Imagine taking a trip through some of Kyushu’s most beautiful scenery in an old fashioned steam train. A plume of smoke flows from the engine as the train runs through the forested countryside and the haunting pipe of the steam whistle echoes through the Kuma River valley.
This train is the SL Hitoyoshi: a steam-driven holiday sightseeing train operated by JR Kyushu that runs between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi stations. The SL Hitoyoshi makes just one round trip per day and runs mainly on weekends and holidays between March and November. This train does not run during the winter months.
The SL Hitoyoshi makes a brief stop at each of the following stations on a trip that takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Kumamoto – Shinyatsushiro – Yatsushiro – Sakamoto – Shiroishi – Isshochi – Watari – Hitoyoshi
At each station passengers are free to get off, chat with the locomotive engineers, and take pictures until a bell is run to signal that it is time to get back on board. Some of the stations have their own attractions. At Isshochi Station unique lucky charms and a variety of local food and drinks products are on sale. At Hitoyoshi Station you can watch the locomotive being rotated on a turntable, buy a chestnut rice lunch box from a vendor on the platform, and see the only stone carbarn in Japan.
The steam locomotive that pulls the train is JGR Class 8620 number 58654. This engine was built in 1922 and it is the oldest working steam locomotive in Japan. Behind the engine are three specially renovated vintage carriages with wooden flooring and seats upholstered with real leather and other fine fabrics. The luxurious interiors of the train carriages were designed by Eiji Mitooka who also designed the Seven Stars in Kyushu luxury cruise train, the JR Kyushu Sweet Train, and the Kawasemi Yamasemi sightseeing train.
The carriages feature observation lounges in cars 1 and 3 and a bar in car 2 selling local beverages such as craft beer, shochu liquor, and citrus flavored sodas. Bento lunch boxes and shochu flavored ice creams are also available. All passengers receive special commemorative tickets and cabin attendants will be happy to take your picture with the train. There are also railway uniforms available for children to dress up in for a really memorable picture.
Tickets for the SL Hitoyoshi must be booked in advance and as it is very popular we recommend booking seats early. You can find out more details about the schedule and timetable at the official JR Kyushu English webpage. Bookings can be made online through JR Kyushu’s Japanese language website or from JR Kyushu’s ticket offices, travel centers, or JR travel agencies. You can also take an advance virtual tour of the train on Google Street Maps. It is certainly a very elegant train!
Article by Michael Lambe. Photos by shikiphoto/pixta (1), yuphoto/pixta (2), and JR Kyushu. All rights reserved.