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Rail Report: A day trip on the luxurious SAPHIR ODORIKO to Shimoda City

Rail Report: A day trip on the luxurious SAPHIR ODORIKO to Shimoda City

Running daily between Tokyo Station and Izukyū-Shimoda Station in the Izu Peninsula, the beautiful blue SAPHIR ODORIKO (サフィール踊り子) is a luxury sightseeing train featuring JR East’s brand new Premium Green seats.

 

This gorgeous train made its debut in March 2020, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, very few foreign visitors have had the chance to ride it. In June, I had the privilege to ride this new luxury sightseeing train, and in this article, I will share that experience with you. Are you ready? Let’s go!

 

Riding the SAPHIR ODORIKO's Premium Green Car

The beautiful blue SAPHIR ODORIKO running along the seaside. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Boasting a sleek, deep blue exterior inspired by the stunning sapphire blue sea and sky of the Izu Peninsula, the SAPHIR ODORIKO was designed by Ken Okuyama, the renowned industrial designer who also worked on the luxury cruise train Train Suite Shiki-shima and many of JR East’s Joyful Trains.

 

Did you know? “Saphir” means “sapphire” in French, and “Odoriko” comes from “Izu no Odoriko” (伊豆の踊り子 The Dancing Girl of Izu), a famous story set in the Izu Peninsula, written by Nobel Prize-winning author Kawabata Yasunari.

 

The SAPHIR ODORIKO operates on a brand new E261 series train, and is utterly beautiful to look at. The highlight of this eight-car train is definitely the Premium Green (プレミアムグリーン) seats, a seat class positioned between Green and Gran Class.

 

Premium Green seats on the SAPHIR ODORIKO. (Image credi: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

This trip, I got to ride on a Premium Green seat! Living up to their name, the seats in this car definitely looked and felt “premium”. From the plush and comfortable seat padding, to the fancy swivel function to face the window, to the heavenly electric reclining, and the amazing view in multiple directions due to the wide windows and skylights, this ride on the SAPHIR ODORIKO was without a doubt one that I will remember for a long, long time.

 

Cafeteria car on the SAPHIR ODORIKO. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Other than the comfortable Premium Green seats, a must-try on board the SAPHIR ODORIKO is a dish from the cafeteria, which features an open-kitchen.

 

SAPHIR Pay. (Image credit: JR East)

 

As a new train, the SAPHIR ODORIKO also features new technology, requiring all food orders to be made and paid through the SAPHIR Pay website (smartphone access only). Simply select the items you would like to order from the menu, pay via credit card, and a QR code will be issued. Show this QR code to the staff at the cafeteria, and they will bring your order to you.

 

Delicious mackerel linguine. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

During my trip, the cafeteria was serving up Italian dishes selected by chef Tetsuya Honda of Ristorante HONDA, and I had the “Izusan Uokyu Mackerel and Komatsuna Linguine Served with Karasumi”, which came with bread and water. I also ordered some Daidai cidre, as well as gelato for dessert.

 

The food was devoured in a flash. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

This was my first time having mackerel pasta, and all doubts I initially had were immediately dispelled after I took my first mouthful of it. The combination of flavours of the fish and the pasta sauce were simply amazing, and so unlike any pasta I had ever tasted. Before I knew it, the pasta was gone.

 

View from the train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Due to COVID-19, diners are given 20 minutes to eat in the cafeteria. Since I had finished my pasta so quickly, I used the rest of my time to enjoy the scenery from the window-facing seats. The weather was rainy, but the seaside views were still fantastic.

 

The SAPHIR ODORIKO is made up of eight cars, all of which are Green Car seating class and above. One car holds the Premium Green seats, one is the cafeteria, four cars feature 2+1 Green Car seats, and two cars have Green Car Private Compartments.

 

Green Car Private Compartments on the SAPHIR ODORIKO. (Image credit: JR East)

 

This time, I travelled alone and rode on a Premium Green seat, but if I were to ride this train again with family or friends, I would definitely go for a Green Car Private Compartment.

 

There are four-seater compartments and six-seater compartments, and both offer private spaces to really enjoy the scenic ride, with large windows that face the sea. It’s perfect for a small party, and I was so envious of the other passengers who got to enjoy these rooms.

 

SAPHIR ODORIKO in summer. (Image credit: JR East)

 

It takes only 2.5 hours from Tokyo to Izukyu-Shimoda, and due to its close proximity to Tokyo and Yokohama, the Izu Peninsula is a beloved getaway for city dwellers searching for a change in scenery. Especially during summer, the SAPHIR ODORIKO is often fully booked by domestic travellers looking to enjoy the Izu Peninsula’s beautiful coastlines, seaside hot springs, mild climate, and delicious seafood.

 

Hydrangeas galore

When I visited in June, hydrangeas (あじさい ajisai) were in bloom at Shimoda Park, so I took some time to check out the Hydrangea Festival and stroll around Shimoda City.

 

Map of Shimoda Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Located a 25-minute walk from Izukyu-Shimoda Station, Shimoda Park (下田公園 Shimoda Kо̄en) is home to 3 million hydrangeas—striking and colourful flowers that signal the end of spring and the beginning of summer.

 

Different-coloured hydrangeas at Shimoda Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Every June, Shimoda Park holds a month-long hydrangea festival (あじさい祭り ajisai matsuri), and visitors can marvel at beautiful hydrangeas that bloom in a variety of vivid colours: dark blue, deep purple, bright pink, white, and many other shades in between. Even though the weather was slightly gloomy when I visited, these colourful hydrangeas were well worth coming for.

 

Magical stairways at Shimoda Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Shimoda Park is built on a hill, and when the hydrangeas are in bloom, the scenery of the stone stairways lined with bright green bushes, dotted with colourful hydrangeas is a magical sight that looks like it came straight out of a painting. How beautiful!

 

Enjoy views of Shimoda Port from Shimoda Park. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

There are various vantage points and rest stops where visitors can take breathers and enjoy the scenery of Shimoda Port below. During my visit, I saw a few ladies decked out in yukata and taking photos with the hydrangeas. The scenery at this park truly was beautiful, and I was lucky to have been able to catch it.

 

Different-coloured hydrangeas. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

While walking towards the exit of the park, I was surprised to see this row of hydrangeas, which had flowers of different colours lined up. It is said that the colour of hydrangeas can change depending on the pH of the soil: hydrangeas planted in acidic soil yield blue flowers, while hydrangeas planted in alkaline soil yields pink flowers. I guess the acidity of the soil here has a gradient.

 

Strolling along Perry Road

Scenic Perry Road. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

While in Shimoda City, another place to check out is the picturesque Perry Road, which connects Ryosenji Temple and Shimoda Park. Running parallel to a canal, the road is lined with willow trees, and many of the buildings are cafés and restaurants. This quaint and quiet road is the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll, or to just chill at a café.

 

As it was hydrangea season, there were also hydrangeas blooming along Perry Road, which made for a fantastic sight together with the willow trees and bright red bridges.

 

Shimoda City has many monuments and spots dedicated to the arrival of Commodore Perry and black ships. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

You might be wondering, why the name “Perry Road”? Well, the name comes from Commodore Matthew Perry, who in 1854 landed in Shimoda with several black ships (黒船 kurofune). This landing of black ships kickstarted other events which eventually led to the start of diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States.

 

Near the exit of Shimoda Park, there are monuments commemorating Commadore Perry’s landing, and there is even a small museum nearby.

 

Perry’s Black Ship House. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

There is a local dessert shop called Perry’s Black Ship House that serves black ice cream on a black cone, but unfortunately the shop was closed when I visited. Oh well, this just means that I’ll need to come back to the Izu Peninsula and visit Shimoda City again!

 

How to buy tickets for the SAPHIR ODORIKO

SAPHIR ODORIKO at Tokyo Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The SAPHIIR ODORIKO makes one round trip daily between JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station (東京駅) and Izukyū-Shimoda Station (伊豆急下田駅), passing by JR Shinagawa Station (品川駅) and JR Yokohama Station (横浜駅) along the way. Additional trains departing from JR Shinjuku Station (新宿駅) and JR Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) may operate on specific dates. You can check out the timetable and schedule here.

 

Train tickets

SAPHIR ODORIKO tickets. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

A train ticket on the SAPHIR ODORIKO is made up of three components:

  • ① Basic fare (運賃 unchin)
  • ② Limited Express surcharge (特急料金 tokkyū ryо̄kin)
  • ③ Green/Premium Green / Green Compartment surcharge (グリーン料金・プレミアムグリーン料金・グリーン個室料金)

It costs  ¥9,810 per person for a Green Car seat and ¥12,130 per person for a Premium Green Car seat on the SAPHIR ODORIKO from Tokyo Station to Izukyū-Shimoda Station.

  

Good news for JR East Rail Pass holders: if you are using a JR EAST PASS or JR TOKYO Wide Pass, the passes cover the basic fare, so you only need to purchase a ticket for the Limited Express surcharge and the Green/Premium Green surcharge.

 

Where to purchase

All seats on the SAPHIR ODORIKO are reserved seating, and require tickets to board. Tickets can be purchased from 10:00am one month before the date of travel, via four methods:

  • JR East Travel Service Centers
  • Midori-no-madoguchi (みどりの窓口)  ticket offices
  • Reserved seat ticket vending machines (指定席券売機)
  • Online from the JR-EAST Train Reservation website

 

Tickets for the SAPHIR ODORIKO can be purchased online. (Image credit: JR East)

 

JR East Travel Service Centers can be found at major train stations like Tokyo Station, Ueno Station, Shinjuku Station, and more. Travel Service Centers at the major stations even have English-speaking staff to better assist foreign travellers with their travel needs. Take note that Green Car Private Compartment tickets can only be purchased at JR East Travel Service Centers and Midori-no-madoguchi ticket offices. Green and Premium Green tickets can be purchased from all four methods mentioned above.

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are mostly travelling around the Kanto region, consider getting the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. The pass costs ¥10,180 and even covers the Izukyūkō Line to the Izu Peninsula*The JR TOKYO Wide Pass only covers the basic fare of the SAPHIR ODORIKO. Passengers still need to purchase a separate ticket to ride its Green/Premium Green seats.

 

JR EAST PASS

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area). (Image credit: JR East)

 

There are two types of JR EAST PASS, with both offering unlimited rides on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in their designated areas for 5 consecutive days. Pass holders can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) costs ¥20,000, while the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) costs ¥18,000, making them economic choices for travellers exploring the area. Like the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, the JR EAST PASS can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use these passes.  *The JR EAST PASS only covers the basic fare of the SAPHIR ODORIKO. Passengers still need to purchase a separate ticket to ride its Green/Premium Green seats.

 

Header image credit: JR East

 

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