Sunrise Express – Sleeper train ride in Japan

Deciding on a location to spend your well-deserved ALs on has always been a contentious topic. However, one destination that unanimously passes the vibe check is Japan. You’ve got sunny beaches in Okinawa and winter activities in Hokkaido to satisfy even the most undecided traveller.

Regardless of your pick, it’s possible to fit multiple of these tourist hotspots into your itinerary because of Japan’s efficient rail system. If you’re all too familiar with the Shinkansen yourself, perhaps you can consider booking a trip on the Sunrise Express, a serene overnight train ride that’s FOC as long as you have a Japan Rail Pass.

Take in views of Japan aboard a 12-hour overnight train ride

Sunrise Express - Train Arriving At Station At Dawn
Purchase takeaway lunch boxes (from ¥700, ~S$8.31) and drinks (from ¥110, ~S$1.02) from shops peppered around Tokyo station as it’s not clear if there’s any food onboard the train.
Image credit: @akalonelychild via Instagram

The Sunrise Express is a long distance, overnight sleeper train that runs from Tokyo station and terminates at either Izumoshi or Takamatsu station. The 14-carriage train travels 2 routes where the cabins get uncoupled at Okayama station and head in different directions. 

The first 7 carriages are collectively called the Sunrise Seto, and the remaining half is known as the Sunrise Izumo. Should you long for a literal cross-country sojourn, the latter takes intrepid adventurers on a 950km odyssey across the west of Japan including stops at Yokohama and Okayama.

Train timings & seat reservations

Sunrise Express - Exterior View Of Train
Image credit: @cassiori26 via Instagram 

The Sunrise Express will depart from Tokyo station at around 10pm regardless of which route you decide to take. It takes about 12 hours to go from end to end aboard the Sunrise Izumo, while the Sunrise Seto will see a total travel time of about 9.5 hours. 

During the shared route, the train stops at stations in Osaka and Himeji. After decoupling, the Sunrise Izumo will make stops at Matsue and Shinji stations, while the Sunrise Seto will stop by Kojima and Takamatsu stations, just to name a few.

As for seat reservations, the booking sitch is similar to buying concert tickets in Singapore; you’ll have to book them about a month in advance online through the JR Pass reservation website

You can try your luck at the physical ticket windows when you’re there, but it’s risky as seats sell out quickly, so get your Japan itinerary sorted out in advance for a seamless ticketing experience.

Free seats with JR Pass, with optional seat & bed upgrades

Sunrise Express - Nobi Nobi Seats
There’s only a small partition separating these Nobi Nobi seats, so don’t expect full privacy.
Image credit: @shulinone via Instagram

Apart from the many free things to do in Tokyo, having a JR Pass will also entitle you to book the Nobi Nobi seats for free aboard the Sunrise Express. These are 190cm long and 80cm wide, and you’ll get a blanket and pillowcase for each seat. 

There won’t be a mattress for you to lie on, though, so if you don’t fancy resting on a carpeted floor, bring along a sleeping bag. 

Single Deluxe Room
You’ll get a cosy private suite with the Single Deluxe but there’s only 6 of such rooms, so it’s fastest fingers first when it comes to booking.
Image credit: @naka910 via Instagram

You can book a Single Deluxe (¥13,980, ~S$129.15), or a Sunrise Twin Room (¥15,400, ~S$142.27) if you’re bunking with a buddy. These are the premium options for your trip, as you get your own private suite fitted with a desk, and even a sink. 

Single Bed
Each Single bed comes with a pillow, blanket, pair of slippers, and kimono-like PJs.
Image credit: @gyoza_curry_sushi via Instagram

The best option, in our opinion, is the Single bed (¥7,700, ~S$71.13), as you won’t be scrimping too much on comfort. You’ll get a good night’s rest on a comfy mattress, and there’s even a power outlet if your devices run out of juice while bingeing shows.

Sunrise Express - View Of Mount Fuji
POV: you waking up to the sunrise, with Mount Fuji in the background.
Image credit: @areyouyuta via Instagram

Don’t make the mistake of having your eyes glued to the screens too much, though, as you won’t want to miss the ethereal views of Japan.

Amenities on board the train

Although the train ride is a long one, you don’t have to worry about comfort. The Sunrise Express does have a couple of amenities, so make use of them to get the most out of your trip.

Every carriage has its own toilet. Japan has pretty high standards when it comes to their washrooms, so you can rest assured that they’re well-maintained.

Shower Card And ShowersBody wash and shampoo are provided, so you just need to bring your own towel.
Image credit: @a25run & @mevsthemenu via Instagram

There are also shower rooms that you can use to freshen up, but you’ll have to buy one of the limited shower cards (¥330, ~S$3.05) at a dispenser on board beforehand. There’s also a 6-minute time limit per shower card that will be paused when you’re not dispensing water, so make your baths quick. 

Image credit: @atriptofuture via Instagram

Lounges that seat up to 8 are also found in carriages 3 and 10. Here, you can have your meals and drinks as you watch the world pass you by. There are also vending machines on board, but as far as we know, they’ve only got cold beverages (from ¥130, ~S$1.20) for sale.

Go for an overnight train ride aboard the Sunrise Express

View Outside of Sunrise Express
Image credit: @playjapan4u via Instagram

Getting around Japan has been simplified even for tourists who don’t speak a lick of Japanese. Bullet trains can get you from prefecture to prefecture quickly, but if you’ve got the time to spare, you can consider a sojourn aboard the Sunrise Express. 

Besides, you’ll be saving a night’s worth of accommodation, plus you’ll get picture-perfect memories staring out of the windows. From cityscapes to lush forests and oceanic vistas, this “atas MRT” ride has got it all. 

Book a Japan Rail Pass

For more adventures in Japan:

Cover image adapted from: @akalonelychild & @42kachan via Instagram

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