Japan Travel in the Know: What Is Good about Travel by Train?


Trains are still the king of transportation for tourism

Which transportation do you think is best for your trip? By air, sea, or road? According to a report by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the share of travel by train is highest in the domestic market in Japan. The number-based share of travel by train was about 70% in 2020, and has been increasing year by year, along with a trend that young people turn away from driving. It’s not only about the Japanese people. Almost the same thing can be said about tourists from overseas. The share of rail transportation for such tourists to move around Japan is about 55%. For your information, the second is public bus service with a share of about 30%.

The advantages of train transportation over other means

I don’t know if it’s the same in your countries, but there are many rail enthusiasts in Japan. I sometimes find it surprising that some rail enthusiasts are standing with a camera with huge telephoto lens like a portable rocket launcher even on the platform of a very small station in a rural area. Once, I asked them why they like trains and train-related things so much. There are two good answers I still remember. The first one is rails. Needless to say, rails stretch as far as other stations, which makes people have a concrete image of their destination. Indeed, roads connect places as well, but there’re too many branches to evoke such a concrete image, according to the rail enthusiasts.

Closed stations become sightseeing spots for people who like ruins

Our prefecture, Hokkaido is an automobile society, and we rarely use trains. In fact, the local rail transportation industry is dying. For seven years from 2014 to 2020, Japan Railway Hokkaido (the main and practically only railway company in Hokkaido) has discontinued many lines and closed more than 100 stations. This causes more inconvenience for passengers, and people are more likely to go away. We are caught in a negative spiral.

Many stations were closed, but some of them are open as a memorial hall. For example, the one in the images here is in our hometown (Kamui-Kotan station). It was closed more than 50 years ago. These days, many rail enthusiasts are coming to Hokkaido to visit such closed stations. As I wrote before, we Japanese people see the beauty in things decaying away. Anyway, travel by train in Japan is safe, punctual in time, and full of charm as written above, but in Hokkaido, the infrastructure may be gone in the not-so-distant future. Please come here to travel around by rail before that happens.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.