Now it’s time for a different adventure in Japan, as I travel on the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train from Tokyo to Takamatsu, Shikoku, Japan.
I love taking overnight sleeper trains; it’s a great way to travel. Depart from one location in the evening and arrive at another the next morning. Not only that, but you’ve saved time by not having to book a hotel room for the night. It’s a win-win and a unique way to travel.
You also get to travel on the slow tracks and see the drastic change in the landscape across Japan as you go 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 Tokyo main station at 21:50 from platform 9 and arrive in Okayama at 06:27 am, and then continue 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 explain my overall experience of travelling on the last Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train in Japan as well as share 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’t book your seat reservation online or via an app with a Japan Rail Pass.
You must speak with a ticket agent at one of the ticket counters located at select locations around Japan, mostly 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; there are 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 was forewarned about the popularity of the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train as I 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 now purchase your Japan Rail Pass online in advance.
You can do this either before you arrive in Japan whilst you’re 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.
Booking your reservation straight away is also important because, as said before, the Sunrise Express requires booking one month in advance, 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.
Sometimes they might be able to help you with more additional bookings but generally, it’s only one booking, depending on how busy it is.
Words to 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! On October 2nd, one type A single private room was available.
This was 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.
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, since type B is pretty much a hotel room with two single beds on a train.
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.
She had never heard of the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train before and 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
I will walk you through the different room and accommodation types; on the Sunrise Express, you have three different sleeping options:
Nobi Nobi reservation: This is the most interesting sleeping option on the Sunrise Express and for Overnight Sleeper trains in general. The Nobi Nobi option is very typical for Japan.
Bunched all together across two levels, the Nobi Nobi is a flat hard carpeted 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.
Nobi Nobi is the easiest option in terms of availability, so why not give it a go?
The Nobi Nobi option is included in your Japan Rail Pass reservation and will not require any additional costs.
Type A cabin: If you wish for complete individual privacy then the type A solo cabin is the one for you.
It includes a large observation window with blinds for complete darkness, a single bed with sheets, pillow and blanket, but no towel.
There is also one working desk (you use the bed as the chair), plastic cup and cup holder, slippers, a bed pyjama set, a radio and an alarm clock (radio was discontinued and didn’t work).
If you wish to leave your room safely locked while you roam around the train, there is a private door that has an inside lock and an outside number combination lock.
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.
There are two lamps, one for personal lighting and the other for 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.
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 want, you can transfer to a JR train across the platform that will also take you to Takamatsu if you prefer a seat rather than a sleeper bed.
The Izumo part of the Sunrise Express will travel north to Matsue and Izumo in the Shimane Prefecture.
Remember to switch to Okayama depending on where you want to go.
On the way back to Tokyo, the train will also make a stop in 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
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.
Room type A: A private single room reservation onboard the Sunrise Express cost me an additional 10,800 yen, around £60.
Room type B: A private room with two single beds. I believe the additional reservation fee would set you back 17,000 yen (£95).
As we were unable to find one of these options available, I was unable to verify the 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 been suspended as of 2020.
Of course, you can elevate your Japanese sleeper train experience to the the next level by travelling on the Twilight Express Mikukaze. Once you see the price tag of this luxurious 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.
Many of the former sleeper train routes in Japan are now commonly covered by 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.)
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, sleeper trains in Europe in recent years have also faced a decline but have recently had a popular bounce back with the rise in demand for trains as a mode of transportation. Older services, such as the Nightjet from Berlin to Vienna, have started to open up again.
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 night trains of the past are being 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 having the opportunity 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 be equally enjoyable.
Toilets and shower situation on the Sunrise Express
Before we get started, I wanted to note that I didn’t bring a towel with me. Towels are not included in the type A private solo room or the Nobi Nobi type reservation.
What the situation is in the type B two single-bed rooms, again, I’m not sure as I was unable to access that room type, but I’m going to say no as well.
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 – it was very clean and spotless. There was also a sink to wash hands in.
Outside the toilet there was a large sink and a mirror. Perfect for brushing your teeth and a light face wash in the morning.
Now let’s talk about the shower room.
They had a rather peaceful shower room on the train. One area was a dry room where you could change clothes, and there was 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 equipped with rails and even shower soap and shampoo.
The shower works for a limited 6 minutes each time, and you control the time with the start/stop button. The shower has a lot of pressure, and the whole area is rather clean.
The shower works by buying a ticket token from a vending machine on the train.
The machine takes 100 and 500 yen coins, and a light indicated 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, when I checked, the machine said it had run out of tokens (“Sold out”). 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, or that the machine had run out of tokens.
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 having a shower.
Unfortunately, this also means I can’t tell you how much the shower cost. I think it was 320 yen, but I’m not sure because the price might have gone up recently. No indication of the price was mentioned anywhere in English. Sorry for the lack of help.
What was clear was that a refund was not possible, so be careful when purchasing a shower card regarding the change and being able to use the card.
Lounge area on the Sunrise Express
On the Sunrise Express, you will find a lounge area with four chairs on each side facing outwards towards the panoramic window and a long tabletop desk in front of you.
Perfect for working on your laptop, watching a movie on your phone or having a drink or a meal before you go to sleep. No plugs in the area, and it is a quiet zone.
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.
I’m not sure about smoking rooms as I don’t smoke, but I did spot a tourist asking in confusion where the smoking cart was, so I’m not sure whether they found it, but I never saw them again so they might have gotten lucky. I did smell smoke on the train, so maybe 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 and arriving in Takamatasu at 08:00 am 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 time. I assume that the times are chosen this way because the tracks are not used during these hours, allowing the sleeper train to go at a slower speed.
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 this caught me off guard.
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.
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 where you can pay a one-off fee to have a shower and freshen up. You might be in luck with some local onsens if they offer a morning service at 07:00 am.
Shower issue aside, I couldn’t imagine a better way to travel to Shikoku from Tokyo than the sleeper train to start the 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 in service for many years to come, so more travellers can experience this unique way of travelling across Japan.
Crossing the Seto Bridge by sleeper train to Shikoku
Take in the wonderful vistas as you cross the Seto Bridge onto the island of Shikoku.
It’s the great view of the sea and coastal surroundings that makes Shikoku’s landscape extra special, especially in the morning as the sun begins to rise.
It’s an even more incredible experience to admire the scenery 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 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 the art 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 Shikoku Pilgrimage trails (or Shikoku Henro).
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?
There’s so much to do on the island of Shikoku, hope you have a great time! 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 in Takamatsu station by the Sunrise Express Overnight Sleeper Train at roughly 07:00 am. 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 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.
The 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 them to yourself. Keep an eye out for the hungry coy carp that like to swim around the bridges. You can even go on a boat ride if you wish.
For me, the highlight of the Ritsurin Garden is the teahouse experience, which is both peaceful and charming. For 700 yen you can enjoy a matcha teahouse ceremony which comes with a sweet chestnut treat.
You can then stay in the teahouse for as long as you like, even in the Kikugetsutei room, which has 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, allowing you to see eight different viewing angles of the garden from one spot in the room. It’s the perfect viewing location of the garden in my opinion.
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. They have a popular lunch dish amongst the locals that you can try in Takamatsu. It 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 visit 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!