Nowadays with discount airlines, hybrid cars and night buses, it’s easy to get where you want to go quickly and cheaply. Of course, in Japan trains are probably the most utilized mode of transportation. Some train companies around Japan, however, have really taken to heart the idea that “Life is a journey, not a destination,” as there are many train lines which are designed as sightseeing trains, or just happen to pass through beautiful scenery and let you enjoy the journey – the beautiful forests, the stunning seaside, sometimes even the trains themselves are part of the experience.

Recently Rakuten Travel announced its top 10 list for the best local trains around the country. Let’s take a look at what these train lines have to offer after the jump.

1st Gonō Line (Aomori to Akita)

I can totally understand why this line won. Apart from passing through Shirakami-Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage designated forest, and running along the coastline of the Sea of Japan, you get to experience northern Honshu’s unique and ancient Tsugaru culture. On the train you can listen to a shamisen performance and the conductor makes announcements in the almost incomprehensible (even to Japanese people), but very charming Tsugaru dialect.


2nd Ōigawa Railway (Shizuoka)

Although there are others in the country, this is the only SL (steam locomotive) to make it on this list. Riding on an SL you get the old-school steam, noise, smell and ever-so-iconic whistle, in addition to the stunning scenery of tea fields, rivers and of course, the southern Japanese Alps. All of the elements work together in perfect harmony to create an unforgettable experience.


3rd Senmō Main Line (Hokkaido)

This local train makes all the stops, except that stops are often inside national forests like the Kushiro-shitsugen National Park and the Abashiri Quasi-National Park, not to mention the ride along a thin piece of land cutting between the Sea of Okhotsk and Lake Tofutsu. In the winter, you can even watch huge chunks of ice float around in the freezing ocean! You can also stop at one of the country’s most beautiful train stations along the way.


4th Aizu Railway (Fukushima)

This train is probably the most easily accessible from Tokyo, yet you wouldn’t know it from the ride. There is a special observation car with roomy seats so you can gaze at the unspoiled nature and forget all about the concrete jungle of Tokyo.


5th Tadami Line (Fukushima- Niigata) 

Another Fukushima special, as the train cuts through otherwise inaccessible snow-covered land in the winter, you can really get to know the locals – that is, if you can understand their unique Tohoku dialect.


6th Sanriku Railway (Iwate)

Running along the coast, you get a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, while sitting comfortably in the tatami seats. The train will also stop for a few minutes longer in well-known scenic spots so you can take it all in.


7th Sagano Scenic Railway (Kyoto)

Owning up to its location in the historic and cultural capital, this one-of-a-kind diesel train has cars made of wood and even has some window-less, open-air cars so you can get that nostalgic feeling and the wind in your hair.


8th Himi Line (Toyama)

Toyama has mountains and valleys galore and this train ride gives sightseers a front-row seat. You can see Tateyama, Toyama’s most famous mountain, as well as ride along the northern Japanese coast. The view of the ocean is supposedly beautiful even in the rain.


9th South Aso Railway (Kumamoto)

 Although it doesn’t take you to the Aso volcano (there’s another line for that), this line runs along the south through unspoiled terrain. The reason it’s on this list, however, is the train itself, which has no glass in the windows and very rustic feel to it.


10th Nagaragawa Railway (Gifu)

Closing out the list we have a train that runs along the crystal clear Nagaragawa River, but is also the main life-line for many locals. That’s not to say that it’s not a tourist attraction however, as there is plenty of tourist information on the train and at every station.


Train fanatics, families, and people who just want to relax and enjoy the journey of life (or just a journey through a forest) should check out one of these unique train experiences. But Japan offers plenty of other similarly eccentric and enjoyable train rides, so the next time you board any local, countryside train, don’t think so much about where you’re going, take a look out the window and enjoy the journey!

Sources: NariNari, Rakuten Travel
Top Image: Wikipedia
Inset Images: Rakuten Travel