The Twilight Express Mizukaze is the Toyota Century of trains

Today is Railway Day in Japan, established to commemorate the opening of the country’s first rail line, which connected Tokyo and Yokohama on October 14, 1872. Nearly 50 years later and exactly 100 years ago today, on October 14, 1921, Japan’s Railway Museum opened in Tokyo. So today we’ll take the opportunity to draw your attention to one of the most unique, beautiful, and luxurious trains in Japan.

The Twilight Express Mizukaze is one of the most sumptuous rides you can take. Its creators set out to replicate the feeling of a five-star hotel hurtling through the countryside. However, it’s actually the second generation of the Twilight Express, a route that began in 1989 at the height of the Bubble Era and which connected Osaka in central Japan with Sapporo in the far north on the island of Hokkaido. During the 22-hour trip, passengers were treated to gorgeous panoramic views of the Sea of Japan.

The second-generation Mizukaze began service in 2017, a couple of years after the original’s retirement in 2015. The route was different, this time starting in Kyoto and stretching westward to Shimonoseki, on the western tip of Honshu. It’s considered a sleeper train, which travels for two days and one night if you take its longest route.

The exterior designer, Tetsuo Fukuda, once worked for Nissan penning cars. “I aimed for a car design with an air of nostalgia and that would appeal to everyone,” he says, and the train does indeed look stunning. Though a modern hybrid diesel multiple unit built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and KinkiSharyo, it looks like a kind of emerald steampunk liner straight out of Final Fantasy.

The Mizukaze is 10 coaches long. The first car serves as an observation deck, with the engineer’s cab located on top of the car so that front-most area can be used as an open-air balcony. Next come three sleeper cars, a lounge car and a dining car, three more sleeper cars, and another observation car at the end. Five of the sleeper cars are each divided into three deluxe rooms and are already quite extravagant. However, if you really want the full experience, car No. 7 is one giant ultra-luxury suite larger than some Tokyo apartments and has its own private outdoor balcony.

Many of the suites have huge picture windows and glass sections curving over the roof. The food on the train is prepared by chefs who select unique ingredients local to areas along the route. Ticket prices start at around $2,800, while the one-car suite can be reserved for $5,500, yet demand is so high that passes must be issued via a lottery system.

What you get, though, is a once-in-a-lifetime passage. We’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Mizukaze embark from Kyoto Station, and it’s an occasion. Passengers stand at the observation decks and wave to their loved ones as if aboard an early 20th century ocean liner setting sail. Even many who had no friends or family on board stopped at the bustling station to watch the magnificent train pull away from its platform. True to its name, the Mizukaze begins its journey at dusk, its gold ornamentation glinting in the setting orange sun.

Sleeper trains and buses are common in Japan, as they allow travelers to spend their time out of consciousness traveling long distances. As its interior designer, renowned architect Kazuya Ura explained, however, this train is not just about “squeezing travel into sleeping time.” A voyage on the Twilight Express Mizukaze is an “experience to be enjoyed for its own sake.”

Images: Twilight Express Mizukaze

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9 Responses to The Twilight Express Mizukaze is the Toyota Century of trains

  1. BlitzPig says:

    Now that is really travelling!

    Thanks, I love these windows on Japanese culture, and the country. I’ll never get there, but your posts help bring Japan home to me here in the midwest of the US.b

  2. Jeff says:

    What kind of convoluted route can it possibly take to make the journey from Kyoto to Shimonoseki take two days? A sleeper car from Osaka to Sapporo makes sense, I’m just really confused about the route on the new one even though it seems cool.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      My knowledge of Japan’s geography west of Osaka is pretty poor, but apparently it follows the Sanyo Main Line, stopping off at Miyajimaguchi and Onomichi. In any case, it’s about the journey, not the destination 🙂

  3. f31roger says:

    I love that Japan has put money into the rail system, both public and private lines.

    It is one of my favorite things to do in Japan is learn the different lines from every city.
    Besides shinkansens, the only other train I took was the Sunrise Express from Tokyo to Okayama before they split.

    But the Twilight Express Mizukaze is definitely luxury with those ticket prices. I wish there were more night trains. Travel while you sleep (Ferries and buses still offer).

    I would love to experience more trains when I go to Japan. I try to get on different lines and learn their routes.

    My personal Japan train journeys: – 2017 -2017 -2017 – 2018 – 2019 (*incomplete entries)

    Japan has so much pride in train lines it’s super cool .

  4. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Highly recommend The Railway Museum in Omiya, outside of downtown Tokyo. Been there a few times. My modern favorite is the 500 series Shinkansen designed by Alexander Neumeister. Old school would be the Yokosuka Line Series 113 that I took to high school. I always wanted to take the overnight Hokutosei from Ueno to Sapporo but alas, it was discontinued in 2015. It had a classic livery of dark blue with a thin gold stripe. While not a luxury train, it was still a classy ride.

  5. MikeRL411 says:

    I took the night sleeper from Tokyo [UENO] in the late 60s. Eat dinner in Ueno and sleep your way to [in my case] Sakata. Arrive in morning refreshed and without the expense of a hotel room. Then climb Mt Chokai. Very interesting, resembled what Mt Saint Helens now looks like but with a Shinto shrine atop the lava plug.

  6. MikeRL411 says:

    The railway museum used to be on the West side of Shimbashi.

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