TÖKYÖ — An era came to an end Sunday, Aug. 23, when Japan’s last “Blue Train” long-distance sleeper train in service completed its final run, nearly 60 years after the train debuted in 1958.
The “Hokutosei” express left Sapporo Station in Hokkaidö in northernmost Japan at 4:12 p.m. Saturday, arriving on schedule at Ueno Station in Tökyö at 9:25 a.m., Sunday. Some 2,500 train enthusiasts and onlookers cheered the Hokutosei’s arrival.
The coveted tickets for the last run were snatched up immediately after going on sale in late July.
Takahiro Gofuku, a 43-year-old Tökyö resident who, accompanied by his 5-year-old daughter, was among the lucky passengers on the last run, said, “I took the Hokutosei around 30 times. I’m really going to miss it.”
“An era has definitely ended,” commented Tsutomu Koike, 36, from Saitama. Koike said he has ridden Blue Trains many times since his childhood.
The Hokutosei express, which had individual cabins and a luxurious dining car, ended regular operations in March, but has been operating an occasional service between Ueno and Sapporo.
Blue Trains used to provide popular overnight long-distance services in Japan, connecting urban areas and the countryside. The number of passengers began declining as Shinkansen bullet trains became faster and with the growth of domestic air routes and highway express bus services.
The first Blue Train, “Asakaze,” began traveling between Hakata and Tökyö in 1956. Like sleeper trains elsewhere in the world, they had a romantic reputation and played a role in many novels at the height of their popularity in the late 1970s.