Rail Report: Fine-dining along the Hachinohe Line with the TOHOKU EMOTION
Looking to treat yourself to a lavish gastronomical adventure along Eastern Japan’s Sanriku Coast (三陸海岸 Sanriku Kaigan)? Last May, my colleagues Carissa, Julia, Nazrul, and I had the opportunity to ride on the TOHOKU EMOTION (東北エモーション Tōhoku Emōshon) Joyful Train, and needless to say I was going through a lot of emotions onboard this fancy train—well, for one, I was still recovering from my food-induced coma of downing 101 bowls of wanko soba from the night before…but that’s a story for another day. Now, onto the next food adventure!
The TOHOKU EMOTION (left) standing by for departure at Hachinohe Station, and the train crew who welcomed passengers at the train platform (right). (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Hi Carissa and Nazrul! (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
If you’re both a foodie and an avid railway fan like myself, adding this restaurant train into your itinerary is a must, especially if you’re planning on visiting the northern coastal part of the Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tohoku-chihō).
Right off the bat, we’re served with a glass of non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider made with apples from Aomori Prefecture to start our lunch course. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
For the uninitiated, the TOHOKU EMOTION runs along the Hachinohe Line (八戸線 Hachinohe-sen) between Aomori Prefecture (青森県 Aomori-ken) and Iwate Prefecture (岩手県 Iwate-ken), and unlike the local trains that run on this same line, you will be attended to by a dedicated crew of chefs and service staff, and you will be served high-quality food and desserts—specially-curated to feature different local ingredients and flavours from the region.
I wonder what’s in store for us today onboard the TOHOKU EMOTION… (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
With an interior that’s designed to look like a restaurant, of course you’ll be served with restaurant-level meals onboard the TOHOKU EMOTION! There are two types of meal courses that you can choose from: the lunch course (outbound, which starts from Hachinohe Station (八戸駅) and ends at Kuji Station) and the dessert buffet course (inbound, which starts from Kuji Station (久慈駅) and ends at Hachinohe Station). What’s exciting about this train too is that the menu changes according to the month or season that you board the train. This means that you’ll always have something new to try at least 2–3 times a year, and that’s precisely what regular riders of this restaurant train would do.
Looking at today’s menu has got me so excited... (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)
For lunch this time, it was a beautiful 4-course meal accompanied by free-flow bread:
- AMUSE (Appetiser): An assortment of five bite-sized appetisers in a wooden box—sandwiches, carrot potage, grilled mackerel and red cabbage, cream cheese with fig, herbs jelly with cucumber.
- POISSON (Fish): Grilled tilefish and stewed potatoes.
- PLAT PRINCIPAL (Main Course): Grilled pork with wild rice and truffle-flavoured cabbage.
- PETIT FOURS (Dessert): An assortment of three bite-sized desserts unveiled in an exquisite lacquer box—custard pudding, sakura macaron, apple compote with apple jelly.
I’m no food blogger, but I can guarantee that everything I had on the lunch course was scrumptiously delicious. Apart from the drinks (who could resist free-flow Aomori apple juice?) that come replenished every time my glass was empty, my favourite part from the course would be the poisson dish—the tastiness of both the grilled tilefish and the broth did not overpower the delicate taste of the stewed potatoes. Gosh, I’m already salivating just by remembering this yummy dish.
Don’t just sit there and eat—take in the beautiful views of Sanriku Coast! (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Wave hello to the local residents who live along the Hachinohe Line~ (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Luckily for us too, the weather was beyond pleasant where the skies were clear and sunny the entire trip. Whether you opt for the compartment seats in Car 1 or the open-dining area in Car 3, be sure to look out the window to enjoy the coastal scenery and also keep your eyes peeled for friendly locals who will be waving at you and the passing train!
Start your dessert buffet with a platter of assorted dessert: mont blanc, cassis & chocolate mousse, and strawberry sherbert. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
But if I’m being honest, I’m more of a buffet kind of person, so the dessert buffet course was much more enticing to me. What’s cool about this course is that it doesn’t just serve desserts like cakes and pastries, but it also serves savoury bite-sized snacks and cold-cuts.
Voila, hors d'œuvre (savoury appetisers) and desserts à la order-style buffet. Some of my favourites from this time were the prosciutto, marinated seafood, muscat jelly, and weekend citron! (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Back in June 2019, during my first time onboard the TOHOKU EMOTION, I remember the excitement I got simply from queuing in line over and over again to get my favourite prosciutto ham at Car 2. However, due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19, you can just simply relax by your seats and place your orders with the friendly staff onboard. While walking between cars would aid in my digestion, staying seated allowed me to enjoy the view of the Sanriku Coast at a more leisurely pace. And in case I forget to mention, yes, the dessert buffet also comes with more free-flow drinks!
Our friendly train crew taking a rest at Kuji Station after the lunch course, before departing back to Hachinohe Station for the dessert buffet course. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
You could choose between the two meal courses, or you could opt for both courses. Undertaking both lunch and dessert courses will grant you about an hour and a half of sightseeing time around Kuji Station in between.
Tatsumiyama Inari Shrine (巽山稲荷神社) atop Tatsumiyama Park. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
I highly recommend disembarking to look for uni (うに) or sea urchin delicacies, as uni is a specialty in this city. If you’re lucky and quick enough, you can feast (some more) on the highly-raved uni bento sold at the in-station store of Sanriku Railway Kuji Station. Quantities are limited and by the time we got to the station, it had already sold out for the day… But that gave us a bit of time to explore the nearby park (巽山公園 Tatsumiyama-kōen) which overlooked a part of the city.
No uni? Well, at least there's "u-n-i" <3 (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
With that, our fancy gastronomic journey had come to an end and we made our way back to Hachinohe for our next destination. As someone who has ridden the TOHOKU EMOTION countless times, my colleague Carissa has written extensively on this wonderful train, so for a more in-depth introduction to the different car trains as well as sightseeing spots along the way, do head on to this article.
TOHOKU EMOTION (東北エモーション)
Route: Hachinohe Station (八戸駅) ↔️ Kuji Station (久慈駅) on the Hachinohe Line
Price (one-way): ¥8,600/adult for lunch course, ¥5,100/adult for dessert buffet. Additional charge of ¥3,600 per compartment for private compartments in Car 1.
Booking limit: Minimum two pax / maximum four pax per booking
Booking deadline: 4 days before departure
Note: The TOHOKU EMOTION is a package-only train. You will not be able to board this train with just a rail pass.