What you need to know about going on a Japanese train

Written by By Kofi Addison, CNN

There’s something about traveling by train that just feels… right.

Measured with a logbook

Every train ticket that makes it to Japan has to be validated by an employee (officially, the government calls them “namikase” or “logbook” employees) before crossing the threshold at a station of any size.

The papers are checked against local address and contact information, and scanned to make sure nothing looks dodgy or sketchy.

Come time to board, you can tell a train is “real” by the lack of black and gold tickets. Rather, everyone looks like they’ve just gotten up and made their way down to the foot of the platform in one piece and counted.

Station wares

Station comfy. Credit: Kim Jae-hwan/REX/Shutterstock

As a traveler, it’s a great way to remember you’re in Asia. They’ve built beautiful station lines for nearly all the major cities in the region and there’s a treasure trove of souvenirs and equipment to choose from.

There’s cheap traditional blankets and cushions to wrap yourself up in; arabesques, silk scarves and belts for a fashionable effect; and taffeta purses, that cost the equivalent of a few train tickets.

There’s the usual souvenir teddy bears but here, they come in different sizes and designs to serve as wedding gifts or as cute mementos of your trip.

Meanwhile, the kitchen is the place to go for a bite to eat.

Leathery equipment

There’s something undeniably charming about a train.

Instead of waiting in the dark for a bus, you’re pushed from one wagons to the next, with little doors in front of you as you pass down the carriage. There’s no late-night bus; just a train and lots of people.

This commercial success of trains has led to the world’s most luxurious train in the Orient Express, the Kunshan China.

Its long journey from Shanghai to Beijing, however, draws to a close at the outskirts of Beijing; it’s an isolated station and full of workers.

Then there’s the toilet, which it’s not unusual to find on a train. It’s not an out-and-out luxury, but it is plenty luxurious enough.

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An underground train is virtually unheard of in Europe, but in South America, this is in fact very common. The benefit is obvious — a train that’s fairly undisturbed from the outside is cheaper and less disruptive.

The downside is that underground trains can be far more obtrusive — often more buildings than cars and buses are on the platform.

China trains

Every train seems to be a bit of a speciality train, too. Many Chinese trains have dark interiors. Some — but not all — offer wooden carriages which are to scale. This, despite the fact that much of the land mass in China is covered in stucco, lazing on grass.

In Tibet you can find carriages made of Tibetan mud walls, and on Taiwan you can board a train adorned with pyramids. On Malaysia, there’s an interior heated to 40C.

There’s every kind of plush dining car you could imagine, too, such as a Japanese dining car, a Thai dining car, a Lebanese dining car, a Mongolian dining car and a Russian dining car.

Further afield there’s an Indian, a French and a Japanese dining car.

Outside Japan, trains tend to be less themed, but it’s not unusual to find air-conditioned dining cars with tatami carpets, leather armchairs and brass-plated tables.

On a Japanese train, it’s not unusual to find tatami carpets. Credit: Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

A train’s journey

There’s nothing better than a train journey.

A country that seems larger than life at first sight, but it’s compressed into 10 long hours into a single day.

A journey on a train, then, is a trip through the souls of the people, with uninterrupted views, and the occasional rollercoaster ride, but ultimately a trip through imagination.

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