JR East luxury sleeper train with Japanese touch nears May 1 debut

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The new Train Suite Shiki-shima — which East Japan Railway says will provide a cruise ship-like experience — is nearing its May 1 debut, with the operator on Wednesday giving members of the press a chance to experience the luxury sleeper.

While sleeper trains as a means to get to destinations are disappearing in Japan, luxury cruise trains, such as the Seven Stars offered by JR Kyushu, have been gaining popularity in recent years.

The dome cars on JR East’s new service, located at both ends of the 10-car train, are designed to allow passengers to relax and enjoy the view as the train travels through areas rich in mountain and coastal scenery. The dome cars have sofas and large glass walls and ceilings.

“We hope we can contribute to establishing a railway of a new era,” said Atsushi Takahashi, a JR East official in charge of sales.

JR East, which serves Tokyo and other areas in the eastern part of Honshu, will offer from May to November a four-day trip on the train covering Hokkaido and parts of northeastern Japan and a two-day trip around Yamanashi, Nagano and Fukushima. The fees range from ¥320,000 ($2,900) to ¥950,000 per person when two people share a room.

The train’s 17 rooms — two large suite rooms in different sizes and 15 smaller rooms — can accommodate 34 people in total. A lottery for tickets for the service’s launch was oversubscribed 76-fold, JR east said.

JR East President Tetsuro Tomita said the company aims to provide “a high-grade space” unseen in existing railway journeys with the train’s lavish amenities, made with top-quality materials and traditional craftsmanship.

The stylish champagne-gold-colored train was designed by designer Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama, and traditional materials such as wood, washi paper and Japanese lacquer were used in its furnishings.

Tatami mats were introduced for the suite rooms, while cypress bathtubs were made available in the suites and the smaller deluxe suite rooms.

The diner car offers delicacies from the regions the train travels through. They will be served with cutlery designed by Yamazaki Kinzoku Kogyo, known as the maker of cutlery used at a Nobel Prize award ceremony banquet.

The sofas in the lounge car were made using a traditional technique of bending wood with steam, while carpets from Oriental Carpet Mills, known for its works at the Vatican Palace and Kyoto State Guest House, line the floors.

JR West, which serves Osaka and other areas in the western part of Honshu, will launch its version of the luxury sleeper train called Twilight Express Mizukaze in June.

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