Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - SL Hitoyoshi SL人吉, Isshouchi JR Station 一勝地駅

Travelled on 24.03.2014

SL Hitoyoshi at Yatsushiro JR Station, the terminus station of Hisatsu line.
There is one round trip per day when the train is in operation. For my trip, I boarded SL Hitoyoshi which departed from Kumamoto JR Station at 0945 hrs and reached Hitoyoshi JR Station at 1213 hrs. This is one of the 3 sightseeing trains I took to travel from Kumamoto to Kagoshima (the other two being Isaburo and Hayato no kaze). Do check out the latest train operating schedule on JR Kyushu website:


My first! Steam locomotive driven trains have undergone revival and are commonly utilized as sightseeing trains in various parts of Japan. By right, my first SL train ride experience should be in Hokkaido, on board SL Fuyu no Shitsugen, about a year ago. Unfortunately, the steam locomotive was out for maintenance during the day of my travel and was replaced with diesel locomotive. Therefore, SL Hitoyoshi is officially my first steam locomotive train ride in Japan. Was relieved when I was able to reserve tickets for this popular sightseeing train.  

Features & facilities. Lavish interior created using wood, patterned fabric and leather sofa seats - a chic ambience can be felt immediately upon stepping into the train. Great level of details were displayed at different parts of the train  - from the dividers and curtains with the number "86" on it (because the train number is 58654), different type of wood used in every train carriage (such as rosewood and maple wood), to wooden cabinets displaying various series of steam locomotive trains and a mini library stocked up with a collection of books for all ages. A snack bar, located in the second carriage, sells original merchandises, ekibens, food and drinks. One free souvenir which everyone can bring home is the commemorative boarding pass and inked stamp, only found on board SL Hitoyoshi. Could not resist buying a miniature replica of the steam locomotive to add on to my existing collection of toy trains on display at home! Passengers can also borrow a commemorative panel which states the day of travel and also cabin attendant's hats for photo taking purposes.

Unobstructed train view. The most popular and crowded spot is at the rear of the train, where passengers can enjoy an unobstructed, panoramic view throughout the entire train journey. Train travels alongside the mysteriously charming Kuma River, where the water looked emerald green under the bright sunlight. Most people, including myself, hang out at this observation lounge, with our cameras and phones in hand, all prepared to capture/record beautiful pictures at the right moment - when the train crossed the metal bridges accompanied by loud chugging sound or when the train passed by rows of blooming cherry blossom trees leaving a trail of black smoke behind. Children receive this exclusive privilege to sit on the small chairs that were arranged to face the windows. To me, these are the "dream" seats especially for those who want to capture/admire the marvelous landscape without any interruption.  

Rear view of train.
SL Hitoyoshi makes a brief stop at several train stations: 
(1) Yatsushiro JR Station 八代駅. This is the terminus station for Hisatsu line, where a '0' or starting point marker is placed at the platform. Hisatsu line has been around for more than a century and runs through three prefectures, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima. Despite full commissioning of Kyushu Shinkansen in 2011, many travellers are willing to sacrifice time and choose local/ sightseeing trains that commute along Hisatsu line, well known for being a scenic route.

Do you know? From Yatsushiro JR Station, one can also transfer to Hisatsu Orange railway line. On the Hisatsu Orange railway line, train moves alongside the beautiful coastline of East China Sea and Yatsushiro Sea. An Orange Restaurant train also operates between Shin-Yatsushiro and Sendai (川内駅) on weekends and holidays, where passengers can feast on a sumptuous meal while admiring the changing coastline scenery. Hope to experience this train ride on my next trip to Kyushu. From what I understood, this service is extremely popular with the locals, therefore do make an early reservation as soon as the dates of operation are released.

Left; Shiroishi JR Station; Right: Success amulet ticket from Isshouchi JR Station.
(2) Shiroishi JR Station 白石駅. This wooden train station is more than a century old. During the five minutes interval at this station, do hop off the train to explore the surroundings and observe how the train engineers operate the steam locomotive; shoveling coal into the fire box to generate steam to drive the wheels.

(3) Isshouchi JR Station 一勝地駅. Train makes a 10 minutes stop at this station which has an auspicious and lucky name - signifies success and victory. Was surprised to see many passengers rushing down to form a queue in front of the ticket counter. Out of curiosity I decided to join the queue and found out that a lucky charm ticket (shaped like an amulet), each with a unique serial number, was on sale here. Was actually expecting something more, thought that I could exchange this ticket for a real cloth type amulet but this was not the case. A beautiful landscape awaits just outside the train station - a spectacular view of Kuma River and the nearby mountainous area. There is a post office located on the right of the train station upon exit, where you can send a postcard back home with an exclusive inked stamp of Isshouchi post office.    

Kuma River in front of Isshouchi JR Station.

Video: Scroll to 26:30 for 遇约九州's feature on SL Hitoyoshi.


Boarding pass & commemorative stamps:

Isshouchi Post Office

Isshouchi JR Station

No comments:

Post a Comment