Take a nostalgic journey on Japan's Top 10 steam locomotives
Often referred to as "SL" for short in Japanese, steam locomotives are currently experiencing a bit of renaissance in Japan thanks to the increasing popularity of local transportation and the recent opening of the Kyoto Railway Museum. These are the top 10 steam locomotives as voted by local Japanese members of Rakuten Travel!
ShizuokaSL Express (Oigawa Railway, Oigawa Main Line)
In first place is the SL Express, offering excellent views of the idyllic Oigawa River landscape. The trip from Shin-Kanaya to Senzu Station takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes. The cars preserve their retro feel with seating unchanged from their original days. The boxed lunches available on the journey are also exceptionally good. It is also known as the only steam locomotive in Japan that runs almost every day.
Yamaguchi–ShimaneSL Yamaguchi (West Japan Railway Company, Yamaguchi Line)
Built in 1937, the Steam Locomotive Yamaguchi is a steam locomotive that was subsequently retired and was then restored in 1979. Featuring a five-car configuration, it takes approximately two hours to make the 63-kilometer one-way journey from Shin-Yamaguchi to Tsuwano. It operates on Saturdays from March through November.
Niigata–FukushimaSL Banetsu Monogatari (East Japan Railway Company, Shintetsu Main Line/Banetsu Line)
The final steam locomotive retired from operation on the Banetsu West Line in 1969 was brought back into service in April 1999, with its nostalgic whistle echoing along the Banetsu route. It runs between Niigata and Fukushima's Aizu-Wakamatsu on Saturdays and holidays from April through September.
KumamotoSL Hitoyoshi (Kyushu Railway Company, Kagoshima Main Line/Hisatsu Line)
This sightseeing train began operation on the 100th anniversary of the full opening of the JR Hisatsu Line. The classical interior features a viewing lounge and a buffet. Passengers can enjoy the sights of the majestic Kuma River Valley coupled with the sound of the whistle. The train operates on Saturdays and holidays from April through November.
HokkaidoSL Fuyu-no-Shitsugen (Hokkaido Railway Company, Senmo Main Line)
This special train runs only in January and February on the Senmo Main Line between Kushiro Station, Shibecha Station and Kawayu-Onsen Station. It is a fantastical sight as it cuts through the snowy landscape, offering views of the cranes and other wild animals of Kushiro.
SaitamaSL Paleo Express (Chichibu Railway, Chichibu Main Line)
This train runs on Saturdays and holidays from April through early December between Kumagai and Mitsumineguchi, a trip of approximately two hours and 40 minutes. There are also many sightseeing spots along the route, such as Nagatoro Line Kudari (River Boating) and Shibazakura (Moss Pink) Hill, and the train's reputation as "the closest steam locomotive to Tokyo" also has it bustling with passengers.
GunmaSL Minakami (East Japan Railway Company, Joetsu Line)
This train serves the Joetsu Line between Takasaki and Minakami Stations during the tourist season and on Saturdays and holidays. It's a great opportunity to explore the area around Minakami Station, visit places such as Suwakyo Bridge and take a day trip to a hot spring.
Tochigi–IbarakiSL Moka (Moka Railway Company, Moka Line)
FukushimaSL Aizu-Tadami (East Japan Railway Company, Tadami Line)
This train runs on the Tadami Line from Aizu-Wakamatsu to Aizu-Kawaguchi. The view of the Tadami River Valley as it crosses the bridge is simply breathtaking. It runs during the budding season of early summer and the fall foliage season of October and November.
ShigaSL Kita-Biwako (West Japan Railway Company, Hokuriku Main Line)
Running 22 kilometers from JR Maibara Station to Kinomoto Station, this train runs on an irregular basis throughout the year. It is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the incredible natural beauty in the Kohoku area near Lake Biwa and Mount Ibuki and visit the historical spots around Nagahama and Kinomoto.
*This list was created by ranking the steam locomotives that received the most votes in answer to the question "Which steam locomotive are you the happiest you had a chance to ride?" in a survey conducted among readers of the Rakuten Travel News email newsletter (total number of votes: 2,936).
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