This February, JR West unveiled the new Twilight Express Mizukaze rail cars and passenger cabins. The Mizukaze, which will commence operations on June 17, is a luxurious sleeper train with berths going for as much as 1.25 million yen (approximately 10,000 USD) per person. The “hotel on rails” has all the amenities and more.
The exterior of the cars are painted in signature “Twilight Express” dark green while the gold racing stripe and emblem are arranged to indicate the highest level of refinement. The unique design features an observation deck built into very front of the engine car, thus affording passengers an uninterrupted view down the tracks ahead. There is also a similar observation deck at the very back of the caboose.
Each Mizukaze train comprises ten cars: the sleeper cars, front and rear observation cars, a dining car, and a lounge car. The observation cars are sleeved in windows reaching up to the ceiling, with sofas stretched out along both sides of the car, creating a feeling of spacious openness and ease. The view from big observation car windows is expansive. Passengers in the rear observation car are able to move out onto the open-air observation deck and feel the wind blowing as the Mizukaze glides along the rails.
The entirety of Car No. 7 is a sleeping berth known simply as “The Suite.” Very few train cars anywhere in the world are as luxurious as this. Car No. 7 accommodates just two people and tickets for this car range from 750,000 to 1.25 million yen. White marble covers the entrance to Car No. 7, which is divided into a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. The understated, slightly dark interiors of the other sleeping cars give way here to a bright atmosphere liberally appointed with tones of white, creating a mood of lightness and expansiveness. There is a bathtub in the bathroom, allowing the room’s occupants to soak while watching the greenery of the Japanese countryside pass by outside the car’s windows. Being able to see out means being able to see in, however, so the blinds can be lowered in an instant.
In recent years, luxury cruising trains plying routes in various places throughout Japan have become enormously popular. For example, JR Kyushu’s “Nanatsuboshi in Kyushu,” which began operating in 2014, and JR East’s “Shikishima,” which carries passengers from Tokyo north to the Tohoku region, are popular despite offering berths for the same prices as the Mizukaze.
The Mizukaze is scheduled to begin its first run on June 17, 2017. Tickets for June through September departures went on sale in February, and all 23 runs are already booked well over capacity. The average overbooking is 550 percent of available berths, while reservations for “The Suite” for the June 21 departure are running 6,800 percent higher than the two-person car can accommodate.
An official with JR West says that “it is difficult to run these trains at a profit, even when at full capacity. But as the railways become more activated with the running of the Mizukaze, we have great expectations that the economic returns will increase.”
The railway industry in Japan is now facing serious reductions in passengers—which will surely worsen in the future—as Japan’s population ages and declines. The Mizukaze project is certainly not part of a price-lowering strategy but, conversely, a project of luxury train ridership under greatly enhanced quality, so it is of great interest that the Mizukaze should be so very popular. Many will be paying close attention to see whether the Mizukaze can further increase the boom in luxurious railway experiences.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)