Puffing and smoking, the SL Paleo Express pulls into Kumagaya station and it seems we’ve all found ourselves in a time slip. Yet, that very time slip magic is what people come for every weekend – some riding the train, some waiting along the tracks to see it passing. Some of the train passengers even cosplayed in Hogwarts uniform as the SL is very similar to Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter franchise!
On September 1st 2019 there was something a little bit different, as the train itself cosplayed. The SL PALEO EXPRESS departed Kumagaya station for the first time as the official Rugby World Cup 2019 SL Train!
Japan has a few steam locomotive trains, SL PALEO EXPRESS being the closest one to Tokyo Metropolitan Area, just over 1 hour from Shinjuku station. The SL PALEO runs between Kumagaya station and Mitsumineguchi station every weekend and holidays from March to early January. However, there are times during the summer vacation and in autumn when the train will run on weekdays. The SL makes one round trip per day, starting at 10:10 from Kumagaya station and leaving Misumineguchi station at 14:30. Passengers can get off at any station in between and can go back with a different train, so you don’t have to worry about missing the SL train on the way back.
Car 1 has all reserved seats, whereas cars 2, 3 and 4 are non-reserved, so make sure you queue early if you have a non-reserved one. Tickets can be bought from the ticket machines at any Chichibu Railways station or from the counter from the staff. They can also be reserved online or on the phone (in Japanese only). A non-reserved seat ticket costs 510yen + you need to have the Chichibu-Railway 1Day pass (Adults) for 1,440yen.
You can check the schedule and seat reservation details on the Chichibu Railways official website.
For more info on booking a non-reserved seat, go to https://www.chichibu-railway.co.jp/slreservation/how-to-book-a-non-reserved-seat.html
Saitama as a whole is a city dedicated to sports and it will host matches for the Rugby World Cup 2019, as well as matches for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. The Kumagaya stadium will host three Rugby World Cup matches: Russia vs. Samoa (Sept 24), Georgia vs. Uruguay (Sept 29) and Argentina vs the USA (Oct 9).
But Kumagaya is not called RUGBY TOWN just for those 3 upcoming matches – they also have a special Rugby Stadium and free shuttle buses from the nearby stations for rugby fans. This autumn almost everything in Saitama and Kumagaya is getting a rugby makeover. The nearby Gyoda city in Saitama has rice field art depicting rugby players and they’ve been growing it for months. In a similar vein, Kumagaya city has reinvented its steam locomotive SL PALEO train as a Rugby train, decorated with rugby symbols and serving drinks and food inside the train cars.
Why a SAKE train?
Saitama is a known sake producer with 34 sake breweries around the prefecture, so of course they want to flaunt their local produce. The sake served in the SL PALEO is all local, fresh, affordable and can also be bought as a gift by the bottle.
September 24th, September 29th and October 9th (all days of rugby matches in Kumagaya during the RWC2019) are also days when the SL PALEO will be running and selling sake in their passenger cars.
Additionally, on September 14th passengers can buy game meats in the SL PALEO, while on September 15th there will be a tasting of local Shine Muscat grapes.
Miss Saitama Sake (left) and local breweries were attending the first ride on the Rugby & Sake SL PALEO on September 1st 2019
SL PALEO mascots were attending the event as well. They are also featured on the exclusive SL PALEO bento box (Author’s photo)
Views from the SL PALEO -beautiful nature and train fans taking photos (Author’s photo)
Cheers to the first ride of the SL PALEO as the Rugby 2019 Train! (Author’s photo)