Shikoku Railway Co. (JR Shikoku) will start a special tour in April allowing passengers to ride more than one tourist train to travel around Shikoku island in western Japan and also stay at various locales overnight.
The unique tour, named Shifuku no Monogatari, will enable customers to visit tourist spots across the island while changing trains. The destinations of the packages will change depending on the season.
As passengers will stay at accommodation facilities along the tour routes at night, the new program is expected to help revitalize local communities as well.
JR Shikoku started operations of its first tourist train Iyonada Monogatari in July 2014, while the Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari sightseeing train and the Shikoku Kochi Bakumatsu Ishingo tourist trolley train made their debuts in April and September this year, respectively.
All those special trains have proven popular, as dishes using local specialties and scenic views can be enjoyed on them.
The name of the latest tour includes the word "shifuku" (four kinds of bliss) so participants can experience the supreme bliss, which is also pronounced "shifuku" in Japanese, in the four prefectures on Shikoku for all four seasons.
In the spring, two variations of the tour will be offered.
Participants in one tour called Sakura no Sho (Chapter of cherry blossoms) will start their journey from Zentsuji temple, which is said to have been commissioned by Kukai (774-835), a famous Buddhist priest, and then board the Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari and Shikoku Kochi Bakumatsu Ishingo trains.
Tour participants can also view cherry blossoms at the Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden at night and the flowers at Ozu Castle.
Featuring traditional cultures in local regions and the 1868 Meiji Restoration, another tour package will allow participants to create lacquer art productions with Yoshito Yamashita, a living national treasure who made lacquerware for Shikoku Mannaka Sennen Monogatari.
After viewing the Shikoku Konpira Kabuki Oshibai play at the Kyu Konpira Oshibai theater, also known as Kanamaruza, participants will follow a road in Sakawa, Kochi Prefecture, where illustrious samurai Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867) walked around the time of his seceding from his clan.
Participants in the two packages of the spring tour will end their trips with rides on the Iyonada Monogatari.
In summer or later, JR Shikoku plans to organize extra tours traveling along the Yodo Line and in Tokushima.
Across Japan, rail operators have assembled a succession of sightseeing train tours.
While Kyushu Railway Co. introduced the Nanatsuboshi (Seven Stars) in 2013, East Japan Railway Co. started operations of Train Suite Shiki-Shima in May this year. West Japan Railway Co.’s Twilight Express Mizukaze made its debut in June.
All are luxury sleeper trains, attracting considerable attention.
JR Shikoku’s recently unveiled tour will not utilize such luxury sleeper trains. But the packages are expected to have beneficial economic effects on areas along the rail lines, as participants need to change trains along the way.
"I hope passengers, while changing trains, stay at nearby regions in a way that could have ripple effects on local communities," said JR Shikoku President Shinji Hani.
The three-day, two-night Sakura no Sho package will start on April 1, while the other spring tour will begin on April 11 and last for four days and three nights. The charge for a two-person room will be 125,000 yen ($1,108) and 175,000 yen per person, respectively.
The prices include train and bus fares as well as hotel charges and meal costs during the tour.
JR Shikoku will accept reservations at its counters at stations and on its website at (https://www.jr-eki.com) between Dec. 15 and Jan. 19.
Each tour package will be limited to 24 participants. If more people than the quota apply, participants will be chosen by lottery.