Train: Ltd Express Romance Car 23 (Odakyu Railway)
Route: Shinjuku to Odawara
Time: 12:00- 13:14
Duration: 1h14min (83km)
Seat& Class: Coach 1, Seat 1A (Front Observation Deck Seat)
There are several ways to go to Odawara from Shinjuku or Tokyo Metropolitan area: The Shinkansen (Japan Railway), the local trains (Japan Railway), the Romance Car (Odakyu Railway), the local trains (Odakyu Railway) or the intercity buses.
The fastest way is definitely the JR Shinkansen from Tokyo or Shinagawa stations. The ‘Kodama’ Shinkansen runs every 30 to 60 minutes and takes about 30 minutes to get there. There are two other types of JR Shinkansen (‘Nozomi’ and ‘Hikari’), but they basically do not stop at Odawara Station.
The cheapest way is the local trains (Odakyu Railway). It costs only 900 JPY (you need an extra 900 JPY surcharge of the seat reservation ticket if you take the Romance Car, as the Romance Car is all reserved seating train), while JR Shinkansen 3300 JPY and JR local trains 1500 JPY.
The total amount of travel time is almost the same as long as trains other than the Shinkansen; the Romance Car (Odakyu Railway) takes 75 minutes, the local train (Odakyu Railway) takes 100 minutes, and JR local train takes 90 minutes from Shinjuku to Odawara station.
There are five kinds of Romance Car at the moment. This white model is the third newest train called VSE 50000 (Vault Super Express), and the red model I was aboard is the newest train called GSE 70000 (Graceful Super Express). Others are MSE 60000 (Multi Super Express), EXE α 30000 and EXE 30000, but they do not equip with the front observation deck for passengers, so choose VSE or GSE when you want the front view.
The problem is that, however, the seats for the front observation deck (especially its very front of row 1) are crazily hard to book due to its popularity. The ticket is bookable up to one month ahead of departure (from ten o’clock), but tickets for these four seats are said to be sold out in 30 seconds, 10:00:30.
If you want to try booking these magnificent view seats, get in line in front of the ticket office or sit in front of your computer before ten o’clock… Romance Car trains are crowded on Saturday morning and weekdays evening (direction Hakone-Yumoto), or Sunday evening and weekdays morning (direction Shinjuku), so you are more likely to book the seats successfully by avoiding these peak time. Considering all these aspects, I was very lucky to have been able to book the seat 1A then…
Even if you, unfortunately, missed the front row, still row 2, 3 and 4 may be available (row 1 through 4 are located on the same front observation deck). Furthermore, the seats for the last observation deck of row 1 through 4 are relatively easy to book, so this might be the second-best option for you. You can reach further information like the Romance Car Seat map, timetables and Lineup here.
Certainly, the Romance Car is a really comfortable way to go from Shinjuku terminal to Odawara or further Hakone-Yumoto and Gotenba stations. The weak points, however, are that Odakyu Railway has fewer terminal stations in Tokyo Metropolitan area (only a few including Shinjuku) compared with JR, in addition to its time takes compared to JR Shinkansen.
Besides, you cannot use Japan Rail Pass on Odakyu trains since Odakyu is a different private company from JR. If you are thinking of travelling Odawara, Hakone or Gotenba area using Odakyu Railway, why not have a look at their discount passes. They are also showing you how to purchase tickets at stations or online on their website.