one. “And you can be sure that Inspector Totsugawa will be taking one too, in a novel I’ll write some day.”

This article appeared in the evening edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on June 12, 2013. We thank the publisher, Yomiuri Shimbun-sha, for granting us permission to present the article in translation.


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