Sagano Scenic Railway: Our Ride Aboard Kyoto’s Romantic Train

Sagano Scenic Railway or “Romantic Train” is a sightseeing railway in Kyoto, Japan that runs along Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka with beautiful mountain views. The slow-moving, 25-minute ride is aboard an old-fashioned train. It’s the Sagano ‘Romantic’ Train to the extent that this classic railway is romanticized, not because there are make-out cars aboard the train.

The sightseeing train is an especially popular Kyoto attraction during fall colors and spring cherry blossom seasons, when it has some added pockets of beauty. During January and February–Kyoto’s cold and snowy season–Sagano Scenic Railway does not operate.

In this post, we’ll offer a basic overview of the Sagano Scenic Railway, review our experience aboard the sightseeing train, and whether it’s worth your time and money. Along the way, we’ll share photos from our sakura season ride on the Sagano Romantic Train…

Each Sagano Scenic Railway train is comprised of four enclosed cars and one fully open car. All seats are reserved, and should be purchased in advance. During the heart of fall colors and cherry blossom seasons, tickets for seats do sell out, with only standing room tickets available day-of.

Tickets are sold at Torokko Saga Station, or at any JR ticket offices in the Kansai Region, including Kyoto Station. If you’re reading this in advance of your trip and are thinking of doing Sagano Scenic Railway during a busier season, we’d highly recommend buying at least one day in advance at Kyoto Station. We’ll get to the why of that in our ‘Info & Tips’ section below…

Info & Tips

The Sagano Scenic Railway sightseeing trains depart from Torokko Saga Station, which is near JR Saga-Arashiyama Station. Trains can also be boarded at Torokko Arashiyama Station, or at Hozukyo. The one-way cost is 620 yen regardless of where you board, so you might as well go from terminus to terminus station.

Torokko Kameoka Station is the other terminus station of the sightseeing train, and from there, you can either take the Sagano Scenic Railway back for a roundtrip journey, go back on the JR Sagano Line, take the bus, or do the Hozugawa River Cruises. Pairing the sightseeing train with a leisurely river cruise is very popular.

There’s no reason to do a roundtrip journey on the sightseeing train, as it’s the exact same route, just in reverse. If you don’t plan on pairing the Sagano Scenic Railway with the river cruise, our recommendation would be to take the sightseeing train from Torokko Kameoka Station and head back to Torokko Saga Station.

With this approach, you can purchase your tickets for the Sagano Scenic Railway at Kyoto Station, then take the JR Sagano Line all the way to Umahori Station, and then walk 5 minutes to Torokko Kameoka Station to take the Sagano Romantic Train one-way to Arashiyama.

This offers a few advantages. First, it’s the least-crowded way to experience Sagano Scenic Railway. Second, it’s the most efficient option, both in terms of spending the least money and taking the least time. Finally, at the end of this trip, you’re in the heart of Arashiyama, where you can begin our 1-Day Western Kyoto Itinerary.

The more common approach is to take the sightseeing train from Arashiyama to Kameoka, and then take the JR Sagano Line back to Arashiyama. However, you’ve presumably started your day by taking the JR Sagano Line from Kyoto Station to Arashiyama, so you’re taking extra time and spending more money with that approach.

It’s only the more common approach because many Sagano Scenic Railway ticket purchases are impulse buys when people arrive in Arashiyama, or because those planning in advance don’t think through their strategy. In addition to starting at Torokko Kameoka Station, we’d also recommend doing the first train of the morning, which will put you in Arashiyama just before 10 a.m., with a full day ahead of you in this area.

Our Experience

We’ve only done the Sagano Romantic Train once, and I’m good it. Glad we got to experience it the one time, but in absolutely no rush to do it again during a different time of year to see how the scenery changes. Actually, we had been wanting to do Sagano Scenic Railway for a long time, but we always forgot about it until we arrived in Arashiyama and walked past the Torokko Station.

Invariably, we’d join the line with other people also stepping off the JR Line and spontaneously wanting to check out the adjacent station with old-timey trains outside. Once through the line, we’d find out that only standing-room same-day tickets were available. This exact same scenario played out four times before we finally remembered to buy tickets at the JR office in Kyoto Station a couple of days in advance.

As suggested above, we started from Kameoka, which was definitely the better course of action for all of the reasons identified above. It was also nice that our train was not totally packed, even though every seat was filled and there were a handful of standing-room passengers.

The sale of standing-room tickets is unquestionably the biggest downside to Sagano Scenic Railway. Given that this is called the Sagano Romantic Train on its website and in marketing throughout Kyoto, you might get the impression that this is at least a leisurely, intimate experience.

It’s not. The standing room guests will be leaning over seats, and since many people aboard the train are tourists and not Japanese locals, there isn’t the polite and restrained demeanor. That probably won’t come as a huge surprise given that this is a tourist experience, but it might catch you off guard if you’re expecting something akin to a romanticized train ride.

The good news is that the visuals are beautiful. The Sagano Scenic Railway meanders along the mountainside with the Hozugawa River below, and it’s fun to watch the boats below and gaze at the hillside foliage. It’s definitely a pretty and photogenic voyage, but I would caution that the photos here probably do it a little too much justice. The experience on the inside of the train is not nearly as peaceful and serene.

We’d also note that although the Sagano Romantic Train is popular for both cherry blossom and fall colors seasons, it’s not exactly a great way to experience either. For most of the ride, you’re going to see all of these trees at a far away distance, and while pretty, you’ll have innumerable opportunities for closer and better views outside of the train ride.

If you’re looking for a seasonal train experience, we think the Eizan Electric Railway–especially its Momiji (Maple Tree) Tunnel–is significantly better. If you do our 1-Day “Cool Kyoto” (Northern) Itinerary, you’ll be purchasing an unlimited pass for Eizan Electric Railway and taking several rides out of necessity on this fun (but not at all old-timey) train.

Overall, we still enjoyed the Sagano Romantic Train, and would not discourage anyone who has their heart set on an old-fashioned train ride from doing it. We also would not actively encourage anyone who is undecided to buy a ticket. While Sagano Scenic Railway was a mostly fun and pretty experience for us, it’s also very time consuming and requires bending your itinerary to accommodate.

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit! 

Your Thoughts

Have you visited taken the Sagano Scenic Railway? What did you think of the experience? Would you recommend it to a first-timer visiting Kyoto? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does this train ride interest you? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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