Gourmet sightseeing trains are Japan's newest hot trend
Thursday 28, August 2014
Gourmet sightseeing trains that run on local lines across the nation are a hot trend, allowing passengers to go sightseeing while dining on authentic dishes using locally produced ingredients
As many of them operate only on weekends or limited schedules, seats are sometimes very difficult to reserve. The concept of dining leisurely while enjoying the scenery seen from a train window, which has broad appeal, has contributed to a recovery in the declining number of riders on local trains.
Shikoku Railway Co. began operating the Iyonada Monogatari sightseeing train on July 26. On weekends and national holidays, the train travels mainly around the coastal area of Ehime Prefecture. The two-car train with a capacity of 50 passengers was remodelled at a cost of about 150-million yen.
On its inaugural day, family passengers boarded the train at Matsuyama Station.
“This line hasn't been profitable, so I hope many people will ride the train and enjoy the splendid landscape along the railway track,” said JR Shikoku President Masafumi Izumi at the inauguration ceremony held at the station in the morning.
Dishes served on the train include a salad using locally grown lettuce and tomatoes, breaded fried uchiko pork featuring a local pork brand and red sea bream, which came from the nearby Seto Inland Sea, steamed in wine.
“I'm looking forward to trying the dishes made with local ingredients,” said Masako Yoneda, 50, a piano teacher in Yufu. “I like the train's old-fashioned decor, which uses plenty of wood.”
In May, Kitakinki Tango Railway Co. began operating the Tango Kuromatsu train, another gourmet sightseeing train that plies the 54-kilometre distance between Ama no Hashidate Station in Kyoto Prefecture and Toyooka Station in Hyogo Prefecture.
Passengers can dine on a salad of locally grown vegetables and roasted Kyoto beef, among other specialties. The ingredients are partially prepared at gourmet inns in the region and finished in the train's on-board kitchen.
Yukiko Saiga, 73, a homemaker in Yabu, took the train with three of her family members.
“I could tell that a lot of time and energy went into all the dishes. It's like an upscale restaurant,” she said. “The scenery you see out a train window is usually nothing special, but it seems like a different world to me now.”
The Kuromatsu train comes in three types — trains that specialise in lunches, sweets or locally brewed sake, which are offered mainly on weekends. Although the cost runs from 4 000 yen to 10 000 yen per passenger, including train fare, it is so popular that getting a reservation can be difficult.
Sightseeing trains for enjoying local delicacies are also diverse in their offerings.
Shinano Railway, which operates in Karuizawa, started operations of their Rokumon train in July, serving local specialty gourmet ham and wines made at wineries along the railway line.
Ohmi Railway Corp., which operates in eastern Shiga Prefecture, is running the Ohmi Biaden-Hoshizora Nama Biru Go (Ohmi beer train-starry sky draft beer) train until August 30. Passengers are served frozen beer.
The Tsudoi train operated by Kintetsu is equipped with seats facing windows. Ise ebi lobster soup and other local dishes are served at the counter on board.
East Japan Railway’s Tohoku Emotion train operates between Hachinohe Station in Aomori Prefecture and Kuji Station in Iwate Prefecture and provides a dessert buffet and a lunch menu featuring seafood caught off the Sanriku region.
Isumi Railway's Restaurant Kiha train operating in Chiba Prefecture serves Italian dishes, curry and rice and sashimi.
Showa Retoro Biru de Densha (Showa retro beer and train), operated by Keihan Electric Railway, travels in Shiga Prefecture and serves a bottomless mug of beer.
A Ressha de Iko (Take the A train), operated by Kyushu Railway, runs in Kumamoto Prefecture. Passengers are served highballs using locally grown dekopon citrus fruit to the sounds of jazz music.
According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, of 91 companies operating local trains, including semiprivate companies, 69 were in the red in fiscal 2012. The poor results were attributed to a decrease of about 20 percent in ridership caused by a population decline outside of metropolitan areas compared to that of 20 years ago.
Meanwhile, Kitakinki Tango Railway attracted about 17 000 more passengers in fiscal 2013 by launching two types of sightseeing trains that have elaborately designed interiors.
“The total number of passengers last fiscal year fell slightly from the previous year,” said company president Kiyokazu Ueda. “So I hope it will increase this fiscal year with the popularity of gourmet sightseeing trains.”
Few trains operate on local railway lines, making it possible to run trains at slower speeds so passengers can enjoy leisurely dining. Many such routes are located in areas rich with nature, a boon for attracting tourists.
“Local railway lines have been shifting from a means of transportation to a sightseeing attraction,” said Yoko Hayano, a research fellow of Japan Tourism Marketing Co. “Gourmet sightseeing trains are a good way to get people interested in areas along the lines.”
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