Reviewing the Odakyu Romancecar: Ride in Panoramic Comfort

The Odakyu Romancecar revolutionised tourist travel in Japan. When it entered service in 1957, it set a world speed record for narrow-gauge trains. The Romancecar pioneered high-speed luxury travel and influenced the development of the Shinkansen, which debuted in October 1964 (just before the Tokyo Olympics).  

Fast-forward to today, and the Romancecar is not the only Tokyo-to-Hakone train. But the Odakyu Romancecar is unbeatable for the best views and comfort. 

Read on to learn how to book tickets on the Romancecar, what it’s like to ride on board, and how to get the most out of your trip. Plus, for train enthusiasts, I’ll also share a tip on where to wait to see the driver. 

Odakyu Romancecar model 70000, the most modern incarnation of the classic tourist train.
Odakyu Romancecar model 70000 is the most modern incarnation of the classic tourist train.

What is the Romancecar Service?

The Romancecar is operated by Odakyu Electric Railway, one of several private rail companies that connects Tokyo and the surrounding countryside. Odakyu lines run mainly to the southwest of Tokyo, with the main terminus in Shinjuku. 

Since the Odakyu trains run on a separate rail network, they have more design freedom than those lines that interoperate with JR, the Japan Railways national train system. The Odakyu company took advantage of this design freedom.

The first Romancecar trains featured a novel streamlined design, with the iconic panorama windows in front and back. Since the trains just change direction at the terminus, the ordinary seats are spun around to allow all passengers to ride forward. 

They run as limited express trains, stopping only at selected stations. On working days in the morning and evening, they change their name to commuter trains, ferrying ‘salarymen’ to and from their offices in Tokyo. 

When it was launched, the Romancecar revolutionised tourist travel in Japan, not only because of the train design but also because there was no divider between the seats. These ‘romance seats’ made the rail service perfect for couples who wanted to cuddle up and gave the train its name. Couples seating was very forward-thinking in 1957 when public displays of affection were still restrained in the early stages of the Showa era.

Couples seating on the Romancecar
Couples Seating on the Romancecar

Routes and Destinations

The Romancecar trains run from the Odakyu Shinjuku station, located southwest of the JR station under the Odakyu department store. The station has an exit that connects directly to the JR lines, but like the JR station, it has a warren of passages and exits leading out into the surrounding area. You have to read the signs carefully to avoid getting lost. 

All Romancecar trains depart from the same platform, and the most popular destination is still Hakone. Once you’re at Hakone, there are so many attractions and experiences to enjoy that you could easily spend 1-2 days there.

There are now also Romancecar trains to Gotemba, where you can enter the Gotemba trail to the top of Mt Fuji in season.

You can also travel directly to Enoshima on the Romancecar trains, a leisure resort off the Shonan coast on Kamakura Bay. Kamakura, famous for its huge bronze Buddha statue, is close to Enoshima. 

Scenery and Landmarks Along the Routes

The limited express Romancecar trains run on the ordinary Odakyu lines. Since the area between Tokyo and Odawara is almost completely built up with houses, shopping centres, and offices, you will only get notable views as you approach Odawara. 

There are several places along the way where you can catch glimpses of Mt Fuji, but the main views are Odawara Castle and the mountains around Hakone. 

On the new lines toward Enoshima, the train has splendid views of Kamakura Bay and in the Gotemba direction, majestic views of Mt. Fuji (until you get too close).

In the other direction, as you enter the last leg of the trip, the Shinjuku highrises are beautifully visible as the trains descend from the heights around Setagaya towards the Shinjuku skyscraper district. 

Trains used on the Limited Express Romancecar Service

None of the original Romancecar trains remain in operation. The service currently uses the 70000 GSE train, the 60000 MSE, the 30000 EXE, and the 30000EXEa.

The 70000 GSE series train entered service in 2018. With its streamlined nose, large windows and distinctive red colour, it is the most instantly recognisable of the Romancecar trains. Unlike the other Romancecar trains, which are more like ordinary commuter express trains, the 70000 is a tourist train, pure and simple. 

The 60000 MSE entered service in 2008, and the 30000 EXE has been operating since 1996.

The Romancecar 60000 MSE
The Romancecar 60000 MSE

The 30000 EXEa trains are refurbishments (in 2016-17) of the 30000 EXE. While they are all comfortable enough, they lack the iconic design and unique features of the Romancecar flagship, the 70000 GSE series. 

The Romancecar 30000 EXE
The Romancecar 30000 EXE

How to Book Romancecar Tickets

To ride the Limited Express Romancecar, you need a regular ticket and a limited express ticket.

Regular ticket

Either of the following three options count as a regular ticket:

  • A regular ticket, e.g. purchased through a ticket machine;
  • An IC card (e.g., Suica); or 
  • A discount pass (such as the Hakone Free Pass). 

You can’t use a JR pass for the Romancecar. 

I think using an IC card is the easiest option. Just tap your card at the entrance gate, and the fare for the ordinary ticket will automatically be deducted when you leave through the ticket gate at your destination. 

Limited Express Ticket

A limited express ticket is a surcharge in addition to the regular ticket. The surcharge is because limited express trains stop at even fewer stations than express, rapid or local trains. The Romancecar service is quicker, more straightforward, and more enjoyable than the cheaper alternatives.

To illustrate how much faster, the weekday 3:00 pm Romancecar service from Shinjuku Station arrives at Hakone-Yumoto Station at 4:25 pm, giving a total journey time of 85 min (with no transfers).

Other Odakyu Odawara line services terminate at Odawara Station, meaning you must transfer trains to Hakone-Yumoto Station. If you caught a rapid express train departing from Shinjuku Station at 3:01 pm, you would arrive at Odawara Station at 4:29 pm. You would then transfer to a local train service departing from Odawara Station at 4:36 pm, arriving at Hakone-Yumoto Station at 4:50 pm. The total journey time would be 109 min (or 24 minutes slower).

This is just one example. In practice, some Romancecar services to Hakone take a little longer than 85 min, and you might be able to find a combination of non-limited express trains that get you to Hakone-Yumoto a little faster. 

Reserved Seats on the Romancecar

When buying a limited express ticket for the Romancecar, you’ll discover that, unlike the Shinkansen, all seats are reserved. There are no cars with unreserved seats. 

Romancecar Seating Types

All Romancecar trains (70000 GSE, 60000 MSE and 30000 EXE) offer standard seating.

Panoramic seats (also called front or rear observation deck seats) are only available on the newest Romancecar train, the 70000 GSE. These seats give an unparalleled view, and seeing a view normally only enjoyed by the driver is quite exhilarating, especially for children. 

If you are in the train’s front car, the driver sits in a compartment above you. At the end of the trip, they climb down from a retractable hatch in the ceiling. 

The driver sits in a cabin on top of the panorama section and comes down at the end of the ride.
The driver sits in a cabin on top of the panorama section and comes down at the end of the ride.

One important thing to note if you’re a family is that only the standard seats can turn around to form a group of four, allowing for easier interaction. The observation deck seats can’t do this, as these seats are all about appreciating the views.

Fares

The regular fare for an adult from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto Station is 1200 yen. The regular fare for a child is half the adult price, and the child fare is only 50 yen if using a children’s IC card. 

The limited express ticket from Shinjuku to Hakone costs an additional 1200 yen. However, booking online can save you 50 yen. Again, child fares for a limited express ticket are half the adult ticket price. There is no price difference between standard seats and panoramic observation deck seats.

Adult fares are for people 12 years of age and older. Child fares are for children between six and 11. Children under six ride free. However, if they have their own seat, they require a regular child’s ticket and a child’s limited express ticket. To travel free, a child under six must share a seat with a parent.

Ways to Book Tickets

There are three main ways to buy a limited express ticket:

  1. Online through the e-Romancecar webpage
  2. At an Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center
  3. Using a ticket vending machine

The easiest and best way to book Romancecar limited express tickets is online. Not only is it a little cheaper, but you can also easily book tickets up to a month in advance. I’ll explain why shortly.

You can buy Romancecar tickets at ticket machines
You can buy Romancecar tickets at ticket machines.

Online Ticket Booking Process

Here’s an overview of the online ticket booking process using a computer:

1. Click on ‘seat availability/book/purchase’.

Check seat availability
Check seat availability

2. Set your search criteria.

The search criteria include preferred boarding date and time, departure and arrival stations, and the number of travellers (to a maximum of eight people).

Set your search criteria. This boarding date is one month ahead
Set your search criteria. This boarding date is one month ahead

3. Choose the train you want to book seats for.

When you go to select a train, you will see EXE trains (30000 series), MSE trains (60000 series) and the GSE trains (70000 series).

Select a GSE train if you want the most up-to-date service with panoramic windows and front/rear observation areas.

On weekdays, there are three 70000 GSE services to Hakone from Shinjuku at 7:37 am, 11:20 am, and 3:00 pm. On weekends, six 70000 GSE services leave Shinjuku at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, 11:20 am, 1:20 pm, 3:00 pm, and 5:00 pm.

On this screen, you will see seat availability. The observation deck seats are the most popular and sell out quickly. Book well before your trip (up to a month before you ride on the Romancecar). The front observation deck seats book out faster than the rear observation deck seats. The 3:00 pm trains seem to have the most seat availability.

You can also use the left (train before) and right (train after) buttons to search for other train options on your chosen day.

If the seats you are looking for aren’t available, you can select a different date by clicking on the ‘check seat availability again with different set of conditions’ link at the bottom of the page.

Check seat availability and confirm which train you want to book tickets for.
Check seat availability and confirm which train you want to book tickets for.

4. Check booking and select seat type.

On this screen, first confirm the train type, boarding date and time. Then, choose seat type. The front observation deck (in car one) is the best seating choice for views. The next best choice is the rear observation deck (in car seven).

The front and rear observation deck seats cost the same as standard seats.

If you choose the standard seat option, you will have seven cars to choose from. I recommend car one or seven for standard seats, as you can see out the front or rear of the train (but the view will be more obscured and from further back).

Once you’ve chosen your seat type, you need to read and agree to the terms.

Check your booking and select your seat type. This screenshot shows the front observation deck as the seat type.
Check your booking and select your seat type. This screenshot shows the seat type as the front observation deck.

5. Select your seat

On this screen, you choose your preferred seats. Seats that have already been booked are shaded grey and available seats are white with blue text. Click on your preferred seats so they are highlighted blue, then click ‘next’ at the bottom of the screen.

Once you have chosen your seats, they will be highlighted in blue.
Once you have chosen your seats, they will be highlighted in blue.

6. Confirm booking details and payment.

On this screen, you will see all your booking details, including the fare you need to pay. You then enter your customer information (phone number and email address) and credit card information. 

Check your booking and enter your customer and credit card information.
Check your booking and enter your customer and credit card information.

7. Payment confirmation

The final screen is payment confirmation. Print out or take a screenshot of the confirmation page. 

Riding the Romancecar 70,000 Series GSE

The Romancecar was a unique train when first launched, and the streamlined shape was a direct inspiration for the Shinkansen trains. 

The latest model, the 70000 GSE series, has retained many of the features that made the Romancecar great and added many new ones. 

The train name and type are proudly displayed on the Romancecar trains.
The train name and type are proudly displayed on the Romancecar trains.

The train has been designed with huge panoramic windows, as it was built for sightseeing. Thanks to the driver sitting in a second-floor cabin above the front car. 

The Romancecar 70000 GSE has wide panorama windows in front and back. The train driver sits in the cabin on the top.
The Romancecar 70000 GSE has wide panorama windows in front and back. The train driver sits in the cabin on the top.

The Romancecar Exterior

The Romancecar trademark is the streamlined front with huge panoramic windows and the elevated driver cab on top. This design means the seats in the front section give you a unique 180-degree view of the trip.

The panorama section at the front of the car has seats where families can enjoy the view together.
The panorama section at the front of the car has seats where families can enjoy the view together.

The wide panorama windows on the sides are also integral to the design, making it possible to take in the view even from ordinary seats.  

Boarding the Romancecar

Before boarding, you can use the platform signage to confirm the train, destination, departure times, platform and car details.

The upcoming trains are displayed on the signage at the platform.
The upcoming trains are displayed on the signage at the platform.

The train car numbers are posted on stickers on the platform doors. This being Japan, the customers line up according to the taped line on the platform a few minutes before the train arrives (which is clearly announced in the speaker system). 

The car number for the different train types is displayed on the platform doors.
The car number for the different train types is displayed on the platform doors.

As all seats on the Romancecar limited express trains are reserved, you need to find which car you are going to take first, and then take your seat as you enter the train. The seat numbers are posted above the seats.

In the car, the seat numbers are displayed above the seats.
In the car, the seat numbers are displayed above the seats.

Car Interiors

The Romancecar interior is light and airy, and Wi-Fi is available throughout the train. The same network can be used in many places in Hakone. The floors are carpeted, and as usual on Japanese trains, you need to be mindful that your luggage does not take up too much space since you are sharing it with other travellers. 

Except for the panorama sections at the front and end of the train, the seats are organised in rows of four, with two seats on each side and an aisle in the middle. If you get seats in two rows behind each other, it is possible to turn one of the seats around to form a group of four seats facing each other. 

The seating in the Romancecar 70000 GSE is arranged in rows two plus two seats, with an aisle in the middle.
The seating in the Romancecar 70000 GSE is arranged in rows two plus two seats, with an aisle in the middle.

Seating

The seats on the Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar trains are all the same: modern, brightly coloured, and comfortable, cloth-upholstered seats. 

The seats are slightly wider than standard (so they will fit a large person comfortably). Each seat has several foldable hooks for coats and luggage. 

Ordinary seats are wide enough even for larger travellers
Ordinary seats are wide enough even for larger travellers

Unusually for Japanese trains, there is enough room to stretch your legs even if you are six feet (180 cm) tall. 

You can recline the seat to 120 degrees with a button in the armrest, but be mindful of the people behind you – eating and drinking on the train is common, and being squeezed while doing that is not pleasant. This being Japan, it is not necessarily the case that they will protest since you are supposed to be the one who checks that it is OK to recline your seat first. 

The tray table on the ordinary Romancecar seats folds down into the armrest, so even if the person in front reclines the seat, a laptop will be OK (but you may not be able to see the screen). 

The tray tables fold out of the armrest.
The tray tables fold out of the armrest.

Seats also have hooks for clothes and bags as well as cup holders.

Seats have a sturdy hook for goods or clothes and a combined cupholder and pamphlet stand.
Seats have a sturdy hook for goods or clothes and a combined cupholder and pamphlet stand.
In addition to the sturdy hook, there are fold-out hooks for clothes.
In addition to the sturdy hook, there are fold-out hooks for clothes.

While there is Wi-Fi on the Romancecar trains, there is a surprising lack of charging outlets and USB ports. Even though the cars are very fresh and airy, there are no individual lights, and in some other ways, they are starting to show that they are aging. 

Storage in Cars

To international travellers lugging large suitcases, there is a surprising lack of storage space on board the Romancecar trains. However, the design focus wasn’t on international tourists with larger amounts of luggage. The focus was more on domestic tourists looking for weekend escapes – where there is little need for large luggage. 

There is ample storage for hand luggage on the shelf above the seats and luggage space at the entrance of every car (except for car four), but there is no dedicated storage for strollers or wheelchairs. The storage spaces also do not handle suitcases above the size of airline cabin luggage well. 

The shelf above the seats has ample space for luggage storage.
The shelf above the seats has ample space for luggage storage.
At the end of the cars is a space for luggage storage, which fits standard cabin luggage.
At the end of the cars is a space for luggage storage, which fits standard cabin luggage.

Onboard Amenities

For a train ride as long as the Hakone Romancecar ride to be comfortable, travellers need the ability to take a break. The trains have restrooms at the end of Cars 2, 4 and 6. This includes a ‘family toilet’ with a changing board for babies and facilities for people with disabilities. 

The family toilet in the middle of the train has a changing board for small children.
The family toilet in the middle of the train has a changing board for small children.
Next to the toilet are control buttons in the same fashion as a washlet.
Next to the toilet are control buttons in the same fashion as a washlet.

Each door has a garbage bin (collecting burnable rubbish and recyclable drinks containers separately). In Hakone and Shinjuku, the cleaning staff will also meet the train and provide a garbage bag to deposit your rubbish, which comes in especially handy if you have been eating a bento brought in the station, as those boxes fill up the garbage bin quickly. 

Next to the doors are garbage bins for general rubbish and drink containers.
Next to the doors are garbage bins for general rubbish and drink containers.

There is no cafe or trolley on the Romancecar trains. The closest you come is the single vending machine in the middle of the train. As usual in Japan, buying your drinks at the station makes sense. 

In the middle of the train, there is a small vending machine.
In the middle of the train, there is a small vending machine.

Even if there are no USB or charging outlets, the Romancecar has Wi-Fi throughout. The connection is easier than other places in Japan: Just connect to the network, open your browser, accept the terms and conditions, and you are ready to go. The same network is also available in parts of Hakone. 

Connecting to the Internet in the Odakyu Romancecar is easier than other similar connections.
Connecting to the Internet in the Odakyu Romancecar is easier than other similar connections.

FAQs About the Odakyu Romancecar

Odakyu Romancecar - Pinterest Image
Odakyu Romancecar – Pinterest Image

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