Japan’s last ‘blue train’ wraps up final run after nearly 60 years of service

Kyodo

An era came to an end Sunday when the nation’s last “blue train” long-distance sleeper service completed its final run nearly 60 years after debuting in 1958.

The Hokutosei express left Sapporo Station in Hokkaido at 4:12 p.m. Saturday, arriving at Ueno Station in Tokyo on schedule at 9:25 a.m. Sunday to the cheers of some 2,500 train enthusiasts and onlookers.

Takahiro Gofuku, a 43-year-old Tokyo resident who, accompanied by his 5-year-old daughter, was among the lucky passengers on the very last run, said, “I took the Hokutosei around 30 times. I’m really going to miss it.”

Tsutomu Koike, a 36-year-old from Saitama Prefecture, said he had ridden blue trains many times since his childhood.

“An era has definitely ended,” he said.

The coveted tickets for the last run were snatched up immediately after going on sale in late July.

The Hokutosei express, which has individual cabins and a luxury dining car, ended regular operations in March and 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, but the number of passengers declined as shinkansen bullet trains became faster and with the growth of domestic air routes and highway express bus services.