Rail Report: An electrifying ride on the POKÉMON with YOU Train
Ever since the first game was released in 1996, Pokémon has become the single biggest media franchise in the entire world—with a successful streak of anime series, games, movies and merchandise enjoyed by billions worldwide. This never-ending cascade of Pokémania is more apparent nowhere else but in Japan, where it seems every other month some new collaboration, event or attraction is set up somewhere in the country for aficionados to enjoy such as the ongoing 150th anniversary of railway celebration with JR East.
(Image credit: JR East)
If you consider yourself a fan of Pokémon, then there is one Joyful Train in Tohoku that you absolutely HAVE to ride: the POKÉMON with YOU Train! Boarding from JR Ichinoseki Station (一ノ関駅 Ichinoseki-eki) in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県 Iwate-ken) and running along the JR Ōfunato Line (大船渡線 Ōfunato-sen) until JR Kesennuma Station (気仙沼駅 Kesennuma-eki) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken), catching even a glimpse of this bright and cheerful train would bring a smile to anyone.
So, why is there a POKÉMON with YOU Train?
Comparison of the original 2012 design with the newly revamped Pikachu design in 2017. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
In March 2011, Japan was struck by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (東日本大震災 Higashi-nihon daishinsai), which devastated much of the eastern coast of the country. The Ōfunato Line was one of many lines significantly damaged by the disaster, with nearly half of the original tracks replaced by a bus rapid transit service. On 22 December 2012, the POKÉMON with YOU Train was built to bring joy to the children of the region, servicing the remaining tracks between Ichinoseki Station and Kesennuma Station.
The original design of the train featured the Generation V (5) Pokémon, which had just been released at the time, and in 2017 the design of the train was revamped to focus almost entirely on the mascot of the franchise, Pikachu.
You might be forgiven for assuming Ichinoseki to be a gateway to some Pikachu-inhabited city thanks to the multitude of Pikachu decorations on display. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
The POKÉMON with YOU Train is a fairly small train comprising two cars, and only one of those cars is meant for passenger seating. There is also only one train service per day, which always departs from Ichinoseki Station at 11:01am and is only available on Saturdays, Sundays, and selected National Holidays. As a result, it is considered one of the more difficult Joyful Trains to get a hold of, so I highly recommend reserving a seat online exactly one month in advance the moment seat reservation becomes available here.
Welcome to the world of Pokémon!
Some memorabilia from my ride on the POKÉMON with YOU. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
The moment you alight from the shinkansen at Ichinoseki and take a few steps into the station, you’ll immediately be greeted by the sight of bright yellow flags, posters, and decals spread throughout the building. This quiet little stop along the Tohoku Shinkansen (東北新幹線) is the home of the famous “Pikachu Train”, and it’s certainly not afraid to show it. Before making your way to the Ōfunato Line on Platform 3, make sure you give the station a good run-through to find all the fun little Pikachu and Pokémon attractions sprinkled about.
Trying out the popular Hiraizumi Sea Urchin Ekiben from Ichinoseki, which now has a version that comes with yummy scallops. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
You should also take this opportunity to purchase some lunch in advance from one of the ekiben (駅弁 train lunchbox) stores of the station, as there is no food served onboard the upcoming POKÉMON with YOU Train.
Once you arrive at the train, you will be greeted by train conductors sporting special Pokémon-themed conductor clothes, who will lead you to your seat and present you with a goodie bag, filled with various flyers and a souvenir card that you can keep. There will also be a stamp rally card, filled with spaces for six stamps, which you will have to collect at various stations the train will stop at on the Ōfunato Line. If you fill up all six stamps you can get a cardboard model of the POKÉMON with YOU Train as a reward!
Full steam ahead!
If you visit the train, let me know if you could count the exact number of Pikachus spread throughout, because I sure couldn’t. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
The interior of the POKÉMON with YOU Train is a treasure trove of photography opportunities. It is literally impossible to turn your head inside the Communication Seats car without being greeted by the sight of a happy Pikachu or two waving back at you, scurrying about the walls, or napping quietly. The views outside the window are nothing to scoff at either, as the train leisurely makes its way through the beautiful Iwate countryside.
Pidgeot-eyed riders may also spot other non-Pikachu-themed decorations as well, such as the various types of Pokeball or legendary Pokémon. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
While the bright and fancy decorations are all well and good, the highlight of this train is most definitely what awaits in the second carriage, also known as the Playroom Car. In order to avoid overcrowding, each customer is assigned a 35-minute time slot to explore the contents of the Playroom Car, depending on how early your final stop on the ride is.
Unbothered. Happy. In my lane. Flourishing. Pika-pi. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
The entirety of this car is a soft, dedicated playspace containing props, sofas, a ball pit, child-sized conductor outfits, and DOZENS of Pikachu plushies ranging from small to massive in size. The Snorlax-sized Pikachu splayed out as the centrepiece of this room is large enough for even adults to ride on! As it is easy to lose your footing due to the train ride being rather rocky, the entirety of this playroom is lined with cushioned walls so that any overly-excited children running about the room don’t hurt themselves.
Gotta catch ‘em all!
Pokémon designs at train stations. (Image credit: JR East)
Collecting is an essential part of any Pokémon experience, and the POKÉMON with YOU Train delivers this by leaving something unique at each station for fans to find. In addition to the aforementioned stamp rally, a special installation can be found at every stop along the journey to Kesennuma Station, including statues, trick imagery, and topiaries. The train conductor makes a brief stop at every platform with ample time for the passengers to step out and explore their surroundings, so get out there and find them all!
A stop along the way at Geibikei
Fun fact, if any of you still play Pokémon GO the boatman has claimed to have found rare Pokemon roaming about the gorge. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
Beyond the cute Pokémon on their platforms, many of the stops on the Ōfunato Line offer interesting day trips in their own rights. One of the most well-known ones would be Geibikei Station, named for the nearby Geibi Gorge (猊鼻渓 Geibikei), known as one of Japan’s Three Great Gorges. Only a short 10-minute walk from the station, Geibi Gorge is a fantastic spot to view autumn foliage, as a tapestry of vividly-coloured trees line its dramatic cliff walls which can only be viewed aboard a traditional flat-bottomed boat ride.
Enjoy spectacular and—dare I say—gorge-ous views at Geibi Gorge. (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
For ¥1,800, you can enjoy a 1.5-hour boat ride down a roughly 2km stretch of the gorge, which also includes a 30-minute walking segment with a fun little activity at the end. After the excitement and energy of the train earlier today, to say that the boat ride was relaxing would be a massive understatement. The serenity of the gorge coupled with the smooth sailing by the boatman made me feel more at peace on sitting on the boat than I have been on temple visits or at other nature retreats.
Bring some extra pocket change to purchase “lucky stones” or feed for the ducks! (Image credit: JR East / Afiq)
It’s not all peace and quiet, however. Along the way, there are some additional activities that can happen on your boat ride to make things a bit more interesting, such as feeding the colourful ducks and koi fish that live in the river, or a small shrine sequestered in an alcove along the gorge wall, that you can only donate to by tossing a coin as the boat sails past. There’s also another fun little throwing contest at the end of the walking trail, where for a small donation of ¥100, you get three chances to throw an undama (うん玉) or lucky stone into the hole in the cliff. A total of 10 different undama are available, carved with different kanji characters including destiny, longevity, and fortune, and if you successfully land your chosen stone into the hole your wish will come true!
Geibi Gorge (猊鼻渓)
Address: Machi-467 Higashiyamacho Nagasaka, Ichinoseki, Iwate 029-0302
Access: 10-minute walk from JR Geibikei Station
Operating hours: 8:30am–4pm (Hours differ by season, please check their website for full details)
Admission fee: ¥1,800 (Adult)
*Take note that the boat operates daily and departs approximately every hour.
Getting to the POKÉMON with YOU Train and Geibikei
*Information based on Jorudan.
**The POKÉMON with YOU Train takes about 43 minutes to reach Geibikei Station from Ichinoseki Station.
It is fairly straightforward to get to Ichinoseki Station from Tokyo (東京), as the Tohoku Shinkansen connects the two stops directly. The POKÉMON with YOU Train, however, only departs at 11:01am sharp, so if you are keen on catching this elusive train I would recommend staying the night before at a location closer to Ichinoseki, such as Sendai (仙台) or Morioka (盛岡). When it comes to riding the trains of the Tohoku Region (東北地方 Tohoku-chihō), there is no better pass than the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)!
Offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 5 consecutive days at only ¥20,000, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Ichinoseki (~¥25,720). You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains (including the POKÉMON with YOU Train!) online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
If you’re interested to find out more about the POKÉMON with YOU Train or the many other Joyful Trains of Tohoku, check out our “Comprehensive guide to 13 JR East Joyful Trains” article. Otherwise, if you’d like to see a Geibikei in Summer that’s so green you’d never get envious enough to compete, check out my colleague Nazrul’s article here!
Header image credit: JR East / Afiq