Relive the romance of Japanese sleeper trains by staying in a refurbished train carriage in Tokyo. Find out more in our guide to Train Hostel Hokutosei.
Travelling across Japan by train using the JR Pass for unlimited travel is a perfect way to see the whole country and when it comes to overnight accommodation, you can even keep it train-themed. Japan is a well-known country of train lovers and this naturally extends into other aspects of their daily lives, from Ekiben lunch boxes, essentially the best train food you’ve ever had, to train-themed places to stay, which brings us to Train Hostel Hokutosei. While the overnight sleeper train from Tokyo to Hokkaido it is named after is sadly no longer in service, you can recreate the romance of this famous rail service by booking a stay in this unique accommodation, which uses elements from the original train carriages, dining car, furnishings, fixtures, fittings, sleeping bunks, and more, all brought back to life inside a seven-storey building. Let’s take a look.
A Brief History of the Hokutosei
Photo (c) Wiki Commons.
The long-distance sleeper trains called Hokutosei or colloquially, ‘blue trains’, originally launched in 1958. One of the main purposes of the blue trains was to enable travel over long distances, in particular connecting remote rural areas with cities. One of the most popular Hokutosei routes was the 16.5 hour, 745 mile, overnight journey from Ueno Station, Tokyo, to Sapporo, Hokkaido. The best accommodation onboard would include a TV, private shower and washroom, towels, a welcome drink, Yukata (Japanese nightwear), and other amenities. There were also twin rooms, single rooms, and more basic berths. There was also a dining car known as ‘The Grand Chariot’ serving a traditional Japanese Kaiseki Gozen meal. However, following the launch of the famous Shinkansen bullet trains following the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, as well as more affordable domestic air flights, the number of Hokutosei passengers slowly declined. In 2015, the Hokutosei was officially retired from service. Japan’s train enthusiasts and aficionados were not going to let this well-loved train end up in the scrapyard, however. Two original carriages were preserved as a tourist attraction in Moheji, Hokkaido, and other rail enthusiasts have organised special events to celebrate it. For more on Japan’s love of trans read our guide to Trainspotting in Japan or our Amazing Facts About Japan’s Trains.
Japan Rail (JR East specifically in partnership with R. Project Hostel) were also keen to help this famous train live on by turning the original interiors and fixtures into a unique themed hotel, Train Hostel Hokutosei.
A Guide to Train Hostel Hokutosei
Designed to faithfully replicate the unique experience of an overnight stay on the famous long-distance Hokutosei blue train, Train Hostel Hokutosei opened in December 2016.
Set over four floors, the hostel reuses beds, tables, lights, signage, seating, bunks, and much more from the original train. Accommodation ranges from private rooms in the style of the old train’s Type A ‘Royal’ and ‘Twin Deluxe’ compartments as well as shared dormitories modelled on the former Type B berths. There are also shower rooms, a coin laundry, and there is a women-only floor for female travellers. Finally, there is a shared kitchen, based on the original ‘Grand Chariot’ dining car, where guests can cook their own food. The hallways, meanwhile, are lined with foldaway chairs and decorated with photographs of the original Hokutosei train service that were donated by fans.
The hostel has proved hugely popular with both Japanese residents and international visitors since it opened. If you’re a train lover like so many people in Japan, want to experience the romance and nostalgia of sleeping on a train, or you just want a great value and unique place to stay in Tokyo, Train Hostel Hokutosei ticks all those boxes and more. In fact, one of the best things about this accommodation is that, like other hostels, it is very affordable so it is highly recommended both for train lovers and those visiting Japan on a budget.
Where Can I Find Train Hostel Hokutosei?
You’ll find Train Hostel Hokutosei in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, in the Chūō area. The hostel is located inside a seven-storey former office building now owned by JR East, which is accessible from Bakurocho Station on the JR Sobu Line. Bakurocho - which means ‘horse trader town’ is close to Kanda and nearby Akihabara and Shitamachi. The hostel is also just two stations and five minutes’ journey time from Tokyo Station.
Are There Are Sleeper Trains Still In Service?
Yes. JR East’s Train Suite Shiki-shima is a sleeper train that is still running. As futuristic as it is luxurious, this sightseeing train / accommodation takes guests on multi-day rail journeys through picturesque Japanese locations, all departing from Tokyo’s Ueno Station. The train suites are super futuristic too with luxurious hinoki cypress bathtubs to relax in while you travel, stylish observation cars, and fine dining cuisine. For more on luxury trains read our guides to the Twilight Express Mizukaze and the SAPHIR ODORIKO luxury excursion train.
Japan is well known for its out of the ordinary accommodation, from capsule hotels to bookshop bedrooms. Check out our recommendations below:
- Japan was famously the inventor of the capsule hotel concept and they’re still going strong. For a detailed guide and our top recommendations for capsule hotels to try, read our article Staying In A Capsule Hotel.
- Love books? Would you like to sleep between the shelves of your favourite bookshop? Japan has the answer. Read our guide to Staying in a Japanese Book Hotel.
- Need a spiritual getaway? Japan has a number of retreats at monasteries including the holy mountain (and UNESCO World Heritage site), Koya-San. Our Itinerary Tip: Koya-san guide will tell you more.
- Traditional Japanese Ryokan accommodation is a great way to experience an authentic Japanese home. Read our guide to What To Expect When Staying In A Ryokan as an introduction and our feature on the Best Ryokan in Japan for our top recommendations.
- There are few things more relaxing than a Japanese hot spring and onsen resort towns are the place to stay to enjoy them. Read our guides to Visiting Atami Onsen, bathing in the mist at Wakura Onsen, or staying at the famous Kinosaki Onsen Town, for more.
- If winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are your passion, why not stay at one of Japan’s winter resorts. Our guide to Everything About Hakuba: Snow, Ski, and Winter Resort is a great place to start.
- And for a round-up of all the above, read our guide to Japan’s Most Unusual Accommodation.