Although I’ve managed to ban the Acela from my life, opting to fly between New York City and Washington, D.C., there’s the odd occasion when I have to get on the U.S. rails and join one of the most overpriced, underwhelming experiences in travel.
And in these rare experiences, it’s easy to close the eyes and think of places where rail travel is superb: Switzerland, Austria, in some cases Italy, and of course, Japan, where travel on the Shinkansen, or bullet train, is clean, luxurious by comparison and a much faster way to get where you need to go.
Recently, the country has upped the ante in an incredible way. On May 1, a new luxury service, Shiki-Shima, launched connecting Tokyo Ueno station with Hokkaido. The four-day, three-night journey is inconceivably luxurious, with beautiful observation cars, a Harry Potter-style private platform in Tokyo, as well as the nuance and attention to detail you’d expect at a high-end Japanese hotel.
Perfect pottery, glassware, lighting and ambience. Tasuku Hiramatsu, a deputy manager at JR East, explained to the UK’s Independent, “The exterior is from the future, the interior is Japan.”
It’s a deliberate strategy from the rail operators, described by Nikkei as “keen to introduce luxury liners targeting the affluent, hoping that the new attraction can boost related businesses and diversify revenue sources.”
The Shiki-Shima luxury train consists of 10 coaches, with amenities you wouldn’t typically find on the rails including a Hinoki soaking tub and a fireplace. Price, unsurprisingly, comes at a premium with tickets ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 for a duplex room.
According to NPR: “As the train moves around Japan, the menu in its dining car will shift to reflect the ingredients and cooking style of the regions it’s passing through. To accomplish that, noted chefs who work in towns and resorts along the train’s route will either serve their food aboard the train or host passengers for meals at their restaurants.”
Don’t rush to book just yet. You have to apply, and tickets are allocated via a lottery given the rampant interest in the experience. And, regrettably, a spokesman confirmed that all tours are fully booked for the fiscal year ending March 2018.