What Is A Sleeper Train In Japan?
A sleeper train is a railway train that has accommodations and amenities on board that allow people to sleep comfortably during their train ride.
As such, these trains tend to run at night, so a person is able to travel overnight instead of spending their day going from place to place.
There used to be multiple sleeper trains running through Japan, but these convenient modes of transportation have dwindled. They faced steep competition from overnight buses and discounted domestic flights that essentially shuttered most of them.
However, you can still enjoy the unique experience of an overnight train in Japan with the last daily operation night trains; Sunrise Izumo and Sunrise Seto.
The Last Night Trains In Japan: Sunrise Seto And Sunrise Izumo
Night trains used to be much more of a common transportation method in Japan, but since 2016, the only two daily operating sleeper trains are the limited express Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo trains.
In order to ride on one of these night trains, you have to book a reservation.
Each of these train routes are sleeper trains, meaning you can ride one of these overnight to get from one destination to the next. This can help you save some time and beat out crowds when you’re looking to travel long distance through Japan.
A Comprehensive Breakdown Of Sunrise Izumo And Seto Routes
There are essentially two routes that you can utilize the sleeper trains for. The Sunrise Izumo limited express train travels from Tokyo to Izumo City, while the Sunrise Seto travels from Tokyo station to Takamatsu.
There are several stops along these routes, and these train routes are often used to travel beyond these specific routes by connecting to a different kind of train.
One of the unique things about Sunrise Izumo and Seto is that the two trains actually ride together as one train when they depart from Tokyo. Once the train gets to Okayama, they decouple and take off in different directions.
As the two trains turn around and make their way back towards Tokyo, they will meet once again at Okayama and travel the rest of the way towards Tokyo together. There are several train cars that make up each train. Sunrise Izumo spans from car #8 to car #14, and Sunrise Seto features car #1 to car #7.
Below is the route that both the Sunrise Izumo and Sunrise Seto make before they split off into different directions.
From Tokyo To Okayama
The latest operating sleeper train from Tokyo first makes its way to Yokohama. From there, it continues forward to make a stop at Atami, Numazu, and Fuji.
Between Fuji and Hamamatsu, the train route will pass through Shizuoka, so you can get off at either stop and make a connection if your final destination is Shizuoka.
After Hamamatsu, the train continues on towards its next stop, Sannomiya. Between these two stops is Osaka, giving another opportunity for a connection to the popular prefecture. The next stop before arriving at the Okayama stop is Himeji.
As mentioned, the sleeper train combines its cars to ride along these routes in both directions.
As such, once each sleeper train turns around to make its way back to Tokyo, they will meet once again at Okayama and come together to follow the exact same route in the opposite direction.
The Sunrise Izumo Route From Okayama
When the Sunrise Izumo night train departs from Okayama, the first stop it makes is at the Kurashiki stop. This is a good place to get off if you want to head towards Fukuyama.
The next few stops made are Bitchu-Takahashi, Niimi, and Yonago. Getting off at Yonago, you can make a connection to Tottori prefecture.
After Yonago, the Sunrise Izumo stops in Yasugi and Shinji, passing through Matsue and, finally, ending up at the Izumoshi station in Izumo City. Overall, the Sunrise Izumo route from Tokyo to Izumo and vice versa takes approximately 12 to 14 hours.
The Sunrise Seto Route From Okayama
When the Sunrise Seto train splits from the Sunrise Izumo, its first stop is Kojima. The train then makes its way to Sakaide before its final stop is Takamatsu.
If you were to get off at Sakaide, you can make connections to Matsuyama or to Kochi depending on which direction you travel in. From Tokyo, the Sunrise Seto route in its entirety is about 9 hours.
Major Areas Of Japan You Can Reach On Sunrise Izumo And Seto
While these two trains may not make stops within particular cities or prefectures of Japan, you’ll be happy to know that they can take you pretty close.
You are often able to find connecting trains or buses that will take you the rest of the way. Depending on what your particular travel plans are, you’ll likely have at least one or two options for connections.
A recapture of some of the popular destinations that the night trains can take you close to are:
How To Book A Ride On Sunrise Izumo And Seto
To book a spot on an overnight train, you should purchase a JR Pass on the JR Pass website, the airport, or at a train station. If you’re spending a couple of weeks in Japan and hope to see many different areas of the country, you’re likely already planning on buying a Japan Rail pass. The money you can save getting a JR Pass is worth it.
However, the websites typically used to book reservations on Sunrise Izumo and Seto are in Japanese, so might be difficult to navigate if you don’t understand Japanese and have reliable translation.
Otherwise, you can use the updated Japan Rail site to book a seat on one of these night trains in the Nobi Nobi area, but that could limit you to that one area.
You also have the option to book your reservation on one of these night trains by going to a ticket window called Midori no Madoguchi, which can be found at most train stations in big cities such as Tokyo Station. If you live outside of Japan, this is likely going to be the option you’re left with.
Tips For Booking Your Reservation On Night Trains
When you go to book a reservation for a sleeper train, you should already have your Japan Rail Pass purchased. This will ensure that you aren’t paying more for your train ride than you need to because you’ve already paid for your pass.
You’ll want to advise them of the date and the specific train you’re looking to book.
If you have the name of the train and its assigned number, it’ll make the entire process much more smooth as the clerk won’t have to search for appropriate trains for your intended destination.
The clerk will also want to know what station you intend to board and which stop you want to arrive at to secure a spot on the appropriate train.
You’ll need to present your passport, which you should always have on you when you have a JR Pass. You can also request which seat you want, and if you want to be in a smoking section or not.
The Trouble With Reserving Night Trains Outside Of Japan
Since it’s very difficult for someone living outside of Japan to book a reservation online for a night train, you have to hope to get lucky booking a spot as soon as you can make it to a train station.
The good news is that if you’re out of luck, you’ll still be able to take an alternate public transportation route to your intended destination.
Some people have had success having a travel agent book a seat on a night train on their behalf. The only concern with this option is that you may end up paying a premium to have it booked in this manner. If you’re okay with the extra cost, it’s an option worth exploring.
Overall, you’ll want to have some kind of alternate arrangements made if you have already booked yourself a hotel room in your intended final destination.
With how expansive public transportation is, you’ll likely not have any trouble planning out this alternate route.
What Are Acommodations Like On Night Trains Like?
As the name would imply, the night train runs at night when many people are looking to catch some sleep. Trains are set up to allow people to lay down and sleep instead of having to try and sleep in an upright, seated position.
There are two options for seating on night trains; you can either book yourself a private room or book a Nobi Nobi seat.
Both of these are suitable for sleeping, though a Nobi Nobi is more out in the open and has little privacy. Accommodations are all small, but are set up appropriately to allow you to stretch out while keeping your belongings close by.
Nobi Nobi Seats
If you have a Japan Rail pass, you usually don’t have to pay an additional fee to successfully reserve your Nobi Nobi seat. Each Nobi Nobi is separated at each end by wooden barriers, but are open in the middle.
The floor is carpeted, and you’re provided with blankets and a pillowcase, but no pillow. While it doesn’t seem like the most ideal place to sleep, it’s much more comfortable than it sounds for most.
Should you struggle to sleep off of a mattress or have back issues, you might not find it suitable. You are allowed to bring a compact inflatable mattress with you if you are able.
There is also enough space for you to keep your belongings or your luggage, with a small light at the top of one corner, and a small table with a cup inside.
Unfortunately, there are no chargers or power sources. The space is designed very smartly, as Japan is known for being able to maximize space in creative ways.
A private room consists of a cabin inside of the train with an enclosure, and can fit one to two passengers.
As mentioned previously, private rooms will come at an additional cost, even with a Japan Rail pass. There are different types of private rooms available which will influence how much you end up paying.
A single room gives you a small bed, a blanket, and even a set of pajamas. You don’t get much extra space to move around; you’ll pretty much be able to fit yourself and your luggage inside. You’re also given privacy with a door that locks.
A solo room is very similar to a single, but with much less extra space outside of the bed. If you have big luggage, you’ll likely not be able to fit it in this room.
There also isn’t much space vertically, but you get privacy here as well with a locked door.
This room can accommodate one or two people, with a sleeping situation similar to bunk beds.
When you enter this room, there’s a single bed, with some stairs beside it to get to the top bed. You also get bedding and pajamas in this room as well as a door with a lock.
The sunrise twin room also accommodates two people, but the beds are both on one level with a very small space between them. Beside your lockable door, you have a bit of space to set your belongings down.
This is the most expensive room you can purchase, but that’s because it’s set up to sleep two people more comfortably.
The single deluxe room is the second priciest room, but you get a great amount of space compared to other rooms.
The night trains only have a few of these rooms, which have a bed, a small television, a small desk, and a sink. You also get a window with a curtain and a pair of pajamas.
How Much Do Sleeper Train Rides Cost?
A sleeper train ride can be costly, but you do get a lot for your money. Having a Japan Rail Pass can make your sleeper train ride cost a little bit less than paying full price. Ultimately, what you pay will depend on the accommodation you choose to book and where you’re going.
One way to justify the cost is to consider that you don’t have to book a hotel for the evening. You’re not spending much more on a private room than you would on a hotel room. Instead, you’re spending the money on making your way from one area of Japan to another while you sleep.
Nobi Nobi spots usually fill up fast since they are less expensive, but there are more of them than private rooms.
A private room will typically cost between 9,900 and 18,000 yen on top of your Japan Rail Pass, which is between $71 and $130 USD.
Below is a breakdown of the accommodation fees for each type of room; be advised that these fares are estimates based on current information available, and it’s possible they could change from time to time.
Nobi Nobi: No accommodation fee charged W/ JRPass
Single: 7,700 yen/ $56 USD
Solo: 6,600 yen/ $48 USD
Single Twin (for one person): 9,600 yen/ $70 USD
Single Twin (for two people): 15,100 yen/ $109 USD
Sunrise Twin: 15,400 yen/ $112 USD
Single Deluxe: 13,980 yen/ $101 USD
Additional Costs For Riding The Night Trains
If you are simply purchasing a Nobi Nobi seat, you’re either paying nothing with your JR Pass or paying a basic fare for this seat. Your JR Pass also covers your limited express surcharge.
Without the JR Pass, you’re paying the basic fare for your Nobi Nobi seat and your limited express surcharge, but you’re not charged an accommodation fee regardless of if you have your JR Pass.
If you’ve booked a private room, you’ll be paying a limited express surcharge based on how far you’re traveling, as well as the accommodation fee based on the room you book.
Limited express surcharges are between 8,500 to 12,200 yen, which is equivalent to $61 to $88 USD.
Amenities On Sunrise Seto And Izumo
Aboard your night train, you’ll find amenities such as bathrooms and showers. There is also a small lounge area where you can mingle or just stretch your legs outside of your accommodation space.
You can also find vending machines in the lounges.
Showers require paid tokens that also limit your time inside the shower. Just be advised that, if you’re going to want to shower on your ride, you want to buy a token as soon as you can.
Tokens are around 320 yen, which is just under $3 USD. You’ll have to have your own towel, but toiletries can be found in the shower.
The tokens can be found at vending machines in the #3 and #10 cars, which is also where the showers are located. There are also showers in car #4 and car #10, but they are only available for those in single deluxe rooms.
Each train car has a bathroom, and of course, the bathroom has to be shared by everyone in one car. The bathrooms are pretty small, but they aren’t cramped.
As you might expect, you may see a small lineup in the mornings as people try to get ready for the day, but for the most part, people are respectful of the fact that everyone needs access to the bathroom.
When it comes to the lounges, they aren’t present in every single train car so you may have to do some walking between cars. There are two lounges, with one in the #3 car and the other in the #10 car.
There is seating available with a table that gives you a great view outside some big windows. The vending machines in the lounge only serve drinks, so it’s highly recommended you bring food with you.
Tips For An Enjoyable Night Train Ride
There is a lot about riding on a sleeper train in Japan that is very appealing, even if it’s an experience you only try once when in Japan.
It can be a little bit expensive, but is also a fantastic option for traveling a far distance within the country. As with any method of travel, there are pros and cons to choosing a night train.
There are also some tips to keep in mind to make sure your ride on one of the night trains, whether the Sunrise Izumo or Seto, is as safe and enjoyable as possible.
Don’t Forget Food And Water
You won’t be able to buy anything except for drinks, usually sodas, from the vending machines in the lounges.
If you’re planning on taking a long ride on the night train, you’ll want to ensure you have some snacks and water just in case or perhaps something for breakfast or lunch.
Train Etiquette Still Stands On Night Trains
Night trains are no different than everyday trains in terms of how you’re expected to behave. Given that you’re riding a night train at night, you want to be extra careful to keep your noise levels down as many other passengers will be trying to sleep.
If you’re watching something on your phone or computer, make sure you have headphones in to avoid disturbing other people on the train.
It’s also recommended you don’t have phone conversations while on the train. In a private room, you still don’t want to be too noisy, but you can get away with a little bit more.
Are Nobi Nobi Spots Safe?
People who are vulnerable, such as women, might be concerned about whether or not they are safe sleeping in a Nobi Nobi sleeping area.
Since these spots are out in the open and there is little privacy, it’s a valid concern.
You’ll have to book your seating based on your personal comfort level, but there isn’t a history of anyone’s safety or security being jeopardized on either the Izumo or Seto.