Japan’s Sleeper Trains: Cost and More

David Taylor

David Taylor is the creator of the Forever Foreign Podcast. He's been a full-time liver and Part-time lover of Japan for... possibly too long at this point.
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Do you eat, breathe, and sleep trains? Well, come on down to Japan, because you can get your fill here! At least the Sleeping part.

Sleeper trains in Japan are uncommon in 2023 because of the cost, but the Sunrise train is still in operation. It runs from Tokyo to Okayama before splitting off toward two destinations. On top of those trains, there are luxury train tours if you want to see smaller sections of Japan by rail.

Check out the article below for more details so you can decide if these romantic trains are for you.

The Lone Surviving Japan Sleeper

Until recently, overnight trains were common in Japan as a convenient and comfortable way to travel across the country. They’re still comfy, but maybe not as convenient since airplane and shinkansen tickets have gotten cheaper.

The survivor among this classic mode of transportation is called the Sunrise sleeper train.

Keep on chuggin along ol’ gal!
Image by Kaz Okuda

Departing from Tokyo station at 9:50 PM and heading southwest, the Sunrise makes several stops until finally arriving at Okayama station shortly before 6:30 AM. Attendants then physically split the train apart into two sections: the Izumo Sunrise and the Seto Sunrise.

For a full Sunrise timetable in Japanese, click the link and maybe let Google Translate have at it.

Seto Sunrise

From Okayama, the Seto sunrise makes a few short stops, arriving in Takamatsu, Kagawa an hour later for a total of 9.5 hours of travel time from Tokyo. It’s a scenic journey across the Seto inland sea which is how the train got its name.

Passengers traveling that far can then hop off and enjoy slurping tasty udon noodles before enjoying some incredible outdoor destinations.

Photo by Sen Lee

Izumo Sunrise

The other half of the sunrise sleeper train heads north through Okayama prefecture before finally arriving in Izumo, Shimane more than three hours later. From Tokyo, the total travel time is almost exactly 12 hours.

Passengers traveling this far on either side of the Sunrise express often aren’t tourists, but Izumo is a gorgeous coastal town with fantastic fresh fish. Great beaches too!

Photo by Ryo Yoshitake

Types of Beds on the Sunrise Sleeper Train

There are several cars on the Sunrise Express with different bedding situations. Here’s the list, including the price and what you can expect. Click on the links for a better idea of what each setup looks like, and don’t mind the Japanese!

Bedding NameWhat You GetCost (¥)
Sunrise twinPrivate room with two single beds15,400
Single deluxePrivate room with one bed, a sink, and some extra room13,980
Single twinNarrow closet with bunk beds (book this for two people or one person wanting more room). Bottom bed can be collapsed to form a chair.9,600
SingleSingle bed in a closet-like room7,700
SoloSingle bed in a capsule-like room (less headroom than the single)6,600
NobinobiCarpeted flooring with wooden dividers and curtains. Similar to a dormitory-style hostel setup with many passengers in one open area.*See Below*

No matter what bed type you go with, you’ll have access to a lounge area. So if you’re looking to save a few bucks, don’t worry about having to put on your best Harry Potter impression, being stuck in a closet for 12 hours.

Cost Breakdown of Sleeper Train Tickets in Japan

Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into, it’s time to talk about cost. Buckle up, because it’s more complicated than the usual train ticket prices.

There are three different tickets that you need to pay for when taking the sleeper train from Tokyo to Izumo. The price is also different if you’re only going to Takamatsu:

  1. Train fare (¥11,540 for Takamatsu, ¥12,210 for Izumo)
  2. Special express ticket (¥3,300 for either train)
  3. Bed fee (see above)

As one example, a passenger reserving a single deluxe room on the Izumo Sunrise Express would be paying a grand total of ¥29,490. That’s ¥12,210 (Izumo train fare) + ¥3,300 (special express ticket) + ¥13,980 (single deluxe fee).

There’s also the special case of the “nobinobi” seat. Nobinobi can be translated as “comfortable,” or “at ease,” but it’s the least comfortable option, so take that with a grain of salt. Maybe take a small cushion too.

The nobinobi seat is the cheapest price you can pay on the sleeper train at base train fare plus ¥3,830 regardless of destination. That means the special express ticket is waved.

A nobinobi seat on the Takamatsu Sunrise costs ¥15,370 while the Izumo Sunrise comes to a total of ¥16,040. That makes it the best option for those on a budget wanting to tour Japan by overnight train.

Does the JR Pass Include Night Trains?

The JR Pass includes night trains like the Izumo and Seto Sunrise, but coverage is limited. You can reserve a dorm-style nobinobi seat at no extra charge, but if you want a room you’ll have to pay the bed fee and the special express ticket (train fare is waved).

One other thing to keep in mind is that the JR pass applies to the date you board the train and not the day you get off it. This obviously matters for sleeper trains in Japan since you’ll be riding the train on multiple dates.

For example, if you book the train for the last valid day of your JR Pass (the 7th day for a 1-week pass) it covers the full trip even though you’d be hopping off on the 8th day of the pass.

How to Book Sleeper Train Tickets

If all of this sounds good to you, it’s time to start thinking about booking tickets. Yay!

The Sunrise express is a popular train, and tickets can be booked a month in advance. Unfortunately, we’re talking about Japan here (where people are prepared almost to a fault). That means that tickets usually sell out a month in advance.

And while you’d think the cheaper nobinobi seats would be available longer than the rest, it’s actually the opposite. They tend to get snapped up quickly.

Photo by Christian Chen

If you happen to be in Japan a month prior to your ideal departure date, you can book tickets at any JR counter and most ticketing machines.

If you’re booking from overseas, you can do so via the Japanese language Sunrise express reservation page or the JR West English site. Tickets go on sale at 10 AM Japan time, so be ready!

How Much is a Luxury Train in Japan?

While the Izumo/Seto Sunrise is the classic overnighter covering the most distance, you can also do luxury tours. These are geared toward those wanting a first class sleeper train experience more than the convenience of travelling while asleep.

How much a luxury train in Japan costs depends on the type of train. The West express that runs from Kyoto to Shingu can cost as little as ¥8,230 for a basic seat to ¥31,500 for the most expensive package. The ultra-luxe “Train Suite Shikishima” costs ¥470,000 for two people on a 2-3 day trip.

The second of those two trains needs to be booked through travel agencies like HIS. And as you can see by the price, it’s for the die-hard train fans who want a high class experience with luxury furniture and fine dining.

For the rest, the usual sleeper trains might be a better fit.

Conclusion: Are Sleeper Trains Worth It?

Sleeper trains like the Sunrise are worth it for those willing to go a little slower for a different travel experience. They can also be cheaper than other methods if you sacrifice comfort. For example, bullet trains will cut your travel time in half but cost more than the cheapest sleeper ticket.

If you want to add a unique spice to your Japan trip, consider a sleeper train. They’re popular for a reason.