Japan: Sapporo to Nagano on the Twilight Express sleeper
Riding overnight trains must also be a special experience for Japanese. As I sit in the very comfortable and spacious salon car, with its linden-green upholstered sofas and oversize panoramic windows, the merchandise cart comes along. The attendant hands out a menue-like card showing all the items available, branded especially for the Twilight Express. A group of ladies practically pounce on the attendant with eager anticipation at buying a souvenir of their journey.
The luxurious dining car is being set up for dinner. The chef with his white top hat surveys his ingredients in the kitchen. The waiters stand at attention in their uniforms. Dinner is by reservation only and there is a gourmet multi-course Japanese or Western menu for 6,000 ($72 or 53 Euro) and another more elaborate one at 12,000 Yen ($143 or 106 Euro), beverages not included. I opt for a modest Bento box at 1500 Yen in the “Pub Time” after 9 p.m.
My sleeping arrangements are not as comfortable as on the Hokutosei Express. For the same sleeper fare (9450 Yen additional to the JR Railpass), I have the lower berth in a 4-berth compartment. Thankfully, I am alone. There is fresh linen, pillows, blanket and a cotton yucata (robe) but no electric plug, so I am not able to charge my laptop. There is extremely little space for any luggage - how 4 persons with luggage are supposed to get it in here is quite beyond me!
The way to go is to get an "A" class compartment: Single or double and very luxurious, even with its own shower and toilet, armchair, small desk....
Although the train attendants are forthcoming and helpful, it does not mask the fact that they barely speak any English. Thankfully, they have an FAQ list in English and Japanese, making basic communication possible.
I had boarded the Twilight Express (to Osaka) at 14:05, got off at Naoetsu at 6:25 a.m., changing for Nagano. My journey was 1139 km and took 18 hours.
The Twilight Express is not a fast train, rather, it ambles thorugh a countryside, which is no doubt very beautiful in the summer. Semi-rural, we pass small towns and villages with box-like houses, their angled roofs telling us that this is a snowy area and the houses must be well insulated. Light industrial warehouses and lots of hot houses line the tracks. I had expected more evergreen vegetation. Instead there are practically only decidious trees.
This is my second time in the 53.85 km long Seikan Tunnel connecting the island of Hokkaido to the main island of Honchu. The fact that for 23.3 km you are actually 250 meters below sea level is not felt at all, there is no change in pressure – truly an engineering feat! (Compare this with the England-France tunnel at 75 meters below sea level for 37.9 km).
See my post from Tokyo to Sapporo on the Hokutosei sleeper train.
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