While Japan's bullet trains may be famed for their speed, there is a train in Japan that has garnered a more exclusive reputation. Demand is often so high for a trip on this luxury sleeper train -- and space so limited -- that prospective passengers often have to enter a lottery for tickets.
Upon boarding the Cruise Train Seven Stars at the busy Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka, passengers step into another world. The train's warm wooden interiors and classic design elements evoke another time.
"Everything is unique and custom-made for the train," said Seven Stars' 70-year-old designer, Eiji Mitooka. "From the seats, to the lighting, to the furniture, our theme was to mix elements like mandalas -- drawing inspiration from East and West -- to come up with something we've never seen."
From delicate, handmade porcelain sinks to framed miniature paintings by Mitooka himself, which are hung along the corridors, no detail has been overlooked. In the lounge, a panel of "kumiko," traditional Japanese woodwork, is backlit to showcase its intricate lattice patterns. A star motif is used throughout: the gold symbols adorn ceiling tiles, are carved into table lamps, and colored onto stained glass.
When Mitooka was first approached to design the train, he took inspiration from the Orient Express, but he wanted to create something that would resonate with older Japanese travelers, creating a sense of nostalgia.
"I think, for a long time, Japanese people believed the greatest journey was to travel to Europe or America; to experience different cultures, see the best things there, eat the best food there," he said.
"But for those of us in our 50s, 60s and 70s, the most comfortable and relaxing journey is one where Japanese is spoken, we can enjoy Japanese food, served in the Japanese way. We can rediscover Japan."