Lodging in Retired ‘Blue Train’ to Resume in Northeastern Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
“Akebono” blue train

Kosaka, Akita Pref., May 3 (Jiji Press) — Lodging services using a retired “blue train,” or sleeper train, preserved at a railway-themed sightseeing facility in a northeastern Japan town are set to restart Saturday after five years of suspension due to the novel coronavirus crisis.

Kosaka Railroad Railpark, in the Akita Prefecture town of Kosaka, has collected money to partially cover the costs to repair sleeping cars of the “Akebono” blue train via a crowdfunding scheme.

“(The Akebono) is here with abundant memories and thoughts of numerous passengers,” Jiro Suzuki, the 60-year-old manager of the facility, said. “I want our guests to feel the atmosphere (of the sleeping cars) that can’t be experienced in today’s railroad cars.”

The Akebono, a limited express train, went into service in 1970, connecting Aomori Station in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan, and Ueno Station in Tokyo in about 12 and a half hours, via prefectures including Akita. Many people of Kosaka and other local municipalities used the train to travel to and from the Japanese capital. Regular services of the Akebono ended in 2014.

Also in 2014, Kosaka Railroad Railpark opened. The municipal government of Kosaka, one of the entities in charge of the management of the facility, asked East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, which had operated the Akebono, for the transfer of the decommissioned train as the town hoped to reuse it as an accommodation facility. JR East accepted the request, and the Akebono started its second life at the railway park in 2016.

The blankets, pillows, curtains and other items that had been used for the Akebono when it was in operation continue to be used in the current guest rooms, allowing visitors to feel the character of that time.

About 2,000 people had lodged in the Akebono cars at Kosaka Railroad Railpark annually before the tourist facility suspended operations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The railway park began to welcome visitors again in 2022. But the Akebono remained shut, and paint started to peel off the exteriors of its cars over time.

“I was afraid it would decay here,” Suzuki recalled.

But the town acted to save the Akebono. The municipal government launched a crowdfunding scheme linked with the nation’s “furusato nozei” donation system backed by tax cuts in October 2023, to raise part of funds for repair work, with townspeople uniting to “preserve the blue train.”

In just one month, donations hit the town’s target of ¥3.5 million and eventually reached some ¥6 million as of the deadline set at the end of 2023.

“I was reminded that many people are supporting (us and the Akebono),” Suzuki said.

Reservations for the resumed Akebono lodging services began on April 20 this year. Just two days later, the guest rooms were almost fully booked for the summer holiday period.

“Seeing (the guest rooms) lit at night makes me feel like the Akebono is still active,” Suzuki said. “Being able to put it back (to lodging services) is miraculous. I want people to see the Akebono as it is.”