Blue Trains in Japan are long-distance sleeper trains, nicknamed as such for the color of the train cars. They consist of 20-, 14- or 24-series sleeper cars, and currently run on six routes connecting major destinations within Japan across long distances, other routes being served by a fleet of newer limited-express sleeper trains which are not blue.
The first Blue Train was known as the Asakaze. It ran between Hakata and Tokyo beginning in 1956; air-conditioned cars were added two years later. As was the case with sleeper train services in other parts of the world, the Blue Trains acquired a romantic aspect and, at the peak of their popularity in the late 1970s, appeared in many novels. They were often described as "hotels on the move."
More recently, however, as the Shinkansen (bullet train), buses, and airplanes have become faster, more popular, and sometimes cheaper, the Blue Trains have seen a severe decline in ridership and therefore revenues. The 2005 ridership on sleeper trains traveling west from Tokyo was calculated as one-fifth of that in 1987. For this and other reasons, such as aging equipment and a shortage of overnight staff, JR made plans to eliminate the majority of the overnight services.
The Asakaze service connecting Hakata and Tokyo was eliminated in 2005, its average occupancy below 30 percent. The most recently eliminated services were the Hayabusa and Fuji in 2009. Regular service Hokuriku trains from Tokyo to Kanazawa was also eliminated in March 2010 along with its former Blue Train counterpart, the Noto.
Services like the Twilight Express and Cassiopeia, however, retain their popularity in the tourist market, due to their more luxurious status and the absence of a Shinkansen line to Hokkaido.
Akebono - connects Ueno (Tokyo) and Aomori once daily Cassiopeia - connects Ueno (Tokyo) and Sapporo three times a week; uses deluxe cars Hokutosei - connects Ueno (Tokyo) and Sapporo once daily Nihonkai - connects Osaka and Aomori once daily Twilight Express - connects Osaka and Sapporo four times a week; uses deluxe cars