The best JR trains to appreciate the natural scenery of Tohoku and East Japan

Moving up the Japanese archipelago from the Kanto region brings travelers to East Japan, comprising the six prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata, and prefectures like Nagano and Niigata. The region bridges the center of the country with the northernmost island of Hokkaido and is rich with local food delicacies, heritage-rich attractions and festivals, and some of the most gorgeous nature to be found in Japan. 

As the train traverses across the main island, it passes by a number of quaint villages, historic towns, and the wild areas in between. One of the most iconic scenes of Tohoku is actually of the train passing over the Tadami Bridge, suspended over the river of the same name. This picturesque location is especially noteworthy for its distinct view throughout the seasons; with rich greens and foliage during the spring and summer, a mural of burgundy and gold leaves in the fall, and white blankets of snow and ice during the winter! If you get the chance, take the time to see this scene from the observation deck by the Michi-no-Eki Ozekaido roadside stop and capture one of the most sought-after photos among travelers to Japan!

Tadami Line

Tadami Line in Autumn

@flickr/ Koichi Hayakawa

Yokote Kamakura Festival

Yokote Kamakura Festival

@Wikimedia

While the distinct sights of inland Japan are beautiful, the country’s archipelago geography lends itself to its equally gorgeous seacoasts! For the rocky and blue ocean views of Tohoku, no locomotive is better than the Resort Shirakami, one of the JR East’s signature Joyful Trains! These Joyful Trains are specialty locomotives with unique design themes that often have special amenities onboard. The interior of the Resort Shirakami is composed almost entirely of wood that has been sourced from locations where the railway passes, adding a local, personal touch to the riding experience.

This train goes between Akita Prefecture in the northwestern sector of Tohoku, and Aomori, right on the top of Honshu Island, just south of Hokkaido

Resort Shirakami on the JR Gono Line

Resort Shirakami on the JR Gono Line

@Wikimedia

This train actually operates in the eastern part of Nagano Prefecture with great views of Mount Yatsugatake and traverses through other mountainous areas. Though it’s not located in Tohoku, Nagano is north of Tokyo and is also blessed with tranquil nature with low light pollution, lending great opportunities for stargazing. The name is derived from the fact that this is the JR train that reaches the highest elevation at 1,375 meters above sea level. 

Inside the train, there are a number of cars, including one with paired seats that face outward for a panoramic view of the outdoors and night sky. The interior decoration is also astrologically themed, with a special gallery inside with an impressive array of literature and a domed ceiling with a twinkling star design. Just like the Resort Shirakami, the High Rail 1375 requires a reservation to board, but it is free to do so with a Japan Rail Pass or JR East Rail Pass.

High Rail 1375

High Rail 1375

@Wikimedia

High Rail 1375 on the Koumi Line

High Rail 1375 on the Koumi Line

@Wikimedia

High Rail Train exterior

High Rail Train exterior

@JR East

While trains like the Resort Shirakami and High Rail 1375 can be reserved without charge with a Japan Rail Pass, there are some great Joyful Trains that require a special reservation or package to board but are also great options for enjoying the scenery of the area. 

The Tohoku Emotion and KAIRI Joyful Trains are great options for enjoying premier cuisine while enjoying a leisurely journey along the coasts of Tohoku. The Emotion specializes in creating a fine-dining environment with European-influenced fare made from ingredients sourced from Tohoku, and the KAIRI showcases the cuisine of the Shonai region in Yamagata Prefecture, often cited as a world food capital for its high quality ingredients. As both trains emphasize enjoying a high quality meal, the reservation entails an additional package to board.

Onboard the Tohoku Emotion

Onboard the Tohoku Emotion

JR East

  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel
  • Included : Economic and simple, Unlimited travel

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