Famous for its beautiful coastline and its trains, Japan offers the best of both worlds with some of the world’s most scenic seaside railways.
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An island nation made up of almost 7,000 islands, including five main islands, Japan offers some of the world’s most beautiful and spectacular coastal scenery. And there’s no better way to see it than by train using your Japan Rail Pass for unlimited travel on the country’s domestic rail network. Let’s take a look at some of the most picturesque coastal rail journeys you could ever experience.
An Island Nation
Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago (a chain of islands scattered across a body of water) that extends over 3,000 km from the Sea of Okhotsk northeast to the Philippine Sea, south along the north-eastern coast of the Eurasia continent. While Japan consists of thousands of islands – an amazing 6,982 to be exact – the country is largely made up of five main island areas – Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa. Each island has its own unique fauna, flora and coastal ecosystems for you to discover. The country also has more than 29,000km of coastline to explore and trains are simply the best and most relaxing way to experience the beauty of Japan’s beaches and cliffs, picturesque port towns, and ancient fishing villages.
Japan’s Best Coastal Train Journeys
With the sixth longest coastline in the world and arguably the most beautiful, it’s no surprise the country has some of the best coastal train journeys on the planet. a look at our hand-picked selection.
10. The Train to Ibusuki
Located on the southern tip of Kyushu, Ibusuki is famous for its dark, volcanic sand beaches, unspoiled nature and onsen. In addition to the scenic train ride to Ibusuki itself. Depending on where you are coming from, the first step is travelling to Kagoshima using the Kyushu Shinkansen. Here is where the coastal adventure really begins onboard the ‘Limited Express Ibusuki no Tamatebako’ - a specially designed train for the journey to Ibusuki. The outside is painted black on the land-facing side and white on the sea facing side. The interior meanwhile has a quaint wooden design, with turnable seats that can directly face the windows to enjoy the gorgeous ocean views.
9. Sotobo Line
From Chiba to Kamogawa, this JR East service offers travellers breath-taking views of the Pacific Ocean.
8. The Iyonada Monogatari train
Travelling along the scenic coast of Shikoku and Hijikawa River between Matsuyama and Iyo Ozu/Yawatahama, the Iyonada Monogatari train is a joyful train is operated by JR Shikoku and runs along the Iyonada Sea. There are plenty of beautiful views, while onboard local cuisine is served made purely with products from the Shikoku region.
7. Kure Line
With superb views of the Seto Inland Sea between Tadanoumi and Mihara, the Kure Line definitely earns its place on the list. There is also a sightseeing train called the ‘Setouchi Marine Views’ on weekends.
6. Journey to Amanohashidate
Viewed from the mountains of either side, Amanohashidate in the northern coastal area of Kyoto, appears as a pathway between heaven and earth among the simmering waters of the Asoumi sea. As early as the Heian period (794 to 1185), it was viewed as one of Japan’s 3 most beautiful views (the others being Matsushima and Miyajima). A limited number of direct trains run between Kyoto station and Amanohashidate Station. These ‘Hashidate’ train services are the fastest and more convenient option. The route is partially covered by the Japan Rail Pass, travel between Kyoto station and Fukuchiyama is free. From there the route continues on the Kyoto Tango Railway, a private railway company. Alternatively, Regional passes from JR West that do cover the full route, this includes the JR Kansai Wide Area Pass, JR Kansai Hokuriku Area Pass and JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass.
5. Sanriku Railway
Rebuilt over the course of three years after it was destroyed in an earthquake and tsunami, Sanriku Railway’s coastal views of Rias in the Tohoku area are breathtakingly beautiful. The three years of hard work rebuilding the railway was definitely worth the wait.
4. The Saphir Odoriko from Tokyo to Izu-Peninsula
An official ‘joyful’ train - a name given to trains used for special excursions - the
Travelling from Tokyo down the Izu peninsula to Shimoda. Along the way is a variety of beautiful views, including Fuji, Tokyo bay and the panoramic coastline of Izu. Along the way, the train will slow down for riders to enjoy the view and photo opportunities.
3. Uetsu Main Line
Running between Niigata to Akita, the views of the Sea of Japan are particularly beautiful as the train goes in and out of tunnels.
2. Senmo Main Line
While you might associate coastal journeys with sunshine and sandy beaches, northern Hokkaido offers a different kind of coastal experience. The Senmo Main Line is the last of the lines running around the wintry northeastern coastline of Hokkaido between Shiretoko-Shari and Abashiri.
1. Gono Line / Resort Shirakami Train
One of the most beautiful and scenic rail journeys in all of Japan, the famous Gono Line also offers some of the country’s best coastal views between Akita and Aomori overlooking the Sea of Japan. The line is also home to a famous ‘joyful train’ - the Resort Shirakami train. One of the most beautiful train rides in Japan, the Resort Shirakami train travels between Aomori and Akita, following the scenic coastline of northern Tohoku. The JR Pass can be used on the Resort Shirakami train, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy. The train travels past the Tohoku coastline, giving rise to magnificent panoramas, sunsets and UNESCO designated mountain range of the Shirakami Sanchi (this loosely translates to land of the white mountain Gods). All seats on this train are reserved so make a reservation before boarding the train. For a detailed overview of this sightseeing service, and how to reserve seating, read our guide to travelling on the Resort Shirakami Train.
Top Things To Do By The Seaside In Japan
Once you have enjoyed all those beautiful train journeys along the coastline, you’ll be looking for activities to do when you arrive. Luckily, there’s a huge amount to see and do when you reach the Japanese coast. Here are our recommendations.
- Beaches and Watersports
While it is synonymous with the temples and shrines of historic Japan and the futuristic neon cities of contemporary Japan, it’s also home to white-sand beaches and tropical waters that can compete with anywhere in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Some of Japan’s most beautiful beaches include Yonaha Maehama Beach, Tsunoshima Island, Yamaguchi, Jodogahama Beach, and Amami Oshima Island. The volcanic sand beaches of Ibusuki (mentioned above) are also worth a visit. Alongside its beaches, Japan is also an increasingly popular destination for watersports. As well as surfing and diving, the country can also offer parasailing, sea kayaking and canoeing, flyboard and hoverboarding, paddle boarding, windsurfing and kitesurfing, yachting and boating, wakeboarding, and river rafting. To find out more read our detailed guide to Japan’s Best Beaches and Watersports Destinations.
Japan offers some of the best diving locations in the world and has been described as diving’s best kept secret. From crystal-clear subtropical seas and white-sand beaches in the south to the magical ice flows in the far north, the wide range of temperatures in Japan’s seas means there is an extraordinary diversity and variety to the country’s waters. It also means you can dive all year round depending on where you go in the country. Diving also occupies a small, but fascinating place in Japan’s unique cultural history, in particular the 2,000-year-old tradition of ama - female free divers. Today, Japan has a wealth of diving spots for enthusiasts and experts right through to beginners and first-timers. Some of the country’s islands have more than 100 diving spots each, so you will be spoilt for choice. Take a Deep Dive Into Japan to find out more.
- Unmissable Sea Life
With more than 6,800 islands, Japan’s coastline and its underwater worlds are arguably even more varied than its landscape. Subsequently, the seas around the country feature some of the world’s most diverse and visually-spectacular sea and marine life, from sharks and whales to giant spider crabs and rays, and much more. One famous location is Japan’s famous ‘manta scramble’ diving spot in Ishigaki, Okinawa. Interestingly it doesn’t feature manta rays at all, but rather ‘Mobula Rays' (a variety of Devil Ray). They are just as beautiful however, with a wingspan of up to 2-3 metres they make for a spectacular sight. Other highlights include hammerhead sharks in the subtropical waters of Yonaguni, sea turtles on Yakushima, and whale watching off the Shiretoko Peninsula. With 3,000 different types of fish alone, not to mention a huge range of other marine life and exotic wildlife to encounter, the country is the place to go for spectacular sea life. For more on Japan’s sealife read our Wildlife Tour of Japan blog post.
Cycling is very popular in Japan, and it is a brilliant way to explore this amazing country, including its beautiful coastal regions - in between train journeys of course! Japan offers some of the best and most spectacular cycle routes in the whole world and some of its best are along the coast. These include the islands Miyako-jima and Irabu-jima. These islands are dream cycling routes if you love gazing at crystal blue waters while you ride. Featuring Japan’s longest bridge, Miyako-jima and Irabu-jima islands not only offer a hugely enjoyable bike ride over 3,500 metres long, but also gorgeous coastal scenery, cafes, and beaches. Awaji Island is another great choice for a coastal bike ride and has the advantage of offering both beginner and expert routes. There is even a special cycle map, available locally, which provides a wide range of ideas, objectives and suggestions for cyclists exploring the local area. More on why Japan is a great place to cycle read our blog, I Want To Ride My Bicycle (In Japan).
- Visit Scenic Seaside Towns
Japan is filled with some of the prettiest and most picturesque towns and villages you’ll ever visit, and the coast is no expectation. You’ll quickly fall in love with these quaint port towns and fishing villages. One great example is Tomonoura, which captured the heart and imagination of Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki and made its way into the film, Ponyo. The scenic port town featured in the film, Ponyo, is said to be based on and inspired by the equally scenic town of Tomonoura, located at the top of Numakuma Peninsula in Setonaikai National Park, south of Fukuyama City in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. The film’s director, Hayao Miyazaki visited the town of Tomonoura in 2005 and loved the location so much he stayed for two months and decided to include it as the main setting in the film he was working on at the time (Ponyo). Read our guide to Tomonoura - the Real-Life Ponyo Town for the full story.
- We have a lot more on Japan’s coastlines, beaches, and waters to read in our blog. For example, if you want to get up close and personal with Japan’s incredible sea life, but don’t want to go out to sea yourself, then the country’s Incredible Aquariums are some of the best in the world. Read our blog post Splash! Japan’s Best Aquariums for more.
- On our blog, you’ll also find an extensive list of blogs and other resources about Japan’s train network. For Japan’s amazing trains, read our Top 10 Facts about Japan’s Trains. Meanwhile, when it comes to trains, for practical help getting around Japan, read our Visitors Guide to Japanese Trains and Railways.
And of course, there’s the Japan Rail Pass too. Why is it the best and most affordable way to travel across Japan? Read our guide to Why The JR Pass Is Worth It for a great list of reasons.