Last month I had written about ways that you could travel by train from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, given that there are no more direct overnight trains that run between the two cities.
Alas, one of the options that I had mentioned is about to disappear. Today the Japan Railways group of companies released their timetable amendments to take effect in March of 2010. This is called, in Japanese terms, the “DAIYA”, short for diagram. As part of their announcement: The Hokuriku and Noto overnight trains will be discontinued. These will be the sixth and seventh overnight trains, respectively, that Japan has abolished since 2008 due to low ridership.
The era of the ‘blue trains’, as they are called in Japan, may be coming to an end… although the more higher-end and luxurious overnight services still remain popular. These include the Cassiopea from Tokyo to Sapporo, the Twilight Express from Osaka and Kyoto to Sapporo, and the Sunrise Seto from Tokyo to the island of Shikoku.
But we’re not dealing with those trains in this article… we’re trying to figure out how to get you overnight by train from Tokyo to the Kansai region. There’s only one option left for you to take… the Toki/Kitaguni combination, as I mentioned in a previous article.
Or, IS there only one option left?
There is another option, which may end up being a little hectic, may require a little bit of research, and will cost you – although if you are using a Japan Rail Pass, it won’t cost much. It’s pretty straightforward, and makes sense too… choose an inexpensive accomodation along your travel route, and stay there for the night. An interesting method of tackling overnight journeys, but think about it: while the trains are shut down for the night, you can get a little bit of shuteye at a hotel that’s located close to the train station – in most cases, with access to your own personal toilet and shower.
So the method I suggest is as follows: Going from Point A to Point B, take a late-night train from Point A in the direction of Point B. The train will terminate at some location along the way, which we’ll call Point C. Stay in a hotel at Point C, then when the trains begin to run again in the morning, hop on one of the first ones that go to Point B.
The advantages to traveling in this way are: LOCATION and MONEY. You will more than likely find good accomodations very close to a main train station in a smaller city, compared to a big city such as Tokyo, and it will more than likely be cheaper than hotels found in a metropolis.
For travel between Tokyo and Kyoto/Osaka, for example, you can use the Tokaido Shinkansen late at night and sleep over at a hotel in Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Toyohashi or Nagoya; In the morning, grab one of the first bullet train departures in the same direction to continue your trip.
Here’s an itinerary that covers this idea.
1. Take one of the last bullet trains from Tokyo for the evening: Shinkansen Hikari 533, Depart Tokyo 22:00 (10 PM), arrive Hamamatsu 23:16.
2. Stay at the Toyoko Inn Hamamatsu-eki Kita, a 5 minute walk from the train station, where a Single Room costs just 6,000 yen.
3. Return to Hamamatsu station in the morning and take the first train – Shinkansen Kodama 693, Depart Hamamatsu 6:32, Arrive Kyoto 7:58, Arrive Shin-Osaka 8:13.
So, you can rest on the trains if you wish, and definitely rest in a hotel with access to your own shower and toilet. And with this method, you’ll get to Kyoto and Osaka BEFORE the early morning bullet trains of the day from Tokyo make their arrivals.
These are merely suggestions of course. With the right amount of planning, you can choose your own path – not to mention adventure – as you travel around the land of the rising sun! Merry Christmas!
(Travel suggestions are, as per usual, pursuant to the Jose’s Japan Tips disclaimer)