Ltd. Exp “Asahiyama Zoo Train”

An Illustrated Guide to Train Journey’s Trains

Between Sapporo and Asahikawa

Sightseeing express train adorned with depictions of animals

Operation of Ltd. Exp “Asahiyama Zoo Train,” which originally consisted of four Series 183 diesel railcars, commenced in April 2007 to provide tourists with high-speed access to the Asahiyama Zoo, which is situated in Hokkaido’s City of Asahikawa and is the northernmost zoo in Japan. Since then, it has become a popular train used by more than 250,000 total passengers up through the six-year period that followed, with an additional car added to the train to give it a five-car formation in April 2008. Moreover, the “Asahiyama Zoo Train” debuted anew in July 2013 following a total redesign of its cars.

The redesign is the product of Hiroshi Abe, former animal keeper at the Asahiyama Zoo and author of picture books. Each train car features animals made to match that car’s individual theme with an overarching concept of “Let’s take a ride with our fellow earth pals.” Likewise, the exterior of each car has also been designed to match that car’s theme. On the front end of the train, with serves as its “face,” the lead No. 1 car on the side facing Asahikawa features a depiction of a giraffe. Meanwhile, the lead No. 5 car on the side facing Sapporo hosts an image of a polar bear.

As the train leaving Sapporo runs swiftly over land, the gorgeous expanse of northern Japan’s scenery is on full view outside. Passengers can enjoy a variety of amenities inside the train, from the “Hug hug chairs” for taking memento photos to the freely-useable “Mogu-Mogu Corner,” as they make their way to Asahikawa.

Head Car (Car No. 5)

The head car connected to the train on the side facing Sapporo is called “supercold and snowy world.” True to its name, the car features dynamic, snow- and ice-laden scenery from the North Pole as well as depictions of the creatures who inhabit that region.

Inside a Standard Reserved-Seating Car

Here is a shot of the interior of a standard reserved-seating car, which contains rows of revolving, reclining seats for two. Passengers ride in “animal seats” complimented with pillow covers designed after a variety of animals.

Head Car (Car No. 1)

Car No. 1 connected to the train on the side facing Asahikawa has been outfitted with a freely-usable carpeted area called the “Mogu-Mogu Corner” where passengers can take their shoes off and relax.

Reserved Seating in a Standard Car (Cars No. 2 & 3) 

On the left is Car No. 2, or “Tropical Jungle,” whose motif is the jungles of Southeast Asia. To the right is Car No. 3, or “Ground of Hokkaido,” which features depictions of animals native to Hokkaido.

Reserved Seating in a Standard Car (Car No. 4)

Car No. 4, called the “Blue vault of heaven for birds,” depicts a large flock of birds as they take off from and expansive plain. Adorning the inside of the car are “Hug hug Chairs” designed with flamingos and their offspring.

Reserved Seating in a Standard Car (Car No. 5)

The “Hug hug chairs” in Car No. 5 depict penguins and their offspring. Each car has been prepared with seats with animal parents and children as their motif for taking memento photos. A total of six types of such seats are available.

Taking a Journey around
Asahikawa on “The Asahiyama Zoo Train”

Asahiyama Zoo

Japan’s northernmost zoo, Asahiyama Zoo is located in the City of Asahikawa. Featuring behavioral exhibits that show animals in their natural habitat, this facility is both a Hokkaido institution and a world-famous zoo.

Snow Museum

Located in the Hokkaido Folk Arts and Crafts Village, this museum was conceived with an image of the gorgeous snow crystals that fall upon the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group in mind. Also located in the same village are the Yukara Ori Craft Folk Museum and the International Dyeing and Weaving Art Museum.

Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group

The general name given to the mountain range in central Hokkaido represented by Mount Asahi, the prefecture’s highest point. The first snowcaps of the year have been monitored every mid-September in past years, and the location is famous for sporting the earliest foliage of the autumn season in Japan.


A group of brick warehouses with a hundred years of history until they were renovated into a tourism facility, Kuraimu consists of four buildings, the chief among which is the “Taisetsu Ji-Beer Building,” used to present music, dramas and other forms of art by citizens of Asahikawa.

Asahikawa Winter Festival

This festival is an Asahikawa winter tradition upon which gigantic statues of snow are displayed. Scheduled to be held every February, this festival also offers experiences that only the North can provide, such as snow statue production.

Miura Ayako Literature Museum

A literature museum dedicated to recognizing the work of writer Ayako Miura, famous for “Freezing Point” as well as other novels. This facility contains displays of handwritten manuscripts by Miura, as well as displays of interview notes, materials, and the studies she used.

Japanese “sake” rice wine

The subsoil water of the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group and the harsh climate of the local region brings forth local Japanese “sake” that is distinct to Hokkaido. Otokoyama Brewery’s “Brewing Resource Center” located in the City of Asahikawa has valuable materials on display that cover about 340 years of rich tradition.

“Etanbetsu Soba”

Exceeding 35℃ in the summertime and minus 35℃ in the wintertime, the temperature range in the Etanbetsu District of the City of Asahikawa is extreme in nature. The high-quality buckwheat grown there is known as “Etanbetsu Soba.”

Text by: Yoshiyuki Kekke, traveloguer
Photos courtesy of: Tourism Division, Economy & Tourism Department, City of Asahikawa/JR Hokkaido
*Data contained above is as of April 2015.