In 2014 the average delay on Japan’s world famous Shinkansen bullet train service was just 54 seconds!1 Shinkansen trains were designed to “feel like an airplane,”2 operate at speeds of 240kph-320kph (~150mph-200mph), and cut the travel time between Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of ~552.6 kilometers (~343.2 miles), down to as little as 2 hours and 30 minutes! But did you know that Japan has has trains that are even more comfortable, albeit more sedate, than the legendary Shinkansen?
Besides the Shinkansen, regular limited express trains, and rapid and local service trains some of Japan’s railway companies also offer special “Sightseeing Trains” that operate along scenic railways, or provide unique and fun access to scenic parts of the country. The Blue Symphony Sightseeing Express, operated by the Kintetsu Private Railway Company in Kansai, is one of the newest additions to the sightseeing train list. The Blue Symphony operates between Osaka Abenobashi Station, in Osaka’s bustling Tennoji district, and Yoshino Station in the mountains of Nara, and provides access to the stunning and beautiful Mt. Yoshino, famous in Japan for its 30,000~ sakura trees, rich culture, historical importance and glorious autumn colors.
To step aboard the Blue Symphony is to wonder if one has somehow stepped into the pages of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” The passenger cars are decked out with plush carpeting, large picture windows with drapes, brass luggage racks, elegant wood paneling and elegant decor, and comfortable green velour chairs that would be at home in any sitting room. A salon style seating arrangement and wooden tables with candle-lantern-shaped lights complete the “Orient Express” transformation (though outlets at every row for charging one’s various devices provide convenience and a reminder that this is the 21st century). The Blue Symphony’s central “Lounge Car” is equally elegant. It’s brightly lit and features more wood and brass, leather upholstered seating and a bar serving draft beer and various goods, foods, sweets and sake from the local area. There’s also a small library area with park-bench-like seating for anyone who wants to enjoy pictures of the local area’s sights.
The Blue Symphony makes 2 roundtrip journeys per day. The Yoshino bound trains leave Osaka Abenobashi Station at 10:10 am and 2:10 pm, and the return trains depart from Yoshino at 12:34 pm and 4:04 pm. Tickets are ¥1,670 each way for adults (¥970 base fare + ¥510 limited express fare + ¥210 special car fare) and ¥850 for children (¥480 base fare + ¥260 limited express fare + 110 special car fare). Snacks, food, drinks and souvenirs are sold separately. Taking a journey by train is always a little bit special, and the Blue Symphony is a cheap and fun way to make the journey to or from Yoshino a wonderful part of your adventure.