JR East’s luxury cruise train: Train Suite Shiki-shima
Travel around Eastern Japan and experience hidden gems and local traditions while enjoying the sheer beauty of the transience of time—this is what the Train Suite Shiki-shima (トランスイート四季島 Toran Suīto Shikishima), JR East’s most luxurious train offering, hopes to deliver to its guests.
Created with the concept of Shinyu-Tanbo (深遊探訪 shinyū tanbо̄)—a journey of the highest pleasure and discovery—the Train Suite Shikishima is a luxury cruise train that strives to bring guests on a journey through Japan’s four very distinct and beautiful seasons, while savouring the goodness of each season. Its seasonal itineraries range from 2D1N to 4D3N trips, and did you know? The train’s name “Shiki-shima” means “island of four seasons”, and is a homophone for an old name of Japan, "敷島" (Shikishima).
Train Suite Shiki-shima with Mount Iwaki in the background. (Image credit: JR East)
The Train Suite Shiki-shima boasts a sophisticated champagne gold exterior and a modern, futuristic design, and utilises the E001 series vehicle. Although the train started operating in May 2017, preparations were underway for years prior, and the luxurious train was designed by renowned industrial designer Ken Okuyama, who also designed many of JR East’s Joyful Trains. The train’s elegantly furnished interior features a combination of traditional Japanese craftwork and contemporary designs, which we will introduce later on.
After suspending operations in August and September due to COVID-19, the Train Suite Shiki-shima will finally resume operations on 4 October 2021. Let us take a look at what a journey onboard the Train Suite Shiki-shima is like:
Prologue Shiki-shima. (Image credit: JR East)
A Train Suite Shiki-shima journey starts in the heart of Tokyo, at JR Ueno Station (上野駅). As guests wait to board the train, they can relax at the private lounge, Prologue Shiki-shima (プロローグ四季島). Like the train, the lounge was also designed by Ken Okuyama, and is a luxurious and deeply relaxing space that gives guests a prologue of the exciting journey that awaits onboard the Train Suite Shiki-shima. Befitting of the lounge’s name, don’t you think so?
Exclusive entrance to Platform 13.5. (Image credit: JR East)
Once they’re ready, guests can board the train via the dedicated Platform 13.5, which is just outside the Prologue Shiki-shima lounge. This platform is located between platforms 13 and 14, and was built specifically for the Train Suite Shiki-shima.
Onboard the train
Entrance to board the TRAIN SUITE SHIKI-SHIMA. (Image credit: JR East)
All aboard! The Train Suite Shiki-shima’s entrance is located at Car 5, and a red carpet is placed on the ground for guests to board. The entrance resembles a hotel lobby, and it’s hard to believe that you are stepping into a train. With such a gorgeous interior, combined with impeccable service and excellent hospitality from the staff, guests are in for a truly extraordinary lifetime experience. Let us take a look at the interior of this train, shall we?
Layout of the Train Suite Shiki-shima train vehicle. (Image credit: JR East)
Lounge Car: Lounge Komorebi (Car 5)
Guests board the train via Car 5, where a cosy corner of sofas awaits them. This car is home to Lounge Komorebi (LOUNGE こもれび), where guests can relax and unwind.
Lounge Komorebi. (Image credit: JR East)
With spellbinding designs that evoke images of a tranquil forest, Lounge Komorebi is the gateway into the wonderful world of the Train Suite Shiki-shima. Komorebi (木漏れ日) is a Japanese word that refers to sunlight that filters through tree branches, and looking at the design of the lounge, you can see how it has been inspired by the word. The beautiful wooden décor resembles tree branches stretching up into the sky, and when combined with the uniquely-shaped windows, they recreate the effect of light passing through tree branches.
The lounge is finely furnished with exquisitely crafted pieces from the different regions of Eastern Japan, created with traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations.
Enjoy a moment of relaxation in Lounge Komorebi. (Image credit: JR East)
In the lounge, enjoy a moment of quiet relaxation, for the lovely music along with the views from the window create the most leisurely of times. Lounge Komorebi lets guests relax with the warmth from the cosy fireplace, while listening to melodious tunes performed by the live musicians.
Did you know? The Train Suite Shiki-shima has its own theme song, a beautiful classical piece that evokes the feeling of relaxing in nature. It was composed by Sato Naoki (佐藤直紀), a Japan Academy Prize winner for Best Music, and a leader in the Japanese music world.
Grab a drink from the bar counter. (Image credit: JR East)
Feeling thirsty? Lounge Komorebi is also home to the train’s drink bar, where guests can enjoy an original cocktail or light meal whenever they crave one. With the exception of meal service hours, dedicated staff are always on standby at the bar counter. NOTE: Due to COVID-19, the bar will be closed from midnight to 5:00am.
Observatory Cars (Cars 1 and 10)
Enjoy fantastic views of the ever-changing scenery outside. (Image credit: JR East)
A journey through Eastern Japan brings with it breathtaking and diverse views of the idyllic countryside, lush forests, and sparkling sea. Enjoying these constantly changing views during different seasons is one of the attractions of a trip on Train Suite Shiki-shima, and the best place to enjoy these views are from the observation spaces: View Terrace Kizashi (VIEW TERRACEきざし) and View Terrace Ibuki (VIEW TERRACEいぶき).
Located at the front and rear ends of the train, View Terrace Kizashi (Car 1) and View Terrace Ibuki (Car 10) have white walls and plush, window-facing sofas, uniquely shaped windows, as well as handwoven green carpets reminiscent of moss. The large and dynamic glass windows offer mesmerising and expansive views of the ever-changing scenery outside, letting in light in a manner that makes you feel like you are in a forest.
Guestrooms (Cars 2–4, 7–9)
The Train Suite Shiki-shima accommodates up to 34 guests in its 17 suites. Of these suites, there is 1 Shiki-shima Suite room, 1 Deluxe Suite room, and 15 Suite rooms. Let us take a look inside the rooms:
Shiki-shima Suite (Car 7)
Inside the Shiki-shima Suite room. (Image credit: JR East)
The priciest and most luxurious of all the room types, the Shiki-shima Suite is a maisonette-type room with the beds on the lower level and a tatami living room space on the upper level. Situated right next to the windows, the tatami resting space offers a relaxing vibe and great views of the passing surroundings, and even has a heater to keep guests warm in the chillier months.
Bathtubs made of cypress. (Image credit: JR East)
Both the Shiki-shima Suite and Deluxe Suite have a specially-made cypress (檜 hinoki) bath tub for guests to relax in. Soaking in the warm waters while gazing at the passing scenery and breathing in the natural, soothing aroma from the cypress wood is sure to relax any fatigue. Wood from 300-year-old cypress trees from the Kiso Valley in Nagano Prefecture was used to make these tubs, which have been carefully crafted so that water does not spill out when the train moves. The Train Suite Shiki-shima is probably the only train in the world with cypress bath tubs.
Deluxe Suite (Car 7)
Inside the Deluxe Suite room. (Image credit: JR East)
Located next to the Shiki-shima Suite, the stylish and elegant Deluxe Suite features high ceilings, large windows, and a fireplace. For safety reasons, the fireplace is an artificial one with no real flames, but it still provides the heat, sound, and glow that a real fireplace would.
Out of all the rooms, the Deluxe Suite gets the most out of carriage dimensions by utilising large windows and stepless floors to its advantage. In the evening, the glow from the fireplace illuminates the high ceilings. Here, the sofas convert into beds at night.
Around the room, you can see the use of traditional Japanese patterns, wood, washi paper, lacquerware, stones, and more. Combining traditional Japanese craftwork with modern designs, this room is like a moving piece of artwork.
Suites (Cars 2, 3, 4, 8, 9)
Inside the Suite room. (Image credit: JR East)
The Train Suite Shiki-shima’s 15 Suite rooms are spread out over five cars, with three rooms in each car. Around each room, you will find that the décor and furniture have been meticulously crafted and curated, incorporating delicate designs and traditional Japanese craftsmanship in a modern way. For example, each Suite room is finely furnished with wall panels that use rare Joboji lacquer from Iwate Prefecture, and wooden closets are designed to resemble traditional chests from Sendai City.
All Suite rooms are equipped with a shower and a toilet, and like the Deluxe Suites, sofas are transformed into beds at night.
Dining Car: Dining Shiki-shima (Car 6)
Inside the dining car Dining Shiki-shima. (Image credit: JR East)
No trip is complete without food, and the Train Suite Shiki-shima has much to offer in this area. Located in Car 6, the dining car Dining Shiki-shima (DININGしきしま) looks like an elegant, fine-dining restaurant, with most seats situated by the window and offering fantastic views. Its centrepiece is the exclusively designed chandelier, which emits a soft light that creates a warm and relaxing atmosphere and complements the wooden furnishings. Combined with the gentle rumbling of the train as it runs along its route, a meal in on the Train Suite Shiki-shima is simply unforgettable.
Enjoying dinner at Dining Shiki-shima. (Image credit: JR East)
All of the Train Suite Shiki-shima’s meals are tenderly prepared with seasonal ingredients from Eastern Japan. As the train travels around Eastern Japan, the dining menu moves along with it, reflecting the local ingredients and culinary traditions of the regions that the train passes through.
In addition to Executive Chef Sato Shigeru’s delightful French cuisine, chefs from renowned restaurants along the train’s route will board the train at various stops and serve their food onboard the train, and for some meals, guests disembark and have their meals at the restaurants.
You can definitely feel the beauty of traditional Japan through the artisanry and craftsmanship decorating the furnishings of the Train Suite Shiki-shima. Finely crafted items can be found around the train, which were created with materials and techniques that reflect the history and nature of Eastern Japan’s Tohoku and Koshinetsu regions.
Finely crafted items onboard the Train Suite Shiki-shima. (Image credit: JR East)
Some of these techniques and materials include:
- Aizu lacquerware (会津塗) from Fukushima Prefecture: Each room has a key box made of Aizu lacquer, which glistens with a lustrous sheen.
- Curved woodwork (曲木) from Akita Prefecture: Traditional wood-bending techniques are used to create chairs with stunning arcs, which are used in Lounge Komorebi and the Shiki-shima Suite.
- Koshu inden (甲州印伝) from Yamanashi Prefecture: Inden is a craftwork combining deerskin and lacquer, and you can see it used for the amenities box in each suite.
- Tsuiki copperware (鎚起銅器) from Niigata Prefecture: Using tsuiki hammering techniques, a sheet of copper is meticulously hammered thousands of times to create the flower vases in the suites.
- Yamagata Dantsu carpets (山形緞通) from Yamagata Prefecture: Nine of the train’s 10 cars feature Yamagata Dantsu carpets, which are painstakingly handwoven or woven one strand at a time.
- Sendai tansu (仙台箪笥) from Miyagi Prefecture: The Shiki-shima Suite and Deluxe Suite have tissue boxes crafted with Sendai tansu techniques, where Zelkova wood is coated in clear lacquer and fitted with intricate metal fittings.
- Beechwood (ブナ) from Aomori Prefecture: Lampshades at the bar counter and bins in the suites are made using a beechwood crafting technique unique to Bunaco, where beechwood is cut and sliced into 1 millimetre-thin ribbon-like strips, coiled, and moulded.
- Cypress wood (檜) from Nagano Prefecture: Bath tubs in the Shiki-shima Suite and Deluxe Suite are crafted from the wood of 300-year-old cypress trees from Nagano Prefecture.
All the artisans pour in painstaking effort and hard work to craft these items, and part of the Train Suite Shiki-shima experience is being able to enjoy and appreciate the craftsmanship.
Service and hospitality
Hospitality aboard the Train Suite Shiki-shima. (Image credit: JR East)
Enjoy the very best of Japan's famous omotenashi (おもてなし hospitality) onboard the Train Suite Shiki-shima. On each journey, guests are accompanied by numerous crew members who provide guests with five-star service and take the utmost care to make the ride a comfortable, enjoyable, and memorable one. The fantastic crew includes drivers, conductors, chefs, attendants, and general train crew members, whose services range from housekeeping duties to acting as guides at each destination.
Not just limited to on the train or staff that can be seen, many people are involved in creating a smooth journey. In each region, guests are met by station employees or bus drivers who will take them on excursions. Behind the scenes, regular maintenance is carried out on the train while guests are on excursions, to ensure the utmost safety throughout the journey.
While the Train Suite Shiki-shima offers heavenly meals and an exquisitely designed interior, for many guests, what leaves the greatest impression on them is the warm welcomes from the local people, who gather around the station and along the train tracks as the train passes by their region. From schoolchildren to volunteers to fishermen, their excitement, eager waving of flags and banners, and enthusiastic cheers create lasting memories for the guests and brings smiles to their faces.
Trip itineraries and courses
Train Suite Shiki-shima in spring. (Image credit: JR East)
While on the Train Suite Shiki-shima’s carefully crafted itineraries, guests will be able to experience Japan’s abundant nature and unique cultures that permeate the local industries and daily life, in a comfortable and leisurely manner that only a luxury train can provide. Many of the excursions are exclusively arranged for Train Suite Shiki-shima guests, with special services such as chartering of vehicles and spaces, or access into and tours around places normally inaccessible to the general public.
2022 marks the 5th anniversary of the Train Suite Shiki-shima, and for the first time, there will be a change to its spring to autumn courses and itineraries. Since 2017, these trip courses have remained the same, but will finally be renewed from April 2022. Here is a short introduction to the new spring to autumn routes, as well as the current winter routes:
① 4D3N trip for spring to autumn
Departure period: April–September
The itinerary for the brand new 4D3N trip for spring to autumn covers Tohoku and southern Hokkaido, and lets guests experience a tapestry of natural beauty and timeless culture passed down through generations.
Sneak peek of the new 4D3N trip for spring to summer. (Image credit: JR East)
Day 1: Ueno → Hakodate
Setting off from Ueno, the train will head northward to Hakodate, a port city in southern Hokkaido. A Japanese-style lunch from Mutsukari, a high-end restaurant in Ginza, and a French-style dinner prepared by the train’s Executive Chef will be served onboard the train, and first night will be spent onboard the train.
Day 2: Hakodate → Shiraoi → Noboribetsu/Lake Shikotsu
The following day, guests will take a ride on the Hakodate City tram and visit the morning market, before heading to the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park at Shiraoi, where they can learn about the history and traditions of the Ainu people, Hokkaido’s indigenous people. The second night will be spent at a hot spring resort in Noboribetsu Onsen or Lake Shikotsu, where guests can relax in the rejuvenating hot spring waters.
Day 3: Noboribetsu/Lake Shikotsu → Jomon/Kuroishi → Aomori
On the third day, the train will make its way to Aomori Prefecture, where guests can choose between two options for a daytime excursion: the Jomon course or the Kuroishi course. The Jomon course will take them to the Sannai Maruyama Site, part of Japan’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan. For the Kuroishi course, guests can partake in a hands-on experience and make their own nebuta uchiwa fan. Both groups will meet back at Aomori Station after their respective dinners, and the third night will be spent onboard the train.
Day 4: Aomori → Naruko Onsen → Ueno
On the fourth day, guests will have some free time to explore the Naruko Onsen area in Miyagi Prefecture. For lunch they will dine on a delectable sushi lunch made with fresh fish from Ishinomaki’s ports, as the train makes its way back to Ueno Station.
② 2D1N trip for spring to autumn
Yamanashi course: April, May, October, November
Nagano course: June–September
The 2D1N trips for spring to autumn run along the same route, but the excursions, meals, and places that the trains stop at are different depending on the season and the course. The route heads to Niigata Prefecture on the first day, and passes by Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures on the second day. Through this itinerary, it is hoped that guests can experience the essence of wealthy merchants from days gone by, nurtured by the port city and the abundant gifts from the surrounding mountain villages.
Sneak peek of the new 2D1N trip for spring to summer. (Image credit: JR East)
Day 1: Ueno → Niigata
The two courses available are the Yamanashi Course, which runs in April, May, October, and November, and the Nagano Course, which runs between June and September. For both courses, on the first day the train departs Ueno Station and makes its way to Niitsu Station in Niigata Prefecture. At Niitsu Station, guests will be brought on an excursion to explore Niigata City, a historic port city located along the Kitamaebune, a major shipping route used in the Edo Period (1603–1868).
From April to September, the excursion will be to the Saito Villa (旧齋藤家別邸), a former merchant house built by a wealthy merchant family who made their fortune by operating cargo ships along the Kitamaebune route. From October to November, the excursion will be to Enkikan (燕喜館), where guests can enjoy a geisha performance. During the Edo Period, Niigata City's Furumachi district was considered one of the three most prestigious areas in Japan for geisha, and you can still find them there today.
Day 2: Niigata → Yamanashi/Nagano → Ueno
On the second day, both the Yamanashi Course and Nagano Course will bring guests to a winery, as both of these regions are well-known as wine-producing prefectures. On the Yamanashi Course, guests will check out a winery at the Kofu Basin, while on the Nagano Course, guests will check out a winery at the Chikuma River Wine Valley. After the winery excursion, the train will head back to Ueno Station.
A bonus on the Nagano Course is the early morning stop at Obasute Station, which is one of the “Three Best Train Window Views”. Obasute Station has a dedicated lounge for Train Suite Shiki-shima guests, which overlooks the Zenkoji Plains for a fantastic view.
③ 3D2N trip for winter
Departure period: December–March
Recently renewed in December 2020, the 3D2N winter itinerary focuses on the Tohoku Region, and is said to be a journey of discovery into the world of fantastic folktales and the homeliness of handiworks which have been fostered by the long winters of Tohoku.
Route for the 3D2N trip for winter. (Image credit: JR East)
Day 1: Ueno → Tono
The train sets off from Ueno Station, and heads to Tono in Iwate Prefecture, which is famous for its folktales. Guests will go on an excursion to watch a kagura performance in Tono, and have dinner at a local restaurant before heading back to the train to spend the night.
Day 2: Tono → Goshogawara/Nishimeya → Hirosaki
After Tono, the journey will continue onward to Aomori Prefecture, where guests can choose between the Goshogawara/Hirosaki course or the Hirosaki/Nishimeya course for their excursion. Guests on the Goshogawara/Hirosaki course will take a ride on the Tsugaru Railway Stove Train, visit the Osamu Dazai Memorial Museum, and take part in a Tsugaru handicraft workshop (either koginzashi embroidery or wanimakko woodcrafting). Guests on the Hirosaki/Nishimeya course will visit the Kawahigashi Apple Center and join a beechwood crafting workshop. Both groups will meet back at Hirosaki Station after their excursions, have dinner onboard the train, and spend the night onboard.
Day 3: Hirosaki → Matsushima → Ueno
On the final day, guests will have an excursion at Matsushima, a scenic group of pine-covered islets and one of the “Three Great Views of Japan”, and feast on a scrumptious sushi lunch made with fresh fish from Shiogama’s ports, before heading back to Ueno Station.
④ 2D1N trip for winter
Departure period: December–March
Also renewed in December 2020, the 2D1N trip for winter goes around the Kanto Region, visiting a holy shrine and letting guests soak up the winter sunshine while enjoying the scenery along the Pacific Coast.
Route for the 2D1N trip for winter. (Image credit: JR East)
Day 1: Ueno → Kashima → Sawara
After departing Ueno Station, guests will have lunch onboard before going on an excursion to Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture and Sawara in Chiba Prefecture. Dinner is served onboard the train, and guests spend the night onboard.
Day 2: Sawara → Odawara → Ueno
In the night, the train makes its way to Kanagawa Prefecture. Rising bright and early on the second day, guests can enjoy the sunrise at Nebukawa Station from their cabin or from the station platform. An excursion brings guests around Odawara, before the train heads back to Ueno Station in the afternoon.
How to ride the Train Suite Shiki-shima
Train Suite Shiki-shima. (Image credit: JR East)
A ride on the Train Suite Shiki-shima is unlike any other train ride, unlike regular sleeper trains or overnight trains, and you cannot purchase tickets for it. The experience is only sold as a travel package, which you can apply for via the online application form here. If there are more applications than spaces available, participants will be selected via a draw. Due to the limited availability, applications are usually open around 6–8 months in advance. Currently, applications for April to June 2022 are being accepted until end-October.
Prices for the new courses. (Image credit: JR East)
Prices for a ride on the Train Suite Shiki-shima range from ¥370,000 per person for a 2D1N course to ¥800,000 per person for a 4D3N course based on double occupancy in a Suite room. Single travellers are welcome, although the prices are roughly 1.5 times that of double occupancy.
A trip on Train Suite Shiki-shima
Introduction of the Train Suite Shiki-shima. (Video credit: JR East)
Check out the video above for an introduction to the facilities and itineraries of the Train Suite Shiki-shima.
Header image credit: JR East