Nothing says winter in Japan like the kotatsu, a low wooden table frame covered by a heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Built in underneath is a heat source, either electric or charcoal.
Similar to the image of a Western family sitting in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve, the scene of a family huddled around the kotatsu, usually placed in front of the living room TV, eating mandarin oranges and watching New Year’s programming is what comes to most people’s minds when mentioning the winter holidays in Japan.
With this in mind, Sanriku Railway Co., which operates two lines along the beautiful Sanriku coast of Iwate Prefecture, Japan, is offering passengers the ultimate Japanese winter relaxation experience with their “Kotatsu Train” (Kotatsu Ressha), a special two-car train equipped with 12 kotatsu so you can enjoy the scenery pass by from the comfort of your own (simulated) living room.
Sanriku Railway has run the Kotatsu Train from mid-December until the end of March every year since 2005, but was forced to shut down operation after both lines suffered heavy damage in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
While there are still parts of the railway that have yet to be fully restored, the Kotatsu Trail will operate this year as normal, running weekends and holidays from December 15 to March 31, and everyday from January 1 to January 6.
The train runs once per day, departing Kuji Station at 12:30 PM and arriving at Tanohata Station at 1:30 PM. After a 15 minute rest a Tanohata Station, the train makes the trip back to Kuji Station, arriving at 2:30 PM for a 2-hour ride total.
As with most promotional train rides in Japan, passengers on the Kotatsu Train can order one of two special bento lunches, each featuring mouthwatering local cuisine. The options are abalone (1,500 yen) or scallop (1,050 yen), so you’ll want to bring your own lunch if you’re not fond of shellfish.
For a snack, your kotatsu will also come with a bowl of fresh mandarin oranges if you ride in December or January, and senbei rice crackers for February and March.
Passengers will also get to experience a bit of local folklore: while en route, two namahage—fierce demons who visit village homes on New Year’s Eve looking for lazy and misbehaving children—burst in to conduct their ritual investigation.
Reservations can be made a month in advance and tickets cost 960 yen one way, plus an additional 300 yen for a reserved seat, for a total of 1,260 yen ($15). For round trip, there is a special discount ticket that can be purchased for 1,500 yen, which puts the total at 2,100 yen ($25) including the reserved seat fee.
Check the Sanriku Railway website for more information, and remember: no slacking off!
▼ A taste of the scenery