You Have to Ride An Old-Fashioned Sightseeing Train in Japan At Least Once
Enjoy the sights along with great food!
Japan runs many train lines tailored for different kinds of tourist experiences such as commuting, sightseeing, and dining. In this article, we introduce different sightseeing trains that don’t only offer rich and beautiful nature views, but also delicious meals that will satisfy your appetite.
Check them out below!
JR Kyushu Sweet Train - Aru Ressha
The JR Kyushu operates luxurious sightseeing trains around the Kyushu area and has a theme of Design and Story (D&S). Its Sweet Train called the Aru Ressha had its debut in 2015 and is today considered as Japan’s premier luxury sightseeing train where you can indulge in delicious sweets.
The Aru Ressha stands out and looks chic because of its golden body. It is also decorated with processed stainless steel and brass.
Stained glass, which the late Nobutaro Hara designed, is placed everywhere in the Aru Ressha.
The elegant design of Aru Ressha is based on the luxury train ordered by the Kyushu Railway—the predecessor of JR Kyushu in 1906—to the J. G. Brill Company of the United States. When the Kyushu Railway was nationalized, it never made it as a commercial service and thus became a phantom train. But this time around, after 100 years, it returned to Kyushu and formally opened its services to the public.
The passenger car was reproduced by Eiji Mitooka, an industrial designer who worked on Nanatsuboshi (seven stars) in Kyushu, based on the Brill train model of the late Hara, who was also known as the “god of the railway model” at the time. By arranging the "Diesel train series Kiroshi 47" in a modern style and combining the colors, shapes, materials, and craftsmanship of Kyushu, a unique luxury passenger car was created.
The Kumiko technique (a traditional Japanese woodworking technique) adopted for the Nanatsuboshi in Kyushu, was also used everywhere in the Aru Ressha’s car interior decoration.
The antique lamps and sofas inside the car make guests feel as if they’re traveling abroad.
Apart from its interiors, the sightseeing train also draws attention because of the fine and luxurious sweets it serves during the trip. As soon as the train leaves the station, the Sweets Course also starts.
Savarin of brown sugar from Kagoshima and barley tea from Saga
The course is produced by Yoshihiro Narisawa, who is both an owner and chef of the famous restaurant, NARISAWA, in Tokyo. He makes use of seasonal ingredients, which he carefully selects and sorts out with various producers from Kyushu. The menu items of the course change every month and a full-time chef manages the kitchen in the train.
Car No. 1, which is made of bright and gentle maple wood, has two-person and four-person-seats.
The train has two travel routes, the Nagasaki course, which runs between Nagasaki and Sasebo, and the Oita course, which runs between Oita and Hita. The course changes over a fixed period of time. From April 2019, the schedule will be arranged based on lunch and dinner time, with the morning train departing from Sasebo at around 10:34 a.m. and arriving at Nagasaki at 1:11 p.m. and the afternoon train departing from Nagasaki at around 3:37 p.m. and arriving at Sasebo at 6:37 p.m. The service days will be 24 days in total from Fridays to Mondays, from April 1 to May 12.
Fares range from ¥25,000 to ¥37,000 depending on the number of seats and people. Reservations can be made online (Note: The reservations page is in Japanese only). A detailed operating schedule is posted there as well.
Route map of Aru Ressha
The JR Kyushu Sweet Train Aru Ressha’s serviced areas are the Nagasaki-Sasebo (Nagasaki Course) and the Oita-Hita (Oita Course). The estimated travel time for the Nagasaki Course is 2 to 3 hours, while the Oita Course takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Nagasaki Course runs until May 12, 2019, from Fridays to Mondays.
Fees are as follows: ¥25,000 for adults and ¥23,000 for elementary school students above 10 years of age. It is inclusive of morning or afternoon train tickets, a sweets course, and drinks. Take note that courses can change regularly and only serves one round trip a day. Reservations must be made for the seats in the train.
Hayato no Kaze
The Hayato no Kaze (Wind of Hayato), on the other hand, is a popular tourist express train that connects Yoshimatsu (Hisatsu Line) and Kagoshima-Chuo (Nippo Main Line). It aims to give its guests the experience of “traveling, like the good old days, on a black train with a nostalgic atmosphere.” Its black car body is an image of simplicity and fortitude. Since each of the guest rooms is designed in a different manner, you can choose to dine in a classical atmosphere, a warm, log house-like ambiance, and many more.
At Yoshimatsu Station, it is possible to take a picture with both the “Hayato no Kaze” (right) and “Isaburo / Shinpei” (left) since some of its service days overlap.
At the large windows of the train, you can enjoy a lush and relaxing landscape of trees.
The train runs through the mountains and rural areas when it leaves Yoshimatsu Station. Before arriving at the Osumi-Yokogawa Station, you’ll pass by Maruike Yusui, which is known for being one of 100 most excellent natural water sources in Japan.
A taste of the 1900s remains at Osumi-Yokogawa Station.
Both the Osumi-Yokogawa Station and the Kareigawa Station are popular for being the oldest stations in the Kagoshima Prefecture.
The Kareigawa Station, the oldest station building in the prefecture, hasn’t changed at all. The bullet marks, from the Pacific War, on the pillars of the platform, remain there.
Since Kareigawa Station is an unmanned station where express trains stop, it is said to be the most notable station on the Hisatsu Line. In addition to this, a cat known as "Nyantaro" (officially called "Tanuki Cat Nyantaro") has been living in the station since 2005. Since the resident cat tends to be away, you’ll have to time your visit right to see it.
"Nyantaro" serves as the Kareigawa tourism ambassador.
One more thing that’s noteworthy about the Kareigawa Station is its Hyakunen no Tabi Monogatari Kareigawa (One Hundred Year's Travel Story, Karei River) (¥1,080), which won first place for three consecutive years at the Kyushu Ekiben (Station Bento Box) Grand Prix. It uses various kinds of local ingredients such as sweet mushroom, miso dengaku (skewed and roasted foodstuff with miso coating), croquettes, and sweet potato tempura (locally called "Gane") that’s wrapped in bamboo skin.
Although the ekiben is also sold at the station building, we recommend that you purchase an ekiben exchange ticket in advance and receive it in the passenger car. Don’t forget to make the necessary reservations too as it is easily sold out.
The Hyakunen no Tabi Monogatari Kareigawa (¥1,080) is a huge favorite among the locals and tourists. The sweet potato tempura "Gane" is named after its fried form, which resembles a crab.
For dessert, you can try the Ogon no Purin Anno (Golden Pudding Anno) (¥340), which is sold in the cars on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. It consists of a savory pudding that’s made of Anno-imo potatoes from Tanegashima Island and tastes a lot like sweet potato.
The melting Ogon no Purin Anno (¥340) is also a popular item that will soon be sold out.
As the train passes the Hayato Station and enters Nippo Line, you can admire the beautiful view of the sea at the Kinko Bay. Other scenic spots like the Shimazu family residence and Senganen Garden can also be seen from the car window.
You can put a stamp on your boarding card as a souvenir from the trip.
The Hayato no Kaze operates two services a day and is scheduled to run for a total of 179 days from March 2019 to February 2020, mainly on weekends, including spring and summer holidays.
Route MAP of Hayato no Kaze
The Hayato no Kaze’s serviced areas are Yoshimatsu and Kagoshima Chuo. The train operates mainly during the weekends and takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to the destination.
The one-way fee is ¥2,500 for adults (inclusive of a train ticket (¥1,470) and a rapid ticket (¥1,030)) This train only serves one round trip per day and reservations must be made for the seats.
The train Isaburo/Shinpei operates in the Kumamoto-Hitoyoshi section as a limited express and the Hitoyoshi-Yoshimatsu section as a local train. The train’s name is derived from Isaburo Yamagata and Shinpei Goto, who are both related to the railways of the Meiji era (1868-1912). It is called “Isaburo” when it’s going down to Yoshimatsu Station, and "Shinpei" when it’s going up to Kumamoto Station and Hitoyoshi Station.
The train’s body is in a deep, dark red color called ancient Urushi (Japanese lacquer). Its interior is furnished with retro and wooden designs that are reminiscent of the Meiji era.
Isaburo / Shinpei at Kumamoto Station
The view from the window, when the Hisatsu Line runs along the Kuma River, is amazing.
During the train ride, you can also experience a "switchback,” wherein the train travels on the slope in a repeated forward and reverse manner when going past Okoba Station after passing Hitoyoshi Station. The Okoba Station is known as the only station in Japan that combines switchback with a loop line that turns around.
A scenic train view from Yatake-Masaki section of Isaburo/Shinpei
Aside from that, the Yatake-Masaki section, commonly known as Yatake-goe (Yatake crossing), is a superb viewpoint that’s considered as one of the "three major Japanese car windows."
From that vantage point, the Ebino basin spreads right in front of your eyes, with the magnificent Kirishima mountain range just beyond it. If the weather is fair, you can also see Sakurajima, a symbol of Kagoshima. Since the train temporarily stops on the way, you can take your time admiring the landscape and take photos to serve as mementos.
Specialties are sold at the Masaki Station during the weekend.
Masaki Station has been around for 100 years and is the first and only station in Miyazaki Prefecture that runs on the Hisatsu Line. Its retro wooden station has an atmosphere that’s likely to appear in movies. Besides this, you can also experience switchback here.
The Kurimeshi Bento (chestnut rice lunch box) (¥1,100) contains a large chestnut.
It takes about three hours from Kumamoto Station, the starting station of "Isaburo," to the terminal station Yoshimatsu. However, time flies really fast when you’re eating the top-ranked Kurimeshi Bento (¥1,100) or enjoying the scenic views and train switchback.
Route map of Isaburo / Shinpei
The Isaburo / Shinpei’s serviced areas are Kumamoto, Hitoyoshi, and Yoshimatsu. The estimated travel time is 2 hours and 50 minutes for the Kumamoto-Hitoyoshi section and 1 hour and 25 minutes for the Hitoyoshi-Yoshimatsu section (operated as a local train). Reservations must be made for the seats in the train for all routes.
The one-way fee is ¥3,930 for adults (inclusive of a train ticket (¥2,480) and a rapid ticket (¥1,450)).
Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (5 March 2019).