Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cassiopeia Trip from Tokyo to Sapporo

Back in January this year while in Japan, my wife and I took a trip on the Cassiopeia luxury train from Tokyo (Ueno Station) to Sapporo in Hokkaido.

We decided to ride this train because it will soon stop running forever. The Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Aomori is being extended to Hokkaido. The Shinkansen uses standard guage tracks and the Cassiopeia (and other long distance trains in Japan) run on narrow gauge.

Once the Shinkansen line is completed through the Seikan tunnel (the tunnel between Hokkaido and the main island in Japan called Honshu), the Cassiopeia will no longer be able to use the tunnel due to the new track gauge. In addition, converting the train to standard gauge makes little sense when the shinkansen trip will be much faster - hence the decision that the overnight trains to Sapporo (Twilight Express, Cassiopeia and Hokutosei) will cease running.

All the more reason to experience the Cassiopeia journey now! The trip leaves in the evening from Ueno Station in Tokyo, and arrives in the morning in Sapporo. The Cassiopeia service started in 1999, and as such is a modern train compared to other overnight trains still in service in Japan..

Here are some views of Cassopeia waiting at the platform at Ueno Station, ready for departure - all photos can be clicked on for a bigger version. first up is the rear car, housing the Suites, which I am glad to say we are travelling in for this journey:

Close up of the destination display on Cassiopeia:

View down the platform:

View of the rear of the Cassiopeia train, and the Platform information board:

Inside the carriage, I took some photos of the Suite, which is on two levels - the sleeping quarters below (including evening pyjamas and toiletries)...

And the lounge/shower/toilets and viewing area above:

View from the seat, while waiting at the station:

The toilet/shower room in the Suite - there is a countdown timer for the shower allowing 8 minutes per person in the background you can see a bar that is raised while in the shower to prevent slipping and falling out of the shower with sudden train movements:

View of the front of the train - Cassiopeia changes locos several times - this loco disconnects once at Aomori for a different (red) electric loco designed to go through the Seikan tunnel, and again once into Hokkaido for a diesel engine for the final leg to Sapporo.

Next is a photo from the outside of the lounge car with a great view from the front of the train:

 Below is the view of the Dining car from outside - the bottom level has stairs to enter the dining area on the upper level, and a passageway for passengers to walk through the carriage to the carriages beyond:

With the 5 minute warning I rushed back into our Suite!

In the upper level of the suite there is a real time map display on the tv showing where the train is, and also providing the option to watch several Japanese tv channels:

Seated and ready to get underway!

As we departed, we received a knock on the door of our suite, and the attendant gave us some welcome drinks and nibbles, including wine, spirits and beer. As we left the station, we noticed a woman on a Tokyo commuter train staring enviously at us enjoying the train trip. My wife and I raised our glasses to the journey and to the girl on the train and I noticed she smiled and waved back at us :-)

Soon after this, dinner was served, so we went off to the dining car. The dining car is quite modern and spacious compared to what I am used to in Australia:

A fresh rose was on the table when we sat down:

This is the Cassiopeia Menu:

And of course I had to take photos of the beautiful meals served to us - very nice indeed, with some Seafood dishes to kick off:

Beef is expensive and small portions in Japan - it was nice to be able to have some on the train:

Dessert was absolutely delicious also, with ice cream, fruit and a white chocolate in the shape of the island of Hokkaido (our destination) and the decorative design to look like the Cassiopeia logo:

In addition to the Suites, there are also more standard cabins on the Cassiopeia, so I took some photos of them as I wandered through the train after dinner - this room seats/sleeps three:

This room is a twin room also, but for two:

You can see in this twin room the bed folds down with steps leading up to it's down position - the bottom seat turns into a lower bed:

I wandered all the way to the front of the train (the suites are at the end of the train) to spend some time in the lounge car - surprisingly when we arrived it was empty, but it soon filled up as people finished their dinner and wandered down to enjoy the view:

After a while in here we retired to our suite to relax and sleep. In the morning, we woke to our call for breakfast being served - we have arrived in Hokkaido and being January, plenty of snow:

Some views next from the dining car at the passing scenery in Hokkaido as we enjoyed our  breakfast, western style eggs and bacon for me, Japanese breakfast for my wife:

Getting close to Sapporo now:

Outskirts of Sapporo:

We then arrive into Sapporo Station. Despite being well prepared with plenty of winter clothing, I was still surprised just how cold it was when we got outside the Cassiopeia and onto the platform:

Cassiopeia at the platform in Sapporo Station:

As mentioned earlier the loco changed a couple of times on the journey, with the final section in Hokkaido run with two diesel locos - here are some photos of them:

The snow on the platform was very slippery - glad to have snow shoes on!

Trackwork at Sapporo Station:

Some final photos of Cassiopeia as it quickly departs the platform to allow space for local line trains:

Cassiopeia disappearing into the distance:

This is a local train that arrived just as Cassiopeia left the platform at Sapporo Station:

Inside Sapporo Station concourse:

Outside the Sapporo Station building - it was freezing which I think is why hardly anyone was outside:

Next we took the subway from Sapporo Station to Odori Station to look around central Sapporo - here is some photos of the subway train and platform:

Note the lack of railway tracks - the subway trains run on guided tyres like some lines in Tokyo too (the Yurikamome line comes to mind):

Odori Station platform sign and entry from the street level:

We went to the top of JR's building to look over the skyline of Sapporo from their observation deck that allows a 360 degree view of the city - here I include some photos of the trains coming into/out of Sapporo station on a very cold and snowy winter's day:

Back on ground level we took a tram to our hotel:

View from inside the tram:

The tram arrived at our final destination, our hotel for the evening:

The next blog entry will look at the next days trains we took from Sapporo to Otaru and beyond. See you again soon!


  1. Can you let me know how you managed to get the Suite on this train? I will be travelling in July and would like to take this luxurious overnight train to Sapporo. Heard that it is very difficult to get a booking.

    1. Yes it is difficult to secure a Suite on the Cassiopeia as there is no online booking option, and with it stopping soon it will get harder still as the Japan train fans try to get on it. JR train Bookings for this train don't open until 1 or 2 months before (from memory). In our case we booked via JTB travel in Japan ahead of the one/two month booking window, with my wife doing the talking in Japanese! JTB then secured the Suite on our behalf once the JR booking window opened for the date we wanted to travel - we allowed for additional travel days too just in case - the travel agency tried for two separate departure days (Cassiopeia is only one train per day) and both types of Suites. We don't live in Japan so we used Skype out to dial local call cost into Japan. JTB has agencies all over the world, so it should be possible to engage them locally too, but our local JTB told us to talk to JTB Japan direct for this, so we did so. We also bought and used the Japan Rail Pass as I was doing lots of other train trips and it can be used for the non-express part of the Cassiopeia ticket cost if you have it and advise JTB you plan to use it. You can also try pot luck when in Japan and go direct to JR or View Travel agency to book directly - often there are cancellations - I used this tactic to get onto the Tohoku Emotion train as it was booked out. I hope this helps you out and hopefully you can secure a ticket. It is a great trip! :-)

    2. Thank you for your valuable answer. This is very helpful for me to plan this out. Sounds like I would need travel agency help to get a booking on this special train. I will probably have to have a fallout plan too if the booking is full. Your review is great and provided me with lots of detailed information which is quite difficult to find. Thanks again!