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Eastern Japan's dining trains and how to book them

Eastern Japan's dining trains and how to book them

Japan is renowned for its high-tech and high-speed bullet trains, as well as its extensive and incredibly efficient railway network. However, the country is also well-known for its fun and creative sightseeing trains. Of these sightseeing trains, none are more sought after than the delectable dining trains and restaurant trains, which offer unique train rides with the added bonus of delicious food!

 

For foodies seeking novel train experiences, or train fans seeking novel dining experiences, how about taking a ride on one of these restaurant trains? These dining trains offer mouth-watering meals made with locally-produced ingredients, so travellers can enjoy a good meal while supporting local businesses at the same time. In addition, many of these trains also pass by scenic routes, offering riders mesmerising views right from the comforts of their seats.

 

In the Eastern Japan area, JR East operates four such trains, each providing passengers with unique and unforgettable experiences. Recently, the booking of these experiences has been made even easier with the opening of a new booking website! Are you hungry yet? Let us take a look at JR East’s four fantastic dining Joyful Trains:

 

① TOHOKU EMOTION

Meal type: Lunch course (outbound) or dessert buffet (inbound)

Look forward to a scenic lunch on board the TOHOKU EMOTION. (Image credit: JR East)

 

A fine-dining restaurant train that combines the elements of local and luxury into its dining experience, the TOHOKU EMOTION (東北エモーション Tо̄hoku Emо̄shon) is the flagship of JR East’s dining trains. Running along the Sanriku Coast between Hachinohe Station (八戸駅) and Kuji Station (久慈駅), the train was started in 2013 to promote tourism to the area and support recovery efforts, as the Sanriku Coast was badly affected by the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Tsunami and Earthquake.

 

A journey on this “Tohoku Restaurant Railway” will tantalise your taste buds with locally-produced Tohoku ingredients in all of its carefully thought out dishes, and delight you with five-star service from the dedicated staff.

 

Dishes served on the TOHOKU EMOTION. (Image credit: JR East / Akio Kobori, JR East / Carissa Loh, Nguyen Duy Khanh)

 

On the outbound journey from Hachinohe to Kuji, diners can expect to enjoy a 4–5 course lunch, with free-flow drinks that include both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Typically, the TOHOKU EMOTION’s dining menu changes every 3–6 months, ranging from Japanese fare to Western-style cuisine to fusion dishes. But no matter the cuisine type, the TOHOKU EMOTION’s delightful dishes are delicious, and made using locally-produced ingredients from Tohoku.

 

Welcome dessert platters on the TOHOKU EMOTION. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh, Nguyen Duy Khanh)

 

Passengers with a sweet tooth will love the inbound journey from Kuji to Hachinohe, where they will get to enjoy a dessert buffet. While the buffet is being prepared, the dining experience is started off with a welcome dessert platter, made up of three scrumptious desserts.

 

Dessert buffet selections on the TOHOKU EMOTION. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Helmed by Hotel Metropolitan Morioka's pastry chef, the dessert buffet selection offers a variety of sweet treats ranging from cakes to tarts to jellies, as well as a small selection of savoury bites like ham, cheese, and seafood salad. Like the lunch course, drinks are also free-flow. Usually, Car 2 will be converted to a buffet line, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the dessert course is now an à la carte buffet. Diners can place their orders with the staff, who will personally bring their desserts over.

 

Window views on the TOHOKU EMOTION. (Image credit: JR East / Akio Kobori, JR East, Nguyen Duy Khanh)

 

Even the interior of the TOHOKU EMOTION is designed to mimic a restaurant, with the added benefit of large windows that provide a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. For passengers who prefer a little more privacy, compartment rooms are also available, each with wide windows that provide sweeping views of the passing scenery.

 

Watch food being prepared in the open kitchen in Car 2. (Image credit: Nguyen Duy Khanh)

 

Another treat for foodies is the open kitchen in Car 2, where they can witness the chefs preparing their food. Looking at the tasty dishes being cooked and plated, with the aroma wafting through the air…the experience adds another level of anticipation, doesn’t it?

 

Check out this article for a personal experience of a trip on the TOHOKU EMOTION.

 

TOHOKU EMOTION running along the Sanriku Coast and being greeted by local fishermen. (Image credit: JR East)

 

TOHOKU EMOTION (東北エモーション)

Route: Hachinohe ↔️ Kuji 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.

 

② KAIRI

Meal type: Japanese course (outbound) or Italian course (inbound)

A Japanese set meal on the KAIRI. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

Making its debut in October 2019, the KAIRI (海里) is JR East’s newest dining train, and runs along the coast of the Sea of Japan between Niigata Station (新潟駅) and Sakata Station (酒田駅) in the Shonai region. The train started operations to coincide with the Niigata-Shonai Destination Campaign, and celebrates the local gastronomy of Niigata and Shonai. Unlike the TOHOKU EMOTION, which is entirely a restaurant train, only one of the KAIRI’s cars caters to dining packages: Car 4.

 

Niigata is a historic port city, and on the outbound journey departing Niigata Station, diners in Car 4 can expect to enjoy an exquisite Japanese set lunch prepared by some of Niigata City’s most established ryо̄tei (料亭 traditional restaurant). The food changes every season, with the menu rotating between three of Niigata’s prestigious ryо̄tei—Ichishime (一〆), Ikinariya (行形亭), or Nabedyaya (鍋茶屋)—all of which hail from the city’s Furumachi district.

 

Japanese meal prepared by Ikinariya. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Using a variety of seasonal ingredients, the dishes are meticulously prepared to showcase the best of that season, and packed in an exquisite two-tier box designed by Ohashi, a historic tableware company founded in Niigata. Fans of the cutlery will be glad to know that mini dessert spoon and fork sets can be bought at the counter in Car 3.

 

Italian meals prepared by Al-ché-cciano. (Image credit: JR East)

 

On the inbound journey heading towards Niigata, passengers can enjoy an Italian-style set meal prepared by Al-ché-cciano (アル・ケッチァーノ Aru Kecchāno), a Shonai-based restaurant which uses locally-grown Shonai ingredients in its dishes.

 

Souvenirs can be found in Car 3. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

While the TOHOKU EMOTION was a package-only train, the good news is that Car 1 and Car 2 of the KAIRI can be ridden with rail passes, but without the food. However, since food is the highlight of this train, wouldn’t you want to try some? Luckily, passengers can purchase exclusive KAIRI bentо̄ (弁当 lunch boxes) from the sales counter in Car 3. Or, if you’re looking for souvenirs to commemorate your trip on the KAIRI, you can also find them at the sales counter in Car 3.

 

KAIRI bentо̄: Kashimaya Gozen (top) and Shonai-ben (bottom). (Image credit: Japanmase, JR East)

 

Though not as decadent as Car 4’s set meals, these compact bentо̄ offer a glimpse of the region’s delectable gastronomy. Depending on the direction of travel, either Kashimaya Gozen (¥2,300) or Shonai-ben (¥2,400) will be sold. The bentо̄ are sold in limited quantities on a first-come-first-served basis, so don’t forget to make a beeline for the counter once you’re on board!

 

Check out this article for a personal experience of a trip on the KAIRI.

 

KAIRI running along the coast of the Sea of Japan. (Image credit: JR East)

 

KAIRI (海里)

Route: Niigata ↔️ Sakata on the Uetsu Main Line
Price (one-way): ¥15,000/adult for Japanese course, ¥11,500/adult for Italian course
Booking limit: Minimum one pax / maximum four pax per booking
Booking deadline: 4 days before departure

Note: The KAIRI Car 4 is a package-only car. You will not be able to board this car with just a rail pass. However, rail pass holders who wish to board the train without meals can reserve seats for Car 1 or Car 2. This train is all reserved seating only, so advanced seat reservations are required.

 

③ FruiTea Fukushima

Meal type: Dessert set

Pear tarts on the FruiTea Fukushima. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Are you a fan of high tea and desserts? While the TOHOKU EMOTION and KAIRI offer full meals, for those who prefer something sweeter and fruitier, check out the FruiTea Fukushima (フルーティアふくしま Furūtia Fukushima), which will charm your sweet-tooth with its seasonal tarts and pastries.

 

On this travelling cafe train, riders can expect to dig into delectable desserts made with the season’s best fruits. Fukushima Prefecture produces much of Japan's fruits—including grapes, peaches, apples, and pears—with the most famous being peaches. With access to quality fruit, local pastry chefs can unleash their creativity and produce delightful creations, some of which are served on the FruiTea Fukushima.

 

Fruity desserts in different seasons. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Using only fruits in season, the featured fruits and dessert menu change up every month, letting travellers sample the best fruit that the current season has to offer. For example, desserts use strawberries in March and April, peaches in August and September, pears and grapes in October, persimmons in November, and more. Local confectionery stores from Fukushima—like fruits peaks, Cocco tree, and Takino (田季野)—create original dessert menus for the FruiTea Fukushima, and these are served with locally-produced fruit juice and free-flow hot and iced coffee and tea.

 

The FruiTea Fukushima is a travelling café train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

This dining train’s concept is a “travelling café train”, and the interior is meant to resemble a trendy café, with sleek white sofa seats and shiny black tables. As a bonus, diners riding the train between spring and autumn can enjoy a fantastic view of Mount Bandai and the Fukushima countryside while the train traverses the Ban-etsu West Line between Kо̄riyama Station (郡山駅) and Kitakata Station (喜多方駅). During winter, the train runs between Kо̄riyama Station and Sendai Station (仙台駅) along the Tohoku Main Line.

 

Counter in Car 2 of the FruiTea Fukushima. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

For those who still crave extra bites, fruity snacks like dried fruit, fruit gummies, and fruit ice creams are sold at the counter in Car 2. These snacks change seasonally, so riders can look forward to something new every now and then. Passengers can also find a variety of unique souvenirs here, such as FruiTea Fukushima-themed dessert spoons, mugs, tote bags, and more.

 

Check out this article for a personal experience of a trip on the FruiTea Fukushima.

 

FruiTea Fukushima with Mount Bandai in the background. (Image credit: JR East)

 

FruiTea Fukushima (フルーティアふくしま)

Routes:

  • Regular: Koriyama ↔️ Kitakata on the Ban-etsu West Line 
  • Winter: Koriyama ↔️ Sendai on the Tohoku Main Line

Price (one-way): ¥5,900/adult
Booking limit: Minimum one pax / maximum four pax per booking
Booking deadline: 3 days before departure

Note: The FruiTea Fukushima is a package-only train. You will not be able to board this train with just a rail pass.

 

④ Koshino Shu*Kura

Meal type: Light meal with various sake

Koshino Shu*Kura’s meal package. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Are you a sake aficionado? Do you enjoy a cup of aromatic rice wine from time to time? If your answers are yes, then the Koshino Shu*Kura (越乃Shu*Kura) is the dining train for you! Celebrating one of Niigata Prefecture’s top products, sake (酒 rice wine), the Koshino Shu*Kura is a sake-themed train offering a fun ride filled with sake, musical performances, and scenic views of the Sea of Japan.

 

Meal package on the Koshino Shu*Kura package. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

Like the KAIRI, the Koshino Shu*Kura has just one dedicated package-only car, Car 1, where passengers will be treated to a dining set featuring a light meal made with local Niigata ingredients, and not one, not two, but three alcoholic beverages. These include a sparkling alcoholic welcome drink, a bottle of original Koshino Shu*Kura sake, and an ochoko (おちょこ sake cup) full of seasonal local sake. Package holders will also get an original Koshino Shu*Kura ochoko to keep as a souvenir.

 

Event space of the Koshino Shu*Kura. (Image credit: JR East, JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

One highlight of this train is the event space in Car 2, which is meant to resemble the sake casks of a sake brewery. The event space is used to conduct sake-tastings and jazz performances, which make a ride on the Koshino Shu*Kura even more enjoyable. On different days, different breweries from Niigata offer free sake sampling sessions on board, so keep an eye out for it.

 

Sales counter on the Koshino Shu*Kura. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

Car 2 is also where the sales counter is located, and here passengers who crave more food and alcohol can purchase a variety of snacks, local sake, and beer. The selection of five local sake sold on board is changed seasonally, and the sampler set that lets you try three different sake is a definite must-try. All food at the counter is sold on a first-come-first-served basis, so come early to avoid disappointment.

 

For those looking to bring something back home, how about an original Koshino Shu*Kura ochoko, or bottle of original Koshino Shu*Kura daiginjо̄ (大吟醸)  sake?

 

Check out this article for a personal experience of a trip on the Koshino Shu*Kura.

 

Koshino Shu*Kura running along the coast of the Sea of Japan. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Koshino Shu*Kura (越乃ShuKura)

Routes:

  • Koshino Shu*Kura: Jо̄etsumyо̄kо̄ ↔️ Tо̄kamachi on the Shin-etsu Main Line / Joetsu Line / Iiyama Line
  • Yuzawa Shu*Kura: Jо̄etsumyо̄kо̄ ↔️ Echigo-Yuzawa on the Shin-etsu Main Line / Joetsu Line
  • Ryuto Shu*Kura: Jо̄etsumyо̄kо̄ ↔️ Niigata on the Shin-etsu Main Line

Price (one-way): ¥8,500/adult for Koshino Shu*Kura, ¥8,700/adult for Yuzawa Shu*Kura and Ryuto Shu*Kura
Booking limit: Minimum one pax / maximum four pax per booking
Booking deadline: 3 days before departure

Note: The Koshino Shu*Kura’s Car 1 is a package-only car. You will not be able to board this car with just a rail pass. However, rail pass holders who wish to board the train without meals can reserve seats for Car 3. This train is all reserved seating only, so advanced seat reservations are required.

 

How to book dining Joyful Trains

Meals on JR East’s dining trains. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh, JR East)

 

Did any of these trains catch your fancy? One of the most commonly asked questions is “How to book dining trains?”. The good news for travellers looking to ride one of JR East's dining Joyful Trains is that reservations can now be made online!

 

Easily reserve seats for JR East's dining trains online. (Image credit: JR East)

 

JR East recently launched the website in March 2022, and while it is currently Japanese only, an English version is currently in the works and will be available in the future. The website lets you make reservations for meal packages for the four dining Joyful Trains introduced in this article:

 

Example of seat selection on the website. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The reservation can be completed in a few simple steps:

  • Step 1: Choose your train
  • Step 2: Input number of travellers (adult/child/toddler)
  • Step 3: Select departure station
  • Step 4: Select meal course/destination
  • Step 5: Select departure date
  • Step 6: Select car and seats from seat map, and total price will appear

 

After that, it’s on to confirmation and payment. In the past, dining train packages could only be purchased in-person in Japan, making it difficult for foreign travellers as most seats would be sold out by the time they arrive in Japan. Now, with just a few clicks of a button, travellers can check the train availability instantly, and make reservations from the comforts of their homes, even before arriving in Japan.

 

How to board with online reservations. (Video credit: JR East)

 

To board the train, passengers will need to present their booking confirmation (on their smartphone or a printed copy) to the staff at the manned ticket gate at the boarding station. The video above illustrates the process.

 

For more information, visit the Joyful Trains booking website here.

 

*Prices and information are correct as of April 2022.
Header image credit: JR East, JR East / Carissa Loh, Nguyen Duy Khanh

 

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