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Japan's hit luxury trains face long journey to profitability

Hefty investments create uphill climb for railway operators

East Japan Railway's luxe Train Suite Shiki-Shima.

TOKYO -- New luxury train tours have proven a hit in Japan among travelers who can afford them, selling out nearly a year in advance. But heavy upfront outlays mean railways have many a trip to make before these prize businesses will turn a profit.

Since East Japan Railway's Train Suite Shiki-Shima, an opulent sleeper, first rolled out of Tokyo on May 1, more than 1,500 passengers are estimated to have ridden, paying as much as 950,000 yen ($8,300) for the privilege. Trains leave twice a week and carry up to 34 passengers. A four-day, three-night trip through Japan's northeast and the island of Hokkaido, complete with sightseeing stops along the way, has proven particularly popular among older travelers for the convenience it offers.

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