JR East TRAIN SUITE Shiki-Shima
Videos are at the bottom of the page…
2nd May 2017, Tokyo, Japan
On that date, the first 33 paying passengers departed from Ueno Station in Tokyo on (JR) Japan Railways East’s luxury sleeper train ‘SUITE TRAIN Shiki-Shima’ – meaning ‘Four Seasons Island’ — eager to experience the most ultra-luxurious and expensive 4-day/3-night Japanese train tour package. At the Launch Ceremony, JR East President Tetsuro Tomita said: “We hope to create a new railway history and breathe life into rural areas.”
With the advent of Shinkansen ‘bullet trains’, travel times have declined as have sleeper train services in Japan. What used to take half a day can now be travelled in 4 hours. Paradoxically, luxury, cruise-liner style train services have gained in popularity as affluent tourists prefer not to travel outside nice, safe Japan in these troubled geo-political times.
JR East already runs night trains such as the ‘Cassiopeia’ and the ‘Hokutosei’, which have sleeper units and restaurant cars. But this is the first time they will feature a luxury overnight train.
In 2013, JR Kyushu unveiled its ‘Seven Stars’ service with a piano and a bar, top-end dining and luxury suites, while JR West will launch its luxury ‘Twilight Express Mizukaze’ sleeper train on 17th June 2017.
The Train of Four Seasons Island
The light-gold coloured ‘Train Suite Shiki-Shima’ is a 10-car luxury hotel on rails with 17 cabins — Two Deluxe Suites and 15 regular Suites — to accommodate 34 passengers.
The train has Observatory cars located at both ends to allow passengers to relax and enjoy the view travelling through mountain and coastal scenery.
Costing ¥5 Billion (US$136 Million) to build, the hybrid electric/diesel locomotive was designed by Ken Okuyama, who also designed Porsche, Maserati and Ferrari cars.
Five of the sleeping cars each have three private Suite rooms, while car #7 has two deluxe suites — a split-level “maisonette” Shiki-Shima Suite and a single-level “flat” Deluxe Suite.
Facilities include a diner, a lounge, a cypress bathtub and even a ‘fireplace’ in a snug.
The dining room serves exquisite meals by Michelin-starred chefs and the bar staff can mix a mean cocktail.
After dinner, you can adjourn to the piano lounge for drinks or romanticise next to the fireplace — a marvelous simulation trick created by steam and coloured light — on a journey that takes you from Tokyo to the northernmost island of Hokkaido and back again.
Tokyo to Hokkaido
JR East offers two- to four-day trips.
The 4-day tour begins at Tokyo’s Ueno Station and travel through Nikko Station in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, and Hakodate Station in Hokkaido. The train will go as far as Noboribetsu, Hokkaido before returning to Ueno Station though a coastal route.
Day 2 accommodation will be off-the-train at one of these onsen (hot-springs):
- Niseko Hanazono Onsen [Zaborin]
- Noboribetsu Onsen [Takinoya]
- Niseko Konbu Onsen [Moku no Sho]
Take in the changing scenery or the daily excursion stops to local crafts, attractions and cuisine.
A favourite Japanese past time is ‘tsuki-mi’ or Viewing the Moon, which you can do (preferably with liquid libation to hand) from the other Observatory at the rear of the train…
For the top grade Shiki-Shima Suite (duplex) and Zaborin or Takinoya inn (meals included), the cost is ¥1,900,000 (US$17,200) per couple or ¥1,425,000 (US$12,900) for single occupancy.
For the regular Suite but top grade Zaborin or Takinoya inn (meals included) package, the cost is ¥1,540,000 (US$14,000) per couple or ¥1,155,000 (US$10,500) for single occupancy. You can save ¥40,000 (US$360) per couple or ¥30,000 ($270) for single occupancy by choosing the cheaper Moku no Sho inn at Niseko but somehow, I don’t think that choice would be for economic reasons! Most likely, those people really want to visit Niseko. 🙂
Despite high price tag, there is no shortage of customers with all tours fully booked until March 2018. A lottery draw had to be used for the ultraluxe Shiki-Shima Suite on the maiden journey because 76 applications were received.
“The purpose of the train is to provide luxury while people enjoy the natural beauty and local food in JR East’s operating area”, spokesman Takumi Honma said.
No doubt, these are expensive tickets but this is not your average train. With the exuberance of pride and excellence, you can expect nothing less than perfection from the train, the people, the sights and the culture of Japan.
You can understand my confidence as a former resident of Japan but also when you see the attention to detail that JR East has infused into the endeavour. The SUITE TRAIN Shiki-Shima even has it’s own musical score composed as seen in this video…
VIDEO: TRAIN SUITE Shiki-Shima Musical Score
VIDEO: TRAIN SUITE Shiki-Shima Virtual Tour
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).