A luxurious ride on the Echigo TOKImeki Resort Train SETSUGEKKA ~Leaving from Itoigawa Station~
“Tokimeki” is a Japanese word that describes something so exciting which makes your eyes sparkle and your heart dance. Indeed, the bright red of the SETSUGEKKA, with its gold and silver motif, does just that! My heart-dancing ride took place on the afternoon train that left from Itoigawa Station in Niigata.
First, we toasted the ride with a welcome drink, a sparkling wine produced expressly for the SETSUGEKKA by Fermier, a regional winery in Niigata City. First photo of a toast to commemorate the ride!
Japanese cuisine is served on the afternoon train, while French cuisine is served on the morning departures. The lunchbox on our afternoon train contained Japanese fare that included chirashizushi, or “scattered sushi,” topped with red snow crab. The noppe, a hearty Niigata stew, was flavored with an Itoigawa twist of minced smelt balls, called kokusho, and minced soup of Deep-sea smelt. Enhanced by the farm to table produce, each dish was a gourmet’s delight that left me with a loss for words.
The dessert, a mini-sized kiwi berry gelatin, was perfect in looks and taste. Designwise, both menu and coaster seemed aimed at pleasing the feminine eye, and in my case, I brought the pink coaster home with me as a memento.
But the biggest draw is the panoramic windows of the SETSUGEKKA! What better way is there to gaze at the changing seasons, the red and gold of autumn and the silvery-white of winter? And patches of snow still remained when I had taken this train in mid-March. The sky was overcast, but nonetheless the Japan Sea was impressive.
I quickly finished my meal and scurried to the deck and back, eager to capture some good photos. I also slipped in a few shots of myself nonchalantly sipping coffee. Located on the deck is also the Sakura Lounge, a cafe and bar. Gift packs of the Yukimuro Coffee, served on board after the meal, are available at the counter for purchase. Postcards depicting the SETSUGEKKA in different seasons are also amazing.
Adding to the fun was the upbeat conductor, who not only announced points of interest but entertained us with his delightful jive. I could have sworn he was a voice actor! It may even be an idea to do this in other languages.
Another fun feature is the platforms at Tsutsuishi Station. Since the train stops deep inside a tunnel, getting off means climbing about 300 steps to the exit. Amazingly, the station is still in use today. I purchased a souvenir train ticket sold at this station only. (Be advised they’re not sold on a regular basis.)
At Naoetsu Station, I spotted a vendor on the platform selling ekiben, or railway station box lunches, just like in the old days. Since their codfish rice is a popular specialty, this was a gift I didn’t have to think twice about.
Another first for me was watching the train go through the motions of the switchback system at Nihongi Station. Though rarely seen now, the switchback system allowed steam locomotives to maneuver steep slopes by zigzagging forward and backward.
At Nihongi Station, the train pulled in to the welcome of local residents who gave us the chance to purchase local products. Here again, I picked up a few more gift items to my ever-growing luggage. But then again, that’s the fun of traveling! And needless to say, another appeal of the SETSUGEKKA is the chance to mingle with the local residents.
By the time we reached our final destination, the Joetsumyoko Station, my smartphone had turned into a treasure trove of photos, of stunning views to be enjoyed now and later. Don’t forget to stamp your notebook with a commemorative seal and take a picture at the signboard on your way out.
This was such a great getaway that I almost had to drag myself back to Tokyo. Couples and families will love this trip. Next, I’m thinking of reversing my route by catching the morning train from Joetsumyoko Station to enjoy the French menu.
Click here for more details on the Echigo TOKImeki Resort Train SETSUGEKKA: https://www.echigo-tokimeki.co.jp/setsugekka/