Long renowned as the home of the shinkansen bullet train, Japan was strangely slow to compete with the likes of the Orient-Express by embracing unabashedly luxurious and languid rail travel. It was only in 2013, when the Kyushu Seven Stars commenced service, that the country welcomed its first luxury sleeper train. This year, however, the pace of development has been upped considerably. Following the earlier summer launches of the sleeper services Shiki-shima and Twilight Express Mizukaze, last week’s unveiling of The Royal Express completes the triumvirate of exceptional new luxury trains now taking travellers in grand and leisurely style to some of the most beautiful stretches of the country.
The Royal Express train CREDIT: IZUKYU CORPORATION
Commencing service on September 1 and plying a route that stretches between Yokohama (about half an hour from central Tokyo) and Shimoda City at the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula, The Royal Express offers its passengers a variety of tours and itineraries. Travelling one way, three-hour day tours will provide sufficient time to enjoy a meal on board. More elaborate experiences await those who book one of three “cruise plans”, which incorporate overnight stays at hotels along the route and allow for sightseeing tours in Izu.
Though not widely recognised abroad, the Izu Peninsula is well regarded in Japan for its scenery, hot springs and historical merit: it was here that Commodre Perry’s Black Ships from America landed in 1854, their arrival heralding a new era of internationalism for the country. Train passengers can take a sightseeing cruise on a replica of one of Perry’s ships, or could after disembarkation go hiking along the rugged Jogasaki Coast, explore the extinct volcano Mt Omuro or visit the exceptionally well preserved former ryokan Tokaikan.
One of the train’s wood-panelled carriages CREDIT: HIROYUKI MAYUZUMI
On board the train itself, they’ll enjoy live musical performances and Japanese cuisine by chefs Michiyo Kawano and Yamada Chikara (a well-regarded alumnus of Spain’s El Bulli). Up to 100 passengers can be accommodated and a multi-purpose carriage can be adapted to guests’ needs should the train be chartered on an exclusive-use basis and used for a wedding, concert or the like. Unlike many luxury trains, children are welcome on board and can reside in family-friendly carriages; a children’s library and ball pond are also on board to keep younger occupants entertained.
The design of the train should draw admiring glances too. Designed by Eiji Mitooka (also responsible for the look of Kyushu Seven Stars), each of its carriages features unique decorative elements and intricately patterned woodwork is on display throughout. With a curved corner serving as its counter, the bar carriage features a piano and a curved ceiling embedded with stained-glass panels.
Booking for The Royal Express are currently only available through its Japanese-language website. A one-way three-hour journey costs from JPY25,000-35,000 (about £170 to £240), while extended overnight itineraries cost from JPY135,000 (£930) per person.