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Ultimate 7-day Japan Rail Pass itinerary for railway enthusiasts

Ultimate 7-day Japan Rail Pass itinerary for railway enthusiasts

If you’ve been to Japan before, chances are you’ve ridden one of their trains. With a well-developed and extensive railway network, going around Japan’s 47 prefectures by train is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to do so. Like many of you, I love travelling to Japan, and almost all the time, I travel with a rail pass. In addition to being a mode of transportation, a train ride is a journey in itself, an experience, and a part of travel itineraries that I always look forward to.

 

Map of route covered in this itinerary. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

In this article, I will introduce a sample itinerary for the ultimate train trip around Japan for railway fans, using the 7-day Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass), with highlights like:

  • Going from Hokkaido to Kyushu by train in one day
  • Spending a night on a sleeper train
  • Riding all shinkansen lines (excluding mini shinkansen)
  • The northernmost train station
  • The easternmost train station(s)
  • The westernmost train stations
  • The southernmost train station
  • The deepest train station
  • The highest elevation train station
  • Themed sightseeing trains

 

At first glance, you might be in disbelief—can all of this be done in just 1 week? Yes, it can, while maximising the 7-day JR Pass! While waiting for Japan’s borders to open, I’ve created the ultimate itinerary for fellow railway fans, and this itinerary is something I hope that I will be able to go on someday. Are you ready? Let’s go on a rail-ly eki-citing train trip!

 

Day 1: Tokyo → Hakodate → Sapporo

  • 6:32–10:53: Tokyo → Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto | Shinkansen Hayabusa 1
  • 11:04–11:20: Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto → Hakodate | Hakodate Liner

Exterior of Tokyo Station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Starting off bright and earlier, we’ll depart Tokyo Station and head over to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. After the Hokkaido Shinkansen opened in 2015, it is now possible to travel by train from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in southern Hokkaido, a journey that takes around 4 hours.

 

H5 series train exiting the Seikan Tunnel. (Image credit: JR East / Shinoda)

 

The Hokkaido Shinkansen passes through the Seikan Tunnel (青函トンネル), an architectural marvel of a tunnel that runs under the sea, connecting mainland Japan with the island of Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Shinkansen’s extension to Sapporo is currently under construction, and is expected to be done in spring 2031.

 

Clockwise from top left: seafood rice bowl, view from Mount Hakodate, Goryokaku Park, red brick warehouses. (Image credit: JR East/Carissa Loh (left) and photoAC (right))

 

Since there’s some time, let’s spend a few hours to enjoy the port city of Hakodate! Located on the southern tip of Hokkaido, Hakodate (函館) was one of Japan's first port cities to open up to international trade, and has thus experienced a lot of overseas influence, as seen in some of its buildings.

 

My personal recommendations to check out would be the star-shaped Goryokaku Park (五稜郭公園 Goryōkaku kōen), which is beautiful in every season—lush greenery in summer, fiery orange and red foliage in autumn, magical white snow in winter, and gorgeous pink from the cherry blossom trees in spring. If you have time, the amazing aerial view of Hakodate from Mount Hakodate (函館山 Hakodate-yama) is not to be missed either.

 

Being near the Tsugaru Strait, Hakodate is abundant in delicious seafood, so you should definitely feast on a scrumptious seafood rice bowl (海鮮丼 kaisendon). My favourite toppings are scallops, salmon roe, crab, and sea urchin, but there are dozens of shops that offer many different combinations for you to choose from. Another place you can check out is the stretch of red brick warehouses (赤レンガ Aka Renga), which have been converted in to shops. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the sea breeze.

 

  • 15:01–18:47: Hakodate → Sapporo | Limited Express Hokuto 15

After having our fill of Hakodate, we’ll take the Limited Express Hokuto (特急北斗 Tokkyū Hokuto) and head north towards Sapporo, a journey that takes around 3 hours 45 minutes.

 

Must-try food in Sapporo. Clockwise from top: crabs, Sapporo miso ramen, jingisukan. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

We’ll be spending the next three nights in Sapporo, so you’ll have many opportunities to check out its tasty local dishes like Sapporo miso ramen, jingisukan (ジンギスカン grilled lamb), soup curry, and lots of delicious Hokkaido seafood and local produce!

 

Itinerary for Day 1.

 

Note: All train timings for this day are flexible. If you are not a morning person, or don’t need to explore Hakodate, you can take a later shinkansen departing Tokyo, and transfer at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to the Limited Express Hokuto towards Sapporo.

 

Day 2: Sapporo → Wakkanai → Sapporo

  • 7:30–12:40: Sapporo → Wakkanai | Limited Express Soya

Riding the Limited Express Soya. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)

 

On the second day, we’ll head over to Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan. From Sapporo, it will take about 5 hours by direct express train, the Limited Express Soya (特急宗谷 Tokkyū Sо̄ya). This striking pink train, with a colour modelled after hanamasu (はまなす Japanese rose), will certainly leave an impression. The 422km journey passes by many scenic views of nature along the way, so I highly recommend a window seat.

 

Various signs around Wakkanai Station. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)

 

Departing Sapporo Station at 7:30 in the morning, the train will arrive at Wakkanai Station (稚内駅) at 12:40. With coordinates of 45°25’1.3”N 141°40’37.2”E, Wakkanai Station is Japan’s northernmost train station (日本最北端の駅), and on the platform, you’ll see signs indicating so.

 

Did you know? Wakkanai is also home to the northernmost railway tracks in Japan (最北端の線路). The station also has signs showing the distance from Wakkanai Station to other prominent stations around Japan, like Sapporo Station, Tokyo Station, and Ibusuki Station in southern Japan, where we will be visiting on Day 6.

 

While in Wakkanai, try some tako shabu. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)

 

There’ll be around 5 hours to explore Wakkanai, so make the most of your day. You’ll probably be hungry upon arriving, so I highly recommend trying out some tako shabu (たこしゃぶ octopus shabu-shabu). Wakkanai is the highest producer of Pacific octopus in Japan, and tako shabu is a local specialty that cannot be missed!

 

White Path and Cape Soya. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)

 

There are so many things that you can do in Wakkanai in the 5 hours we have there. Personally, as a nature lover, I recommend Cape Soya (宗谷岬Sōya Misaki), Hokkaido’s northernmost point, and the White Path (白い道), a beautiful white path made of seashells that offers wonderful views of the sea.

 

For more information about what you can do while in Wakkanai, check out JR Hokkaido’s previous article here.

 

  • 17:44–22:57: Wakkanai → Sapporo | Limited Express Soya

It’s time to bid Wakkanai farewell. Before heading back to Sapporo, don’t forget to buy an ekiben (駅弁 lunch box for eating on the train)!

 

Itinerary for Day 2.

 

Note: The Limited Express Soya only makes one round trip per day, so there aren’t any later or earlier trains.

 

Day 3: Sapporo → Nemuro → Sapporo

  • 6:48–10:57: Sapporo → Kushiro | Limited Express Oozora 1
  • 11:12–13:22: Kushiro → Nemuro | Rapid Nosappu

Having visited the northernmost train station the previous day, on Day 3 we will visit the easternmost train station(s). Hop on the Limited Express Oozora (特急おおぞらTokkyū О̄zora), which will take us from Sapporo Station to Kushiro Station (釧路駅) in eastern Hokkaido, via the Nemuro Main Line.

 

Top: Limited Express Oozora passing by Shakubetsu no Oka. Bottom: Trains on the Hanasaki Line passing by the Bekanbeushi Wetlands. (Image credit: photoAC (top) and Hokkaido Railway Company (bottom))

 

Near Ombetsu Station, at an area known as Shakubetsu no Oka (尺別の丘), keep your eyes peeled for scenic views along the coast, where there are many opportunities to gaze at the stunning blue ocean from the train windows. At Kushiro Station, we’ll transfer trains and board the Rapid Nosappu (快速ノサップ Kaisoku Nosappu) on the Hanasaki Line, and head towards Nemuro Station (根室駅). While on the Hanasaki Line, you’ll pass by even more scenic views of the Bekanbeushi Wetlands (別寒辺牛湿原 Bekanbeushi Shitsugen).

 

Nemuro Station, the easternmost manned train station. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Nemuro Station is the terminal station of the Hanasaki Line, and is the easternmost manned station in Japan (日本最東端有人の駅). This is the easternmost station where there are train station staff present, and the easternmost station where you can purchase train tickets. From here, I have prepared two options, and you can choose depending on which you would like to visit.

 

Option A (for train enthusiasts):

  • 16:15–18:51: Higashi-Nemuro → Kushiro | Hanasaki Line
  • 18:59–22:58: Kushiro → Sapporo | Limited Express Oozora 12

Higashi-Nemuro Station, the easternmost train station in Japan. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Option A is for the die-hard railway fans. As mentioned earlier, Nemuro Station is the easternmost manned train station in Japan, but it is not the *easternmost* train station. That honour belongs to Higashi-Nemuro Station (東根室駅), located just one station away. With coordinates of 43°19′16″N 145°36′05″E, Higashi-Nemuro Station is an unmanned station that is known for being the easternmost train station in Japan (日本最東端の駅). If you are a railway fan, don’t miss the chance to visit this station!

 

Since trains are infrequent, I recommend having lunch around Nemuro, then taking a leisurely 25-minute walk from Nemuro Station to Higashi-Nemuro Station.

 

Option B (for nature lovers):

  • 13:35–14:19: Bus from Nemuro Station to Cape Nosappu
  • 15:10–15:54: Bus from Cape Nosappu to Nemuro Station
  • 16:12–18:51: Nemuro → Kushiro | Hanasaki Line
  • 18:59–22:58: Kushiro → Sapporo | Limited Express Oozora 12

Cape Nosappu. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Option B is for those who’d like to squeeze in some scenery into this train trip. If the easternmost manned station is good enough for you, use the limited time to take a short trip to Cape Nosappu (納沙布岬 Nosappu Misaki), Japan’s easternmost publicly accessible tip, and the easternmost point of Hokkaido. The bus departing Nemuro Station is timed to complement the train timings, so you’ll have just enough time to take a stroll around the scenic cape.

 

Itinerary for Day 3.

 

Whether you go with Option A or Option B, you will end up on the same train bound for Kushiro, where you will transfer to the Limited Express Oozora to head back to Sapporo.

 

Note: The Nemuro Kotsu Bus to Cape Nosappu is not covered by the JR Pass, so don’t forget to purchase tickets before boarding.

 

Day 4: Sapporo → Hakata

  • 6:52­–10:23: Sapporo → Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto | Limited Express Hokuto 4
  • 10:53–15:04: Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto → Tokyo | Shinkansen Hayabusa 22
  • 15:33–18:27: Tokyo → Shin-Osaka | Shinkansen Hikari 649
  • 19:06–21:41: Shin-Osaka → Hakata | Shinkansen Sakura 571

On Day 4, we will travel from Hokkaido all the way to Kyushu by shinkansen, in just a day! Japan’s northernmost and easternmost train stations are in Hokkaido, while its westernmost and southernmost train stations are in Kyushu (we are not including monorail stations).

 

Tokaido Shinkansen and view of Mount Fuji from the train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Have you ever wondered how much distance across Japan you can travel by rail in one day? The journey from Sapporo to Hakata, which we will be covering on this day, is about 2,338.2km. This is not the maximum distance humanly possible, but it certainly is a lot to cover in 1 day!

 

From Sapporo, we’ll take the Limited Express Hokuto to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station, where we will transfer to the Hokkaido Shinkansen and head to Tokyo. At Tokyo, we’ll take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, and transfer to the Sanyo Shinkansen and head to Hakata, our final destination for the day. While on the Tokaido Shinkansen, keep an eye out for Mount Fuji, which you’ll be able to see from the train windows if the weather is clear!

 

Ekiben are the perfect companions for any train trip. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

As we will be riding trains for the entire day, don’t forget to buy some ekiben to eat along the way. Shops selling ekiben are abundant in major train stations like Sapporo, Tokyo, and Shin-Osaka, and these stations sell a huge variety of ekiben from all around the region. Check out this article for more about the specialty ekiben from different regions of Japan.

 

Itinerary for Day 4.

 

Day 5: Hakata → Tabirahiradoguchi → Sasebo → Kagoshima-Chuo

  • 8:36–9:56: Hakata → Arita | Limited Express Huis Ten Bosch 3
  • 10:17–10:41: Arita → Imari | Matsuura Railway
  • 11:36–12:46: Imari → Tabirahiradoguchi | Matsuura Railway

Limited Express Huis Ten Bosch. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

On Day 5, our first train for the day will probably be one of the most colourful you’ll ever see: the Limited Express Huis Ten Bosch (特急ハウステンボス Tokkyū Hausu Ten Bosu). With a bright orange exterior and colourfully decorated interior, this train connects Hakata Station with Huis Ten Bosch Station, the gateway to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park. We will be getting off at Arita Station, where we will transfer to the Matsuura Railway (松浦鉄道), and make our way to Tabirahiradoguchi Station (たびら平戸口駅) via Imari.

 

Tabirahiradoguchi Station, the westernmost train station in Japan. (Image credit: Hirado City)

 

Tabirahiradoguchi Station in Nagasaki Prefecture is the westernmost train station in Japan (日本最西端の駅), with coordinates of 33°21’45.78”N 129°34’57.84”E. Technicality disclaimer: I’m only considering regular two-track railways, so monorails are not counted. If you count monorails, the westernmost monorail station is Naha Airport Monorail Station in Okinawa.

 

  • 13:48–15:07: Tabirahiradoguchi → Sasebo | Matsuura Railway

Try a Sasebo Burger while in Sasebo. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

After Tabirahiradoguchi Station, we’ll take a train to Sasebo Station (佐世保駅), the westernmost JR train station (JR最西端の駅). Located in Nagasaki Prefecture, Sasebo is famous for burgers, so go ahead and try one while you’re here!

 

  • 15:45–17:08: Sasebo → Shin-Tosu | Limited Express Midori 22
  • 17:35–18:58: Shin-Tosu → Kagoshima-Chuo | Shinkansen Sakura 411

Limited Express Midori (top) and Kyushu Shinkansen (bottom). (Image credit: photoAC (top) and JR East / Carissa Loh (bottom))

 

From Sasebo, we’ll take the Limited Express Midori (特急みど Tokkyū Midori) to Shin-Tosu Station, where we’ll transfer to the Kyushu Shinkansen and head to our final destination for the day: Kagoshima-Chuo Station (鹿児島中央駅). After having ridden the other shinkansen lines around Japan in the previous days, you’ll notice something special about the 800 series trains on the Kyushu Shinkansen—their gorgeous seat fabrics and lovely wooden details.

 

To me, the stars of railway travel are undoubtedly the train vehicles themselves. I love specially decorated trains, and they make my train journeys so much more enjoyable. For shinkansen trains, the 800 series is definitely one of my favourites!

 

Itinerary for Day 5.

 

Note: The JR Pass does not cover the Matsuura Railway, so don’t forget to purchase the Matsuura Railway 1-day pass (¥2,500).

 

Day 6: Kagoshima-Chuo → Nishi-Oyama → Okayama → Tokyo

Explore Kagoshima in the morning. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

For Day 6, take it easy in the morning. If you’re tired, go ahead and sleep in. But why waste that time when you could be exploring Kagoshima? Since you’ve made it all the way here, I highly recommend visiting Sakurajima (桜島), an active volcano representative of Kagoshima. Constantly smoking with a few minor eruptions that often occur, it is one of the most active volcanoes in Japan. If you prefer scenic views, Shiroyama Park (城山公園 Shiroyama Kōen) and Senganen Garden (仙巌園 Sengan-en) offer fantastic views of Sakurajima.

 

Thanks to its warm climate, Kagoshima Prefecture has flourishing agricultural and livestock industries. While in Kagoshima, you must try its trio of “black” meats: black Satsuma chicken (黒さつま鳥 kuro satsumadori), black pork (黒豚 kurobuta), and beef from black-haired cows (黒毛和牛 kuroge wagyū)!

 

  • 11:56–12:48: Kagoshima-Chuo → Ibusuki | IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO 1

IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO D&S Train. (Image credit: JR Kyushu)

 

From Kagoshima-Chuo Station, hop onto a special express train, the IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO Design & Story (D&S) train, one of JR Kyushu’s sightseeing trains. Both the exterior and interior of the train are very unique, and make for a very fun train ride. This train gets its name from Ibusuki, the terminal station which is famous for its hot springs, and tamatebako, which means “treasure box” and comes from the local folk tale of Urashima Taro.

 

The Japan Rail Pass covers the IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO, so there’s no extra charge to ride it. If you are interested in JR Kyushu’s other D&S trains, check out these articles here (seaside edition) and here (mountainside edition).

 

Note: IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO operates daily, but seats are limited, so I recommend reserving seats as soon as you can. If you are unable to get a seat, don’t worry, you can still take a regular train that departs a few minutes after (12:02–13:37: Kagoshima-Chuo → Nishi-Oyama | Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line)

 

  • 13:19–13:37: Ibusuki → Nishi-Oyama | Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line

Nishi-Oyama Station, the southernmost train station in Japan. (Image credit: JR Kyushu (top) and JR East / Carissa Loh (bottom))

 

From Ibusuki, we’ll take a 20-minute ride along the Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line and head to the southernmost train station in Japan (日本最南端駅)—Nishi-Oyama Station (西大山駅). Technicality disclaimer: I’m only considering regular two-track railways, so monorails are not counted. If you count monorails, the southernmost monorail station is Akamine Monorail Station in Okinawa.

 

Nishi-Oyama Station is an unmanned station with no station building. From the station platform, you can get an unblocked view of Mount Kaimon (開門岳 Kaimondake). Other than the monument on the platform, outside the station, you’ll find a board showing the various locations of the northernmost, easternmost, westernmost, and southernmost JR stations.

 

Outside the station, there’s also a bright yellow “lucky” post box. It is believed that happiness will come to those who send mail from it, so don’t forget to drop off a postcard or letter!

 

  • 14:26–14:44: Nishi-Oyama → Ibusuki | Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line
  • 15:05–16:00: Ibusuki → Kagoshima-Chuo | IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO 6 or 15:53–17:10: Ibusuki → Kagoshima-Chuo | Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line

After checking out Nishi-Oyama Station, we’ll head back to Kagoshima-Chuo Station via Ibusuki Station. If you can get seat reservations, again I recommend taking the IBUSUKI NO TAMATEBAKO, because it’s not often that you get to ride special sightseeing trains like it. If you are unable to get the seats, you can still ride a regular train that departs later.

 

  • 17:18–18:43: Kagoshima-Chuo → Hakata | Shinkansen Sakura 568
  • 20:06–21:59: Hakata → Okayama | Shinkansen Sakura 572
  • 22:34–7:08: Okayama → Tokyo | Sunrise Seto/Sunrise Izumo overnight train

Fukuoka’s famous foods. Clockwise from top left: mentaiko, tonkotsu ramen, motsunabe, mizutaki. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

From Kagoshima-Chuo Station, we’ll take the Kyushu Shinkansen to Hakata Station in Fukuoka City, where there’s some time to enjoy dinner. Fukuoka is famous for its cuisine, with lots of mouth-watering dishes like tonkotsu ramen (豚骨ラーメン pork bone broth ramen), mentaiko (明太子 spicy pollock roe), motsunabe (もつ鍋 hotpot with beef or pork organs), and mizutaki (水炊き chicken hotpot). Which would you like to try?

 

After a satisfying dinner, hop aboard the Sanyo Shinkansen and head towards Okayama Station (岡山駅), where we’ll board a very special train—the Sunrise Seto/Izumo sleeper train!

 

Sunrise Seto/Izumo, an overnight train. (Image credit photoAC)

 

The Sunrise Seto/Izumo (サンライズ瀬戸・出雲) is one of the last remaining regular service overnight trains in Japan. The Sunrise Seto runs between Tokyo and Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture, which is across the Seto Inland Sea from Okayama. The Sunrise Izumo runs between Tokyo and Izumoshi Station in Shimane Prefecture, which is located in the San’in Region. Okayama Station is where the two trains separate/join.

 

Did you know that with the JR Pass, Nobi Nobi Seats (ノビノビ座席 nobinobi zaseki) on the Sunrise Seto/Izumo can be reserved with no extra charge? It’s no 5-star bed, but these sleeping berths still give you a pretty wide space to lie down, your own window and light, and a wall partition for some privacy.

 

Once you board the train, I highly recommend getting a shower card, which will let you use the shower room on board the train. Only a limited number of shower cards are available on a first-come-first-served basis, so get them quickly to avoid disappointment. For just ¥320, you will get 6 minutes’ worth of running water, which can be paused in between usage.

 

The Sunrise Seto/Izumo departs Okayama Station at 22:34, and will arrive at Tokyo Station the following morning at 7:08.

 

Itinerary for Day 6.

 

Day 7: Tokyo → Nobeyama → Doai → Tokyo

If Day 7 is a weekend or Japanese public holiday:

  • 7:32–7:46: Tokyo → Shinjuku | Chuo Line
  • 8:00­–9:53: Shinjuku → Kobuchizawa | Limited Express Azusa 5
  • 10:40–11:22: Kobuchizawa → Nobeyama | HIGH RAIL 1375 1

HIGH RAIL 1375 Joyful Train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

On Day 7, our final day of this ultimate train trip, we'll head over to Shinjuku Station to take the Limited Express Azusa (特急あずさ Tokkyū Azusa) to Kobuchizawa Station. If Day 7 is a weekend or Japanese Public Holiday, you can take a ride on a special sightseeing train, the HIGH RAIL 1375, one of JR East’s Joyful Trains.

 

Want to know how the HIGH RAIL 1375 got its name? Well, this train runs along the Koumi Line, which is home to 9 out of 10 of the highest elevation JR train stations. The highest elevation JR railway track, 1,375m, is also along the Koumi Line. Inside the train, there are window facing seats that provide amazing views of the Yatsugatake Mountains and scenic highlands in the region, and also onboard are a domed planetarium and a mini astronomy library.

 

Note: The Japan Rail Pass covers the HIGH RAIL 1375, so there’s no extra charge to ride it. The HIGH RAIL 1375 is reserved seating only, so I recommend reserving your seats as soon as possible. For more information about a ride on the HIGH RAIL 1375, check out this article. If you are interested in JR East’s other Joyful Trains, check out this article.

 

Nobeyama Station, the highest elevation JR station. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The HIGH RAIL 1375 will make a brief 10-minute stop at the highest elevation JR station (JR線最高駅), Nobeyama Station (野辺山駅). Located at an elevation of the 1,345.67m, at Nobeyama Station you can get off and take some photos with the highest elevation station monument. Like other stations that the HIGH RAIL 1375 stops at, the station signboards are specially decorated with an image of starry skies and the Yatsugatake Mountains!

 

  • 11:33–12:44: Nobeyama → Sakudaira | HIGH RAIL 1375 1
  • 13:46–14:14: Sakudaira → Takasaki | Shinkansen Asama 618
  • 14:30–14:59: Takasaki → Echigo-Yuzawa | Shinkansen Toki 323
  • 15:08–15:33: Echigo-Yuzawa → Doai | Joetsu Line

After a short stop at Nobeyama Station, we’ll hop back on the HIGH RAIL 1375, and make our way to Doai Station (土合駅), the deepest JR station. We’ll make a transfer at Sakudaira to ride the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Takasaki, where we’ll make another transfer to the Joetsu Shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa, where we’ll make a final transfer to the Joetsu Line and head to Doai Station.

 

Doai Station, the deepest JR Station. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Also known as the "Number 1 mole station in Japan” (日本一のモグラ駅), one of Doai Station’s platforms is 70m underground—the deepest for any JR station! When coming from Echigo-Yuzawa, the platform is on the ground level. But when heading towards Echigo-Yuzawa, we’ll need to climb down a 462-step staircase to get to the platform.

 

Enjoy amazing views from the Tanigawadake Ropeway. (Image credit: 谷川岳ロープウェイ)

 

We’ll have about 2.5 hours at Doai Station, so if you enjoy nature, I recommend a quick trip up the Tanigawadake Ropeway. Mount Tanigawa (谷川岳 Tanigawadake) is one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains, and the cable car to go up the mountain, Tanigawadake Ropeway, is just a 15-minute walk from Doai Station.

 

Tanigawadake Ropeway will bring you up to Tenjindaira—an elevation of 1,319m—from where you can set off on various hikes and walks. Even while on the 15-minute ride up, you will be able to enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. So if you have time, why not?

 

  • 17:59–18:23: Doai → Echigo-Yuzawa | Joetsu Line
  • 18:29–19:52: Echigo-Yuzawa → Tokyo | Shinkansen Toki 340

From Doai, we head back to Tokyo, where we end our epic 7-day train trip.

 

If Day 7 is a weekday:

  • 9:25–9:39: Tokyo → Shinjuku | Chuo Line
  • 10:00­–11:52: Shinjuku → Kobuchizawa | Limited Express Azusa 13
  • 11:56–12:27: Kobuchizawa → Nobeyama | Koumi Line

The Limited Express Azusa is served by E353 series trains. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If Day 7 is on a day that the HIGH RAIL 1375 is not operating, we can spend some time in the morning to admire Tokyo Station, one of the most awe-inspiring and historic train stations in Japan. We’ll take a later train to Shinjuku, where we’ll transfer to the Limited Express Azusa to Kobuchizawa Station, then transfer to the Koumi Line and head to Nobeyama Station.

 

The monument marking the highest elevation on JR tracks, 1375m. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

After reaching Nobeyama Station, we’ll have about 1 hour 45 minutes until our train to Sakudaira, so let’s take a walk from Nobeyama Station to the highest elevation of JR railway tracks (JR鉄道最高地点), which stands at 1,375m. It takes about 35 minutes to walk there from Nobeyama Station, and another 35 minutes to walk back.

 

  • 14:15–15:36: Nobeyama → Sakudaira | Koumi Line
  • 15:46–16:14: Sakudaira → Takasaki | Shinkansen Asama 622
  • 16:54–17:39: Takasaki → Minakami | Joetsu Line
  • 17:50–17:58: Minakami → Doai | Joetsu Line

From Nobeyama, we’ll take the Koumi Line to Sakuradaira, where we transfer to the Hokuriku Shinkansen towards Takasaki. At Takasaki, we’ll transfer to the Joetsu Line towards Minakami, where we’ll transfer to another train on the Joetsu Line to reach Doai Station.

 

Climb up 462 steps to exit Doai Station’s underground platform. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

On this route, we’ll be alighting at the underground platform at Doai Station, so get your energy ready! There are no escalators or elevators at this platform, and it will take about 10 minutes to climb up the 462 steps. We only have 20 minutes before catching the train to head back to Tokyo, so don’t take too long to climb those stairs.

 

  • 18:18–18:33: Doai → Minakami | Joetsu Line
  • 18:44–19:48: Minakami → Takasaki | Joetsu Line
  • 20:07–20:56: Takasaki → Tokyo | Shinkansen Toki 344

When departing Doai Station, we’ll be heading towards Minakami, so the platform will be on the ground level. At Minakami, we’ll take the Joetsu Line to Takasaki, where we’ll transfer to a Joetsu Shinkansen train bound for Tokyo, where we end our trip.

 

Itinerary for Day 7.

 

Note: The “Weekend” itinerary is not limited to Saturdays and Sundays. It refers to days that the HIGH RAIL 1375 operates, which you can check here. In addition to Japanese Public Holidays, the HIGH RAIL 1375 also operates on Thursdays and Fridays in August, so you’ll have more chances to ride it then.

 

When to go

What did you think of this itinerary? It’s definitely doable, and (most of) the hours are not too hard, with time for sightseeing, as well as time in the evenings to dine on local food. When Japan reopens its borders to foreign tourists, I very much hope to complete this itinerary! I would recommend travelling between May and September, as passing scenery is much nicer when there are leaves and flowers. Due to Hokkaido’s northern location, leaves start dropping in October. In winter, although snowy white scenery may be beautiful, daylight hours are shorter, and harsh weather conditions may mean train cancellations and delays.

 

Japan Rail Pass

When travelling around multiple regions in Japan, the JR Pass is a great economical choice. This affordable pass offers unlimited rail travel on JR lines (including bullet trains, except Nozomi and Mizuho services) in the valid area for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days, and covers almost all the lines mentioned in this itinerary.

 

Japan Rail Pass prices. (Image credit: JR Group)

 

Since June 2020, JR Passes can be bought online directly from the new dedicated website: japanrailpass-reservation.net/. Purchasing online will allow you to make use of the online reservation system, which lets you reserve your train seats up to 1 month before your date of travel. In addition, you’ll also be able to make seat reservations from Reserved Seat Ticket Vending Machines, and use the automatic ticket gates.

 

Savings

As you’ve seen from this itinerary, we’ve covered a lot of distance, and ridden many trains all around Japan. Based on this itinerary, the total fare without a JR Pass would have been ¥224,660 (~S$2,500), but the 7-day Ordinary JR Pass only costs ¥33,610 (~S$375) when purchased online, giving you savings of a whopping ¥191,050 (~S$2,125)!

 

Eligibility

Temporary visitor stamps. (Image credit: JR Group)

 

Do note that the online sale of Japan Rail Passes is only available for foreign tourists who have a passport issued by a country other than Japan, and are visiting Japan from abroad for sightseeing under the entry status of "Temporary Visitor." Japanese nationals living abroad will not be able to purchase from the website, and should instead purchase a Japan Rail Pass from a JR-designated sales office or agent overseas.

 

Train timings in this article are correct as of May 2022, but are subject to change at the discretion of the railway companies. Do always check the latest train timetables before embarking on your journey.

 

Header image credit: photoAC, JR East / Carissa Loh

 

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