Japan’s Shiki-shima, the new 10-car sleeper train that embarked on its inaugural voyage last week, is an exercise in luxury travel on wheels. From its champagne-gold exterior, opulent suites, Michelin-starred chefs and uniformed butlers to its futuristic observation cars, lacquerware latticework and, in one suite, an aromatic cypress wood bath, the train is nothing short of a wonder.
The JR East-operated train—whose name means ‘Island of Four Seasons’—will carry up to 34 passengers a time from Tokyo across the northern Tohoku region (the worst-hit area in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami), as well as the northernmost island Hokkaido, for trips of between one and three nights’ duration.
In addition to a luxury interior to rival a top five-star hotel—created by Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama, a designer famed for his work with Porsche, Ferrari and several bullet trains—Shiki-shima also showcases cutting-edge rail technology, with an ultra-modern motor that can be used both on diesel engine and electric train lines, reports The Telegraph, UK.
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Perhaps the only thing Shiki-shima isn’t about is speed: it travels up to a modest 110 kph—nearly three times slower than the 320 kph top speed of the nation’s fastest bullet train. Despite the hefty price-tag for travelling on the train (from £2,242 per person), there is clearly a market for such a luxury: it’s already sold out until March 2018, The Telegraph says.
If the exterior of the train is undeniably futuristic, the inside, punctuated by geometric patterns of cut-out windows, is an elegant mix of contemporary Japanese design and artisan craftsmanship.
The forest-inspired ‘Lounge’ has curved gold-metal “branches” lining the interior walls, a black piano (guests can make musical requests in advance), a modern glass fireplace (using steam for safety) and Herringbone parquet wood flooring, the report adds.
Narrow corridors leading to the 17 sleeper suites showcase Japan’s artisan heritage, with lacquerware latticework in the form of traditional flowers and doors covered with interwoven strips of leather-like brown metal.
Food is another highlight. The elegant restaurant car—complete with half-moon-shaped tables, artisan lacquerware and custom-designed cutlery—is home to a French-inspired menu using seasonal ingredients from along the train route as devised by Katsuhiro Nakamura, the first Japanese chef to receive a Michelin star.
Among the other highlights of the train are the two observatory cars at either end of the train that are approached by walking through a dramatically scarlet-red corridor (with a glass door showcasing the engine), says The Telegraph.
This gives way to a sun-flooded raised seating area with curved walls, futuristic cut-out windows, white leather seating and a grass-like green carpet (designed by architect Kengo Kuma), plus a view of the white-gloved driver and conductor through a clear partition.
Shiki-shima’s popularity confirms Japan’s growing trend for slow but luxurious rail travel—an apparent reflection of its rapidly ageing population and the growing value of the deep-pocketed “silver market”.
The new train joins the ranks of the opulent Seven Stars train, which has operated across southern Kyushu since 2013. Meanwhile, the new Twilight Express Mizukaze, a 10-car deluxe sleeper train covering western Japan, launches in June this year.