It’s easy to forget that Osaka, one of the largest, most modern cities in Japan, is geographically very close to Kyoto, the country’s cultural capital. As a matter of fact, many travelers looking to explore the temples and shrines of Kyoto actually chose to book a hotel in Osaka, which has a wider (and cheaper) selection of lodgings and nightlife. After all, even if you wake up in Osaka, you can be in Kyoto after just about a half hour on the train.

But Hankyu Railway wants travelers to feel like they’re in Kyoto from the second they step aboard the train, and so it’s created the Kyotrain Garaku.

Rather than the spartan, utilitarian interior of ordinary commuter trains, the inside of the Kyotrain Garaku resembles a traditional ryokan inn or Kyoto machiya townhouse. The traditional contrasting color scheme of deep brown wood and light tan tatami reed panels creates an atmosphere of classic Japanese hospitality, as does such elegant touches as miniature gardens.

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▼ Circular windows provide a link with the viewing portals incorporated into the architecture of temples and samurai villas.

Kyoto is a city that takes on a variety of special beauties throughout the year, and each of the six cars of the Kyotrain Garaku will have its own seasonal theme. Car 1, representing autumn, has a maple-leaf motif, while Car 2, winter, is all about bamboo, a customary decorative accent for New Year’s in Japan. Obviously Car 3, spring, salutes the sakura cherry blossoms that bring people from around the world to Kyoto in April. Car 4, summer, features geraniums, while Cars 5 and 6 zoom in tighter on seasonal changes, with pampas grass representing early autumn and plum blossoms for early spring.

▼ The outside of each car continues the seasonal themes, as shown here with a fan adorned with maple leaves spread open for Car 1.

Of course, some may prefer to gaze out the window to catch a glimpse of the actual city of Kyoto as soon as possible, and for them, Cars 2 and 5 have sections of seats which face outward, inspired by the inner garden viewing porches of regal Japanese dwellings.

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The Kyotrain Garaku will run between Kyoto’s Kawaramachi and Osaka’s Umeda Stations, with stops at Karasuma, Katsura, Awaji, and Juso along the way, and the entire end-to-end ride should take less than 45 minutes. The train will run seven times a day (weekends and holidays only), with the first and last departures from Umeda being 9:32 a.m. and 3:32 p.m., and those from Kawaramachi being 10:41 a.m. and 4:41 p.m. It’s scheduled to go into service next March, and while Hankyu Railway isn’t covered by the all-inclusive JR rail pass that’s popular with foreign travelers to Japan, the Kyotrain Garaku fair from Umeda to Kawaramachi is just 400 yen (US$3.50), the same as any other Hankyu train traveling between those two stations, making it an easily affordable way to make even your train ride to Kyoto feel unforgettably Japanese.

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