Blue Train (Japan)

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Fuji sleeper train, June 2004

Blue Trains (ブルートレイン burū torein?) in Japan are long-distance sleeper trains, nicknamed as such for the color of the train cars. They consist of 20-, 14- or 24-series sleeper cars, and currently run on six routes connecting major destinations within Japan across long distances, other routes being served by a fleet of newer limited-express sleeper trains which are not blue.

Five Blue Train services were eliminated in 2008 and 2009. The Japan Railways Group (JR) is expected, according to the Asahi Shimbun, to begin phasing out most of the other sleeper services as well.


The first Blue Train was known as the Asakaze. It ran between Hakata and Tokyo beginning in 1956; air-conditioned cars were added two years later. As was the case with sleeper train services in other parts of the world, the Blue Trains acquired a romantic aspect and, at the peak of their popularity in the late 1970s, appeared in many novels. They were often described as "hotels on the move".

The final Hayabusa and Fuji sleeping car service after arriving at Tokyo Station, 14 March 2009

More recently, however, as the Shinkansen (bullet train), buses, and airplanes have become faster, more popular, and sometimes cheaper, the Blue Trains have seen a severe decline in ridership and therefore revenues. The 2005 ridership on sleeper trains traveling west from Tokyo was calculated as one-fifth of that in 1987. For this and other reasons, such as aging equipment and a shortage of overnight staff, JR made plans to eliminate the majority of the overnight services.[1]

The Asakaze service connecting Hakata and Tokyo was eliminated in 2005, its average occupancy below 30 percent. The Hayabusa and Fuji were eliminated in March 2009. The daily Hokuriku train from Tokyo to Kanazawa was discontinued on 13 March 2010 along with its former Blue Train counterpart, the Noto.

Services like the Twilight Express and Cassiopeia, however, retain their popularity in the tourist market, due to their more luxurious status and the absence of a Shinkansen line to Hokkaido, though this may change in Fiscal 2016.


Current services[edit]

  • Akebono - connects Ueno (Tokyo) and Aomori once daily (scheduled to be discontinued from March 2014)[2]
  • Cassiopeia - connects Ueno (Tokyo) and Sapporo three times a week; uses deluxe cars (expected to be discontinued from spring 2016)[2][Note 1]
  • Hokutosei - connects Ueno (Tokyo) and Sapporo once daily (expected to become a seasonal service from spring 2015)[2]
  • Nihonkai - connects Osaka and Aomori (discontinued as a regular service, seasonal services remain)
  • Twilight Express - connects Osaka and Sapporo four times a week; uses deluxe cars (scheduled to be discontinued from 12 March 2015)[2]

Discontinued services[edit]

Limited express sleeper trains[edit]

Express sleeper trains[edit]

  • Amanogawa - connected Ueno and Akita; discontinued in March 1985
  • Chikuma - connected Nagano and Osaka; downgraded from Blue Train status in October 1997; discontinued in October 2005
  • Daisen - connected Osaka and Izumoshi; downgraded from Blue Train status in October 1999, discontinued in October 2004
  • Ginga - connected Tokyo and Osaka; discontinued in March 2008
  • Kaimon - connected Mojikō and Nishi-Kagoshima; replaced by Dream Tsubame in March 1993
  • Kitaguni - connected Osaka and Niigata; downgraded from Blue Train status in March 1985
  • Marimo - connected Sapporo and Kushiro; downgraded from Blue Train status in March 1993; discontinued in August 2008
  • Myōkō - connected Ueno and Naoetsu via the Shin'etsu Main Line; downgraded from Blue Train status in March 1985; discontinued in March 1993
  • Nichinan - connected Hakata and Nishi-Kagoshima via the Nippō Main Line; replaced in March 1993 by Dream Nichirin night train
  • Noto - connected Ueno and Kanazawa via the Shin'etsu Main Line; downgraded from Blue Train status in March 1993; discontinued in March 2010
  • Rishiri - connected Sapporo and Wakkanai; downgraded from Blue Train status in March 1991; discontinued in September 2007
  • Sanbe - connected Yonago and Hakata; discontinued in February 1984
  • Shinsei - connected Ueno and Sendai; discontinued in November 1982
  • Taisetsu - connected Sapporo and Abashiri; replaced in March 1992 by Okhotsk night train
  • Towada - connected Ueno and Aomori via the Jōban Line; discontinued in March 1985
  • Tsugaru - connected Ueno and Aomori via the Ōu Main Line; discontinued in March 1985


  1. ^ Although not technically a blue train, the Cassiopeia is included here as it is a luxury overnight service similar to the Twilight Express.
  2. ^ a b Although the Sunrise Izumo and Sunrise Seto are night trains, they are not considered blue trains and are therefore not included on this list.


  1. ^ Furuya, Masanobu. "JR putting Blue Trains to bed as passengers find faster ways to travel". Asahi Shimbun - English Edition. 11 December 2007. Accessed 12 December 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d Saito, Masatoshi (7 November 2013). ブルートレイン:廃止へ…JR3社、北海道新幹線開業で [Blue Trains to be scrapped by 3 JR companies - with opening of Hokkaido Shinkansen]. (in Japanese). Japan: The Mainichi Newspapers. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Miyake, Toshihiko (25 December 2008). ブルートレイン [Blue Train]. Japan: JTB Can Books. ISBN 978-4533073502. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Blue Trains (Japan) at Wikimedia Commons