#11: Izu Craile (伊豆クレイル号)

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Source: Toshinori Baba

Izu Craile is a limited-express resort train running between Odawara Station in Kanagawa Prefecture to Izukyu-Shimoda Station, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Izu Course Map

Starting point near the famous hot spring resort of Hakone

Price: ¥3,570 one-way (¥2,290 fare + ¥1,280 Green Car seat reservation)

Note: This entire train is Green Car seating, which is a premium-level seat. Due to this, the price is slightly higher than a normal reserved seat.

Time: 2 hours, 28 minutes

When: It runs on Fridays, weekends, public holidays and the day before a public holiday.

Ride Report:

Izu Craile is one of JR East’s newer resort trains, debuting in July 2016. With only 98 seats on the 4-car train, it’s an intimate journey along the eastern coast of the Izu Peninsula. Each car has it’s own different seating layout, while Car 2, which includes a lounge and bar, doesn’t have any reserved seating at all and is a free space for all passengers.

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Important Note: If you want to sit in Car 1 or 3, it must be purchased through JR East’s own travel agency, as these seats also include boxed/special meals and specialized staff. Seats for Car 4 can be reserved as normal through ticket machines or JR East’s Midori-no-Madoguchi (みどりの窓口) offices.

For us, the journey began at Odawara Station, where there were signs for Izu Craile all over the place.

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From Car Position signs on the floor…

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…to signs commemorating it’s first year of service.

There’s also an exclusive lounge for passengers of Izu Craile, which is open for about an hour right before departure. Although I say lounge, don’t think of it as a lounge which could be found at the airport or anything. It’s more of a waiting space than anything else. Inside you can find some really handy brochures and pamphlets about your destination, a scale model of the train and a water dispenser. Again, nothing too fancy, but it’s well-designed and creates a comfortable place before departure.

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Lounge w/ commemorative photo location in front

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Inside the lounge offers brochures, maps, and a small-scale model of the train itself

About 10-15 minutes before departure, the lounge staff will inform all the passengers that the train will be arriving to the platform, where they have the chance to take pictures of the train arriving, as well as take even more commemorative pictures.

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All-aboard!

Now, it’s worth noting that this train’s main target market is focused towards the wanderlust-loving woman, hence the train’s ‘kawaii’ design and bright interior. If you take a look at the travel brochure, you can see there isn’t a guy in sight (other than the on-board entertainment). This goes with the ever-increasing trend of having a “Jo-shi kai” (女子会) or ‘girls’s night/day out.’ According to JR East, “the exterior is redesigned to incorporate a softer, more feminine touch into the otherwise powerful image of the 651-series limited express car. Depicting the cherry blossom trees, sea wind and rippling waves of Izu in golden pink lines, the new design is an apt fit for this elegant resort train created for adults.”

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Not a woman? Not to worry as I saw plenty of other guys ride the train too (probably dragged on by their significant other). Is it child-friendly? To be honest, I didn’t see any other children on board, other than my own 3-year old daughter, but there isn’t a rule against it. Since its a 2+ hour ride, might be safe to bring along a iPad, books or something else to keep them occupied.

Once on board, you’ll be greeted by a warm interior with very comfortable seating. The small wooden peg at the top of each seat is a nice touch, especially if you tend to be moving around a lot while the train is in motion.

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One of my favorite moments during the journey happens right at the beginning. As soon as you start to depart, you’ll see station staff waving goodbye as you pass them by.

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You’ll get a greeting from everyone! Including train servicing staff…

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…skilled rail workers…

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…conductors…

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…random people on the platform…

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…more JR staff…

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…and more JR conductors.

They’ll continue to do that at each station you arrive and depart from. It’s a really small gesture, but is one of those key details that makes the trip unforgettable.

No trip is complete without an eki-ben, or station bento box, so make sure to pick one up at Odawara Station before leaving as there are TONS of choices.

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What’s inside?

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Pork Ginger Bento!

If you didn’t have time to get a bento, not to worry because there is an on-board cafe to take care of the hunger within. In addition to the sandwiches and snacks, they also have exclusive cocktails using locally-grown fruit. During this season it happened to be Izu mandarin oranges.

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Chalkboard menu

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Snacks, drinks, souvenirs and more.

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Low-alcohol, but high-tastiness

Much of the Izukyu-ko Line travels along the ocean, allowing you nice views as you make your way down the coast. Try to get seats on that side to allow unobstructed views during the journey (Note: In Car 4, seats A and B are on the ocean-side, seats C and D are mountain-side.)

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During the last hour or so during the journey, you can enjoy live music in the lounge. I thought it would be some slow acoustic or something, but these particular entertainers were rocking out, especially the guitarist. The upbeat, high-tempo melodies of this talented duo was a nice way to close out the ride as we approached our final destination.

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Finally you’ll arrive at Izukyu-Shimoda Station where you can get a few last shots of the train and if you’re lucky, you can also see some of the other Limited Express trains waiting at the other platforms. The station itself is also pretty interesting and worth a look around if you have a moment.

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All in all, it’s a very enjoyable and comfortable Limited Express train offering great views of the Pacific Ocean along the way. If you plan on heading to Izu Peninsula in the future, this is a nice train to consider towards your destination.

Again, main details can be found below as well as some other sites to assist with your planning needs. If any questions or feel I’ve left something important out, please use the comment section below. Happy travelling (by train!).

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  • Fare: One-way ¥3,570 Adults, ¥2,420 Children (From Odawara Station to Izukyu Shimoda Station)
    • Other classes: No option, unless booking through JR Travel Agency for Car #1 and #3
    • Of course, if you get off at a different station, price will decrease depending on distance traveled
  • Seating:
    • ALL reserved seating.
    • Tickets can be bought online (through JR’s booking website, Eki-net) or at the station with a Midori-no-Madoguchi
  • Time and Distance:
    • From Odawara Station to Izukyu-Shimoda Station
      • 2 hour 28 minutes
      • 83.3 kilometers
  • Schedule:
    • All year round
  • OK to book with JR Rail Pass: Yes

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Useful Links:

Izu Craile – (English) Official page of the train by JR East. Includes plenty of information, a Google Street View of the interior of the train, ticket reservation details and more

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I’m back. 

So, good news everyone! 

I’m living in Japan again. Our adventure of living in Hawaii has come to an end as an opportunity came my way and I couldn’t turn it down. As a result, I’m now residing and working in Tokyo. 

Home


That said, I believe this is a good time to revive this blog and resume continuous updates regarding trains in Japan, traveling and more. 

It’s nice to be back. 


Hello again.

First post…in nearly 4 years?

I wish, I wish, I wish…I didn’t neglect this blog so bad. However, there have been many changes since then.

First (and probably most importantly), I no longer live in Japan. I moved to Hawaii about 3 and a half years ago. Due to the lack of trains on the island of Oahu, there hasn’t been a whole lot to write about. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At the same time, I know that if I were to restart this blog…where would I begin? There have been SO many changes within the Japanese rail industry over the last couple years. Such as…

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…the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen and debut of the E7/W7 series…

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…the debut of numerous deluxe-style trains, including the Seven Stars in Kyushu…

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…trains where you can drink sake and listen to jazz music…

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…trains that have built-in foot baths…

…and that’s just scratching the surface! There’s the upcoming opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, continuous testing of the maglev train and so much more.

Fortunately, I do have the chance to visit Japan once a year, so I try to take a couple journeys whenever I can. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to take note of anything special in particular during most visits as most of the time is spent with family and catching up with friends (not a bad thing).

Since I haven’t logged on in a while, I decided to take a look at the analytics of the site.

In 2012 (when I took the time to update and post new items), this site received a total of 9,440 views, with 372 unique visitors.

In 2015 (after 3 years in inactivity), this site received a total of 10, 667 views, with 7, 337 visitors. An increase of 1, 872%?! Doing nothing actually increased traffic??

After a little more analyzing, the most popular post by far, was The Eki Stamp, published on May 22, 2011. It’s interesting to see that 1) it’s a post that has hopefully been useful or at least interesting to many people and 2) it’s a post that is still relevant today. I realized that many of the previous posts were relevant to the time it was posted in, for example special deals on train tickets… as I am sure they have long expired by now and are of no use to anyone. But train stamps are something that will be around forever (I hope) and it’s fun to see others have fun with something that is uniquely Japan.

Living in Japan for 6 years was one of the most incredible experiences in my life and it’s still something I talk about every day to people. I’m sure those around me are sick of hearing about my stories over there, but I can’t say farewell to all the awesome memories I had. Riding trains from north to south, east to west was a large part of my experience and I look forward to riding them every trip back.

So, what to write about now? Not quite sure…I wouldn’t mind updating this site more often. But until I figure that out, I just wanted to say to visitors old and new to this site…

…thanks for reading! I hope this site gives you a small taste of what I was able to experience in Japan.


Densha de Dan #10: Cafe and Bar STEAM LOCOMOTIVE

In Tokyo, you can find ANYTHING.

Maid cafes in Akihabara are well known, but there’s more than just that.

I’ve been to a Japanese pub in Shibuya that had an evil prison/hospital theme to it where they serve alcoholic shots in (plastic!) syringes. I’ve also been to a place in Ikebukuro where you can pet all the cats you want for a few hundred yen. Allergic to cats? Then how about a reptile cafe? Rabbit cafe? If animals are out of the question, then relax at Tokyo’s only hammock cafe in Kichijoji. Or if you’re looking for fresh sushi, theres’s a cafe where you can catch your own fish beforehand and then have it served to you later. If you want to dive into Japan’s geek scene, then try the Gundam Cafe or AKB48 Cafe, both in Akihabara, of course.

Whatever hobby or interest you have, most likely there’s a themed SOMETHING that both hardcore and casual fans could dive into.

So this had me thinking, there MUST be something railway-related in Tokyo. And low and behold, there are SEVERAL. But today, we’ll just look at one.

Cafe and Bar STEAM LOCOMOTIVE (カフェ&バースチームロコモティブ) is located mere minutes from JR Yurakucho Station off the Yamanote Line.

Located on the first floor of the New Yurakucho Building, it was a bit difficult to find at first as it’s neighbors are all woman’s clothing shops…which made me wonder if I was in the right place to begin with. But as soon as you see the large steam train logo, you know you’ve found it.

peeeeering into the cafe

As you walk in, there’s a rather large assortment of railway-related stationary such as pencils, stickers, keychains, file holders, and so on. What caught my eye were these:

300 km/h socks

Knowing my feet were already 15cm too long for these to fit, it would still be a good purchase for those looking for a unique gift.

As for the cafe, in the middle is a large model train diorama, complete with a miniaturized version of Yurakucho station itself.

for some reason, this reminded me of the movie Beetlejuice...without the cemetery and Beatlejuice himself.

mini Yurakucho station area

I’ve seen model trains dioramas before, but I think this was the first time where I was able to stick my nose as close to the rails as I could get. The amount of detail put into this set almost makes you wish you could shrink yourself and wander the parks and streets scattered throughout.

festivals carried out all day, everyday

one of the few places in tokyo to see the cherry blossoms bloom everyday

When I went to the railway museum in Omiya, children easily outnumbered adults 2 to 1, so I was expecting a loud, busy atmosphere at the cafe. Maybe we went during the off-peak time (not sure if there’s even a peak time), but more adults seemed to be lost in thought as they watched the miniature trains made their rounds around the miniature track.

see? the kid isn't even looking at the trains!

It being a cafe, I had to remind myself to order something, even though I just came from dinner. The menu doesn’t scream ”WOW!”  or anything, but it also doesn’t fit into the category of being a gimmicky kind of place where the quality of the food takes the backseat.

Going from top to bottom, you have it’s signature SL Salisbury Steak Platter, the Children’s set which comes in the shape of a shinkansen,Carbonara spagahetti, Margarita pizza, hashed beef stew(?), beef curry, and the daily special. On the back of the menu, which I forgot to take a picture of, has a list of its desserts and drinks.

I got the churros with vanilla ice cream because, honestly, where else are you gonna find churros outside of Disneyland??

oh〜

I found this cafe to be a bit more relaxing than I initially thought, but I couldn’t help thinking of some ideas that could make the place even better.

For example, on one side of the diorama, tables and seats are right along the track…and the seats are positioned in a way where it doesn’t matter which side you sit on, you’ll have a decent view of the ”action.” On the other side, however, the tables are placed along the wall, and are turned in a way where half of the seating forces customers to have their back to the diorama. It almost begs the question, ”Well, what’s the point?”

Also, it’s a bit brighter than it should be. Most of the buildings and set pieces around the diorama have lighting, which really showcases the smaller bits of it all. The overhead lighting, unfortunately, drowns some of it out and misses the opportunity to create a night scene for the diorama.

Not major issues, but small suggestions. There are other train cafes in Tokyo,Nagoya, and Kyoto which I plan to eventually hit one of these days. Let’s see how those compare!

Ahh…to live in the big city. Someday, maybe?

Cafe and Bar STEAM LOCOMOTIVE is open all year long, except on January 1st. Open from 11am-11pm on weekdays, 11am-10pm on Saturdays, and 11am-8pm on Sundays.

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Official Website (Japanese) – Includes detailed directions, hours of operation and a few other related links.


Densha de Dan #9: Keisei Skyliner

I used to hate going to Narita Airport.

Although it’s considered to be Tokyo’s main international airport, it’s nowhere near Tokyo. Compared to Haneda Airport, which is just a mere 20 minutes away from the city center, it used to take a full hour to get from Narita to Tokyo Station.

Prior to July 2010, you had two main (railway) choices to get to Narita Airport: JR East’s Narita Express (NEX), and Keisei’s (old) Skyliner.

Narita Express

Keisei Skyliner prior to July 2010. Currently renamed as Cityliner.

The time it took to get to the airport was about the same as their lines ran almost parallel to each other, and the price was only a couple hundred yen apart. When it came to choosing which one to ride, it was usually decided by which one would depart first.

Then, in July 2010 Keisei utilized an abandoned section of line, rebuilding new track while using pre-established lines. This provided a straightshot to the airport cutting the transport time nearly in half (depending on where you board/get off).

Not only is the Keisei Skyliner faster than the Narita Express, but it’s cheaper as well!

In Japan, the fare is determined by the distance travelled plus an express seating fee. Not only is the Skyliner faster than NEX, it’s also cheaper due to the shortened route.

Fares as of January 2012:

  • Keisei Skyliner
    • Narita Airport to Ueno Station: ¥2400
  • Narita Express
    • Narita Airport to Tokyo Station: ¥2940

But price and time aside, the Skyliner has become my preferred method to getting to the airport.

Along with the new route, Keisei also introduced a new train set to use, which is a design that stands out among the best of the best in the country.

Keisei AE Series

Who ever designed the interior put a lot thought into what kind of services would be convenient for those travelling to and from the airport. For example, at the foot of each passenger, there are a total of 4 plug outlets; 2 in the front and 2 in the back. Plenty to recharge your phone, computer, Hello Kitty camera and whatever else.

The seats themselves are spacious and there are designated places at both ends of each car to put your luggage, no matter how large it is. Cameras have also been placed around the luggage area as a theft-prevention device.

My last piece of praise about the train has to be the view.

For first-timers coming to Japan, arrival into Narita Airport maybe a bit of a shock. Most of those coming in already have the misconception that they’ll be surrounded by the glow of Tokyo’s lights as soon as hitting the jetway.

But since you’re flying into Chiba Prefecture, not Tokyo, you’ll get a lot of farmland instead. However, the closer you get to Tokyo, you’ll see the vast rice patties dwindle down to backyard tomato gardens as Tokyo’s many skyscrapers and towers move into view to dominate the landscape.

It’s a nice transition to help you settle into the madness, which is Tokyo.

Upon arrival into Nippori or Ueno Station, it’ll give you a great view of Tokyo Sky Tree (opening to the public May 22nd!).

Other onboard services include a vending machine, HUGE bathrooms, onboard signage available in 4 languages.

AT LAST, I was able to make a video on a sunny day, so I give you Noseprint #3:

Although the Skyliner provides the quickest method to Tokyo, there’s a fleet of trains, buses, taxis, and even a helicopter to get you where you need to be. It all comes down to preference (or a deep wallet if going by heli. Only ¥280,000!!!).

Any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below and I’ll answer quickly.

Until the next journey!

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Keisei Skyliner – (English) Official webpage of the Skyliner. Includes a timetable that can be downloaded in PDF format, and ticket information.

Narita Airport Access Information – (English) Has links for a variety of methods getting to and from the airport.


The Gala 1-Day Ticket

(NOTE: ALL information is for the 2011-2012 season!)

Living in or around Tokyo and looking to get some winter action done this season?

You’re in luck as you have access to well over 100 different ski resorts littered throughout Niigata, Nagano, and Gunma Prefectures. However, getting to a resort can cost well over ¥15,000, and that’s just in transportation costs. That’s not including lift tickets, board/ski rentals, etc.

That’s where the Gala 1-Day Ticket comes in.

all within reach!

With the Gala 1-Day Ticket, it includes:

  • Round-trip Shinkansen from Tokyo to Gala-Yuzawa Station (via the Joetsu Shinkansen Line)
  • 1-Day lift ticket for Gala-Yuzawa Ski Resort
  • 10% off rentals

…all for ¥12,200.

If you were to purchase the Shinkansen tickets and lift ticket separately, it would come to ¥18,300, saving you at least ¥6,100. Also, if you board at a station other than Tokyo Station, the price gets cheaper further along the Joetsu Shinkansen.

For example:

From Omiya Station – ¥11,100. Kumagaya Station – ¥10,100. Takasaki Station – ¥8,700. Also, if you purchase the ticket from an automated ticket machine rather than buying from a staffed window, it’ll save you an extra ¥300!

Trains for Gala-Yuzawa leave at least twice an hour and the trains home are just as frequent.

As for Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort itself, it’s not a bad place to go skiing. From train platform to ski lift takes no more than 2 minutes (EXTREMELY convenient if you bring your own gear), and there are plenty of facilities available to guests, including restaurants throughout the resort, locker rentals, a LARGE changing area, and even a hot springs. It’s also one of the higher resorts in the Yuzawa, so the snow tends to stick around a bit longer than the neighboring resorts. There’s a high speed gondola provided at the main building and the resort has plenty of quad and triple lifts to get throughout the entire resort with ease.

However, the ease and convenience of Gala-Yuzawa Ski Resort has its costs. Because they’ve made it TOO easy for Tokyoites to visit, it’s one of the most crowded, especially on weekends!! Lines to get on the lift can get long, and it makes the lunchtime rush a little unbearable, especially if you’re starving. Also, there isn’t as much variety as some of the other resorts, such as Naeba or Happo-one in Nagano Prefecture, but it’s enough if you’re just doing a day trip.

All-in-all, it’s a good price for a one-day trip. If you’re looking to do a weekend trip, there are plenty of specials that the local hotels or inns can offer that also include lift tickets. If you need help looking, don’t be afraid to leave a comment below, and I promise to respond quickly!

Finally with any train ticket report, are the fine details to help plan your trip better.

  • Price: ¥12,200 on weekdays, ¥13,200 on weekends (from Tokyo Station. Half price for children
  • Type: One-Day Shinkansen Pass plus lift ticket. Getting on/off at stations not ticketed for is not allowed.
  • Purchase Locations:
    • Automated ticket machines that also sell Shinkansen tickets
    • JR Ticket offices (Midori-no-madoguchi)
  • Purchase/Usage Period: December to April/May (depends when resort closes for the season)

Finally, JR East has provided a lot of useful links, all in English!, to help give a little more information (just in case I forgot anything!)

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GALA 1-Day Ticket – (English) Official JR East webpage about the ticket. Also gives information how it can be used in conjunction with the JR EAST PASS (if you’re an overseas traveller).

Gala-Yuzawa Ski Resort – (English) Official webpage for the ski resort. Includes detailed information about the resort, such as hours of operation, lift operation, weather/snow conditions and courses.

GALA日帰りきっぷ – (Japanese) Official JR East webpage about the ticket.

Snow Japan – (English) A great (if not the BEST) English-related webpage to snowboarding and skiing in Japan. Has detailed information about ALL resorts in Japan and is updated at least once a day. A great place to start if looking to hit the slopes this winter.


E7 Series Shinkansen Announced

It was brought to my attention by a reader (thanks J.G!), that JR East will introduce the E7 Series Shinkansen on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line (currently named the Nagano Shinkansen Line) starting from 2015.

This follows the E5 Series, currently running along the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, and the E6 Series, which will run on the Akita Shinkansen Line from next year.

From a Mainichi Newspaper article:

According to JR East, the company is already working on a blueprint for the new model and will launch a prototype train by summer 2012.

…which means we’re just a few months away from seeing what kind of design it will have. Will it inherit anything from the E5 or E6? Or will it have a complete resdesign altogether? We’ll see.

With the formal announcement of the E7, I’m hoping that they’ll finally announce something for the Joetsu Shinkansen Line since they’re planning to retire the trains throughout the next few years.

Complete article about the announcement of the E7 can be read here.


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