From the west of Japan to Kyushu island, I’ll be discovering a selection of different train journeys across the country.
Rail travel is not just about travelling from A to B – it can also be about the journey and experience.
Exploring Japan by train is not only just about visiting the most popular cities, but it also gives you the chance to visit less populated areas of Japan such as the countryside which is well connected by train and worth visiting.
Let’s explore Japan by train and discover the charm of Japan’s railway.
Purchase a Japan Rail Pass on your trip to Japan
For those travelling to Japan, it might be a good investment to purchase a Japan Rail Pass.
Purchasing a pass will make your trip rather affordable and convenient, and the pass is only available to visitors from outside of Japan.
If you fancy spending most of your trip to Japan travelling by train (which I can highly recommend), then this could be a good investment for you.
The Japan Rail Pass is only available to purchase for tourists (with the correct tourist stamp in your passport) from outside of Japan so it will require some planning to book your pass before you arrive in advance.
The Japan Rail Pass will cover mostly all of the JR rail network across Japan as well as a selection of Shinkansen services but might not work with some private railway networks.
Once you know which journey you wish to take, you can go to a JR ticket office called “Midori-no-madoguchi”, show your pass and arrange a reserved seat for your trip free of charge.
A small selection of journeys might require an additional supplement charge on top of your ticket, but this depends on the type of train you take.
You can also choose from a variety of regional Japan Rail Passes such as a JR West rail pass with a combination of a JR Kyushu pass or the Hokkaido rail pass.
This way, if you don’t plan on travelling by train every day on your trip to Japan, you can break up your journey with days in between to stay in popular areas for longer. Then you can continue exploring Japan with regional rail passes.
There are lots of ways to arrange your train travel in Japan, and it’s good to think about which pass would best suit your type of trip itinerary at the planning stage.
It’s easy to travel to Kansai International Airport
If you wish to explore the west of Japan, there is no need to fly to Tokyo as many European airlines fly directly to Kansai International Airport.
Arrival at Kansai airport is always an excellent idea as the airport is conveniently located within close proximity to Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe, which brings you straight into the west of Japan.
From the airport, you can collect your Japan Rail Pass at either the self-help counter or the information desk (pictured above).
Have your passport with your tourist stamp and confirmation papers ready to validate and collect your Japan Rail Pass.
This means you can use your pass straight away from Kansai International Airport. The airport has secure connections to Osaka and Kyoto, and you can take trains such as the Haruka Hello Kitty airport transfer train.
While in Kyoto, I stayed at Hotel Granvia Kyoto located at Kyoto central train station. You can opt for a room with a view overlooking Kyoto train station so you can enjoy a spectacular sunrise and the Shinkansen train arrivals. Perfect for your first night’s stay in Japan.
However, if you’re looking to spend your first night somewhere with a better nightlife and more action, you can take a train to Osaka instead of Kyoto from Kansai International Airport. This guide on where to stay in Osaka identifies Namba as the best area to stay in Osaka for shopping and eating out all night long.
Relax and enjoy the Eizan Electric Railway sightseeing trains
If you’re visiting Kyoto and fancy making a half-day trip, then head to Demachiyanagi station.
From here you can enjoy one of the two Eizan Electric Railway sightseeing trains. (You will have to purchase a ticket as Japan Rail Pass does not cover these trains).
Choose between either the comfortable Hiei model with its unique front oval design, or the special observation train called Kirara which offers panoramic views with its large observation windows.
You can also ride on both of them if you wish to change over halfway.
Journey time is around an hour to Kurama station and from here you can enjoy the peaceful nature that surrounds Kurama-dera temple. You have two options, you can either take the short journey using the cable car up to the top of the hill, or you can walk if you wish, the option if yours.
Visit the Kyoto Railway Museum
This one is for all the train enthusiasts, and I could have easily spent a whole day at the Kyoto Railway Museum with loads on display to look at and explore.
The museum is located close to the city of Kyoto, and here you can walk through the history of the Japanese railway.
On display, you can find one of the first Shinkansen models that dates back to the 60s, a selection of steam trains that date back to the 1800s as well as a working miniature model railway collection on display.
Lots to see, such as the reconstructed railway station and the ticket office. You can even dine in some of the old classic trains, which is a fun experience.
Kintetsu Express Shimakaze train from Kyoto to Ise
Travel in style on the Kintetsu Express Shimakaze train from Kyoto to Ise.
This luxury train is unique as it has executive-style reclining leather chairs with a built-in massage feature. How amazing is that!
It’s a top-class experience and a fantastic way to enjoy this journey from Kyoto to Ise.
Ise is a delightful and charming Japanese town to explore on foot and only a few hours away from Kyoto.
A highlight is visiting the Ise Jingu shrine, which is a popular attraction in Japan. You will also find many local shops selling local handcrafted goods and snacks here.
Twilight Express Mizukaze
Kyoto train station is one of the designated stops for the Twilight Express Mizukaze train. If you’re lucky, you might see it arrive at the station during one of its stops.
The Twilight Express Mizukaze is one of the most luxurious trains in all of Japan.
This sleeping-car excursion train is operated by West Japan Railway Company since 2017. It’s like a luxury hotel on wheels rolling through the beautiful Japanese landscape.
The train is of superior quality with a touch of nostalgia such as a cocktail bar, and one room even has a bathtub. Now, that’s luxury.
Take a journey on the Hello Kitty Shinkansen
If travelling by Shinkansen train in Japan wasn’t enough, you could now travel on the Hello Kitty-themed Shinkansen.
The train departs from Shin-Osaka station and can take you to Hiroshima which might fit perfectly into your route plan.
The Hello Kitty Shinkansen has themed seats and compartment layouts as well as a special gift shop carriage which you can visit during your journey.
They even have a life-size Hello Kitty onboard you can take a photo with as well as a specially designed bento box to enjoy on your journey.
The Hello Kitty Shinkansen is covered on the Japan Rail Pass, so be sure to get your seat reservation arranged in advance if you wish to travel on this specific Shinkansen.
Spend some time in Hiroshima
If you’re visiting Hiroshima, you can purchase a day pass to enjoy the public transport network around the city.
One fun mode of transport is the vintage style Hiroshima Electric Railway Streetcar.
Use the pass to explore Hiroshima for the day and visit the UNESCO World Heritage site, Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Park.
Pass by Hiroshima Castle, Shukkeien Japanese gardens and the Hiroshima Museum of Art.
Also included in the pass is a boat ride over to the island of Itsukushima to visit the roaming deer and Floating Torii Gate.
Before you end your day exploring the city, be sure not to miss the local soul food dish, Hiroshima okonomiyaki.
You can find the best spots close the Hiroshima train station as it’s a popular, quick and convenient dish to enjoy by commuters travelling by train.
Hiroshima okonomiyaki (not to be confused with Osaka okonomiyaki) is a sort of pancake-like noodle omelette which can be served with seafood or pork topped with a sweet sauce.
It’s fun too as Hiroshima okonomiyaki is usually prepared on a hot stove by the chef in front of your seat so that you can watch as each layer of the dish is ready, which makes for a fun dining experience.
It has to be tried on any trip to Hiroshima, and you won’t regret it.
Enjoy the Shinkansen train experience across Japan
There is something rather special about travelling on a Shinkansen train across Japan. Travel in speed, style, safety and comfort onboard this iconic mode of transportation.
It’s a nice bonus for travellers that some of the Shinkansen routes are included with the JR Rail Pass (remember to arrange your seat reservation).
An example of this is the Shinkansen Sakura which runs between the cities of Osaka and Kagoshima in Kyushu. Many options to choose from across Japan.
Take the scenic Yufuin no Mori train across Kyushu
With the Japan Rail Pass, you can travel from the west of Japan to the island of Kyushu to reach Hakata on the Shinkansen.
From Hakata, you can enjoy a wonderful express train journey called the Yufuin no Mori to reach Yufuin station.
This well-designed luxury tourist train takes a slower pace so you can take in the scenery.
The train goes through an incredibly picturesque landscape with mountains, rolling hills and waterfalls that can all be enjoyed from your seat along this route.
The cosy town of Yufuin
It’s worth stopping off at Yufuin, a cosy town in Kyushu which is surrounded by rice fields. Walk around the charming city, visit the peaceful lakes and enjoy the mountain scenery.
They even have a foot spa located on the Yufuin train station platform.
It’s a perfect location for an escape, and I’d highly recommend staying at a local Japanese guest house called a Ryokan which is a must-try experience in Japan.
In Yufuin, local guest houses typically also have access to Japanese hot springs called onsen. You can enjoy an onsen here with incredible views of the surrounding scenery of Yufuin.
Relax in a comfortable yukata, enjoy a traditional Japanese tatami mat room and a Japanese dining experience of dinner and breakfast, which is usually all packaged together for a relaxing one night’s stay.
If you have to choose one place in Japan to enjoy a Japanese guest house experience, then Yufuin is a great place to do so with excellent scenic onsen access.
Beppu and the Jigoku Meguri seven hells hot spring
From Yufuin, you can travel to the city of Beppu, located within Oita Prefecture. Beppu is a famous town for being the onsen capital of Japan.
Here you can try many different types of onsen such as foot baths which can be located around town.
Beppu is also home to Jigoku Meguri, a selection of seven hells (hot springs) scattered around town and you can visit them all if you wish.
Each hell is a visitor attraction onsen, you can’t bath in these as they’re boiling, but they’re unique and exciting to look at due to their different colours and stories.
Some of them do have foot baths close by to enjoy while you take in the scenic views so remember to bring your towel.
One popular attraction to try for lunch in Beppu is a restaurant onsen. Here you can use the heat from the natural onsen to create a steaming pot to cook a wide selection of tasty dishes such as sweet potato, boiled egg, corn, seafood and a whole host of other options.
Travel on the Sonic JR Kyushu high-speed train
Why not head back to the west of Japan from Kyushu by travelling back to Hakata on the Sonic which is a JR Kyushu high-speed intercity urban express train that departs from Beppu to Fukuoka.
I love the overall design of the Sonic train with its metallic deep blue colour and modern interior design. It’s well worth going out of your way to enjoy a journey on this limited express train.
Japan has many unique and exciting trains you can try and enjoy with a Japan Rail Pass.
Thank you for reading my blog post about travelling to Japan by train
Thank you for spending time reading my article about travelling around Japan by train.
I indeed had a fantastic time on this trip, and there is something rather special about using the train transportation network across Japan to make your trip extra awesome.
I hope you’re looking forward to your next trip to Japan and found all the above information useful and helpful towards your planning.
Have a fantastic trip to Japan and wishing you many incredible rail adventures in the future.
This trip was supported by the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO).