You have just arrived at Shinjuku station, bought a freshly baked pastry for a quick snack, stopped by at the travel information center to plan your trip for tomorrow and now you’re about to catch a taxi and head to the Hyatt Regency Tokyo where you’ll be staying for the night. Tomorrow, you’ll be boarding the Romancecar and heading to Hakone for a well-deserved onsen (hot spring) retreat. Without even realizing, you have already used Odakyu Electric Railway’s services at least five times — yes, including the pastry.
One of the largest and most influential private companies in Japan, Odakyu Electric Railway, established in its current governance in 1948, today incorporates everything from passenger transportation to merchandising to real estate, sightseeing and recreation, travel, hotels, restaurants and even insurance. It is composed of nearly 100 companies (and growing), employing over 25,000 staff altogether and serving millions of customers on a day-to-day basis. Its three main railway lines — Odakyu Odawara Line, Odakyu Tama Line and Odakyu Enoshima Line — connect Shinjuku in Tokyo with prominent destinations in Kanagawa Prefecture and cover 70 stations and over 120 kilometers in total route, accommodating over two million passengers every day.
Add public buses, the Hakone Tozan Train, cable car, ropeway and the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise (you’ve surely seen the pirate ship on Lake Ashi) and all remaining railways and transportation tools and you get the picture: whether a local or a tourist, Odakyu is an essential attribute to your Tokyo and Kanagawa experience.
From ‘romance seat’ to world records
Romance may mean a milliard of things to different people but for Odakyu it stands for Romancecar, its signature limited express train that links Shinjuku with the popular holiday spots of Hakone, Enoshima and Kamakura. It is Odakyu’s signature face and one of the largest sources of its income: it is used by about 13.3 million people per year, predominantly for sightseeing but also for shopping and daily commuting to work (seats are reserved and the commute is stress-free).
The first Romancecar, SE 3000, debuted in 1957, breaking the world speed record (145 km/h or 90 mph) for a narrow gauge train. This record and the train’s stylish refined design were groundbreaking at the time.
The name Romancecar, which remains unchanged to date, derives from “romance seats,” at the time popular two-person seats at movie theaters and other venues without a separator armrest in between. While many railways had those seats at the time, the concept survived and developed with Odakyu’s Romancecar, giving the company further incentives to enforce its tourism and hospitality sector, one of its key businesses today.
The Romancecar has since undergone various transformations, with the latest GSE 70000 (Graceful Super Express), which debuted in March 2018 with the driver’s seat elevated to the second floor, leaving passengers sitting at the front with a stunning observatory view of their journey ahead.
From Shinjuku to Hakone, Enoshima and a stop by at Mt. Fuji
While one day trips and predesigned travel packages are a standard practice today, Odakyu Railway introduced the concept as early as in 1967 with the launch of its Hakone Freepass. Since then, the company has developed various discount passes, offering tourists a variety of packages to its best locations, combining transportation and special discounts at selected facilities. Today, Odakyu offers mainly five passes, each focusing on a key location primarily in Kanagawa Prefecture and central Tokyo, and conveniently accessible at ticket vending machines at stations, Odakyu Travel or Odakyu sightseeing service centers.
The three top sellers lead to Hakone and its neighboring ocean-side cities, Enoshima and Kamakura, all of which are popular recreation destinations for locals and tourists alike.
The Hakone Freepass, costing only ¥5,140 (¥5,700 from April 1, 2019), includes round-trip transportation from Shinjuku to Odawara stations, unlimited use of eight types of on-location transport, including the Hakone Tozan Railway and the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise, the main attraction on Lake Ashi, as well as special discounts at multiple locations, such as hot spring and tourism facilities in the Hakone area.
The Enoshima/Kamakura Freepass (¥1,470) takes travelers to the beautiful oceanside of Kanagawa Prefecture, Enoshima, and its neighboring city Kamakura, a historical town and home to the Great Buddha of Kamakura. In summer, this is a convenient pass for beach-goers, in autumn for those keen to view fall foliage, and year-round for stress-relief sightseeing and a moment of silence and peace along the ocean.
The Fuji Hakone Pass, ¥8,000 (¥9,090 from April 1, 2019), combines a visit to two landmarks in Japan: Hakone and Mt. Fuji on a single trip (and Fuji-Q Highland if you wish, too!). The pass covers transportation to Hakone by train or an express bus to Mt. Fuji, transportation within each area and discounts at several locations, including art museums and restaurants.
Respect employees as they’d respect customers
However, it is not only the customers that benefit from Odakyu's innovative spirit.
“It’s a very good company to work for,” smiles Satoshi Okutsu, manager of the Corporate Communications Department at Odakyu Electric Railway. He has been with the company for almost 20 years already and he’s looking forward to more. “I’ve moved around different departments, have been stationed overseas and have had the chance to learn a lot on the job.” His eyes sparkle when he talks about his work and he clearly has an answer for every question that’s sent his way. Being in the service sector, it is crucial that the staff is treated well, he reassures.
Among the many in-house corporate support measures the company provides its employees with is support for babysitters for working parents, short-shift work for employees with young children, full-time employment for employees with physical disabilities and re-employment of retired senior employees based on their needs. In 2018, the company was selected for the New Diversity Management Selection 100 Project by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), a project that awards companies that have promoted diversification at the workplace by empowering diverse human resources in their business, including women, foreign nationals, the elderly, and physically- and mentally-disabled people.
“The basic principle of our work is assuring customers’ safety and providing the best services we can to ensure their satisfaction,” Okutsu says.
For more information on Odakyu Electric Railway and its services, see their official website here: www.odakyu.jp/english/index_after/
This is the first story in Japan Today’s new Japan Business Spotlight series, which brings the spotlight on Japanese domestic companies, from small-scale family-run businesses to now worldwide corporate giants. In this series, we trace the roots of their foundations, we look at the faces behind their stories and the concepts behind their most recent innovations. Our first series introduces seven businesses based in or operating in Kanagawa Prefecture.© Japan Today