NIPPONIA No. 43 December 15, 2007


Special Featuresp_star.gifTravel Japan by Train

Riding the Rails Through the Night:

The Luxury Sleeper Express Cassiopeia

Cassiopeia speeds through the night into the northland, traveling 1,200 km from its point of departure, Ueno in Tokyo. It leaves at 4:20 p.m. and reaches Sapporo the next morning at 8:54. This “hotel on wheels” combines luxury with elegance.

Written by Torikai Shin-ichi   Photos by Takano Akira
Other photo credits: Railman Photo Office


The bullet train Nozomi from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka takes just 2 hours and 25 minutes, ideal if it is speed you are looking for. The all-sleeper Cassiopeia from Tokyo’s Ueno Station to Sapporo takes about 17 hours, and is for travelers who want to experience the golden age of rail again.

Cassiopeia’s distinctive silver cars, decorated with rainbow lines, glide to a stop at Platform 13 in Ueno. The time: 3:35 p.m., 45 minutes before scheduled departure. Cameras flash. The people on the platform have obviously been waiting for this moment. Some stand beside the train to get their picture taken. Others scramble on board to photograph the interior. Not all of them are passengers—some are railway buffs, thinking about that day in the future when they, too, will take Cassiopeia to the north country.

“Would you take our picture, please?” I answer, “Of course.” They look like a married couple. They smile for the camera, and I take their photo with the train in the background. It turns out they have been married for 10 years, and they are going to Sapporo on Cassiopeia to celebrate the decade, and to see Shiretoko, a World Heritage Site.

“We’ve wanted to take this train for some time. Today’s the day, and we’re really excited,” says the wife, with a big smile on her face.

Most of the passengers are like this couple, celebrating something. Some are celebrating the fact they have lived to a ripe old age. Some are honey-mooners. They are here to enjoy a fantastic train cruise, like in the good old days.

Cassiopeia logo. Launched on July 16, 1999, Cassiopeia is Japan’s first luxury train to have only private rooms. It still attracts plenty of railway fans and others eager for a different travel experience.

The trip is just about to begin, and passengers are keen to set out. Cassiopeia generally departs Ueno Station every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, and leaves Sapporo every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.