- Leave with Laview and Reconnect with Nature
- Catch the Kusatsu and Soak in a Hot Spring
- Ride the Ryomo and Take a Retro Railway up a River Valley
- Hop on the Hitachi and View Blue Flower Fields
- Get on the Odoriko and Follow the Coastline
Leave with Laview and Reconnect with Nature
Heading Northwest and connecting Tokyo’s Ikebukuro station with the mountainous area of Chichibu, the attractively named “Red Arrow” trains are an excellent choice if you want to get off the beaten track. Exiting the final tunnel and entering the vast mountain-rimmed plain centered on Chichibu City, about 80 minutes away from the capital, feels like entering a hidden magical world.
Operated by the private company Seibu Railway, and running along the Seibu-Chichibu line, this Limited Express Service consists of the “Musashi” (Hanno City), and “Chichibu” (Chichibu City) trains. Until recently, all their trains were known as “Red Arrow” due to their red exterior. However, earlier this year (2019), Seibu Railway introduced a new type of train called “Laview” with a futuristic silver exterior and a cosy yellow interior which should replace all “New Arrow” trains by the end of the year.
All seats are reserved only and you have to to buy your “special express” ticket before boarding from a ticket machine. Since Chichibu is a popular weekend getaway, return seats on Sundays afternoons can quickly sell out, and then you’ll have to get a ticket for the next train, an hour later. A conductor will check tickets before allowing people access to Limited Express platform from Seibu-Chichibu station, but not from other stations. Unfortunately, these trains aren’t covered by the JR Pass, nor the Tokyo Wide Pass.
The main destination is Chichibu city at the end of the line. The station was renovated in 2017 and now includes a small food court, a sake shop and bar, and a hot spring with outdoor baths. After stepping outside, make sure to check out the striking triangular shape of Mt Buko, a symbol of the area. About 5 minutes away on foot is Ohanabatake station from where you can take the Chichibu railway for more exploring.
The main sightseeing spots and events are:
- – Hanno: Moomin Valley Park (opened 2019)
- – Chichibu: Pink Moss Fields in Hitsujiyama Park (April/May)
- – Chichibu: Chichibu Night Festival (December)
- – Chichibu: Mitsumine shrine & the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park (Chichibu Railway)
- – Chichibu: Nagatoro & boating on the Arakawa river (Chichibu Railway)
Catch the Kusatsu and Soak in a Hot Spring
The “Kusatsu” is a scenic train operated by JR East taking about two hours and a half from Ueno station to Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station along four different JR lines. In the second half of the trip, it winds through a beautiful valley into the heart of Gunma prefecture, crossing bridges and passing through tunnels. It’s a great option for train enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Several Onsens, or hot spring towns, can be reached by short bus rides from train stations along this line. The main attraction, Kusatsu Onsen, one of the most famous hot spring towns in Japan, is a 30 minute bus ride from Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi Station. Another good, and closer, option is Ikaho Onsen, also a 30 minute bus ride from Shibukawa station, one hour and forty minutes away Tokyo. An overnight stay at a Japanese traditional inn is recommended for both places.
The “Kusatsu” trains were updated in 2014 and depart twice a day on weekdays and three times a day on weekends, and have reserved and unreserved seats, although it’s recommended to make a reservation on weekends, since it’s a popular weekend getaway for Tokyo residents. The good news is that this line is covered by both the JR Rail Pass and the Tokyo Wide Pass.
The main sightseeing spots along this line are:
- – Shin-Maebashi: Mt Akagi (bus)
- – Shibukawa: Mt Haruna & Ikaho Onsen (bus)
- – Nakanojo: Shima Onsen (bus)
- – Nakanoharakusatsuguchi: Kusatsu Onsen & Shiga Kogen (bus)
Ride the Ryomo and Take a Retro Railway up a River Valley
Operated by the private company Tobu Railway, the “Ryomo” Limited Express takes the adventurous traveller North, and then West, while hugging the mountains at the edge of the Tokyo area. At the other end of the spectrum from its parallel service to Nikko, the sightseeing spots along this line are very much off the tourist trail! Consequently, this line has few passengers and, although all seats are reserved, getting a seat there or back should be a breeze. On the down side, the interior feels slightly dated. Special express tickets can be bought from vending machines outside the ticket gates and also on the platform.
“Ryomo” trains leave frequently from Asakusa station and follow the Tobu Isesaki and Kiryu lines, before ending at Akagi station, a tiny train station in the middle of the countryside, two hours from Tokyo. Unfortunately, there is little to do there. Mt Akagi is tantalizingly close but bus service to this famous mountain is nonexistent. The best thing to do is to get off one stop before, at Aioi station, and change to the Watarase Keikoku line. This nicely old-fashioned train can take you North up the very beautiful Watarase River Valley, or East towards the historical city of Kiryu.
It’s important not to confuse the Ryomo Limited Express with the JR operated local Ryomo line. This local line follows JR lines and stops at JR stations between Oyama and Maebashi situated in the same area. Since the “Ryomo” Limited Express service doesn’t use any JR tracks, it isn’t covered by the JR Rail Pass, nor the Tokyo Wide Pass. Finally, there is no food and drink service inside this train, so make sure to buy whatever you need before boarding.
The main sightseeing spots along this line are:
- – Ashikagashi: Ashikaga City and its flower park
- – Aoi: the historical city of Kiryu
- – Aoi: Watarase River Valley
A full list of sightseeing spots can be found on the Asakusa station transportation guide website.
Hop on the Hitachi and View Blue Flower Fields
The JR East “Hitachi” and “Tokiwa” trains run Northeast along the Joban line till they reach the Pacific, where they continue to follow the coast Northwards. The two services differ mainly in the number of stops they make along the way, the “Hitachi” having less. Both trains start from either Ueno station or Shinagawa station and end in Iwaki City, two hours and a half from Tokyo.
These new and comfortable trains use the same system as the Chuo line now does: all seats are reserved but you can sit in any unoccupied seat provided you change seats if someone reserves the seat along the way (a system of lights above each seat give you its status). I’d recommend getting a reserved seat since the price is the same as an unreserved one and you’d avoid the inconvenience of changing seats mid-trip. Trains depart frequently throughout the day. Since they use JR lines, they are covered by the JR Pass and the Tokyo Wide Pass.
The main attraction is Mito city, where you can visit Kairakuen, of one of the three famous gardens in Japan, especially beautiful in March, when its 3000 plum trees are in full bloom. You can also catch the Suisen line from Mito and visit the Fukuroda falls one hour and a half away, one of the 3 great waterfalls in Japan. From the next stop after Mito, Katsuta station, the Hitachi Seaside park with its beautiful blue flowers are a 15-min bus ride away. Continuing all the way to the end of the line will bring the daring traveller to Iwaki city, famous for its seafood, nearly 200 km from the capital.
The main sights along this line are:
- – Mito: Kairakuen Garden (bus)
- – Fukuroda station: Fukuroda Falls via Suigun line
- – Katsuta: Hitachi Seaside Park (bus)
Get on the Odoriko and Follow the Coastline
Travelling Southwards into the Izu peninsula, the “Odoriko” trains connect Tokyo station with either Shimoda City, famous for its beaches and hot springs, or Shuzenji, famous for its temple and also for its hot springs. This Limited Express is rather unusual because it is operated by three separate companies. The Shimoda section is managed by JR East and Izukyu Corporation, a private company owner of the Izu-Kyuko Line. The Shuzenji section is managed by JR East and the Izu-Hakone Railway, another private company which manages the ropeway, cable car and excursion ships in the Hakone area. For this reason the entire trip isn’t covered by the JR Rail Pass and an extra fee is necessary. However it is fully covered by the Tokyo wide Pass.
The trains heading for Izukyu-Shimoda station follow the Eastern coastline of Izu peninsula, passing by several famous hot spring towns such as Atami and Ito. The final destination of Shimoda city, three hours from Tokyo, is as far South as you can go by Limited Express train from the capital. As you make your way down the coast, you’ll notice more and more palm trees along the way. It is also an area whose towns look like having been left behind in time: many of the towns along the way seem to be stuck in 1980´s Japan. The “Odoriko” trains also feel in many aspects very outdated. If you get a seat on the left side on your outbound trip, you’ll be able to gaze at the Pacific Ocean during your trip.
There are frequent “Odoriko” trains (meaning “dancer”) departing from Tokyo station daily. Half of the trains are called “Super View Odoriko”; they stop less frequently than the regular “Odoriko” trains and have several double deckers cars and wide panoramic windows. The trains have reserved and unreserved cars – if leaving on a Sunday you’ll find the cars pleasantly empty since most people travel to Izu for a weekend overnight stay. On the weekend there is also one train leaving from Omiya and stopping in Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, convenient for people living or staying near those areas.
The main sights along this line are:
- – Odawara: Odawara Castle (bus)
- – Yugawara: Plum blossoms (February/March)
- – Atami: Hot spring town on the sea
- – Ito: Mt Omuro (bus)
- – Kawazu: Winter cherry blossoms & Kawazu Seven Waterfalls
- – Shimoda: Shirahama Beach & Gateway to Western Izu
- – Izu-Nagaoka: Izunokuni Panorama Park Ropeway
- – Shuzenji: Hot Spring Town