Schedule of 2011-12 winter seasonal trains

KIHA183 Crystal Express is one of the trains to use for Tomamu-Sahoro Express trains. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
KIHA183 Crystal Express is one of the trains to use for Tomamu-Sahoro Express trains. (C) Sonic Rail Garden

Some part of winter season is the busiest period. Especially in Japan, New Years holidays are crazy busy. In this year, December 30, 11 (Fri) and January 4, 12 (Sun) will be busiest days. Please try to avoid taking a train on those days. the vehicle occupancy rate may be more than 200%. Sometimes it is almost impossible to get in or out from the train.

Even though Japan is very small country, Japan have several climate zone. It is icy freeeeeezing weather in Hokkaido. South part of Kyushu have very mild weather. It is very interesting season to travel. But if you travel in Hokkaido, Tohoku or Hokuriku region, please expect the delay due to snow. I do not recommend you to make a tight schedule.

Anyway JR Group operate lots of seasonal trains during all winter season. But it is too many to introduce all seasonal trains. So I pick up the popular trains and are operated in the popular spot.

*The information in this article is current at the time of writing.

JR Hokkaido (Hokkaido area)

SL Hakodate Christmas Fantasy train

This train is operated by steam locomotive between Hakodate and Onuma Koen (Onuma park) to enjoy Christmas atmosphere. There are reserved seat only. You need to book it before boarding.

Operation dates

December 3,4,10,11,17,18,23,24 and 25, 2011

Timetable

#1 Hakodate 08:35 Onuma Koen 09:15
#2 Onuma Koen 10:10 Hakodate 11:01
#3 Hakodate 13:45 Onuma Koen 14:48
#4 Onuma Koen 15:49 Hakodate 16:27

SL Fuyu no Shitsugen train (Winter train to Kushiro marsh by Steam Locomotive)

This train is operated by steam locomotive. This is a cruising train that goes through Kushiro marsh. It is similar type train to Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko train. But this train is not operated by Norokko train. There are reserved seat only. You need to book it before boarding.

Operation dates

January 21 and 22, 2012 operation between Kushiro and Kawayu Onsen
January 23 to February 29, 2012 operation between Kushiro and Shibecha.

Timetable

Kushiro 11:09 Kawayu Onsen 14:04 (1/21,22)
Shibecha 12:24 (1/23-2/29)
Kawayu Onsen 14:45 (1/21,22)
Shibecha 13:52 (1/23-2/29)
Kushiro 15:10

This train stops at Higashi-Kushiro, Kushiro Shitsugen, Toro, Kayanuma, Shibecha and Mashu.

Limited Express Asahiyama Zoo
Limited Express Asahiyama Dobutsuen

Limited Express Asahiyama Dobutsuen

This train connects Sapporo with Asahikawa and is operated by Asahiyama Zoo featured train. Asahiyama zoo in the most popular zoo in Japan. This train has only reserved seat. (Japanese site link)

Operation dates
December 23-29, 2011
January 2, 3, 7-9, 14, 15, 21-29, 2012
February 3-12, 18, 19, 25, 26, 2012

Timetable
Sapporo 08:30 – Asahikawa 10:07
Asahikawa 16:05 – Sapporo 17:46
Train makes a stop at Iwamizawa and Takikawa.

Tomamu Sahoro Ski Express

This train connect Sapporo with some ski areas in Tomamu and Shintoku.

Operation dates
Everyday from December 16, 2011 to February 29, 2012

Timetable

Sapporo 11:05 Shintoku 13:23
Shintoku 14:40 Sapporo 17:07

This train stops at Shin-Sapporo, Minami-Chitose and Tomamu.

This express train is operated by KIHA 183 North Rainbow Express from Dec 16 to Jan 16 and by KIHA 183 Crystal Express from Jan 17 to Feb 23. If you are looking for more information about the interior of these cars, please refer the post, Furano Lavender Express / Koyo Express. This summer/fall express train is operated by same type of cars.

Niseko Sahoro Ski Express

This train connect Sapporo with very popular ski area, Niseko.

Operation dates
Everyday from December 23, 2011 to February 19, 2012

Timetable

#2 Sapporo 08:04 Niseko 09:57
#1 Niseko 10:18 Sapporo 11:45
#4 Otaru 13:33 Niseko 14:45
#3 Niseko 16:00 Sapporo 18:24

This train stops at Teine, Otaru-Chikko, Otaru and Kucchan.

This express train is operated by KIHA 183 Niseko Express. If you are looking for more information about the interior of these cars, please refer the post, Furano Lavender Express / Koyo Express. This summer/fall express train is operated by same type of cars.

Ryuhyo Norokko train

Shiretoko is very popular destination in winter time for Ryuhyo (流氷=Drift Ice) viewing. This train is operated in Drift Ice season for viewing by “Torokko” (open air type passenger’s car).

Operation dates
Everyday from January 21, 2012 to February 29, 2012.

Timetable

#2 Shiretoko-Shari 08:55 Abashiri 10:00
#1 Abashiri 10:25 Shiretoko-Shari 11:22
#4 Shiretoko-Shari 11:57 Abashiri 12:57
#3 Abashiri 13:57 Shiretoko-Shari 14:55

*This train stop at Katsuradai, Masuura, Mokoro, Kitahama, Hamkoshimizu and Yamubetsu.

If you need more information about this train, please see this post, Ryuhyo Norokko train.

Ryuhyo Limited Express Okhotsk no Kaze

This limited express train is additional train of Limited Express Okhotsk between Sapporo and Abashiri. It is operated for Drift Ice season by KIHA 183 North Rainbow Express. This series is much better than standard 183 series for Okhotsk. If you go to Abashiri in this season. try to take this train.

Operation dates
Everyday from January 21, 2012 to February 29, 2012.

Timetable

Sapporo 07:55 Abashiri 13:21
Abashiri 14:17 Sapporo 19:37

*This train stop at Iwamizawa, Bibai, Sunagawa, Takikawa, Fukagawa, Asahikawa, Kamikawa, Maruseppu, Engaru, Ikutahara, Rubeshibe, Kitami, Bihoro and Memanbetsu.

If you are looking for more information about the interior of KIHA 183 series North Rainbow Express, please refer the post, Furano Lavender Express / Koyo Express. This summer/fall express train is operated by same type of car.

JR East (Tohoku and Kanto area)

Rapid Hiraizumi Sekai Isan

You can use this train to the newest UNESCO World Heritage Hiraizumi from Moroika directly. This train is operated by the specialized train “Kenji” that has the panoramic windows.

Operation dates

December 3,4,10,11,17,18,23,24 and 25, 2011
January 7,8,14,15,21,22,28 and 29, 2012
February 4,5,11,12,19 and 26

Timetable
Morioka 09:38 – Ichinoseki 10:55
Ichinoseki 16:03 – Morioka 17:25
This train makes a stop at Hanamaki, Kitakami, Mizusawa and Hiraizumi

Rapid Hiraizumi Bunka Isan

You can use this train to the newest UNESCO World Heritage Hiraizumi from Sendai directly. This train is operated by the specialized train that has Japanese Tatami seat. This train has only reserved seat.

Operation dates
January 21, 22, February 25 and 26, 2012

Timetable
Sendai 09:13 – Hiraizumi 11:14
Hiraizumi 14:57 – Sendai 16:48
This train makes a stop at Shiogama, Matsushima, Kashimadai, Kogota and Ichinoseki

Rapid Resort Minori

This train connects Sendai with Shinjo via Naruko hot springs resort. This train is operated by the specialized train. This train has only reserved seat.

Operation dates
December 2,3,4,9,10,11,16,17,18,23,24,25,30 and 31, 2011
January 1,2,3,6,7,9,13,14,15,20,27,28 and 29, 2012
February 3,4,5,10,11,12,17,18,19,24

Timetable
Sendai 09:25 – Shinjo 12:28
Shinjo 15:00 – Sendai 17:37
This train makes a stop at Matsuhima, Kogota, Furukawa, Iwadeyama, Yubikan, Kawatabi-Onsen, Naruko-Gotenyu, Naruko-Onsen, Nakayamadaira-Onsen, Akakura-Onsen, Mogami and Semi-Onsen.

Some of Resort Shirakami are operated by the newest Hybrid train.
Some of Resort Shirakami are operated by the newest Hybrid train.

Rapid Resort Shirakami

This train connects Akita with Aomori through Gono line that has one of the greatest scenery. This train is operated by the specialized train or the newest Hybrid train. This train has only reserved seat.

Operation dates and timetable

Station/train# Akita Aomori Operation date
#1 (Akita to Aomori) 08:24 13:35 Dec 2-11,16-18,22-31, 2011
Jan 1-9,12-24,27-29, 2012
Feb 3-5,10-12,17-19,24-26, 2012
#2 (Aomori to Akita) 08:21 13:21 Dec 3-11,17,18,23-31, 2011
Jan 1-9,13-24,28,29, 2012
Feb 4,5,11,12,17-19,25,26, 2012
#4 (Aomori to Akita) 13:54 18:51 Dec 2-11,16-18,22-31, 2011
Jan 1-9,12-24,27-29, 2012
Feb 3-5,10-12,17-19,24-26, 2012
#5 (Akita to Aomori) 14:10 19:19 Dec 2-10,16,17,22-31, 2011
Jan 1-8,12-23,27,28, 2012
Feb 3,4,10,11,17,18,24,25, 2012
#3 (Akita to Aomori) Not operated in winter time
#6 (Hirosaki to Akita) Not operated in winter time

This train makes a stop at Oiwaki, Hachirogata, Moritake, Higashi-Noshiro, Noshiro, Akita-Shirakami, Iwadate, Juniko, WeSpa-Tsubakiyama, Fukaura, Senjojiki, Ajigasawa, Mutsu-Morita, Kizukuri, Goshogawara, Mutsu-Tsuruta, Itayanagi, Kawabe, Hirosaki and Shin-Aomori. If you need more information about this train, please refer Rapid Resort Shirakami.

Overnight Rapid Moonlight Echigo

This is very popular and hard to get the seat. This train does not have any non reserved seat. This train is operated by old type Limited Express cars. But there is no berth or compartment.

Operation dates
December 22 to 31, 2011, January 1-4, 6-9, 2012

Timetable
Shinjuku 23:10 – Niigata 04:51
Niigata 23:56 – Shinjuku 05:10
This train makes a stop at Ikebuuro, Omiya, Takasaki, Nagaoka, Mitsuke, Higashi-Sanjo, Kamo and Niitsu.

Overnight Rapid Moonlight Shinshu 81

This is very popular and hard to get the seat. This train does not have any non reserved seat. This train is operated by old type Limited Express cars. But there is no berth or compartment.

Operation date
December 22,29,30, 2012 and January 6, 2012

Timetable
Shinjuku 23:54 – Hakuba 05:40
*There is no train to Shinjuku from Hakuba
This train makes a stop at Tachikawa, Hachioji, Otsuki, Shioyama, Kofu, Kobuchizawa, Chino, Kamisuwa, Shimosuwa, Okaya, Tatsuno, Shiojiri, Matsumoto, Toyoshina, Hodaka, Shinano-Omachi and Kamishiro.

Overnight Express Noto

This is very popular and hard to get the seat. This train does not have any non reserved seat. This train is operated by old type Limited Express cars. But there is no berth or compartment.

Operation dates
Every Friday from December 2, 2011 to February 24, 2012 and the following dates:
December 22,28,29,31, January 1,2,3 and 7, 2012

Timetable
Ueno 23:33 – Kanazawa 06:37
Kanazawa 22:29 – Ueno 06:19
This train makes a stop at Omiya, Kumagaya, Takasaki, Naoetsu, Itoigawa, Tomari, Nyuzen, Kurobe, Uozu, Namerikawa, Toyama, Kosugi, Takaoka, Isurugi and Tsubata.

JR Central (Chubu, Tokai and Hokuriku)

Overnight Rapid Moonlight Nagara

This is very popular and hard to get the seat. This train does not have any non reserved seat. This train is operated by old type Limited Express cars. But there is no berth or compartment.

Operation dates
To Ogaki – December 22, 2011 to January 8, 2012
To Tokyo – December 23, 2011 to January 9, 2012

Timetable

stations time stations time
Tokyo 23:10 Ogaki 22:49
Shinagawa 23:18 Gifu 22:59
Yokohama 23:36 Nagoya 23:20
Odawara 00:31 Toyohashi 00:17
Numazu 01:08 Hamamatsu 00:55
Shizuoka 01:50 Shizuoka 01:55
Hamamatsu 03:11 Numazu 03:19
Nagoya 05:24 Yokohama 04:41
Gifu 05:43 Shinagawa 04:58
Ogaki 05:53 Tokyo 05:05

If you are looking for more information about Moonlight Nagara, please see the post, Rapid train Moonlight Nagara.

JR West (Kansai, Hokuriku and Chugoku)

Twilight Express

As you know, this is most popular train in Japan. The extra departure will be operated in Holidays periods and mid February for Sapporo Snow Festival.

Operation dates
Regular departure is Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday to Sapporo, and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday to Osaka. And these following dates will be added.
to Sapporo — Everyday from December 21, 2011 to January 4, 2012, and from February 3, 2012 to February 11, 2012
to Osaka — Everyday from December 22, 2011 to January 5, 2012, and from February 4, 2012 to February 12, 2012

Timetable
Osaka 11:50 – Sapporo 09:52
Sapporo 14:05 – Osaka 12:52
If you need more information about Twilight Express, please refer the post, Overnight Express Train Twilight Express.

JR Kyushu (Kyushu)

Limited Express Aso Boy!

This train is operated to Mt. Aso from Kumamoto by the train that have the panoramic windows at the both end. This train has only reserved seat. (Japanese site link)

Operation dates
December 3.4.10.11.17.18.23-31, 2011
January 1-9.14.15.21.22.28.29, 2012
February 4.5.11.12.18.19.25.26, 2012

Timetable

Station/train# Kumamoto Tateno Aso Miyaji
#101 10:26 11:15 11:49 12:00
#103 13:51 14:31 15:10 15:21
Station/train# Miyaji Aso Tateno Kumamoto
#102 12:20 12:25 12:58 13:40
#104 15:40 15:44 16:26 17:11

This train makes a stop at Shin-Suizenji, Suizenji, Higo-Otsu and Akamizu too.
#101 and #104 will be extended to operate to/from Hakata on December 23 to 25. Departure time at Hakata is 08:41 and arrival time at Hakata is 18:54.

Limited Express Umisachi-Yamasachi

This train goes through Nichinan coastline. Please see the details at my post.

Operation dates
December, 2011 – 22,23,26,27,29,30,31 and every Saturday and Sunday
January, 2012 – 2,3,5,6,9 and every Saturday and Sunday
February, 2012 – Every Saturday and Sunday

Timetable
Please refer my post, Limited Express Umisachi-Yamasachi.

A Ressha de Iko (A列車で行こう=Take the ‘A’ train)

This train is the newest train in Kyushu and connect Kumamoto with Misumi. Misumi is the gateway station for Amakusa.

Operation dates
December 3.4.10.11.17.18.23-31, 2011
January 1-9.14.15.21.22.28.29, 2012
February 4.5.11.12.18.19.25.26, 2012

Timetable

Station/train# Kumamoto Uto Misumi
#1 10:36 10:46 11:44
#3 14:08 14:18 14:46
Station/train# Misumi Uto Kumamoto
#2 11:20 11:47 11:59
#4 14:52 15:19 15:31

This train makes a stop at Yatsushiro, Sakamoto, Shiraishi and Watari.

12 thoughts on “Schedule of 2011-12 winter seasonal trains”

  1. Unfortuantely

    Nihonkai tickets are all sold out both ways in December, looks like I can only watch, when I get there in Xmas

    James

    1. Really?
      As far as I checked the availability on Cyber station, there are still available from Osaka to Aomori in Berth A on Dec 20, 21, And Berth B on Dec 20,21,22 (Smoking only), 23 (very tight), 24, 25 (very tight in Non smoking), 26, 27 (smoking only). I checked other way. It is very similar situation. I think you still have a chance.
      Takeshi

  2. Hi Jonathan

    Reason I like N700-7000/8000 over E5, JR Kyushu made N700-7000/8000 very luxury! in all classes, corridor uses dark timber made wall make you feel like you are in a 5-star hotel! More comfortable seats and green car seats are up there with E5 Granclass. JR Kyushu onboard staff are more paying attention to detail to their passengers than JR East staff in my opinion and they make you feel great. E5 “Green car” is not too special, similar to the original N700.

    I recommend green car not for luxury reason but for during peak period and weekends it will be easier to get a seat, but if you are extreme budget traveller, perhaps green car is unnecessary. Also for budget purpose, don’t get eki-beno, instead eat at the stand-up noodle shop which cost only half as much as most eki-bento! stand-up noodle shop taste good, quality are great too! Try to drink water, instead of buy can drinks at vending machines will save you more money, free water are available in lots of places(rail station, shrine etc). If you stay in places that provides breakfast(Toyoko Inn for example), bring extra rice balls with you will save you even more lunch money! But in my view , travelling in Japan isn’t that costly. I have visited couple of more expensive countries!

    I don’t think Nihonkai currently(or ever) got compartment carriage of any sort? The train has A and B type open berth that’s it. The one that goes to Aomori with compartment carriage is Akebono.

    Regards
    James

    1. Hi James.

      Thanks for the advice! Firstly, I apologise about the my use of language, here in Australia many of our trains don’t have private rooms, so often sets of bunks get called ‘compartments’, and sometimes I accidentally use the wrong terminology! I actually meant the A and B type bunks. Anyway, from my experience on the B-type, there were no private doors on the 4-bunk sets like there are on Twilight Express or Hokutosei so on Nihonkai privacy is minimal.

      In terms of interior schemes, I’m actually a big fan of the 800 series shinkansen. I found the colour scheme to be most appealing. I found the trains in Kyushu to be quite inicely designed, even on local trains, but I think Yufuin no Mori was my favourite.

      As you advise, I do use Toyoko Inn when I go to Japan. I’ve had an ‘international club card’ since 2009 and enjoy a variety of bonuses. Their proximity to stations is always a plus, too.

      Thanks again for the advice!

      Best regards,

      – Jonathan Ayre –

  3. Hi Takeshi

    Sorry about the late reply,yeah I just came back and will be off to Japan again in Xmas for business! thats two visit in such a short time!

    I was able to try 99% of the trains I wanted to take,apart from “指宿のたまて箱” which fully booked out for October! Ialso tried Kiha58,it was indeed very interesting!

    E5 series was impressive but I think I like N700-7000/8000 Sakura better! N700-7000/8000’s green car were very luxury in some ways better than E5. On Sakura seats are properly adjust to window position, and arm rest are longer.

    I enjoy this trip very much!! the best ever!

    The next trip in Xmas I might try to take Nihonkai as it will be withdraw in March 2012

    Regards
    James

    1. Hi James,
      I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed it! You spent many more days in Japan than me! : )
      By the way, you’ve already known about Nihonkai? It’s just been released today!
      I learned many things from you. 🙂
      Takeshi / JP Rail

    2. I think I preferred the N700-7000 Sakura to the E5 Hayabusa in terms of comfort also. I’ve never tried green car, though. As I’m still young I’m what you would call an “extreme budget traveller”. Do you think green car is often worth it?

      As for Nihonkai, having been on it, some people I travelled with complained the standard B-Type compartment was not comfortable. I had no trouble, but you can try to get the A-type compartment. When I went last year it was winter, and there was a substantial delay due to snow around Akita. However if its not too far behind time connecting Hakucho services wait at Aomori, not Shin-Aomori.

      It’s a shame it’s being discontinued though. I have become somewhat attached to blue train services, however after my discussion with Takeshi on the Hakutaka page I sort of expected it.

      Best regards,

      – Jonathan Ayre –

      1. Hi James and Jonathan,
        I checked the news about Nihonkai. I found another sad news. This is not confirmed, but Kitaguni may be discontinued in March 2012 too.
        This is the last and only one train by 583 series. 583 series is so old, but I expected Kitaguni wan going to continue the service. Because this train is used for commute around Niigata and short distance transfer among the cities in Hokuriku region. I hope this news is just rumor.
        Takeshi / JP Rail

  4. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid visit Japan during busy period. My experiences are:

    *Try to go INTO major cities, take inbound trains rather than out of cities on outbound trains, this way you avoid more than 50% of the crowd.

    *Try to take slow trains, such as Kodama/Tsubame etc and conventional line slow trains.

    *Try to use Joetsu Shinkansen, this line is easier to get vancancy than other lines during peak period.

    Cheers
    James

  5. Hi all, I thought I would add a bit about a couple of the trains from my own experience.

    At the start of 2011 I was able to take the mentioned Okhotsk no Kaze service, which uses the Rainbow Express 183 Series Set. As mentioned, this version is much nicer in terms of decorum and comfort levels compared to the standard 183 Series Okhotsk sets. It takes approximately the same amount of time to traverse the distance, and at almost 6 hours, makes it one of the longest non-overnight Limited Express services in time from start to finish (however, long limited express services are a standard in Hokkaido).

    The Rainbow Express set is 5 cars. Car No. 3 is a bi-level car, and the lower level of the car has a lounge space and kiosk, with a food and souvenirs. There’s also a good deal of reading material in the lounge area. The North Rainbow Express set also runs movies while operating as Okhotsk no Kaze using a few screens placed throughout the cars.

    The train runs specifically during the drift ice season, and yes, it is possible to take this train to Abashiri and proceed immediately to the port to take an Aurora Sightseeing Cruise out to the drift ice (which cost 3,500 Yen per ticket). There’s a bus, but in all honesty if you’re heading from the station to the port, its easier to take a taxi. The drift ice is usually arrives in the last week of January and is at its best during early-mid February.

    I thought I would mention too, that the Moonlight Shinshu that goes to Hakuba in winter operates mainly for ski season. Hakuba is a famous skiing area with a high number of ski resorts, and is located in the Japanese Alps not too far north of Matsumoto. This train follows the same course as the Azusa/Super Azusa service along the Chuo Main Line, and continues up the Oito Line to Hakuba. With an arrival time at Hakuba of 05:40, the train probably passes through Matsumoto around 40-50 minutes earlier.

    Best regards,

    Jonathan Ayre

Before you leave your comment, please see the conditions below.
  • Your comment will not be shown until I approve. When you submit your comment, the page will be reloaded and nothing happens. But your comment will be shown when I approve. Please click submit only once and wait for my approval.
  • Please do not ask me to make your itinerary. Because I am not your personal travel agent. I am very happy to check your itinerary. But please try to make the plan by yourself. In this website, there are lots of resources to make your plan.
  • Please do not ask me about the access to your hotel. You can google your hotel and find it at hotel website or google map easily.
  • If you want to ask me which pass suits your plan, please tell me your detailed itinerary and location to stay. I cannot choose any deals without the detailed itinerary because I have to compare the total single fare and deals.
  • Please do not ask me to reply to your inquiry by email. In this website, I would like to share all information with any readers. I do not communicate with you directly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*