The Train Suite Shiki-Shima (Shiki-Shima meaning the island of four seasons) is an ultra-luxe residential train in Japan, run by the East Japan Railway Company, JR East. The train company organises activities on the train and sightseeing trips off it when it stops at various locations across the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.
At many of the train stations where the Shiki-Shima stops, there are private Shiki-Shima entrances; at the main starting/stopping point (Ueno Station) in Tokyo there is also a special lounge — Prologue Shiki-Shima. As with everything about the train, from booking to welcome, trips, food, accommodation, additional transport options etc. all was just absolutely incredible and a real experience of a lifetime. Throughout the trip, announcements were also made in English and every possible language adjustment made for us (including being given iPods during sightseeing trips with translations); albeit we were the only non-Japanese couple on the train.
The train had a total of 17 suites in all, so there is a maximum of 34 people each trip if each cabin is full (which I imagine they always are due to the demand). Each suite can accommodate two people. In car 7 is both the Shiki-Shima (bi-level) maisonette suite (suite number 702, the one we were lucky enough to get) and also the Deluxe Suite - both have the same full bathroom; the difference is that the Shiki-Shima suite has a full bedroom area on the level below (twin beds), and the Deluxe Suite only has two seats which are made up into beds at night.
From the entrance level you go down a few stairs to the bedroom area. Everything in the suite is incredibly well designed, for example the coat hangers are rubberized (soft-touch) so they don’t clatter together when the train, though incredibly smooth, is moving at speed - no knocking at night either, or nothing rattles. This is such a high quality train.
On the upper level is a tatami matted room with sunken seating and a table at the window, this was just amazing for watching the scenery go by. The suite was air-conditioned throughout, this was easily adjusted from wall panels in all areas of the suite. Lighting too was electronically adjustable through various scenes, the upper level blinds also went up and down at the touch of a button. To get train information etc. (and to contact staff) there was an iPad in each suite for this.
The en-suite bathroom, on the entrance level of the suite, had grey tiled (heated) floor and walls, there was a walk-in shower and a large wooden soaking tub. The tub could be automatically filled - press the button, adjust the temperature and 15 minutes later you come back to a full tub. There is the automatic Toto toilet, an electronic Villeroy & Boch sink with adjustable hot/cold water at the touch of a button with remote sensor, and there was a constant supply of pristine white fluffy towels and large fluffy bathrobes.
Each meal was different on the various days of the trip, there was a different head chef for each experience, from French cuisine at dinner one day to a Japanese style Bento Box lunch on another day (with the Shiki-Shima twist of course). I've added some photos of some of the amazing dishes, but I’m not going to give a detailed account of all the meals we enjoyed, however all were absolutely incredible but I will leave this for you to experience if you ever take this train journey. As a vegetarian myself, every dietary requirement was taken care of. The exemplary service from every member of the Train Suite Shiki-Shima crew was so genuine.
From the outset, we were given clear information about the details of the trip, including all stops, excursions and events both off and on the train, as well as all the various meals throughout the trip. At every station the train arrived at we were met with an amazing welcome from interested train fans and a great send off from each stop too. We spent two nights on the train with a night in between at Zaborin Ryokan - this was just the most incredible, extraordinary traditional ryokan but with a very modern twist.
This is such a special experience - it is expensive but the accommodation and service are second to none.
Our Train-Suite Shiki-Shima experience started and finished from Ueno Station in downtown Tokyo. A chauffeur driven limousine was sent to our hotel (Palace Hotel Tokyo) to take us the 4km journey to Ueno Station; we left after breakfast so the journey time was around 20 minutes with light traffic.