I love travelling by overnight sleeper trains, it’s a great way to travel. Depart from one destination in the evening and arrive at a new one the next morning, not only this, you’ve saved time and do not need to book a hotel for the night. It’s a win-win and a quirky way to travel.
Not only this but you get to travel on the slow tracks and see the drastic change in the landscape across Japan as you travel from Tokyo to Shikoku.
Japan used to have many overnight sleeper train options in service but now it’s been reduced down to only one remaining service, the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train.
Depart from Tokyo main station at 21:50 from platform 9 and arrive in Okayama at 06:27 am and then onwards to Takamatsu, on Shikoku island around 07:00 am to start your day.
Within this blog post, I will walk you through how I made my booking and my overall experience of travelling on the last Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train in Japan as well as some travel tips for Shikoku Island.
How to book a reservation on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train
At this stage, I would like to mention that it wasn’t easy booking a private room on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train.
Especially when booking with a Japan Rail Pass. Here is my advice on how to make a reservation.
Simply put, you can not book your seat reservation online or via an app with a Japan Rail Pass.
You must go to a ticket booking counter to speak with a ticket agent at one of the ticket counters located at select locations around Japan, mostly located next to popular train stations.
The price of the train journey on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train is included in the Japan Rail Pass.
Ticket reservations go on general sale for the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train a month in advance.
But only the transportation side of the ticket is covered by the pass, not the private room cost which will require an additional reservation fee on top of your journey.
All tickets are reservation only on the Sunrise Express, no Green car or non-reservation sections, so you must book a reservation for your journey to travel on the Sunrise Express.
Please do not get on to the train without a reservation as all journeys on the Sunrise Express are always fully booked it’s the only remaining sleeper train in Japan so this will require some planning for your trip.
How did I book my private room on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train?
I had some pre-warning about the popularity of the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train as I had attempted to book a reservation last year when I had a one-week Japan Rail Pass and all reservations were already full for the validity of my Japan Rail Ticket.
So this time around I was not going to be left disappointed.
As of November 2023, the Japan Rail Pass has not only increased in price, but You have to pay for your Japan Rail Pass online in advance.
Either before you arrive in Japan whilst in your home country or when in Japan (Prices will differ depending on which option you take).
You can no longer walk up to the Ticket office and purchase a Japan Rail Pass.
So, when you have your online booking and you go to collect your Japan Rail Pass, they usually allow you to make one reservation booking with their assistance.
This is when I highly recommend you should book your reservation on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train.
Why? Because without your Japan Rail Pass, you’re unable to make the reservation, you need to physically have the ticket pass on you to make the reservation.
(JR East Travel Reservation Center at Yokohama station, one of the many places across Japan you can collect your Japan Rail Pass)
So the moment you have it is when I recommend booking your reservation straight away as Sunrise Express offers one month booking so it might already be sold out.
It is frustrating for Japan Rail Pass holders that this is the only method of booking the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train.
Ask your ticket booking agent when issuing you with your new Japan Rail Pass to make the reservation straight away.
As mentioned they’re more than happy to help you with your first booking so make sure it’s for the Sunrise Express.
(A room with a view!)
Sometimes they might be able to help you with more additional bookings but generally, it’s one and depends on how busy it is.
Words you should use when making the booking with the ticket agent:
Tokyo Sunrise Express Seto and Izumo trains to Himeji, and Okayama (onwards to Takamatsu) or onwards to Matsue and Izumo. The train splits into two at Okayama and goes in different directions so first see if they have availability to Okayama, the first leg of the overnight sleeper train.
I collected my Japan Rail Pass on September 24th to start using it on the 25th. I purchased a three-week pass. we looked at all the options still available for the three-week duration.
The first week was completely sold out of all reservations. Only one nobi nobi seat was available on the 25th, no private rooms were available.
Then bingo! We found one! 2nd October one type A single private room was available.
Pretty much a week later into my Japan Rail Pass validity. So, be warned, you might have to remain flexible and backtrack on your intended route around Japan or work your route around the Sunrise Express booking.
Just make sure you lock in the booking the moment you get your Japan Rail Pass as it fills up quickly!
The journey part of the ticket was included in the total cost of my Green Car three-week Japan Rail Pass and the nobi nobi reservation would have also been included in my Japan Rail Pass for no additional cost on the 25th.
As I opted for the Type A single private room, the additional reservation cost was 10,800 yen, about £60.
All type B rooms were sold out for the whole 3 week period of my Japan Rail Pass, I’ve heard they’re the most difficult room type to purchase and always get booked up first, pretty much a hotel room with two single beds on a train.
(What the Nobi Nobi section looks like)
To be honest, I was more than excited to have a reservation for a single room since they were all fully booked last time even the nobi nobi room type.
I wanted to share my reservation experience with you as it’s not an easy process to book these reservations on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train.
It is the last sleeper train service still in operation in Japan and extremely popular so please sort out a booking plan in place to avoid disappointment.
And of course a big thank you to the unsung heroes of the whole operation, the ticket booking agent who was incredibly helpful and managed to find one remaining single private room.
At first, she had never heard of the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train and then was amazed to see how popular it was being fully booked for almost a whole week.
She was very kind to go through every train each day trying to find one remaining reservation.
At the end of the day it is the luck of the draw and the popularity of bookings will fluctuate depending on the time of year, so best of luck and don’t give up, you never know what might happen.
Different rooms on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train
(Nobi nobi might not be the most comfortable option for everyone but it’s the easiest to book)
I will walk you through the different room and accommodation types, you have three different sleeping options on the Sunrise Express:
Nobi Nobi reservation – This is the most interesting sleeping option on the Sunrise Express and for Overnight Sleeper trains in general, It is very typical for Japan, the Nobi Nobi option.
Bunched all together across two levels, the nobi nobi is a flat hard carpetted floor split into individual pods with curtains to divide the rooms for privacy.
The keyword here is hard flooring! You have been warned and it’s not for everyone’s comfort, but it is the most affordable method cost-wise and easiest way to book a reservation.
You will have a window, AC vent, personal light, an extremely small table and a plastic cup with a cup holder. I also didn’t notice any individual plugs, only one plug in the hallway.
I would suggest bringing a rechargeable power bank if you wish to charge your devices overnight.
Also, be aware that you will have to store your bags in your nobi nobi area, you can’t block the hallway.
Each nobi nobi room will provide a sheeted mat and pillow case and no towel. it’s extremely basic but might work as an option for you, think of it as a lay-flat seat in some respects.
I would suggest buying a pillow from Daiso, they have a blow-up travel edition for 100 yen, or you could use a down jacket if you have one to fill the pillowcase.
Also happens to be the easiest option about availability, so why not give it a go if it’s the only option?
The Nobi Nobi option is included in your Japan Rail Pass reservation and will not require any additional costs.
(Yes, this is the exact size of the room, it is a tight squeeze for many Westerners, but it’s comfortable)
Type A Cabin – If you wish for complete individual privacy then the Type A solo cabin is the one for you.
Includes a large observation window with blinds for complete darkness, single bed, with sheets, pillow and blanket, and no towel.
One working desk (you use the bed as the chair), plastic cup and cup holder, slippers, bed pyjamas set, Radio and alarm clock (Radio was discontinued and didn’t work).
A private door that has an inside lock and an outside number combination lock if you wish to leave your room safely locked while you roam around the train.
The room also has one personal power plug, a side section for luggage storage (it was a tight fit), a coat hanger and a hook.
Two lights, one Personal lighting and another general room lighting.
I’m 182cm in height and I was able to just about fit on the bed comfortably for a good night’s sleep, my head did have to go under the desk to fit but I switched my end of the bed and was comfortable in the end.
Type B Cabin – private two single-bed rooms. I was unable to have a look into these rooms as they have private doors. I believe they have all the above Facilities as Type A cabins but for two people with the addition of a chair for the working desk.
The different Sunrise Express routes you can take
The Sunrise Express may be the last Overnight Sleeper in Japan but you still do have several options when it comes to arrival destinations.
The Sunrise Express travels between Tokyo, Himeji, and Okayama,
the Seto and Izumo Sunrise Express trains are connected/coupled together.
(Make sure you don’t miss the sunrise express train splitting up, it’s the best show in town at 06:30 am)
At Okayama, the Sunrise Express will stop so the carriages can disconnect from each other.
You are welcome to hop off at Okayama briefly to watch the two train carriages detach.
Then the Seto part of the Sunrise Express runs southbound to Takamatsu in Kagawa prefecture, which is located in the north of the Shikoku island.
This is the journey that I took and will be reviewing below, the sleeper train part is the same as the Izumo part of the train so you can get an idea of all the facilities etc.
If you like you can transfer to a JR train across the platform that will also be going to Takamatsu, if you would prefer a seat rather than a sleeper bed, the option is yours.
The Izumo part of the Sunrise Express will head north to Matsue and Izumo, in the Shimane Prefecture.
(Sunrise Express parked up at Takamatsu station)
Remember to switch to Okayama depending on where you want to go, the sleeper train will stop briefly to split up at Okayama.
On the return leg back to Tokyo, the train in addition will also stop at Osaka.
When making my booking, I requested to go to Matsue and Izumo and received a ticket reservation for Okayama.
I’m not sure if this was done due to a misunderstanding or if they meant that I switched trains in Okayama to reach Matsue and Izumo.
I’m not sure what happened (this happens in Japan sometimes) but my plans changed anyway as the reservation was made a week into my Japan Rail Pass.
Ended up going to Takamatsu so all is well in the world.
I think it’s okay to switch trains with a JR Japan Rail pass in Okayama as they do have a seating area available.
Different Prices of the Sunrise Express
(nobi nobi room is basic but included in the Japan Rail Pass, also easiest to book reservation)
Your Japan Rail Pass will cover the train travel costs of the ticket, the base fare, Nobi Nobi, the basic option will not incur any additional charges and will be completely covered by the pass.
(Solo cabin Room type A, very small but does the job!)
Room type A: A private single room reservation onboard the Sunrise Express cost me an additional 10,800 Yen, around £60.
(Unable to get a look into the room type B sorry)
Room Type B: two single bed private room, I believe the additional reservation fee would set you back ¥17,000 (£95).
As we were unable to find one of these options available I was unable to verify this exact cost, I think the cost has gone up since November 2023 (If someone could share this information with me via email I would be more than happy to update this section).
I believe this reservation is for two people as well which might explain why it’s such a popular option.
Overnight sleeper trains in Japan
The Sunrise Express is one of the last remaining all-year-round overnight Sleeper Trains still in operation that you can book with the Japan Rail pass.
The Moonlight Nagara that operated between Tokyo and Ogaki was seasonal but has now been suspended as of 2020.
Of course, you can elevate your Japanese Sleeper Train experience to the ultimate height of luxury and travel on the Twilight Express Mikukaze. Once you see the price tag of this luxury journey you will quickly learn that the JR Japan Rail Pass won’t cover it.
Back in 2010 when I first visited Japan and was using a Japan Rail Pass to travel around the country, I remember seeing many sleeper train options were in operation.
I even travelled from Tokyo to Sapporo which was a wonderful journey to cover overnight.
The seated sleeper service on the 485 North East Express was included in the Japan Rail Pass.
They had a service called the Overnight Express Train Hokutosei, from Ueno station to Sapporo station. The service was Discontinued in 2015.
Now many of the retired sleeper routes across Japan are commonly covered by affordable budget airlines, so I can understand why the service might have become less popular over the years and went out of service.
(You can search for alternative travel options with the 12go Asia search box above)
It’s sad to see that in Japan, sleeper trains are becoming a mode of transportation of the past.
Even with the mass appeal of trains being a popular mode of transport across Japan, it’s sad to see only one remaining affordable service still in existence.
However, the sleeper train options across Europe in recent years have also faced a decline but recently had a popular bounce back with the rise in demand for trains as a transport method across Europe. Old services of the past have started to open up again such as the Nightjet from Berlin to Vienna.
Maybe Japan might also see a change in opinion since the Sunrise Express is in such high demand and is always fully booked most days. Only time will tell, but it seems the old night trains of the past have started to be converted into off-track hotels.
However, Japan has seen a rise in affordable sleeper buses, Overnight sleeper ferry journeys with Sunflower Ferries and an increase in affordable domestic flights with budget airlines.
With the Shinkansen expanding to Sapporo in 2030, maybe a need for overnight sleeper trains in Japan are not needed and are purely for nostalgia rather than practicality.
Well, I for one adore the overnight sleeper train experience concept and to be able to have the opportunity to still be able to try at least one overnight sleeper train in Japan with the Japan Rail Pass is a pure bonus to my trip to Japan.
I love the idea that I can go to sleep in Tokyo wake up on the island of Shikoku and start my adventure in Takamatsu. It’s part of the fun of travelling. Travel is not always about the destination, the journey can also be equally fun.
Toilets and Shower situation on the Sunrise Express
(Very clean toilets considering they’re on a train!)
Before we get started, I wanted to note that I didn’t bring a towel with me. Towels are not included in the private solo room Type A or the nobi nobi type reservation.
For the Type B two single rooms, again, I’m not sure as I was unable to access that room type but I’m going to say no also.
Luckily I had an onsen towel on me that I could use. Just a heads up to bring your towel, Daiso sell one for 300 yen if you don’t have a spare one.
In terms of the toilet room onboard, I was pleasantly surprised by the train, very clean and spotless. Also had a sink to wash hands in.
Also outside the toilet was a large sink and mirror, perfect for brushing your teeth and a light face wash in the morning.
Moving onto the shower room situation.
(The sold-out red light of doom! All shower tickets sold for my journey, no shower for me!)
They had a rather peaceful shower room on the train, one area was a dry room to get changed with a hairdryer, basket and table to keep your items from not getting wet as well as a large mirror. Then this leads into the shower room which is rather spacious and with rails and even shower soap and shampoo you can use.
The shower works for a limited 6 minutes each time and you control the time with the button to start and stop. The shower has a lot of pressure and the whole area is rather clean.
(Part one of the shower room, the changing room)
The shower works by buying a ticket token from a vending machine on the train.
The machine takes 100, 500 yen coins and a light indicates that the machine didn’t take notes even though it had a slot for notes. I believe you run the risk of not getting change if you purchase with a note so best to use coins closest to the exact amount.
However, the machine said it had run out of tokens “Sold out” when I checked so I’m not sure if this meant that the train had a limited amount of tokens they could sell for the journey and they had all sold out already or the machine had run out of tokens.
(The shower room itself, loads of space, handrails and shampoo on offer)
My suggestion would be to buy a shower ticket token the moment you get on the train as I was unaware that the shower tokens are limited and I missed out on not being able to have a shower.
Unfortunately, this meant I was unable to have a shower on the journey, it also meant that I was unable to tell you how much the shower costs. I think it was 320 yen but I’m unsure about that as the price might have gone up recently. No indication of the price is mentioned anywhere in English. Sorry for the lack of help.
What was clear is that a refund was not possible so be careful purchasing a shower card regarding the change and being able to use the card.
Lounge area on the Sunrise Express
You will find a Lounge area on the Sunrise Express, a selection of 4 chairs on each side facing outwards towards the panoramic window with a long tabled desk in front of you.
Perfect for working on your laptop, watching a movie on your phone or having a drink, or meal before you go to sleep. No plugs in the area and it is a quiet zone.
(Japanese vending machine on a train! Love it!)
Next to the lounge area is a vending machine if you wish to purchase a drink as well as the machine for the shower tokens.
Smoking rooms I’m not sure as I don’t smoke, I did spot a tourist asking with confusion where the smoking cart was so if they managed to find it I’m not sure, but I never spotted him again so they might have got lucky. I did smell smoke on the train so I’m sure one is available. Best of luck!
My overall experience travelling on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper from Tokyo to Shikoku
Overall, my experience of travelling on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper from Tokyo to Shikoku was positive.
Waking up around 06:00 am and being able to experience a stunning sunrise over the Japanese countryside from the comfort of my bed in a private solo sleeper cabin on a train is an amazing moment.
It would have been nice to have an extra hour in bed, maybe departing around 22:50 from Tokyo station allowing an arrival time of 08:00 am in Takamatasu would have been much preferred.
Arriving at 07:00 am is a little too early in my opinion and 08:00 am would have been a better-suited time. I do believe that these times are when the tracks are not used allowing the sleeper to train to them at a slower speed, which is why I think the times are set this way.
It was frustrating that a towel was not provided, even a small onsen-style towel would have done the job. Even affordable capsule hotels supply towels so I was caught off guard by this.
And don’t get me started on the limited shower token drama. Arriving in Takamatsu at 07:00 a.m. after having a shower might have been a better experience.
(Even a small onsen towel to use the sink would have been great)
I noticed that the shower room remained empty most of the time. How many passengers were able to have shower tokens, I do wonder.
As hotel check-in time in Japan is rather strict with some hotels not allowing check-in until 3:00 pm, you’re sort of left stuck feeling groggy for the rest of the day, especially when it’s hot and humid like it’s been in Japan this year.
My suggestion would be to find a local public onsen bath you can pay a one-off fee to have a shower and freshen up, being 07:00 am, you might be in luck this time of day with some local onsens if they offer a morning service.
Shower issue aside, I couldn’t image a better way to travel to Shikoku from Tokyo to start your adventure around the island.
Getting to try the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper was an incredible experience that I enjoyed a lot and would try again. Maybe next time I get a Japan Rail Pass I will try the nobi nobi reservation and head to Izumo instead.
Let’s hope that the last affordable overnight sleeper train option in Japan remains and keeps going in operation for years to come so more travellers get to experience this unique way of travelling across Japan.
Crossing the Seto bridge by sleeper train into Shikoku
Be sure not to miss the wonderful views as you cross the Seto Bridge onto the island of Shikoku.
Especially in the morning when the sun starts to rise, it’s a wonderful of the sea and coastal surroundings that make the landscape of Shikoku extra special.
Even more amazing experience to enjoy the view from the bridge onboard a sleeper train. Enjoy the journey!
Takamatsu station will greet you with a big smile
You can’t miss Takamatsu train station, It’s hard not to miss as the station will greet you with a massive smile! Takamatsu is the perfect city to start your journey around Shikoku Island.
From here you have many options, you can grab a boat and head on over to Naoshima Island by local ferry to explore Artist Island which has many art installations, projects, galleries and displays scattered all around the island.
You can explore one or all of the 88 temples circling the whole island of Shikoku as part of the Henro Pilgrimage trails.
Head to the Iya Valley for incredible hiking and explore some of the many Vine Bridges that you can find in the area.
Explore the city of Matsuyama and its incredible historical castle, and be sure not to miss out on the local ramen which is known for its unique sweet taste and use of udon noodles.
Or why not pick up a rental bike and discover the incredible network of Cycling across the Shimanami Kaido seven Bridges over the Setouchi Sea?
Loads to do across the island of Shikoku, hope you have loads of fun! Let me give you some tips on what to do around Takamatsu for the day.
(Feel free to watch my video about exploring the island of Shikoku)
My recommendation for what to do in Takamatsu for the day
So, you’ve arrived by overnight sleeper train on the Sunrise Express, it’s around 07:00 am and you’re standing in Takamatsu station. Here is what I would suggest you do.
First of all, you can lock your bags up at one of the many station lockers and then locate a public onsen to freshen up.
Alternatively, you can book a night at JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu, which is located across from the train station.
If you do choose to stay a night here then you can ask the hotel to store your bags until check-in, you may also ask if it’s possible to use the onsen bath for guests before your room is ready.
It’s always worth a try. The hotel has an amazing sky bar with great views of the city and surrounding islands as well as views of the Takamatsu castle ruins.
Luckily, the top attraction in Takamatsu opens at 06:00 a.m., so I would highly recommend spending your morning walking around the Ritsurin Garden.
(Entrance ticket will set you back 420yen and you could easily explore the gardens for a few hours)
Ritsurin Garden is Well known for its 1700s-style garden featuring formal landscaping, ponds and bridges,
The morning is rather a nice time to walk around the gardens as you will have most of it to yourself. keep an eye out for the hungry coy carp as well who love to swim around the bridges. You can even go on a boat ride if you wish.
The highlight for me of Ritsurin Garden has to be the teahouse experience which is both peaceful and charming. For 700 yen you can enjoy a matcha tea house ceremony which comes with a sweet chestnut treat.
You can then stay in the tea house for as long as you like, even in the Kikugetsutei room which makes for a wonderful viewing spot overlooking the mote and surrounding garden.
They even have a pillow that you can sit on marking the king’s seat which allows you to see 8 different viewing angles of the garden from one spot in the room, the perfect viewing location of the garden in my opinion.
(Tasty Udon lunch worth trying in Takamatsu)
Then for lunch, I would recommend going to a Udon noodle restaurant called: “(郷屋敷 サンポート店)” close to the train station. Which is a popular lunch dish amongst the locals to try in Takamatsu, goes especially well with tempura and was nice to try cold.
For the rest of the day, I would head to one of the ferry terminals and maybe head on over to the art island of Naoshima.
Thank you for reading my blog post about the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train to Takamatsu, Shikoku, Japan
Thank you for passing by my blog and reading about my adventure on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train to Takamatsu, Shikoku, Japan.
I hope you found this article most useful towards planning your adventure on a Japanese sleeper train.
If you have any further questions about this trip, please do get in contact with me.
Especially if you need any travel tips for exploring the island of Shikoku, I would be more than happy to help.
Have an amazing time exploring Japan by sleeper train!