Some say that June isn’t the best time for visiting Japan because it rains every day coupled with beginning of summer and some places can get hot and humid like Singapore. While the rain and heat may put a damper on your plans to explore the tourist hotspots like Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, I find that this might be one of the best times to explore the countryside of Japan!
The regions north of Tokyo feature many delicious foods and alcohol as well as picturesque places that are, quite frankly, not easily accessible even by car. Fortunately, East Japan Railway Company has this covered. Aptly named Joyful Trains, these trains’ journeys were designed to be attractions themselves and there are some travelers who make a whole itinerary out of just taking these Joyful Trains! We recently went on a Joyful Train journey with East Japan Railway Company and thought some of these trains are truly a joy to take.
When the train arrives, I noticed immediately that each of the six cars’ exterior was painted differently from one another – this is special because all other Shinkansen are painted uniformly throughout the whole train and only in simple colours. Meanwhile, each of the Genbi Shinkansen’s cars were painted by different artists.
Only one car has reserved seats and even the seats and carpet are decorated by an artist. But really, who wants to remain seated on the world’s fastest moving art gallery? With about one hour from Echigo-Yuzawa Station to Niigata Station, there is barely enough time to admire all the galleries onboard.
Each gallery is furnished with art on one side and comfy sofas on the other. Feel free to take one of these non-reserved seats and admire the works of art (there is a gallery that is made up of just mirrors for those who think themselves as works of art).
On half of car 3, there is a stylish little café selling stylish food and drinks with a single table. On the other half are toy train sets for children to play. I’m not even sure if that kid playing with the toy trains is an exhibit.
There are three different services in the Shu*Kura Joyful Train series. If you love Japanese Sake as much as we do, you MUST take at least one of the Shu*Kura trains! This is a small train of only three cars and the car in the middle is where all the excitement takes place!
Next to him is a tiny counter that is stocked to the brim with bottles of sake that you can purchase if you like and lots of snacks that go well with sake.
At some point, the sake will run out and the sommelier will disappear too but the party isn’t over yet! Out of nowhere comes a live band that plays jolly music perfect for the tipsy atmosphere.
The train also makes a brief 20-minute stop at Omigawa Station, a simple platform with a signboard telling you that this is a station. Even though there seems to be no residences nearby at all, I can see why there is a stop – the view of the ocean with the sun inching towards the horizon is absolutely amazing. The icing on the cake though, was when the performers came out of the train onto the platforms to keep the jolly BGM going on the platform!
After the events are over, you can spend the remaining half hour ride with some snacks and a bottle of the train’s specialty Shu*Kura sake at your seat.
When I first heard that this train would take four hours from Akita to Hirosaki, what I thought would be a snoozefest turned out to be one of the most interesting train rides on this trip. The train makes multiple stops at a few interesting stations and the seats are cozy. There is also a café onboard that sells various local bentos and snacks as well as souvenirs.
If you will travel in a group of four, definitely take the box seats so that you can face each other for the next few hours while paddy fields roll past outside the windows. No, I’m just kidding. About 30 minutes of paddy fields later, the train will make a 15-minute stop at Noshiro, a place supposedly famous in Japan for basketball teams. Here, you can try your hand at a free throw and get a commemorative post card for that.
After this, you can go back to your box and stare at your friends’ faces for the next hour, or enjoy the seaside scenery as the train rolls at a leisurely pace along the coast. When the resort Shirakami makes a stop at Juniko Station, I highly recommend getting off and take a short bus trip from the station to Juniko where the blue pond is. After spending about one to two hours there, head back to Juniko Station to take the next Shirakami train.
From Juniko Station, there is another brief stop by a sleepy seaside station where weird rock formations can be seen and grilled squid can be eaten. After that stop, there are various performances held on the train that features the specialties within the region, like the Tsugaru Shamisen or the local dialect storytelling – you never know which you are going to get as they seem to have a different performance on each train on different days.
If you haven’t noticed by now, the Joyful Trains are mainly for eating and drinking while enjoying breathtaking sights. If you are looking to relax and unwind, why not take the scenic route while visiting the countryside? After all, what the Joyful Trains offer is exactly what most people are looking for when visiting these places and these trains allow you to enjoy it from indoors without having to deal with the weather or mosquito bites.
You may visit JR Cafe / JTB Takashinaya to purchase as well!
Posted on: 18 July 2019
Man Chong (MR) | JAPAN RAIL CAFE Consultant
JR Cafe: Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street, #01-20,
Singapore 078883, open from 11am – 8pm daily | Tel.: 6384-4805