Perhaps the only thing Shiki-shima isn’t about is speed: it travels up to a modest 110 kph – nearly three times slower than the 320 kph top speed of the nation’s fastest bullet train.
The new 10-car sleeper train, which embarked on its inaugural voyage on the 1st of May, is an exercise in luxury travel on wheels: from its champagne-gold exterior, opulent suites, Michelin-starred chefs and uniformed butlers to its futuristic observation cars, lacquerware latticework and, in one suite, an aromatic cypress wood bath.
The JR East-operated train – whose name means “Island of Four Seasons” – will carry up to 34 passengers a time from Tokyo across the northern Tohoku region (the worst-hit area in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami) as well as the northernmost island Hokkaido, for trips of between one and three nights’ duration.
Train Suite Shiki-Shima will be made up of 10 cars, with four being dedicated to lounge, dining and viewing areas. A maximum of 34 passengers will stay in 17 lavish rooms in the remaining six cars. The highest-grade suite on the train will have a bath made of Japanese cypress. Fares for the 4 day/3 night and 2 day/1night train cruises will start from 320,000 yen (£1,979) per person. Despite the hefty price-tag for travelling, there is clearly a market for such a luxury: it is already sold out until March 2018.
In addition to a luxury interior to rival a top five-star hotel – created by Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama, a designer famed for his work with Porsche, Ferrari and several bullet trains – Shiki-shima also showcases cutting-edge rail technology, with an ultra-modern motor that can be used both on diesel engine and electric train lines.