There are many different rail companies across Japan to use when travelling across the country.

Arguably the most used for foreign visitors is JR – Japan Rail – primarily due to the great value rail passes on offer for foreign passport holders.

This pass is great value for getting around on the vast nation wide rail network of bullet trains and local lines but, for the rail fans, this can limit the range of makes and models that one can experience. In this months Rail Focus we will be looking at some less-known rail lines that should not be missed.

For those staying in Tokyo, Japan Holidays recommends a one day, return trip – north west to the mountainous Chichibu area in Saitama prefecture. Great experiences with fantastic rail!

Full of lush nature, a journey into the mountains offers picturesque views all year round. The mountains and valleys of the area are fantastic for nature walks, cycling & trekking – popular with Tokyo locals visiting the area on weekends and holidays.

For train lovers, the journey itself by rail is more important than the destination.  Here is Japan Holidays recommendation for visiting the Chichibu region and the rail lines between (which all are highlights on Japan Holidays very own ‘Great Train Journey of Japan’ escorted tour).

Paleo Express steam locomotive


Get right up close to the Paleo Steam Locomotive, operating daily to / from Kumagaya station to Chichibu. Tickets can be hard to guarantee if you try to brave it  yourself!

Start off by heading to Kumagaya station (JR rail pass holders should take advantage of the bullet train from Tokyo) and then head northwest for Chichibu on the scenic Paleo Express steam locomotive. Named after the dinosaur remains found in the area, the Paleo Express is a lovely scenic route into the mountains of Chichibu. Japan Holidays recommends bringing a snack for the ride, enjoy the scenery & befriend some of the friendly commuters on its approx 2 hour ride.

Japan Holidays tour 2019 got to meet some of the locals – the gentleman on the right has ridden the Paleo Express approx. 400 times in his life. With fond memories of riding with his parents as a young boy, he now rides equipped with goggles & puppet, bringing smiles to all the trainspotters and locals in the Chichibu area. You might meet him next trip!
Bringing smiles to the trainspotters and locals to the line. 

The Chichibu Area

Chichibu area has many things to do to pass the time for the day, depending on your pace and interests. You can walk the peaceful country streets of the town, enjoy the sights of nature on one of many walking routes or parks (Hitsujiyama park is recommended during the spring time), whitewater boating in Nagatoro river, or visit one of the 34 pilgrimage shrines of Chichibu (you’ll need more than a day to complete them!).

Japan Holidays can only recommended one rail line to use for your return trip back to the busy Tokyo metropolis – Seibu Railway. Depart from Seibu-Chichibu station, but not without taking a look around next-door at the Seibu-Chichibu Ekimae Onsen Matsuri no Yu, a massive Onsen bathhouse, food court and souvenir shop. Fantastic for last-minute souvenirs or taste testing of locally grown produce and local wine!

The massive Seibu Chichibu Ekimae Onsen Matsuri no Yu, next to Seibu-Chichibu station. Stop in for an onsen bath while waiting for your train back!

Seibu Railway

Sleek and futuristic design of the lead carriage on the Seibu Laview. 

Seibu Railway has numerous trains operating daily, but the one to keep your eyes out for is the newest train ‘Laview’.

The Laview train was commissioned by architect Kazuyo Sejima, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. At first glance, it is obvious that  the design was made for viewing pleasure for both passengers and onlookers. The 1.35 m x 1.58 m sized windows are placed at equal intervals in each car for all passengers to enjoy the panoramic views, and the passenger seats are made to wrap around the body ,with adjustable headrests, armrests and recliner – a fantastic way to relax watching the afternoon rural scenery on the return journey to Tokyo.

Large windows for ultimate viewing pleasure. fantastic front row seats of panoramic views of the Japanese countryside. 

All these sights and trains are highlights on the Great Train Journey of Japan fully escorted tour by Japan Holidays.

To experience Japan by Rail, please contact Japan Holidays for reservations and tailor-made itineraries.