Saturday, December 16, 2023

Shiki-Shima train journey

 Finally, after 4 years of trying, I have finally won the lottery for a ticket on the luxury Shiki Shima train in Japan, which is one of the most difficult trains in the world to get a ticket to ride, and one of the most expensive also! 

I got to ride on the Shiki-Shima train in October 2023 and it is an amazing train!

I will cover the full experience, so you know what to expect if you want to ride on it also, inside the train in detail, and my thoughts on the value versus the high cost too.

Before riding this train I was in Toyama area of Japan, and rode a number of interesting trains in that region that I will hopefully cover soon in another blog entry. For now though, I want to focus on Shiki Shima, as that was the main reason to come to Japan in October!

Shiki-Shima is a luxury train run by JR East, and it departs from Ueno station in Tokyo, using a special platform reserved only for Shiki Shima.

I needed to apply on the official website during the application period 6 months ahead of the departure date, to enter a lottery to get one of the prized tickets on this train. It only has capacity for 34 passengers.

The train has 10 carriages, with 2 observation cars at each end, lounge car, dining car, and the remainder for various classes of suites for passengers.

The fanciest rooms command a huge price, and there is also only one of each of them, making the chances to get one of those rooms extremely low. Given the high price, the base level suite was all I could afford, so I went for that. Luckily, I was able to get it after 4 years of trying!

The base suite for the shortest trip for two people (2 days 1 night) cost 740,000Yen, which is around AUD$7727, USD$4936, EUR4661. Yikes! I had to save a long time to get the money together for it. The other rooms cost a lot more and were simply out of my budget.

My trip on the amazing luxury train Seven Stars of Kyushu train back in 2015 was around the same money but for 4 days and 3 nights. JR Kyushu started this trend in Japan for luxury trains and set the bar really high. So the other trains needed to be at least at that level or higher to compete! You can read more about my experiences on that train in my blogs posts here: Part 1   Part 2   

There are now multiple luxury trains in Japan, including Seven stars in Kyushu by JR Kyushu, Mizukaze (Twilight Express) by JR West, Shiki-Shima by JR East, and The Royal Express by Tokyu. There are many other joyful trains (as they call them in Japan) which have various elements of train luxury included also!

I will say that the food and excursion experiences on the Shiki-Shima train are the same regardless which room you choose.

After payment was completed, personal preferences were collected in a questionnaire, and later, trip information was sent via email a few weeks prior to the trip commencing.

I spent the night before the train departed in a hotel in Tokyo station, which is nearby to Ueno station.

I selected the JR Metropolitan Marunochi hotel as it has  great view over Tokyo station if you select the right rooms, which of course I did.

How good? See for yourself! Here are some photos from the room on the 34th floor looking towards the above ground platforms at Tokyo station:



Night time view:

The room also includes a bath with a view too - the toilet is in here too though so you need to be a bit careful with the windows open as people can definitely see in from local buildings!

We needed to get up early to be at the Ueno station by 8am to enter the Shiki Shima prologue lounge. As we passed through Ueno station to enter it, you can see the locked platform entry for Shiki Shima:

Closer view of the locked platform 13 entry point:

The lounge is located inside the station. In our case, as we travelled there by local JR train from Tokyo station, we were already inside the station. If you travel from a hotel via taxi to the station, a member of staff would meet you at the Ueno station entry to escort you through.

The Prologue lounge is located next to the platform the train arrives on:

Here is the prologue inside entry hall area:

After you enter they take you to your seat:

You are given this nice woven tote bag with luggage tags and a folder containing the details of the journey.

As per the information sheet on the table above (English on one side, Japanese on the other), a small sweet snack and a blended tea is provided, with the sweets on a beautiful red plate, which is for sale also. 

The Shikishima logo is the centre - I love the design. Needless to say I bought two of the plates to take home.

You can also see the other items for sale in the cabinet in the Prologue lounge - be still my wallet.

I ordered the plates (as mentioned) and also the coasters.

There are towels, fragrances and much more too:

I bought the Audio CD of the train theme, which they also play inside the train during the journey.

There is also a fancy pen, postcards and more. I grabbed some of these too.

Some examples of local Japanese craftsmanship are also on display in the Prologue lounge, but these cannot be purchased.

The room fills up as the other travellers arrive:

You also get to choose another tea or coffee while waiting:

I went for the coffee.

Soon after they announce the arrival of the train, and we are taken outside to take a look:

I saw this train in plenty of videos before I came, so I knew what to expect, but the train is a very unique design, which is a big part of the appeal of it.

The windows in the viewing lounge of the first (and last car) grabs your attention straight away - I have never seen train windows arranged like this before.

The attendants all dressed up and looking great are paying attention too as the train arrives into the platform.

I already love this train - I want to get on it!

Here is a close of the first carriage looking backward towards the end of the car:

The next car has an interesting arrangement of small windows, but more on this later.

Back in the Prologue lounge, they gives us an iPad with a video in English (or Japanese) of the features of the suite we are staying in while on the Shiki-Shima train.

The staff welcome us, and introduce themselves one after the other, including all the train crew and even the head of Ueno station!

They also gave us another gift, exclusive to those who travel on Shiki-Shima, a very nice pin. I immediately put on mine and still use it now on my work shirt back at home too!

One by one, the staff came to take each couple to platform 13.5 and onboard Shiki-Shima train to their suite. 

We boarded one by one in a way that meant we had our own uninterrupted view of the train as we approached. The platform is only for Shiki-Shima and has the logo on the roof too!

As we passed, the train driver bowed, as is the Japanese custom.

There is only one entrance to Shiki-Shima, which is in Car 5, the very impressive and luxurious Lounge car. It is by far my favourite room on the train.

They also grab photos of you in front with the crew. Upon entry to the train, you see the fireplace i the lounge car down the steps which immediately grabbed my attention - how often do you see that on a train!

A pianist was playing music on the piano in the lounge car as we entered - very nice!

As mentioned, the lounge car is STUNNING. It is probably my favourite train carriage of all time. I wanted to spend the whole trip here, and did spend quite a bit of time in it.

The gold tree structures looks amazing, and the windows are just so different, while still providing an amazing vista as the train moves along the Japanese countryside.

As we are taken to our room, we pass through the dining car (Car 6) also:

I can see the chefs are already hard at work preparing our lunch meal, which today will be served in the dining car on the train.

Our room is in Car 9, which is the second to last car, which car 10 being the front of the train (in the initial direction of travel).

Of note is the windows, which are the same on each of the suite cars, and include a handle to steady yourself on the mid level windows along the passageway. Nice touch.

Our room is the standard suite, as that is all I could afford! That said though, it is still a very expensive suite, and accordingly still very beautiful and well appointed.

The seats convert into beds at night, which the crew does while we are at dinner. As seats, they are extremely comfortable.

There is a beautiful box to put the room key in:

Note to Shiki-Shima marketing people - Please sell this box - it is lovely.

The key to the room has a beautiful key ring with 901 etched into it. The room can be locked from the inside, or from outside using the key when you are not in it.

You can see the view of the platform outside from the large window, and there are smaller ones you can open below and to the right side of the large window:

Looking the other way, you can see the large storage cupboard on the left, and more storage on the right with a light. The door takes you through to the bathroom. More on this soon.

In the cupboard is space for luggage, hanging space for suits and dresses, safe, and fridge with complimentary drinks in it.

Actually I was thirsty, so I wasted little time drinking the nice green tea and fruit drinks on offer:

Closer look at the drinks included in the fridge.

Next up, the bathroom, it is stunning. Japanese bidet toilet naturally, and a full amenities kit, which we definitely took home. :-)

Close up of the amenities:

There is a full shower and basin, with plenty of water (time limited) to have a shower whenever you want! 

The light indicators in the shower let you know how much water is left. Green good, red bad. :-)

You can also open up the windows in the bathroom as below, although I don't imagine many would be doing that while on the toilet since the windows have no frosting and therefore no privacy...

Having them closed is much better.

There is also a hair dryer in the cupboard:

The Shiki-shima glasses in the bathroom were very nice - pity they didn't sell these.

An iPhone is in the room allowing internet access via hotspot, and information about the days itinerary and other information.

There is climate controlled air conditioning in the room, fully adjustable. The lights switches for different sets of lights in the room can also be adjusted here. I quickly reduced the air conditioner temperature from the insane unpleasantly hot 28 degrees Japanese have a thing about doing for some reason, to a much more gaijin friendly 21 degrees. Much better...

Controls can be displayed in Japanese or English. 

At this moment, we then got underway, with the staff waving flags from the platform as we set off from Ueno station:

Eager to look around, I went into car 10 the front viewing carriage to see the amazing room they have there. This means passing through a fully red painted entry area in car 10.

The views from the ibuki view terrace, as they called it, are fantastic:

There is a full glass panel with door separating the view terrace from the drivers cab, with a wonderful view of the path we are travelling on:

The seats are very comfortable, and offer a great view through the very uniquely shaped windows in this carriage:

The drivers cab is very spacious - I imagine it must be wonderful for the drivers using it, compared to the usual commuter trains they probably drive around for JR East:

I did manage to hit my head on the roof in the view terrace, so be careful if you are tall!

After a while relaxing in here, I returned to our cabin to enjoy the views from our room, which had transformed into the Japanese country side.

We were lucky to have a nice clear day and could see the Japanese Alps easily from our room.

I reviewed the itinerary for the 2 day trip, which is provided in Japanese and English:

The time flew by and before we knew it, it was lunch time, and our first meal on Shiki-shima, in the dining car:

This is also a stunning space, and each meal we are seated in a different area of the carriage.

Attention to detail is in evidence, with the menus for me in English, and my wife in Japanese.

Todays lunch is Chinese food, made by chefs from a local popular restaurant:

The menu for lunch looks good - no choices to be made here, just enjoy the experience:

You can of course order whatever drinks you like - champagne to start and the apricot plum juice followed as part of the meal service.

In the Japanese way, food is intricate, delicious, a served in multiple small dishes:

The food as expected, was delicious.

The views outside the dining car at this point were pretty terrific as well!

More dishes arrived, each tasting delicious as you would expect!

The dessert signals the end of the lunch service - Japanese always aim for people to feel "just full", and goal achieved.

Soon after lunch we reached our first stop at Nittsu, where we would leave Shiki-Shima for a side trip. We were welcomed everywhere we went.

The staff explained the process and that we would leave via a dedicated Shiki-shima entrance/exit, rather than the usual station building.

To be honest, that was not really necessary to do, but I guess it makes people feel special.

I could get a nice view of the train outdoors where at Nittsu.

The train is rarely running, so plenty of locals went to take a look at this train.

I love the train colour, and the fact it looks so different to every other train I have ever travelled on.

At the exit to the station was this lovely Shiba dog, complete with cute station master hat. Japanese love anything cute. Japan is the king of cute - they really know how to do it well here.

We boarded a bus to take us to a nearby town.

The bus is well appointed, with power outlets and tables for our drinks, which were promptly supplied.

Along the way to Niigata, they explained the history of the area, which was quite interesting.

I seriously don't know why the train could not have gone to Niigata directly, which is part of JR East network. It was very confusing to me.

Anyway, we were taken to a local Geisha house in Niigata, to witness a real Geisha performance with 2 Geisha from the local area.

Such a performance is rare and expensive to experience, so it was great to be able to see it.

Photos were allowed, but no video unfortunately.

Outside there is a small garden full of lotus flowers, and you can see the autumn leaves are definitely starting - I imagine this view would look more stunning in a few more weeks.

We then board the bus to return to Nittsu to continue our journey on Shiki-Shima:

At this stage it was sunset and the view from the bus as we returned was very nice:

Once back at Nittsu, we then rebounded the train. I was glad to grab photos of the train earlier, as it was almost dark when we returned and it was starting to rain too:

Returning to our room, the staff had already converted our seats into comfy beds, complete with pyjamas to wear.

Before that though, there is of course dinner to have, and an evening of entertainment in the lounge car to enjoy!

We moved onto the dining car for dinner service.

The drinks you can order vary with each meal, which is good to see. The menu booklet looked great:

The lacquer placemat is a Shiki-shima original - I flipped it over to see the logo on the bottom - it is made in Aizu:

Knifes and forks - my hope is for real Japanese wagyu beef for this dinner.

First, the entree dishes arrive, and are delicious again!

The bread was freshly baked and delicious too, and I admit to having quite a few of them as I was quite hungry!

The obligatory fish dishes arrived, which tasted fresh and good as always in Japan.

Next they change the knife for a very high quality knife made in Japan - check out the detail on it below. Surely this is for the wagyu beef?

Yes! It is:

The Wagyu beef didn't disappoint - it was melt in the mouth delicious. I mentioned to the attendant how delicious it was and was there any more? To my surprise the chef made another one just for me! I was very happy indeed!

Dessert them followed, and it was delicious also. Food is a national obsession in Japan - I don't think I have ever had a bad meal in a restaurant here.

With the dinner finished and definitely full, we moved to the lounge car, which as mentioned is my favourite carriage on this train, and indeed on any train.

It is BEAUTIFUL. The local gold tree decorations in the carriage that "holds up" the roof look stunning. The Shiki-shima logo is reflected in the roof from the lights below.

Here is a nice photo in the lounge car showing the lower level view next to the heater, with the local area Aka-beko (red cow made out of paper masche with a string holding the head that moves) in the foreground.

In the background is a pianist and violinist playing a concert of music for the guests. It was very relaxing and enjoyable.

The violinist serenaded each of the guests during her performance - it was wonderful.

The lounge car has it's own menu of cocktails, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and you can order some food too:

I grabbed a creme caramel while I was relaxing in the lounge car:

Close to midnight, we arrived at the town of Obasute, which has a stunning view from the station platform of the town at night.

It was chilly outside, but we went outside to take a look:

The view was indeed wonderful, in spite of the cold and rainy weather.

With that we returned to our room, and it was almost midnight, so time for sleep on the train!

Day 2 - we awoke early after a good nights rest on the train. We are at Enzan station, with a curious stone formation on the platform.

We are ushered off the train again as our breakfast will be served in a french restaurant nearby:

We are all loaded onto a new bus, this time with black seating and gold trim logo - I like it!

The breakfast was typical Japanese fare, with seafood, soup and salad. As they had our names on the tables, I couldn't crop them out of the photos - so I don't have many photos to share of it.

The view of the small garden outside was nice though.

There is a larger garden beyond this room that we visited before we went back onto the bus:

Here is the bus:

They took us for a reasonable length drive into the hills nearby to visit a winery for a wine tasting.

We went on a walking tour through the vineyard, with the process explained, and that they were going to plant grapes from europe but decided to stay true to their Japanese location and produce the best possible Japanese wine.

The views across the vineyards to the Japan Alps in the distance was nice!

Coming from Adelaide, next to the famous Barossa Valley, Mclaren Vale and Coonawarra wine regions that produce so much famous wine in Australia, this wine tasting was always going to be a tough sell for me, with high expectations!

I am not a big wine fan, but given the choice of great wines we have in Adelaide from our own famous wine regions, I went into the tasting with a slightly opinionated view of my own countries superior wine.

The wine tasting restaurant is nice, and very un-Japanese in style:

The views from the windows were nice too:

The wine was ... ummm ... not great.

I felt the passion of the wine maker about his dedication to produce Japan's best wine, but the issue was it tasted like sake. There was no fruity wine taste or other notable flavours at all.

Perhaps some may like that, but not me I am afraid. The dessert wine was the only wine I thought tasted ok from the set we tasted on the day.

With the wine tasting done, we returned to the station to a local Taiko drum performance just for us, which was very nice!

Given this is a wine region in Japan, and Japan loves all things cute, naturally there was a grape costumed character on hand as well!

We then re-board Shiki-Shima for our final lunch on the train:

The plates, cups and bowls used on the train are fantastic and change with each meal.

I thought this was a cup of green tea at first..hehe.

Chawan Mushi followed (seafood inside pudding):

The bento box style lunch was very nice indeed:

Seafood, beef, egg, vegetables and more.

The views as we ate our lunch were fantastic too!

Sadly though, we were now heading back to Ueno and the end of our Shiki-Shima train trip.

I went back to the View terrace car to enjoy the amazing views once more:

The train driver finished his shift and handed over to another driver to finish the last leg. I asked him in my best broken Japanese if he would take a photo of me in the view terrace and he obliged.

You can tell from the huge grin how happy I am to finally be riding this train.

We were shortly after that back in Ueno, and de-trained to the Prologue lounge, where we had some lovely drinks:

We were shown a video slideshow of our trip, as photos of all of us were taken by a professional photographer who was along on the trip. 

This slideshow DVD and photo album was later sent to us by post to Australia!

They also gave us  "certificate of travel", which was personally signed (not printed off) by each crew member on the train trip. For my benefit they wrote the names in English above the Kanji.

We then bid farewell to the amazing Shiki-Shima train for the last time. I will probably never ride this train again in my life, but I am so glad to have experienced it.

It is the best, most amazing train and best customer service in the world. Period. I have never had better and doubt I ever will again.

Japan does customer service like no other country.

Back in Tokyo station again, I took one last view of the platforms from our hotel room above the station, and also the Hokuriku Shinkansen trains waiting on the platform.

Also present at Tokyo Station is the Tohoku Shinkansen (Hayabusa):

Another Shinkansen present that day is the Yamagata shinkansen:

This Shinkansen splits off during the journey, so make sure you get on the right carriage!

I never get bored looking at the amazing trains in Japan. I am so envious of their focus to making the best trains, and the most beautiful trains too:

If you got this far, I hope you enjoyed all the photos, and now know what to expect should you ever be lucky enough to ride the amazing Shiki-Shima train in Japan.

I know how lucky I am to be able to ride this train. I will never forget it.


  1. What a fantastic journey. Thanks for you nice report. Very tempting (despite the price). Cheers.

  2. Not into trains at all but your report was fascinating! Thanks for sharing. Never been to Japan but really really want to go. Cheers from Sweden!

  3. Oh, that's fantastic! I'm glad you were able to take this journey and that you shared it with us. The Japanese are brilliant at trains. It's a far cry from my recent travels with DB in Germany! lol.

    D. Donkeyman

  4. Very nice report apart from all the fantastic computer stories. Enjoyable side step. Keep up the good work!