Japan’s rail system is known for its great organisation and punctuality, from 300km/h bullet trains to rapid subway systems to charming little local trains. Japan is also famous for its cute cartoon characters and anime, everything from Pokemon to Hello Kitty to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Sometimes, for special occasions, the two come together for one-off special edition trains, and the results are wonderful! Let’s look at some of the cutest and best special edition trains in Japan.
World Panda Intercity Train
Adventure World, a wildlife park with a giant panda exhibit turned 40 in 2018, and JR West turned 30, so the two teamed up to release the limited edition panda themed train! The train began operating in 2017, running through Kyoto, Osaka and Wakayama.
The outside of the train is fully painted with the face of a kawaii panda, with other animals from Adventure World painted along the side. Inside, passengers are swamped with pandas – the seats are turned into giant pandas, cute pandas are stuck to the windows, and panda photos adorn the walls. There was even a launch involving some panda themed mascots! The panda train ran until 2019, and was redesigned to run again in 2020.
Pokemon With You Train
In the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami on the east coast of Japan, a new train was launched in the town of Toshoku. Designed to bring in tourists any help with economic recovery, the delightful Pokemon With You train is designed to remind kids that Pokemon will always be with them during difficult times.
The train is a small local train, with just two carriages. Originally painted sky blue and with Pokemon frolicking in the grass, it was redesigned in 2017. Now, its Pikachu yellow, with other colourful areas, and plenty of Pikachu cartoons! The interior is all-out Pokemon themed, with a seating area and a play area for kids. There are even plush toys!
The Pokemon with You train is designed to be a full experience. The train lingers at every stop, so passengers can collect themed stamps along the way.
Mickey Mouse Shinkansen
To celebrate 90 years of Mickey Mouse, JR and Disney put together the wonderful Mickey Mouse Shinkansen. The train is a series 900 Shinkansen, running on the island of Kyushu. The outside is covered in Mickey cartoons, as well as images associated with Kyushu, such as onsen items, watermelons, strawberries, and ramen. The interior has headrests with Mickey’s ears and sunhat. The Mickey Shinkansen ran between May and November 2019.
Neon Genesis Evangelion Shinkansen
One of best designs the shinkansen ever had was the purple and green colours of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Born from a collaboration between JR, the director of Evangelion Hideaki Anno, and Evangelion’s mechanical designer Ikuto Yamashita, this Shinkansen celebrated 20 years since the anime’s debut, and 40 years of the Sanyo Shinkansen. It was named the ‘500 type Eva.’
Running from 2015 to 2018, the Shinkansen ran between Hakata and Shin-Osaka. Inside, life-sized cutouts of the anime characters featured throughout, the purple and green colour scheme transformed the seating, and there was even an entry-plug cockpit (a capsule from the anime, which houses the pilots).
Hello Kitty Shinkansen
Japan loves Hello Kitty, with the figure appearing on all kinds of products (and even on manhole covers in Tama, Tokyo). Taking the same route between Hakata and Shin-Osaka was the Hello Kitty Shinkansen. Rolling into a station in bright pink, and with an interior filled with Hello Kitty stickers and colours, this Shinkansen is certainly eye-catching.
The most interesting carriages are numbers 1 and 2. Carriage 1 has been transformed into a gift shop called the ‘Hello! Plaza.’ There are even Hello Kitty themed shop attendants, and a special Hello Kitty edition ekiben available for lunch! Carriage 2 is where the interior decorations are the most elaborate. The Hello Kitty shinkansen ran from July to October 2020.
Kumamon Intercity Train
Kumamon is a local mascot of the Kumamoto prefecture, and one of Japan’s best known and beloved yuru-chara (town mascots). Kumamon is featured on three of the trains of the Orange-Hisatsu railway, which runs between Yatsushiro in Kumamoto, and Sendai in Kagoshima.
Kumamon, a cute black bear with rosy red cheeks, has his smiling face on the front of each train. He is also found painted on the sides of the trains, as well as on the seats and handrails. There are even Kumamons all over the ceiling!
Japan’s rail system is famous for its punctuality and extensive network, from the wonderful subway systems, the small local trains, right up to the high speed Shinkansens that criss-cross the country. The JR Rail Pass makes travelling by train even easier. By fusing Japanese character design with these trains, the result are incredible works of art, or fun experiences that everyone can enjoy. The next time you’re in Japan, see if you can spot one of these incredible vehicles, whatever the future designs have in store!