10 must-ride local railroads that will take you across scenic Japan

Local trains in Japan allow you to enjoy a relaxing ride and nostalgic vistas as they traverse unspoiled nature.
Travel-loving users of Rakuten Travel introduce their favorite local rail journeys that whisk away the day's cares.

10 must-ride local railroads that will take you across scenic Japan
  1. Aomori ~ AkitaThe Gono Line

    • The Gono Line
    • The Gono Line
    • The Gono Line

    This local rail route is very popular across Japan for the way it skims past the Sea of Japan coastline. The Resort Shirakami is a leisure train where you can even be treated to shamisen (a traditional Japanese 3-stringed lute) performances with Japanese vocals sung in the Tsugaru dialect.

    Traveler comments

    It feels like the ocean is rushing up close to the train as it passes the coastline. It was really exciting.

    Places to stay near the Gono Line

    See the Gono Line on a map

    The Gono Line

  2. ShizuokaThe Oigawa Railway

    • The Oigawa Railway
    • The Oigawa Railway
    • The Oigawa Railway

    Steam locomotives are a sure-fire way to get in the travel mood. This train plies a relaxing route through the scenic Okuoi area of Shizuoka and lets you see nature in all its splendor. There is even the mysterious Okuoikojo Station, a station installed above the lake. Many other fascinating sights abound.

    Traveler comments

    As the train progresses, you feel yourself slipping away from the everyday and into a fantasy. It's great to just sit back and enjoy the slow ride.

    Places to stay near the Oigawa Railway

    See the Oigawa Railway on a map

    The Oigawa Railway

  3. HokkaidoThe Senmo Line

    • The Senmo Line
    • The Senmo Line
    • The Senmo Line

    The Senmo line traverses the natural vistas of three national parks in Hokkaido: Kushiro, Akan, and Shiretoko. In winter, the Ryuhyo Norokko lets you see floes of ice from the Okhotsk Sea drifting past.

    Traveler comments

    The "Norokko" in the name refers to its slow speed. I enjoyed a beer in leisurely comfort and a page away from the everyday. When you drink a beer in a regular high-speed train, you just get dizzy.

    Places to stay near the Senmo Line

    See the Senmo Line on a map

    The Senmo Line

  4. FukushimaThe Aizu Railway

    • The Aizu Railway
    • The Aizu Railway
    • The Aizu Railway

    The Aizu Railway lets you enjoy the beautiful nature of Aizu and its onsen town. Another benefit is that it is easily accessed from Asakusa and Shinjuku in Tokyo. The line also periodically runs a special carriage with an observation deck.

    Traveler comments

    I researched ahead of time what sights we'd see, as well as the history of the Aizuwakamatsu region -- this made the trip great, as I was able to look out for the sights I had in mind.

    Places to stay near the Aizu Railway

    See the Aizu Railway on a map

    The Aizu Railway

  5. Fukushima ~ NiigataThe Tadami Line

    • The Tadami Line
    • The Tadami Line
    • The Tadami Line

    In winter, the Tadami Line runs through what becomes a hidden winter wonderland covered with snow -- the area along the Tadami River. In autumn, you can see beautiful foliage along the ravines the route travels.

    Traveler comments

    It was a fun ride, with locals approaching us in the local dialect. The residents of this area were really kind-hearted.

    Places to stay near the Tadami Line

    See the Tadami Line on a map

    The Tadami Line

  6. IwateThe Sanriku Railway

    • The Sanriku Railway
    • The Sanriku Railway
    • The Sanriku Railway

    The North and South Riasu lines in Iwate Prefecture run along the Pacific Coast. There are trains with tatami flooring, a retro train, and a range of unusual trains on offer.

    Traveler comments

    When the train passes the bridge looking out over the Sanriku Coast, it stops for several minutes to let you take in the view.

    Places to stay near the Sanriku Railway

    See the Sanriku Railway on a map

    The Sanriku Railway

  7. KyotoThe Sagano Scenic Railway

    • The Sagano Scenic Railway
    • The Sagano Scenic Railway
    • The Sagano Scenic Railway

    A nostalgic wooden train pulled by a diesel locomotive. See the four seasons in the former capital of Kyoto and the beautiful ravines. Car 5 is an open carriage with no glass.

    Traveler comments

    The train cars are nostalgic, and the views of the Hozu River were great.

    Places to stay near the Sagano Scenic Railway

    See the Sagano Scenic Railway on a map

    The Sagano Scenic Railway

  8. ToyamaThe Himi Line

    • The Himi Line
    • The Himi Line
    • The Himi Line

    Himi is the hometown of cartoonist Fujiko Fujio A, the co-creator of the famous Doraemon manga series. The train plies that route, so it has a train decorated with Ninja Hattori-kun, another one of his creations. There are exquisite views of the Toyama Bay and the Amaharashi Coast, which looks onto Mount Tate.

    Traveler comments

    This line let us see the dynamism of nature up close.

    Places to stay near the Himi Line

    See the Himi Line on a map

    The Himi Line

  9. KumamotoThe Minamiaso Railway

    • The Minamiaso Railway
    • The Minamiaso Railway
    • The Minamiaso Railway

    A steam locomotive pulls the train, and there are unique windowless carriages. There are thrilling views from bridges and sights of ancient Aso in the form of virgin forests.

    Traveler comments

    The clink-clank of the train on the tracks is nostalgic and fun.

    Places to stay near the Minamiaso Railway

    See the Minamiaso Railway on a map

    The Minamiaso Railway

  10. GifuThe Nagaragawa Railway

    • The Nagaragawa Railway
    • The Nagaragawa Railway
    • The Nagaragawa Railway

    This local train runs along the clear streams of the Nagara River. Each season, creative and unique trains ply the route and entertain passengers. At the same time, the line also functions as an important route for locals.

    Traveler comments

    The interior of the carriages and the stops at the train stations are thoughtful and designed around what tourists want.

    Places to stay near the Nagaragawa Railway

    See the Nagaragawa Railway on a map

    The Nagaragawa Railway

*These rankings are based on a survey of subscribers to the Rakuten Travel News newsletter held from September 8-15, 2014. The local rail routes with the most responses from members are ranked here in order of highest votes. (Total votes: 916)