Sleeper trains in Japan have a long history. They were very popular before the Shinkansen (bullet trains) appeared. Today, very few night trains remain and most have been retired due to people taking the much faster Shinkansen. There is only one pairs of night trains still operate, which is called the Sunrise Express and can be booked using the JR Pass.
The Sunrise Express is a train that consists of two train sets, the Sunrise Izumo and Sunrise Seto, together they leave Tokyo and travel to Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, before splitting up at Okayama Station. From Okayama, one train set travels to Matsue and Izumoshi, Shimane, while the other travels to Takamatsu, Shikoku. These trains also run the reverse route to join up in Okayama and travel back to Tokyo.
The Sunrise Express starts from Tokyo at 22:00 every day and arrives at Okayama at around 6:30. Then the train splits up to two sets. One set arrives at Izumoshi at 9:58, the other one arrives at Takamatsu at 07:57.
There are three types of classes on the Sunrise Express, nobinobi berths, twin bed and single bed.
Nobinobi berths are carpeted beds that you can lay down on, with blankets are provided. The bunks are connected to each other, without door or clapboard to separate them. This class of seat is the cheapest on Sunrise Express.
Twin bed and single bed have private compartment to separate from each other, providing more privacy and comfort. The ticket fares are also higher.
The most convenient and economic way to book a ticket on this sleeper train is to use the JR Pass. With only one service each night, seats are very limited and sometimes sell out, especially during holidays. It is recommended that you book tickets in advance.
For JR Pass users, the nobinobi berths can be used free of charge. Twin bed and single bed require an additional fare, starting at 10,800 yen per person.
1. The Sunrise Express doesn’t provide a dining car. There’s a small vending machine on board selling snacks and soft drinks. It is recommended that you bring some food for this train trip.
2. There’s a shower on the train. You need a shower pass to use the shower. Shower passes can be purchased from the conductor. There’s only a limited amount of these available, so purchase them the moment the conductor comes to check the tickets.
Shinkansen is Japan's high-speed train (bullet train), with maximum speeds of 240–320 kph (149–198 mph).
If you plan to take trains in Japan, JR Pass is an incredibly good value for money and can save you a lot of hassle.