The Shinkansen is already a pretty cool way to get around Japan, as it whisks travelers from the country’s cosmopolitan urban centers to its more traditional rural locales.
But what if you want to experience a bit of authentic Japanese culture while you’re zipping across Japan at 200 miles per hour? Fear not, Japan Railway has just the thing: a bullet train with tatami reed flooring and a Japanese-style foot bath.
When the Yamagata Shinkansen Line began operations in 1992, it not only provided citizens of the Tohoku region easy access to Tokyo, it also made it possible for residents of the capital to travel quickly to the northern reaches of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Even in a country that loves its nostalgia, the Tohoku region is particularly traditional, and many still lead the bucolic lifestyles that were the norm in Japan before the surges of urbanization that came in the early and mid-20th century.
JR East is looking to capitalize on this appeal by sprucing up the bullet trains on the Yamagata Line. Heading up the design side of the project is the Yamagata-born, California-educated Kiyoyuki Okuyama, who also goes by the name given name Ken in his international professional dealings. Okuyama served as creative director of Italian automobile design firm Pininfarina from 2004 to 2006, and his designs have been used for Ferrari’s exotic sports cars, as well as other Shinkansen coaches.
Among the overhauls many points is a new paintjob which replaces the current subdued silver and green tones.
The new scheme is much more colorful, not to mention meaningful.
The colors are officially known as mandarin duck purple, safflower yellow, safflower red, and Zao bianco, in reference to Yamagata’s Prefectural bird and flower, plus the snowy landscape of Mt. Zao, which sits on the border between Yamagata and neighboring Miyagi Prefecture.
Insignias placed on the outside of the train advertise the renowned produce and natural beauty of Yamagata throughout the year, with apples and rice for fall, ice-covered trees for winter, cherry blossoms for spring, and cherries themselves along with blooming safflowers symbolizing summer.
More dramatic artistic flourishes are found inside, where the passenger coaches’ ceilings and seatbacks are decorated with reliefs once again representing the bounty of Yamagata’s harvest.
Things start to get really special with the tatami lounge, however. Featuring the traditional reed flooring which can contradictorily be found in both high-class manors and low-rent apartments in Japan, passengers can sit and relax at tables carved from the wood of Japan’s famed sakura cherry trees. Cut-outs in the floor below the tables mean that your rump can enjoy the feel of tatami without the danger of your feet falling asleep from having to kneel Japanese-style and fold them under yourself.
Best of all though, is the new Shinkansen’s foot bath. Featuring two stone-lined tubs, this is a great way to literally dip your toes into Japan’s bathing culture, without having to disrobe for a communal hot spring soak.
The new Shinkansen carriages are scheduled to be gradually phased into service on the Yamagata Line starting next month. This means they’ll be just in time for Yamagata’s comparatively late cherry blossom season, and with its onsite bath facilities, travelers can look forward to arriving at their destination with their feet actually feeling better than before they started their journey hundreds of miles away.