The limited express Isaburo / Shinpei runs between Kumamoto, Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu. This train is also known as one of JR Kyushu’s sightseeing trains. It runs along Kumagawa river between Yatsushiro and Hitoyoshi. And the train goes in the mountain between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu. These segments are very scenic.
This train is called as two train names but this is same train. The only difference is the direction. Isaburo runs from Kumamoto and Shinpei runs from Yoshimatsu. Both Isaburo and Shipei are the name of the key persons when the construction of this section was completed. Isaburo is the named from Isaburo Yamagata who was the minister of transportations and telecommunications. Shinpei is named from Shinpei Goto who was the president of Japanese Government Railways.
I would like to explain about this train in this post.
Route and timetable
This train connects Kumamoto, Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu. There is one train attendant on board. She guides about the scenery and sell drinks, snacks and souvenirs. This train runs as a limited express train only the segment between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi. This train runs as a local train between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu. It stops at all stations on a local train operation segment, Okoba, Yatake and Masaki, between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu.
This train stops at these stations for 5 to 10 minutes. You can get off the train and have a time to take a photo. Hisatsu line is very historical line. This used to be a part of main line between Hakata and Kagoshima. So all stations around this area have a history and these look so traditional. You may find some local products in the station.
Only one of two round trips runs on the segment between Kumamoto and Yoshimatsu. Another round trip runs between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu only. If you take this train from Hitoyoshi, you can get Hitoyoshi by other trains, such as SL Hitoyoshi, the limited express Kawasemi Yamasemi.
This train connects to other cruising train, Hayato no Kaze at Yoshimatsu.
You can get Kagoshima-Chuo by this train. Many tourists take Hayato no Kaze, Isaburo/Shinpei, Kawasemi Yamasemi and/or SL Hitoyoshi between Kagoshima-Chuo and Kumamoto.
Please also see my trip report. This is not very updated because I had the trip in 2012. But you may get some idea to build your trip plan.
You may find the timetable in JR Kyushu official site. Please refer the link below:
Accommodation and train formations
Isaburo and Shinpei are operated by specialized KIHA 47 series. This series was an ordinary commute train fleet. But it was completely renovated. It does not look like a commute train any more. The lots of wood material are used in the car. You may feel Japanese traditional atmosphere. There is a public space with a huge glass window. You can enjoy a breathtaking scenery from this space too.
The seat configuration is like a box unit. Two sets of the bench seat for two face each other. One unit accommodate 4 passenger. Each unit has a table too. This is not a big seat. This train has some non reserved seat but the number of seat is only 6. I strongly recommend you reserve your seat.
*Sonic Rail Garden has copyright for all images of accommodations below.
Reserved ordinary seat
Non reserved ordinary seat
There are three cars for Isaburo and Shipei. Usually two of these three cars are used. In the peak season, all three cars are used and it runs by three cars formation.
R=Reserved ordinary seat NR=Non reserved ordinary seat
There are only six non reserved seats on either two cars or three cars formation. Reservation is highly recommended.
The view from the train
This train runs along Kumagawa river between Yatsushiro and Hitoyoshi. This segment is called “River line”. If you travel to Hitoyoshi, Kumagawa river is righthand side at the beginning. But the river runs lefthand side from the middle part of the trip. So both side is okay. In my opinion, the lefthand side is a bit better.
The segment between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu is called “Mountain line”. Especially the view between Yatake and Masaki is one of three best views from the train in Japan.
Coverage by the rail pass
The following three rail passes cover this train fully. Reserved seat fee is covered as well. No extra charge is required on top of these passes.
This train runs on very scenic route. If you travel from Kumamoto to Kagoshima, the Kyushu Shinkansen is the fastest and most convenient route. But if you have some extra time, you can take this train to Yoshimatsu. However another limited express train Kawasemi Yamasemi runs between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi. This train is newer and nicer accommodation. If you can choose, you should choose Kawasemi Yamasemi.
And you may take Isaburo / Shinpei from Hitoyoshi to Yoshimatsu. And take another limited express train Hayato no Kaze from Yoshimatsu to Kagoshima-Chuo. I traveled on this route many years ago. It was before Kawasemi Yamasemi was introduced. But you can find my trip report in the link below:
Enjoy your trip on Hisatsu line which is one of the best scenic train route in Japan.