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JR East’s luxury sightseeing train to the Izu Peninsula: SAPHIR ODORIKO

JR East’s luxury sightseeing train to the Izu Peninsula: SAPHIR ODORIKO

Updated as of 17 May 2024
Originally published on 18 February 2022

 

Abundant in relaxing hot springs, endless sapphire-blue sea views, floral wonders, and scrumptious seafood, the Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島 Izu Hantо̄) is conveniently located a 2-hour-30-minute train ride away from Tokyo, and has long been a prime destination for weekend getaways with family and friends.

 

For an even more unforgettable trip to the Izu Peninsula, hop aboard the SAPHIR ODORIKO (サフィール踊り子 Safīru Odoriko), JR East’s luxury train. Having debuted on 14 March 2020, the SAPHIR ODORIKO runs daily between Tokyo and Izukyū-Shimoda Station (伊豆急下田駅) in the Izu Peninsula, and is a luxury sightseeing train featuring JR East’s Premium Green seats.

 

SAPHIR ODORIKO’s stunning sapphire-blue exterior. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Designed by renowned industrial designer Ken Okuyama—who also worked on the Train Suite Shiki-shima and many of JR East’s Joyful Trains—the SAPHIR ODORIKO features a deep blue exterior, which was inspired by the stunning sapphire blue colours of the sea and the sky along the Izu Peninsula.

 

In fact, this is where the train gets its name from: “saphir” means “sapphire” in French, and “Odoriko” comes from a famous story by Nobel Prize-winning author Kawabata Yasunari,  “Izu no Odoriko” (伊豆の踊り子 The Dancing Girl of Izu), which is set in the Izu Peninsula. Other than the SAPHIR ODORIKO, many other train services connecting Tokyo with the Izu Peninsula also have “Odoriko” in their names.

 

SAPHIR ODORIKO in spring.  (Image credit: JR East)

 

Operating on a brand new E261 series train, the SAPHIR ODORIKO is a deluxe service compared to regular Limited Express Odoriko trains that connect Tokyo with Izukyū-Shimoda, and is a comfortable and luxurious way to kick off your journey to the Izu Peninsula. Are you ready? Let’s check out what’s in store on board the SAPHIR ODORIKO!

 

Layout of the SAPHIR ODORIKO. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Comprising eight cars altogether, the SAPHIR ODORIKO boasts seat classes of only Green Car and above, and is the first train to feature the Premium Green (プレミアムグリーン) Car, a seat class positioned between Green and Gran Class.

 

Car 1: Premium Green Car

Premium Green Car Seats on the SAPHIR ODORIKO. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

The exclusive Premium Green Car seats can be found in Car 1, which is the front of the train when travelling towards the Izu Peninsula (it becomes the last car of the train when travelling towards Tokyo). With a 1+1 layout, there are only two single seats in each row, for a total of just 20 Premium Green Car seats on the entire train.

 

Premium Green Car Seats on the SAPHIR ODORIKO. (Image credit: JR East and Japanmase)

 

Providing extra space and privacy, these large, comfortable, and plush leather seats are all on the side facing the sea, and can be swivelled towards the windows to give passengers even better views of the passing scenery! To further enhance the riding experience, the car’s windows are large and wide, with added skylights to see the sky above.

 

All Premium Green Car seats have adjustable leg rests and feature powered reclining, which lets passengers enjoy their trip in comfort and relaxation. Each seat is also well-equipped with an electrical outlet, retractable table, cup holder, and reading light, and even has a personal storage space underneath where passengers can stow their belongings.

 

Cars 2–3: Green Car Private Compartments

The six-person Green Car Private Compartment. (Image credit: JR East)

 

For passengers craving a more intimate space, or for those travelling in larger groups, they can check out the spacious and luxe Green Car Private Compartments (グリーン個室 gurīn koshitsu) in Cars 2 and 3. The SAPHIR ODORIKO has a total of four 4-person compartments and four 6-person compartments, which are perfect for families and special moments.

 

Inside the Green Car Private Compartments. (Image credit: Japanmase (left) and JR East (right))

 

Beautifully decorated with plush leather seats, spacious tables, warm wooden finishes, and rich blue carpets, Green Car Private Compartments have enormous windows that face the sea, allowing for unobstructed views of the scenery outside.

 

The compartments also have electrical outlets to let passengers charge their devices, shelves for storage, as well as skylights above to create a brighter atmosphere and provide a view of the skies.

 

Car 4: Cafeteria

Inside the cafeteria in Car 4. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

Feeling hungry? Head on over to Car 4, where the cafeteria is located. Featuring an open kitchen, passengers can enjoy light meals. The menu, exclusive to the Saphir Odoriko, is updated at irregular intervals, with the latest menu available on the official site.

 

Other than light meals, passengers can also enjoy a variety of drinks ranging from red and white wines to local craft beer, and refreshing juices to coffee and tea, as well as sweet treats like original gelato, brownies, and madeleines. Everything on the menu can only be ordered via SAPHIR Pay, introduced below.

 

View from the cafeteria car. (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

What better way to enjoy the passing scenery than by filling your belly and gazing out the wide windows? With the warm light shining through the large windows and a fantastic view of the sparkling sapphire waters, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride on the SAPHIR ODORIKO!

 

SAPHIR Pay

Do note that there are a limited number of servings of food available, and all purchases for items in the cafeteria can only be made via the SAPHIR Pay website (smartphone access only), and only available in Japanese. Refer to the menu for an English translation.

 

The Saphir Pay website. (Image credit: JR East)

 

On the website, passengers can browse through the food and drink options and make payment, after which they will be issued a QR code to claim their food items from the cafeteria car.

 

Take note that some items on the menu require preparation time. It is recommended to make advanced reservations for dishes, as same-day reservations might not be accepted for some items if the cafeteria is full.

 

Cars 5–8: Green Car

SAPHIR ODORIKO’s Green Car seats. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Continuing on, Cars 5 to 8 are where you can find the comfortable and spacious Green Car seats, which are spread out in a 2+1 configuration. In total, there are 104 Green Car seats, all of which are reclinable and have adjustable headrests and retractable footrests—features that allow for greater comfort.

 

Inside SAPHIR ODORIKO’s Green Car. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Guess what? Just like seats on the shinkansen (新幹線 bullet train), these Green Car seats can be rotated to face each other, to create a merry atmosphere for families and friends travelling together. Electrical outlets, reading lights, and retractable tray tables are available for each seat, and all cars have dedicated luggage racks for passengers to store their baggage.

 

Enjoying the Izu Peninsula

SAPHIR ODORIKO travelling along the coast of the Izu Peninsula. (Image credit: JR East)

 

Due to its relatively close proximity to Tokyo and Yokohama, the Izu Peninsula is a beloved getaway for city folk searching for a change in scenery. Located in Shizuoka Prefecture, the Izu Peninsula is a scenic gem filled with beautiful coastlines, seaside hot springs, a mild climate, and delicious seafood, so it’s no wonder that it’s a popular holiday destination.

 

The SAPHIR ODORIKO travels along the eastern side of the Izu Peninsula and ends at Izukyū-Shimoda Station in Shimoda City (下田市), the southernmost city of the peninsula. Here are some recommended highlights of this charming area:

 

Fantastic flowers: kawazuzakura, nanohana, and hydrangeas

Kawazuzakura are in bloom from early February to early March. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

When thinking of the Izu Peninsula, perhaps the most famous image that comes to mind is that of the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival (河津桜祭り Kawazuzakura matsuri). Unlike regular someiyoshino cherry blossom trees which only bloom for about a week, kawazuzakura bloom for up to a month, usually from early February to early March.

 

Lining a 4km stretch along the Kawazu River, kawazuzakura are a deep pink, and are often accompanied by bright yellow nanohana (菜の花 rapeseed blossoms), which also bloom during the same period. In the evening, certain sections are illuminated, creating a vastly different yet enchanting view of the flowers. The Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival site is just a short walk from Kawazu Station (河津駅).

 

Every June, a hydrangea festival is held at Shimoda Park. (Image credit: 下田市観光協会)

 

While kawazuzakura herald the beginning of spring, hydrangeas (紫陽花 ajisai) signal the end of spring and the beginning of summer. During Shimoda’s annual hydrangea festival in June, visitors can marvel at beautiful hydrangeas in a variety of vivid colours at Shimoda Park (下田公園 Shimoda Kо̄en), where around 3 million hydrangeas bloom. Shimoda Park is a 25-minute walk from Izukyū-Shimoda Station.

 

Must-try seafood: kinmedai

While in the Izu Peninsula, one fish that visitors must try is kinmedai (金目鯛 red bream), a bright red deep-sea fish with large golden eyes that lives hundreds of metres below sea level. Did you know? It is said that a whopping 80% of the fish caught in Shimoda is kinmedai!

 

Kinmedai is a deep-sea fish that can be enjoyed at the Izu Peninsula. (Image credit: 下田市観光協会)

 

Kinmedai has tender flesh with good fat content, with a mild flavour that is full of umami, and is best enjoyed with a little bit of skin on. At the Izu Peninsula, kinmedai can be enjoyed in a variety of delectable dishes, with the standard being fresh sashimi (刺身), simmered in soy sauce (煮付け nitsuke), or hotpot (しゃぶしゃぶ shabu-shabu).

 

For adventurous foodies and food enthusiasts, how about trying some original and creative kinmedai dishes, like kinmedai burger, kinmedai tempura, kinmedai wonton, kinmedai ramen, or kinmedai skewers?

 

How to ride the SAPHIR ODORIKO

SAPHIR ODORIKO in summer. (Image credit: JR East)

 

In June 2022, I finally got to ride the SAPHIR ODORIKO! You can check out this article to learn more about that experience.

 

The SAPHIIR ODORIKO makes one round trip daily between JR Tо̄kyо̄ Station (東京駅) and Izukyū-Shimoda Station (伊豆急下田駅), passing by JR Shinagawa Station (品川駅) and JR Yokohama Station (横浜駅) along the way. Additional trains departing from JR Shinjuku Station (新宿駅) and JR Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) may operate on specific dates. You can check out the official timetable and schedule here.

 

Train tickets

Boarding the SAPHIR ODORIKO at Tokyo Station.  (Image credit: Japanmase)

 

A train ticket on the SAPHIR ODORIKO is made up of three components:

  • ① Basic fare (運賃 unchin)
  • ② Limited Express surcharge (特急料金 tokkyū ryо̄kin)
  • ③ Green/Premium Green/Green Compartment surcharge (グリーン料金・プレミアムグリーン料金・グリーン個室料金)

 

For Green Car Private Compartments, the surcharge is per compartment, which remains the same no matter how many people use it. Therefore, per passenger, it will cost more if less people use the compartment, and cost less if more people use the compartment. If the number of people using the compartment is the same as the maximum capacity, the ticket cost is the same as a Green Car seat in Cars 5–8, so why not try the Green Car Private Compartment for that extra space and privacy? Please refer to the official site for the various prices.

 

Take note that you will be issued only one ticket (not three) that combines the cost of the limited express surcharge and Green Car Private Compartment surcharge for the entire group. This is because Green Car Private Compartment surcharge is per compartment, not per pax.

 

Good news for JR East Rail Pass holders: if you are utilising a JR EAST PASS or JR TOKYO Wide Pass, the passes cover the basic fare  (JPY4,000 as of May 2024), so you only need to purchase a ticket for the Limited Express surcharge and the Green/Premium Green surcharge (deduct the basic fare from the prices listed on the official site).

 

Where to purchase

All seats on the SAPHIR ODORIKO are reserved seating, and require tickets to board. Tickets can be purchased from 10:00am Japan Time one month before the date of travel, via four methods:

  • JR East Travel Service Centers
  • Midori-no-madoguchi (みどりの窓口)  ticket offices
  • Reserved seat ticket vending machines (指定席券売機)
  • Online from the JR-EAST Train Reservation website (Private Green Car compartments are not available through this option)

 

Tickets for the SAPHIR ODORIKO can be purchased online. (Image credit: JR East)

 

JR East Travel Service Centers can be found at major train stations like Tokyo Station, Ueno Station, Shinjuku Station, and more. Travel Service Centers at the major stations even have English-speaking staff to better assist foreign travellers with their travel needs. Take note that Green Car Private Compartment tickets can only be purchased at JR East Travel Service Centers and Midori-no-madoguchi ticket offices. Green and Premium Green tickets can be purchased from all four methods mentioned above.

 

JR TOKYO Wide Pass

The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are mostly travelling around the Kanto region, consider getting the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. The pass costs ¥15,000 and even covers the Izukyūkō Line to the Izu Peninsula. *The JR TOKYO Wide Pass only covers the basic fare of the SAPHIR ODORIKO. Passengers still need to purchase a separate ticket to ride its Green/Premium Green seats.

 

JR EAST PASS

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area). (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area). (Image credit: JR East)

 

There are two types of JR EAST PASS, with both offering unlimited rides on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in their designated areas for 5 consecutive days. Pass holders can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, on the JR-EAST Train Reservation.

 

The JR-EAST Train Reservation. (Image credit: JR East)

 

The JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) costs ¥30,000, while the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) costs ¥27,000, making them economic choices for travellers exploring the area. Like the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, the JR EAST PASS can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use these passes.  *The JR EAST PASS only covers the basic fare of the SAPHIR ODORIKO. Passengers still need to purchase a separate ticket to ride its Green/Premium Green seats.

 

Header image credit: JR East

 

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