Riding the Sunrise Express

The train was met with so many cameras upon its arrival, it was like a celebrity had graced us with their presence.

Not quite so long ago, Japan used to have a plethora of overnight trains with beds so you could wake up at your destination. The advent of the Shinkansen bullet train basically did away with them. Now, your options are plane, bullet train or overnight bus.

While there are still luxury hotel trains running, only one overnight train remains that runs every night out of Tokyo Station: The Sunrise Express.

The overnight train offers a few compartments and something called the “nobi nobi” seats, which are basically rectangles of hard carpet with no walls separating one space from the next.

The “nobi nobi” seats. The carpet is like cement, so if you ever ride on these seats, bring some sort of cushion!

I got the sense this train is like the Disneyland among train enthusiasts. Tickets go on sale one month in advance, and the compartments sold out within seconds.

As I’ve never ridden overnight on a train, I was curious about the experience. Through sheer luck, I managed to book a bunk bed compartment that would take me all the way from Tokyo to Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture.

I think the bunk bed compartment is perfect for one person and probably a bit of a squeeze for two people (despite there being bunk beds) as the compartment offers about 5 centimeters between the sliding door and the beds in terms of standing space. You can transform the bottom bunk into a place with two little seats and a tiny table, which made it nice to wake up and have a place to have breakfast.

Overall, I liked the experience, but sleeping on the top bunk was harrowing–each curve, each sudden stop made me wonder if that would be the moment I get thrown from the top bunk and hit my head on the little shelf next to the bed below. I didn’t get much sleep, and my body was convinced I was still on the train well into the next day.

Still, I got to see a lovely sunrise, and it was absolutely a unique experience I won’t soon forget. I don’t think I want to ride on it again, or at least for a while, but I’m glad I got to try it out.