Rail Journeys

Branch Lines of Japan – Part 1

Tour Date: 20 to 28 October
Location: Japan

Depopulation is one of the main killers of the rural railway in Japan. Our travels will take us over several rural railways, one of two of which may have a limited life expectancy.

We are running a series of tours over the next 3-4 years to visit quintessential railway branch lines in Japan. No real population growth and an aging population are resulting in the younger generation moving to the cities leaving a shrinking population in the countryside. Rural depopulation is a problem, even within an hour’s journey time of Tokyo. Rural depopulation is one of the main killers of the rural railway in Japan. Our travels will take us over several rural railways, one of two of which may have a limited life expectancy.

The main objective of this tour is to reveal to you the contrasting scenery and types of railway that exist within a day’s journey of the Japanese capital. ‘Japan’, of course, is not just Shinkansen, the Yamanote Line, the Shibuya crossing, capsule hotels and the like, as promoted by tours of he ‘golden Triangle’ (Tokyo – Osaka – Kyoto).

The railtour week of this itinerary is based on two hotels – the Toyoko Inn in Oji, and the Toyoko Inn in Odawara. Toyoko Inn is an extensive international business hotel chain where rooms are extremely comfortable, compact, and of course fully en-suite. The hotels do not have restaurants – one has to forage locally for an evening meal, but this is no problem – there are numerous possibilities within walking distance, often with meals costing around ten euros, frequented by the locals, and not by tourists.

At Oji those participants who are allocated rooms on the north side of the hotel will have a fine view of the Tohoku Main Line and also the Tohoku/Joetsu Shinkansen lines.

It should be noted that daylight hours in Japan are quite different to those in most of western Europe. Even in late October it will be daylight by about 05.00 – but dusk starts to fall soon after 16.30. That is why on this tour there will be what appear to be early morning starts – to make the most of the daylight, but give us early finishing times so we can enjoy the evenings at leisure.

Our group size is expected to be small (10-20)

Tour Itinerary

Day 0, Friday 20 October

Flight arrival at either Haneda or Narita and rail transfer to Toyoko Inn in Oji, a northern suburb of Tokyo in Kita City. Direct flights from Heathrow (but more expensive) or, cheaper, flight via Rome or Hong Kong. Flights from most major UK airports via Rome or Dubai. Arrivals at Narita must not miss a trip on the shortest privately-operated railway in Japan before leaving the airport. This is the 2.2 km Shibama Dentetsu, which uses staff and trains hired from the adjacent Keisei Dentetsu.

The Oji Toyoko Inn is situated close to Oji station, and also close to Ojiekimae (Oji-eki-mae) stop on the Toden-Arakawa tramway (light rail) line. Also known as the ‘Sakura Tram’ (‘Cherry Blossom Tram’), this is the only street tramway left in the capital. Toden is an abbreviation of Tokyo-to Densha (Tokyo Metropolitan Area Electric Railway).

Day 1, Saturday 21 October (08:00 to 18:40)

Today we start with a Ddairy farm visit!. There are also a lot of narrow gauge steam locomotives, some of artisan design on the 610 mm gauge Makiba Light Railway within the farm complex. Access will involve a bus transfer (to be arranged with the operators and the owners of the Narita Yume Bokujo Dairy Ranch). Last admissions are, in any case, at 16.30 (on account of daylight hours) so in most instances a morning and early afternoon visit would be preferable. Today we visit lines to Abiko, Namegawa, Yukarigaoka including a circular trip on rubber-tyred people-mover on mostly elevated line (with one tunnel).

Click on this map and then you can zoom in to very detailed maps of all the railways in Japan.
Day 2, Sunday 22 October (07:44 to 18:00)

Around the Boso Peninsula and across Tokyo Bay. Today’s trip will enable us to travel on two local, privately operated railways which are doing their utmost to win passengers and survive. On the outward journey we cross the centre of the Boso Peninsula, then follow the rugged coast to Hama-Kanaya. Here we have a 400 m level walk to the ferry terminal, where we catch a ferry across Tokyo Bay, the busiest shipping lane in the world, to Kurihama. By then it will be dusk. The final part of the journey will be on the 1,435 mm gauge Keikyu Main Line through Yokohama to Tokyo – the urban area becomes quite spectacular after dark. Evening option. A round trip on the Yamanote Line via Shinjuku to Tabata, and then via the Keihin-Tohoku Line to Oji. An opportunity to see the city illuminations at night.

Day 3, Monday 23 October (09:16 to 19:43)

A trip to the Town of Titipu. On this excursion we will venture into the mountains to the northwest of Tokyo, on two rural branch lines,

Day 4, Tuesday 24 October (07:52 to 18:14)

Today we visit Japan’s premier railway museum, suburbia and a steep funicular. We start with a trip on the Keio Corporation’s 1,372 mm gauge railway to ride Japan’s steepest funicular, with a view from the top of Fujisan, before we cross the outer suburbs of the capital to Omiya and visit the impressive Saitama Railway Museum during the afternoon. We then continue by a direct route (the Tohoku and Tokaido Main lines) to Odawara, to the west of Tokyo at the northern end of the Izu Peninsula.

Day 5, Wednesday 25 October (08:04 to 17:28)

Over and round the Hakone mountain range with views of Fujisan. Today the focus of our travels will be Fujisan, viewed from various angles. In the morning we will take a rail, funicular and cable car trip over the Hakone mountain range, to the northern end of Lake Ashinoko. En route, we will travel on one of the steepest adhesion railways in Japan with three ‘switchbacks’ or reversals. on the approach to the summit station of the cable car line, Owakudani, we will pass over an area with many fumaroles. From Owakudani it will, in fine weather, be possible to see Fujisan. A break will be made here for refreshments, before we descend to the lake shore, returning via the same scenic route to Odawara. The cable cars and gondolas have a capacity of 18 persons each. departures are every minute.

In the afternoon we will undertake a circumnavigation of the northern part of the Hakone range, using the Tokaido Main Line to Kozu, and then the original Tokaido Main Line, to Gotemba and Numazu. On this run we will also, in fine weather, enjoy almost unbroken views of Fujisa, as we descend towards the coast between Gotemba and Numazu. Finally, we will return to Odawara on the ‘new’ (1920s and early 1930s) Tokaido Main Line through the long Tanna tunnel. But en route we will break the journey at Atami, to see a little 762 mm gauge plinthed steam tram locomotive, and to walk through the impressive ‘Victorian’ shopping arcade, both adjacent to the station.

Day 6, Thursday 26 October (08:05 to 18:26)

The seaside dream railway, Wuppertal in Japan and a new underground railway. Today’s trip will be full of contrasts. We first head to the district north of Yokohama, to travel on a section of underground railway which will be inaugurated in March 2023.  We will then travel through suburbia to Yokohama, to travel on the Keikyu network between Yokohama, Kurihama and the end of the line at Misakiguchi (part of this railway we travelled on before, but after dark).  Misakiguchi was not meant to be the end of the line – there were plans to terminate at Aburatsubo (port), and part of the trackbed was built. The extension project is still alive today. At Kurihama we join a train on the original railway to serve the naval port at Yokosuka for the journey across the Miura peninsula to the eastern terminus of the Enoden (Enoshima Dentetsu) at Kamakura.

Our afternoon will be spent on the Enoden – the perfect example of a seaside and holiday railway. This operator manages to run a very intensive service on a single track railway, complete with a coastal stretch, a tunnel, and a stretch running down the main street of Enoshima! The EMUs used have a slightly ‘retro’ ambience. We will try to provide time to photograph the trains from the lineside and street, and also have an exploratory walk around the island of Enoshima. To crown everything, we will then return to Ofuna by the Shonan Monorail. This is a Wuppertal-style ‘danglebahn’ or suspended monorail, complete with a couple of tunnels and some very steep gradients.

Day 7, Friday 27 October (07:36 to 18:33)

Izu Peninsula and Romney Rail Today’s journey involves a trip down the scenic Izu péninsula through landscapes reminiscent of the Italian Riviera on a luxury train (open to all). From Izukyu-shimoda station it is our intention to hire a vintage (1960s) bus for a drive through the hills to Shuzenji and onwards to the Niji no Sato ‘theme park’. Here there is a 15-inch gauge railway, modelled on the RH&D line. we then return to Odawara via Mishma and Atami.

Day 8, Saturday 28 October

Rail transfer from Odawara to airports. For those “line bashers” you can leave at 06:58 and using the Tokaido Freight Line (this is an early morning train, over a route using ‘rare track’ for passenger services!). For those wanting a lie in you can depart at leisure to the airport(s) by rail.

Or stay on for our unique trip to some of the many islands which make up Japan.

Islands – add on

We take a day cruise from Shimoda to three of the inner Izu islands – Toshima, Niijima and Kozushima. Departure from Shimoda is at 09.30, returning at 16.30, we then return by rail to Hamamatsucho for the overnight ferry to Hachijojhima, in the outer Izu group of islands.

Day 9, Sunday 29 October

We take a boat from Hachijojima to Aogashima for two nights on the island. Transfer between quay and Aogashima-mura is by mini-vans or alternatively, a pleasant walk of about 4 km, with a couple of longish ascents and tow tunnels en route. All depends on the weather!

On Aogashima you should be prepared to do quite a bit of walking, without luggage, this will be looked after on the transfer between the steamer quay and Aogashima-mura (village). Here the accommodation for two nights may be a little basic. But the food you will be served with will be delicious! Aogashjima has been visited by few people from western Europe so far. This will be a unique experience for you – and for some of the islanders!

Aogashima is a volcanic island to the south of Japan in northernmost Micronesia. It is the southernmost and most isolated inhabited island of the Izus, which are politically and administratively part of Japan but geographically not part of the Japanese archipelago. The island is approximately 358 kilometres (222 mi) south of Tokyo.

The island has been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports populations of Japanese woodpigeons, Pleske’s grasshopper warblers, Ijima’s leaf-warblers and Izu thrushes.

Day 10, Monday 30 October

On Aogashima local guide for an island exploratory walk.

Day 11, Tuesday 31 October

We leave Aogashima at 13:30 for the boat back to Hachijojima. Overnight in a guest house.

Day 12, Wednesday 1 November

We return by boat to Takeshiba and train back to Oji for our overnight stay.

Day 13, Thursday 2 November

Exploration of more of the Toyko district lines and tramways. Actual itinerary TBC.

Day 14, Friday 3 November

Return flights to the UK.

Participants should be prepared to do a reasonable amount of walking on this tour (including up and down staircases when changing trains) – not all Japanese railway stations are barrier-free yet. A classic example is Hama-Kanaya, where the only platform (island type) is accessed by a high footbridge (and nothing else!).

Prices & Options

8-day Holiday Prices (per person)

  • From London Heathrow: £2,650*
  • From other major UK airports: £2,450*
  • From Toyko: £1,595


  • There is no single room supplement on this tour!
  • People sharing a twin or double will receive an upgraded room (where possible)
  • Islands add-on: price TBC


  • £1,500 with flights or £750 if joining in Tokyo

* with flight price confirmed at time of booking.

Breakfast is included each morning