Some people in Japan are fans of trains. Some are fans of ekiben, which means bento usually bought at train stations to be eaten on the train.
Now, there is a new breed of fans of restaurant trains – a new kind of sightseeing train that is on track for a boom in Japan. Unlike the shinkansen, or bullet railway, these are usually local trains, which means you can actually enjoy the scenery go past slowly your the window. Shinano Railway, based in Nagano Prefecture, starting running the Rokumon Restaurant Train in July last year (Shinano is the old name for the Nagano Prefecture).
In case you were wondering, Rokumon – which literally means six cents – refers to the shape of the family crest of the Sanada Clan. The red ochre hue of the train is a reference to the colour of the armour used by Sanada Yukimura, hailed as one of the most brilliant war strategists in the history of Japan’s Warring States Period.
The train makes several stops along the way, and those passengers who did not opt for the full meal course (which costs 12,800 yen per peron) can get off. One of the stops is the Ueda Station, where the Sanada Clan’s castle is located. The train does slow down when it passes by the castle, but it’s of a rather humble dimension and easy to miss in a blink. (It was so small and covered by other structures I couldn’t take a photo!)
And finally, the highlight of the ride, the meal on board. This was the menu of the day. The meal was prepared by a Japanese fine dining restaurant located in Ofuse, one of the smallest towns in the prefecture.
And this was the dessert of the day – freshly made mochi with matcha!
As one of the aims of the restaurant train is to introduce the lesser-known areas along the Shinano Line, the train makes several stops along the way.
At the first stop, you can buy local onsen manjyu (buns filled with red bean paste) made specially as Rokumon Train souvenirs, and sample onsen tea and coffee (made with onsen water).
In one of the three carriages, there is a play area for children. The wooden balls and in fact, the wooden furniture, are all made from trees grown in the Nagano prefecture.
The view of Mt Asama along the way is quite a treat for the eyes.
And before you know it, you’re at the final stop – Karuizawa.
This is certainly one trip where it’s as much about the journey as the destination!