Who needs company when you’ve got a Japanese kaiseki feast laid out in front of you? 

One of the best things about travelling on the bullet train in Japan is the chance to enjoy a bento boxed meal at your seat as you watch the scenery whizz by. Sometimes, though, the slow life beckons, and a more leisurely train ride with your meal is in order. For those occasions, Japan has a number of stunning trains to choose from, and one of them is a restaurant train called Rokumon, which runs between Nagano and Karuizawa on the Shinano Railway Line in Nagano Prefecture.

Our Japanese-language reporter Momo Momomura decided to book a meal on the restaurant train, and given that she’s a seasoned solo traveller, she was pleased to find that Rokumon is one of the few trains to accept solo diners. They have a number of plans to choose from as well, with all meals made by local chefs at high-class restaurants in the area. Momo decided to opt for the kaiseki course, and after making a booking online for the Nagano to Karuizawa trip, she received her ticket in the mail a few days later, and arrived at the station to see this.

Rokumon (which literally means “six coins” and refers to the coins on the family crest of Nagano’s Sanada Clan) looked resplendent in red, and Momo couldn’t wait to get on board. Peering in through the windows, she could see some fancy tables and place settings, but nothing could prepare her for the gorgeous space she would find herself in once she stepped inside.

▼ There were booths and window seats…

▼ And even a play area for children.

With warm wood panels, high-class furnishings and stylish light fittings, this was no ordinary train. In fact, it was so fancy that Momo began to wonder if maybe she should’ve dressed better for the occasion.

She needn’t have worried, though, because everyone else was dressed as casually as she was, and when the staff led her to her seat, she found she would be sheltered from prying eyes anyway, in a private room of her own!

The shoji paper sliding doors were open when she arrived, but once she was in, they were closed for complete privacy. Passengers are free to open them as they like, though, which is especially handy for those who want to hear the onboard sightseeing announcements as the train rolls through the countryside.

Momo was already grinning as she walked through the train, but now her smile stretched from ear to ear as she laid her gaze upon the kaiseki meal laid out in front of her.

Filled with local produce, the meal contained meat, fish and vegetable dishes, all presented beautifully in tiered boxes.

The meal glistened before her, and with attentive staff on hand to explain each dish to her and top up her drinks when necessary, Momo imagined this must be what first class would be like on a flight.

She started off by sipping her welcome drink, and when she lifted the morsels of food to her mouth, she squealed with delight each time as they were filled with the same sublime flavours you’d find at a high-class restaurant.

The food tasted even better as she gazed out at the scenery as well. While the trip from Nagano to Karuizawa on the Shinkansen bullet train takes 25 minutes, on the restaurant train the journey takes two-and-a-half hours, giving her plenty of time to relax and enjoy every moment of the meal and the train ride.

Every time the train stopped at a station, there was lots to do as well, as they offered some type of sightseeing spot or event for passengers to enjoy. At Komoro Station, for instance, there was a garden for visitors to stroll through, and at Ueda Station they had costumes on hand for people to wear and take commemorative photos with, as a nod to the 2016 taiga drama Sanada Maru, a historical drama TV series that told the story of Nobushige Sanada, a Japanese samurai warrior from Nagano.

▼ The six coins of the Sanada Clan can be seen on the costumes and on the side of the train as well.

Passengers are free to take part in these events as they like, which means you have the option to go out and stretch your legs or stay in with a cookie and a cup of tea.

With so much to do, eat, and see, Momo didn’t even have time to feel lonely on her solo journey. In fact, the ride was so enjoyable that it ended sooner than she’d hoped, and before she knew it, it was time for her to alight at Karuizawa Station.

She received some Shinshu soba, a specialty of the region, as a present to take home, and she also received a free drink ticket for her to use at a cafe at Karuizawa Station.

Sipping her free coffee and reminiscing over the train ride she’d just enjoyed, Momo suddenly realised that now she wished she had a companion by her side. It wasn’t so much to keep her from feeling lonely, though, but more because she wished she could have someone to gush over the amazing train ride with!

If you’re looking for a bit of an adventure, or want to get away from it all on a short trip, Rokumon is definitely for you. While prices may fluctuate from season to season, Momo paid a total of 14,800 yen (US$137.36) for her one-way journey, which is incredibly reasonable, considering all the freebies you get along with a fancy meal and the actual cost of the train fare included.

Considering that Momo grew up in Nagano Prefecture, she was surprised to find that she learned a lot more about her hometown during the journey, which made it even more enjoyable as well. And now that she’s travelled on Rokumon, she can’t wait to go for another ride on the big red restaurant train, and maybe take some friends and family with her next time too.

Related: Rokumon
Images: ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]