Joyful Trains: 8 Trains In Japan With Unique Themes For An Unforgettable Journey


Atiqah Mokhtar •  Jan 09, 2020

If you’ve travelled to Japan, you’re probably aware of how important train travel is there. It’s one of the most common modes of transport not just in Tokyo but all around the main Island of Japan. When we were exploring Tohoku while using the JR East Pass, we were amazed to find out about Joyful Trains - trains that are specially designed with unique themes to give a fun train experience for passengers!

Credit: Giphy

The Joyful Trains are a super fun and immersive way to travel in Japan. They run across various routes in Tohoku, Nagano and Niigata and can’t be missed when you’re exploring these areas!  We’ve rounded some of the most interesting Joyful Trains that promise train rides like no other.

All of JR East’s Joyful Trains mentioned in this article (with the exception of FruiTea Fukushima) are covered under either the JR East Tohoku Area Pass or the JR East Nagano, Niigata Area Pass. Find out more about the passes and where to buy them at the end of the article!


Route: Ichinoseki ↔ Kesennuma on the Ofunato Line

Accessible from: Ichinoseki Shinkansen Station

JR East Pass coverage:JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

Frequency: Usually once a day per direction only on weekends, public holidays and during Japanese school holidays

This is easily one of the most popular Joyful Trains, and it’s no mystery why! The POKÉMON with YOU train is dedicated to Pikachu and is completely adorable ? The train was started to bring some cheer to the children in the area who were affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. While originally featuring decorations with a variety of Pokemon, the train got a makeover in 2017 to its current Pikachu-focused design.

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The train is fully decked-out in Pikachu colours of yellow and brown, both on the outside as well as inside! You’ll even find cute Pokeball ornaments at each seat. The train is meant to cater to kids and families, so it features shared seating with the seats facing each other.

The other key feature of the train is the playroom car. This open area is fully carpeted in yellow and is filled with Pikachu plushies of all sizes! There are also cute accessories like Pikachu ears and train conductor outfits (in kids’ sizes) for added fun. We had a blast playing here, even if it did get pretty hectic with many people in the playroom!

#HHWT Tip: The playroom car is only opened to passengers once the train has departed from the station. It can get crowded pretty quickly with kids and other passengers, so if you want to be one of the first people in the car to see it while it’s empty (and still neat! ?), we recommend for you to wait near the entrance of the playroom car shortly after departing.

Do note that the train usually runs once a day only on weekends, public holidays and during Japanese school holidays. It also runs every day during the last week of March (Japan’s spring break), first week of May (Golden Week) and middle of August (for the Obon festival). You can check the scheduled days and timings of the train on the JR East website. Given the limited schedule and smaller size of the train (it only seats 46 people), we highly recommend that you plan ahead and book your tickets as far in advance as possible as they do tend to run out quickly!

P.S. If you’re looking to explore Tohoku, start planning your trip to Tohoku by seeing our Muslim-friendly guide to this incredible region as well as our 6D5Nitinerary (which includes the POKÉMON with YOU train)!

2. Genbi Shinkansen

Route: Echigo-Yuzawa ↔ Niigata on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line

Accessible from: Niigata, Echigo-Yuzawa, Nagaoka Shinkansen Stations

JR East Pass coverage:JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata Area)

Frequency: Usually weekends and public holidays only, with 3 trains in each direction per day

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

Riding a Shinkansen (bullet train) is already a pretty amazing experience. But a Shinkansen that also serves as an art gallery? It’ll be a trip to remember! The Genbi Shinkansen is a train in which modern artworks from Japanese artists are displayed, thus earning its nickname “World’s Fastest Art Museum”!

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The sleek navy blue exterior of the Genbi Shinkansen covered with colourful designs is already pretty to behold, but wait until you see the interior. The reserved seating car has seats covered in a bright yellow pattern that looks like inkblot paintings (with snazzy carpeting to match!).

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

For non-reserved seating, passengers can sit on any of the sofas in Cars 12 - 16 which also houses the artworks on display, ranging from photographs to floral displays and other contemporary pieces. The entire trip from Echigo-Yuzawa to Niigata is 1 hour, which is a nice amount of time to see all the art ?

Don’t miss the artwork in Car 15, which features colorful pieces hanging behind a glass display. As the train moves, the pieces also shift slightly, and little by little the image you see also changes.

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

Kids will have fun at the playroom car, which has plastic train models they can play with. There’s even an attendant stationed at the playroom to keep an eye on children while parents can enjoy the artworks in the other carriages!

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

There is also a cafe on the train which serves beverages and light treats, so you’ll be able to grab a coffee while you enjoy your time onboard the train.

3. Resort Shirakami

Route: Akita ↔ Aomori/Hirosaki on the Gono Line

Accessible from: Akita Shinkansen Station or Shin-Aomori Shinkansen Station

JR East Pass coverage: JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

Frequency: Almost every day, with maximum 3 trains running in each direction

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

If you’re looking for a train ride with breathtaking views, this is it! The Resort Shirakami is a Joyful Train that’s popular for its beautifully scenic views of the sea and the Shirakami-Sanchi World Natural Heritage Site, a mountainous area in Aomori prefecture filled with ancient beech trees.

Credit: @yumiko_elise on Instagram

Passengers are sure to be spellbound by the scenic coastal views the train passes by. In addition, passengers can get off at certain stations to do fun activities. At Noshiro station, you can have a quick 10-minute excursion to play basketball, as Noshiro is a town that’s famous for its high school basketball team and was the inspiration behind the popular manga/anime Slam Dunk. At Senjojiki station, you can disembark and walk to the beach to enjoy the seaside scenery!

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

On-board, you’ll find events and performances of traditional arts like puppet shows or shamisen (a Japanese traditional stringed instrument).

Unlike some of the other Joyful Trains, the Resort Shirakami has a relatively frequent schedule, with up to three trains running in each direction almost every day. If you take the Resort Shirakami more than once, don’t be surprised if the train looks different - there are actually three Resort Shirakami trains, each with its own name (Buna, Kumagera and Aoike) and design!

The Buna train is named after the famous beech trees in Shirakami-Sanchi (buna is the Japanese word for beech) and we actually got to ride this train while we explored Tohoku! This is the newest train out of the three, with a green exterior that reflects the trees it’s named for. We loved the colourful interior as well as the fun seating arrangements. Besides normal seats, there are also box seats where you can sit comfortably with companions while watching the scenery ? The seats can even be pulled out into tatami-style seating too for a different experience!

#HHWT Tip: The Resort Shirakami is reserved seating only, so reserve your seats online ahead of time! The seats are assigned at random, but if you’re looking to get the box seat, you should try requesting for it when picking up your reserved seat tickets.

The Buna train also has a car with a counter selling local products and souvenirs, with bar seats facing the windows opposite where you can enjoy the views.

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The Aoike train is named after a beautiful blue pond that’s a popular sight in Shirakami-Sanchi, with the train itself having a blue exterior. The Kumagera train is named for the black woodpecker bird that lives in the area and features an exterior with red, yellow and orange colours. While all three trains run the same route and have the same spacious seating (including the box seats), only the Buna has the counter and bar seats so it’s probably the one you can’t miss if you only can ride one Resort Shirakami train!

Credit: @alan_in_japan on Instagram

#HHWT Tip: Since there are three Resort Shirakami trains running each day, you can also get off at any station, spend time exploring there, and catch the next train onwards to your next destination! A lot of visitors disembark at Juniko station to visit the beech forest and see the lovely Aoike.

4. Oykot

Route: Nagano ↔ Tokamachi on the Iiyama Line

Accessible from: Nagano Station (90min bullet train ride from Tokyo)

JR East Pass coverage: JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata Area)

Frequency: Usually once a day per direction on weekends and public holidays. Limited operation during winter due to high snowfall.

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

Step back in time and go on a train that evokes the nostalgia of traditional Japan! The Oykot train, which runs between Nagano and Tokmachi in Niigata aims to bring you on a slow-paced, relaxing ride to the true hometowns in the hearts of the Japanese people. “Oykot” is the reversal of the spelling of “Tokyo”, the fast-paced metropolitan capital. The Oykot train wants to bring you to an area that is the opposite of Tokyo.

#HHWT Tip: Please note that while the train is covered under the JR East Pass, an additional fee of JPY280 is required if you take the train between the Nagano and Kaesa stations, as a portion of the track is a non-JR line. This supplemental ticket can be purchased at the station before boarding.

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The train’s exterior is a charming combination of red and cream, but it’s the interior that truly brings out the rustic element. It’s designed to look like a traditional-style home, meant to bring back memories of visiting grandparents’ homes in the Japanese countryside ? Who wouldn’t want to feel that kind of homely cosiness in a train? The train’s seats have a few variations, including bench seats, two-person seats that face each other as well as box seats that accommodate four.

#HHWT Tip: The Oykot is reserved seating only, so reserve your seats online ahead of time! The seats are assigned at random, but if you’re looking to get a specific kind of seat, you should try requesting for it when picking up your reserved seat tickets.

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

On the train, you’ll often find local volunteers performing live music as the Nakano region that the train passes through is known for being the birthplace of many Japanese folk singers and composers. You’ll also see friendly train attendants on board who are there to provide information, point out interesting sights, and just make your journey an overall lovely experience!

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

You’ll also have fun pit stops along the way - at the Iiyama station, you can hop off to get a quick look at the station’s unique clock that has a mini puppet performance every hour.  At the Morimiyanohara station, you can take a photo wearing a traditional straw umbrella suit. These suits were used by locals in the past to protect themselves from the elements, especially snow, as the area gets a lot of snowfall! Isn’t the suit super cute? ?

Disclaimer: Do note that passengers on the Oykot train are usually given a pack of Nozawana, a local type of pickled vegetables. Nozawana is often made with ingredients such as shoyu, which may contain alcohol. In addition, while at the Iiyama station, local sellers may come on board to sell local food souvenirs. We recommend that you clarify the ingredients of the desserts with staff before consumption and to dine at your own discretion.

5. FruiTea Fukushima

Route: Koriyama ↔ Kitakata on the Ban'etsu West Line; Koriyama ↔ Sendai on the Tohoku Line during winter

Accessible from: Koriyama Shinkansen Station

JR East Pass coverage: Not covered under the JR East passes. Requires separate purchase of tickets (JPY5,000 from Aizu-Wakamatsu to Koriyama, inclusive of basic fare, reserved seat, and desserts)

Frequency: Usually once a day (each way) on weekends and public holidays

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The FruiTea Fukushima aims to celebrate the fruits grown in Fukushima prefecture which include grapes, pears, peaches and apples. Passengers on this train get to indulge in desserts and drinks made with Fukushima fruits onboard a travelling cafe!

To note, this train is not covered under the JR East passes and will require separate purchase of tickets. Each ticket package covers the basic fare for travelling on the train, your reserved seat ticket, as well as the desserts served. It costs JPY5,000 per person one-way if you take the train from Aizu-Wakamatsu to Koriyama. The train normally runs between Koriyama to Kitakata on the Ban'etsu West Line, but during the winter it runs between Koriyama to Sendai on the Tohoku Line.

All the seats on the FruiTea (pronounced froo-tee-ah!) Fukushima are in the dining car, which features box seats with tables so you can enjoy your desserts comfortably while enjoying the view outside. There are only 34 seats available on the train, and since it operates mainly on the weekends, it’s best to get your tickets ahead of time! Tickets are available for sale from 1 month in advance at JR East Travel Service Centers for select stations including Tokyo and Shinjuku.

#HHWT Tip: While most Joyful Trains require a minimum of two pax to reserve seats, for the FruiTea Fukushima reservations are also accepted for solo travellers!

Each passenger is served two types of fruit desserts made with fresh fruits grown in Fukushima, along with hot coffee and fruit juice alongside.

We took the FruiTea Fukushima while exploring Tohoku and were able to enjoy jelly that had Ogonto peaches and Shine Muscat grapes. The fruits were really sweet and delicious, and it was a fun experience to dine in the elegant car while tucking into them!

Halal status: Please note that the desserts served change according to the fruits in season and may contain alcohol. We recommend that you clarify the ingredients of the desserts with staff before consumption and to dine at your own discretion.

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The adjoining car has a counter where local products are sold, and there’s also free-flow iced coffee and tea that passengers can help themselves to.

6. HIGH RAIL 1375

Route: Kobuchizawa ↔Komoro on the Koumi Line

Accessible from: Sakudaira Shinkansen Station, transfer from Tokyo / Karuizawa / Nagano on the Nagano Shinkansen. Can be done as a half-day trip from Tokyo or Nagano!

JR East Pass coverage: JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata Area), JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

Frequency: 2-3 times per day during weekends and public holidays. Also operates on some Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays during summer months.

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

Would you believe that there’s a train with a planetarium on board? That’s exactly what you’ll find on HIGH RAIL 1375, a Joyful Train that runs on the Koumi Line! This line has the highest elevation of all the train lines in the JR East network at 1,375m, which is also the meaning behind the train’s name.

Credit: @caensonwu on Instagram

In addition, the Koumi Line runs through the beautiful mountainous area of Mount Yatsugatake which is a popular spot for star-gazing.  The train aims to celebrate this with a design concept of “the train closest to the sky”! ?

Credit: @n.mukaiyama on Instagram

On this train, you’ll find seats that vary from normal reclining seats to single and paired seats that face the window.

#HHWT Tip: The HIGH RAIL 1375 is a reserved seating-only train. You can book your seats 1 month in advance online (at no extra cost!).

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The key attraction of the train is the HIGH RAIL Gallery in Car 2 where there’s a domed planetarium which is projected with images of the night sky. There’s also a library with books related to astronomy (mostly in Japanese though!).

The train runs up to three a day (morning, daytime and evening), with each offering a distinctly unique experience - during the day, you can admire the wonderful highland scenery that the train passes by. During the evening train, the HIGH RAIL 1375 stops at Nobeyama station for about 1 hour, and passengers can take a free guided stargazing tour led by a local! How cool is that!

Credit: @ke351_kudorf on Instagram

To commemorate your time on this special train, don’t forget to drop by the sales counter in Car 1 where a variety of souvenirs are available for purchase. A popular (and affordable!) item is the gachapon (capsule toy machine), where you can get a pin badge decorated with a constellation for only JPY100.

7. Toreiyu Tsubasa

Route: Fukushima ↔ Shinjo on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line

Accessible from: Fukushima Shinkansen Station, Yamagata Shinkansen Station

JR East Pass coverage: JR East Pass (Tohoku Area)

Frequency: Usually once a day (each way) on weekends and public holidays

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

So far we’ve looked at trains that have onboard cafes, art museums and planetariums. But prepare to take it a step further: the Toreiyu Tsubasa is the first and only shinkansen and Joyful Train to feature an actual footbath on board! This feature is meant to pay tribute to the many hot springs that are famous in the Yamagata prefecture ?

Note: The Toreiyu Tsubasa train is an all-reserved seating train. Passengers with the JR East Pass (Tohoku Area) can make their seat reservation at no extra cost. However, please note that to enjoy the footbath you need to reserve your slot separately. It costs JPY450 per person for a 15-minute slot and is subject to availability. You can reserve your footbath slot at the counter located in Car 15 (near the end of the train) when boarding.

Passengers on the Toreiyu Tsubasa can sit in the Ordinary Car which has regular seats, but we recommend going for the tatami mat seating available in Cars 12 to 14! You’ll find spacious seats with tatami mats that face each other, configured for 2 or 4 people.

#HHWT Tip: You can choose the tatami seating (select box seats) when reserving your seats online!

For your footbath, you’ll be allocated a specific time slot when purchasing your tickets. Head to the footbath car (Car 16) 10 minutes prior to your scheduled timing. You’ll be given a special commemorative towel that you can use to dry your feet with after the footbath (and you get to keep it!) plus a bag to store your shoes.

There are two footbaths available, each accommodating up to four people. The water is nice and warm, with jets swirling the water around - it’ll feel like heaven for your feet while you watch the views outside! Do be mindful of the time - once your 15 minutes are up, you’ll have to dry your feet then make way for the next group of people.

#HHWT Tip: Only customers with footbath tickets are allowed to enter the car while the train is travelling. For passengers who aren’t planning to use the footbath but still want to take a peek at the footbath car, you can do so while the train is at the station!

Credit: Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

Adjacent to the footbath care is the Yuagari Lounge (Car 15). This lounge car has a counter selling local products. We recommend getting the 100% fruit juices made with local fruits (JPY150 each) - they were super sweet and refreshing! You can enjoy your drink while sitting at the tatami chairs equipped with tables.

8. Resort View Furusato

Route: Nagano ↔ Minami-Otari on the Shinonoi Line and Oito Line

Accessible from: Nagano Shinkansen Station (90min bullet train ride from Tokyo), Matsumoto Station (2.5 hours from Shinjuku)

JR East Pass coverage: JR East Pass (Nagano, Niigata Area)

Frequency: Usually once a day (each way) on weekends and public holidays.

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The Resort View Furusato train is another Joyful Train that will blow you away with its incredible views. Furusato means hometown in Japanese, and you’ll see plenty of beautiful villages as the train winds through scenic areas filled with mountains, rivers and lakes.

Credit: @yamachan_tamasakai on Instagram

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to ride the Resort View Furusato train that has a cute exterior featuring Arukuma, the chubby green bear with his trademark apple-shaped hood that’s the mascot for the Nagano prefecture! The hood represents the abundance of apples grown there ?

Credit: East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

The train boasts super spacious seats that guarantee a comfortable ride - they can even rotate so you can face your friends if travelling in a group! It’s also handy for when the train passes through Matsumoto station, as the train route is in a rough V-shape, meaning that that the train will head in the opposite direction. For those that prefer facing ahead in the same direction that the train moves, you can just swap your seat direction around accordingly.

Credit: Left - @linggermaine on Instagram; Right - Carissa Loh, East Japan Railway Company (JR East)

Similar to the Resort Shirakami train, the Resort View Furusato has stops along the way where passengers can get a taste of the region. At Obasute station, you can get off and snap photos of the incredible views of the town below. It’s an awesome view both in the warmer months as well as the winter months when everything is covered in a blanket of snow! ?

Credit: @r.m.ichsan on Instagram

At Hotaka Station, passengers can disembark and take a short walk to the beautiful Hotaka Shrine, which is surrounded by ancient trees. In addition, from Hotaka to Shinano-Omachi, local volunteers will do live performances onboard, singing folk songs and playing traditional instruments.

Disclaimer: Do note that at Shinano-Omachi Station, passengers will be given local foods to sample such as oyaki (steamed vegetable buns with various fillings like red bean, eggplant, and pickled vegetables). We recommend that you check the ingredients with staff prior to consumption and to dine at your own discretion.

We absolutely love how Japan continues to elevate its train travel for passengers, not just in terms of efficiency and comfort, but also in designing fun and unique experiences to make it more memorable. Where else will you find trains that have footbaths and Pikachu-themed playrooms? Plus, having the JR East Pass Tohoku Area or Nagano, Niigata Area will help make it a fuss-free experience to ride them! We feel so lucky that we were able to experience some of these trains while we were exploring Tohoku, and hope that more Muslim travellers will venture forth to have these one-of-a-kind train experiences for themselves.

About the JR East Pass

All of JR East’s Joyful Trains mentioned in this article (with the exception of FruiTea Fukushima) are covered under either the JR East Tohoku Area Pass or the JR East Nagano, Niigata Area Pass. Besides being a cost-effective way to travel by train, these 5-day passes (flexible with a 14-day period) also allows you to reserve seats up to 1 month in advance from 10am Japan time for free! It’s highly recommended to reserve your seats ahead of time for the Joyful Trains as they usually don’t run as frequently as regular trains and seats do get snapped up rather quickly.

Here’s how much the JR East passes cost (do note that it advised to buy them ahead of time in your home country as it’s cheaper!):

The JR East Pass can be purchased from:

This article was brought to you by JR East.