Kyushu’s sightseeing trains hopping 4-day trip

Kawasemi Yamasemi
The limited express Kawasemi Yamasemi (left) and the limited express Isaburo / Shinpei (right) at Hitoyoshi station (C) そらみみ [CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikimedia commons]

You can board many fascinate Kyushu sightseeing trains which JR Kyushu call “D&S train” (Design and Story) in a limited time. Please note that there is almost no time to sightsee, and the purpose of this trip is boarding these trains.

You can board these following trains and railway lines in this trip plan:

✔ Yufuin no Mori
✔ Aso Boy!
✔ A-Train (A Ressha de Ikou)
✔ Kawasemi Yamasemi
✔ Kumagawa Railroad
✔ Isaburo
Hayato no Kaze
✔ Ibusuki no Tamatebako
✔ Hisatsu Orange Railway
Kyushu Shinkansen

If you are traveling during peak periods, you can add or replace sightseeing trains not included here. I’ll explain this later.

The section of the Hohi line from Aso to Kumamoto was damaged by the 2016 earthquake and has been closed since then, but it is scheduled to resume in August 2020. This plan uses the timetable of Aso Boy !, which was operating before the earthquake. Also, the timetable from Beppu to Aso will be changed when Hohi line will be opened, and it may be possible to move in a shorter time. Anyway, please understand that the schedule from Beppu to Aso and from Aso to Kumamoto is provisional.

Overview

4-day trip route map
The blank map provided by CraftMAP

On the first day, take one of the most popular trains, Yufuin no Mori for Yufuin. Take a short lunch break and then take another Yufuin no Mori for Beppu. Ride on some local trains to get to Aso.

On the second day, enjoy your free time until noon when Aso Boy! departs. Take Aso Boy! from Miyaji to Kumamoto, then transfer to A-Train and enjoy the train journey up to Misumi. Enjoy a 20-minute cruise from Misumi to Maeshima and return to Kumamoto by bus.

On the 3rd day, you will travel from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi by Kawasemi Yamasemi, and then enjoy the return trip from Hitoyoshi to Yumae by Kumagawa Railway. After that, take Isaburo to Yoshimatsu while enjoying the loop line, switchback, and one of the three best views from a train in Japan. At the end, take the Hayato no Kaze for Kagoshima.

On the fourth day, in the morning, you will have a return trip to Ibusuki by Ibusuki no Tamatebako. In the afternoon, enjoy a trip on the local line while enjoying views of the East China Sea and the Shiranui Sea on the Hisatsu Orange Railway. Finally, return to Hakata by the Kyushu Shinkansen.

JR Pass and All Kyushu Rail Pass covers all trips except the rides on the cruise from Misumi to Maeshima, the bus from Maeshima to Kumamoto, Kumagawa Railway and Hisatsu Orange Railway.

Day 1, Hakata – Yufuin – Beppu – Miyaji

yufuin no mori
Yufuin no Mori: KIHA 71 series train set

On the first day, you will board the Yufuin Forest from Hakata to Yufuin. After a one-hour break at Yufuin, take the next Yufuin no Mori to Beppu.
From Beppu, take the regular train to Miyaji.

*Currently, the route from Miyaji to Kumamoto on the Hohi line is closed. All lines are scheduled to open in August, but once the line is open, it will be possible to travel to Miyaji by a limited express train, which will reduce travel time.

In this travel plan, I make Miyaji the place to stay overnight. This is because the departure station for Aso Boy! is Miyaji. However, you have time in the morning of the next day and if you want to spend this time on sightseeing in Aso, it is better to stay in Aso. Aso station is 2 stations ahead of Miyaji station. You can take the regular train that I use on this trip plan. In that case, you will have to take Aso Boy! from Aso station. If the time is right, you may be able to return to Miyaji station from Aso station and take the Aso Boy!.

Itinerary

TimePlace and transporation
09:24Hakata station
The limited express Yufuin no Mori 1
11:36 / 12:38Yufuin station
The liimted express Yufuin no Mori 3
13:37 / 14:30Beppu station
JR Nippo line local train
14:44 / 14:53Oita station
JR Houhi line local train
16:08 / 17:33Bungo-Taketa station
JR Houhi line local train
18:22Miyaji station

Highlights

Yufuin no Mori

Yufuin no Mori
The newer fleet KIHA 72 series operates usually for two of three round trips (train #1, #2, #5 and #6) of Yufuin no Mori.

There are two types of fleets used in the Yufuin no Mori, the Kiha 71 series and the Kiha 72 series. These cars are very similar in appearance, but the Kiha 71 series is older, and it is a 4-car formation, whereas the Kiha 72 series is a 5-car formation. However, just because the Kiha 71 series is older does not mean that the equipment is inferior, and the interior of the fleet is almost same as the Kiha 72 series.

In normal vehicle operation, the Yufuin no Mori #1 boarded in this plan is Kiha 72 series, and Yufuin no Mori #3 is Kiha 71 series.

You can ride two different models, so please compare the two fleets and try to find a slight difference.

Day 2, Miyaji – Kumamoto – Misumi – Meshima – Kumamoto

A-Train
A-Train Bar

On the second day of trip, you will participate in another tour which is a dolphin watching tour.

On the second day, Aso Boy! departs after noon, so it’s free time in the morning. The Minami-Aso Railway runs at the foot of Aso, but this railway was also damaged by the earthquake in 2016. Currently, only the terminal section of the line is operating, and the entire line will be restored in 2023.

Currently, we have very limited access to this train, so I did not include this railway in this plan, but there may be more buses when the Hohi line is restored in the summer 2020. I would like to change the schedule once I can include it in the plan.

After arriving at Kumamoto, transfer to the limited express A-Train and head to Misumi station. Amakusa Takarajima Line Cruise was included after arriving at Misumi station. This cruise ship was designed by the same designer, Eiji Mitooka as the JR Kyushu sightseeing trains, so it will be interesting to you.

After that, board the bus and return to Kumamoto.

Itinerary

TimePlace and transporation
12:22Miyaji station
The limited express Aso Boy! 102
13:41 / 14:37Kumamoto station
The limited express A-Train 5
15:15 / 15:55Misumi station / pier
Amakusa Takarajima Line Cruise
16:15 / 16:26Maeshima pier
Sanko bus
18:05Kumamoto station
You can take the limited express A-Train 6 from Misumi to Kumamoto instead of taking a cruise and a bus

Highlights

Aso Boy!

aso boy
Aso Boy! has observatory seats in the front car.(C) Hisagi (氷鷺) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Aso Boy! is a train for families that has a dog character called “Kuro-chan” drawn everywhere, seats for parents and children, and a playground for children. However, it is a train that adults can fully enjoy, such as observatory seats where you can enjoy the scenery in the front.

Aso Boy! Child and Parent seats. (C) Rsa / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
Aso Boy! Child and Parent seats. (C) Rsa / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

A-Train

A-Train runs between Kumamoto and Misumi. (C) Jonathan Ayre

The A-Train is a train with the theme of “European culture of the 16th century voyage” and “good old days in Amakusa.” The exterior is black and gold two-tone color. And the train has a counter bar that imagined a church. And it is decorated with lots stained glass.

A-Train is a train whose concept is completely opposite to that of Aso Boy !, so you may enjoy the difference.

Amakusa Takarajima Cruise Line

amakusa bridge
You can see a few of Amakusa Five Bridges during the cruise.

It is only 17 minutes ride but you can enjoy the scenery of Amakusa Matsushima and several bridges which connects Amakusa islands and mainland.

The boat used for this cruise was designed by Mr. Eiji Mitooka, who designed all the sightseeing trains on JR Kyushu. He used the same seat fabric as A-Train and the same concept design. Mr. Mitooka is now the most famous train designer in Japan, so take a look at how he designed the ship.

You can skip this boat trip and go back to Kumamoto from Misumi by A-Train again. In this case, your trip schedule is like this:

TimePlace and transporation
16:19Misumi station
The limited express A-Train 6
17:01Kumamoto station

Day 3, Kumamoto – Hitoyoshi – Yoshimatsu – Kagoshima Chuo

Interior of Isaburo. The trains you ride on this day have a warm interior that uses a lot of wood.

On the 3rd day, we will travel from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi by Kasumi Yamasemi. This is the fourth JR Kyushu’s D&S trains.

After arrival in Hitoyoshi, make a return trip from Hitoyoshi to Yunomae by Kumagawa Railrod. This railway’s fleets are also by Mr. Mitooka who is a JR Kyushu cheif train designer.

From Hitoyoshi, you will ride on Isaburo and Hayato no Kaze, these are another two JR Kyushu’s D&S trains.

SL Hitoyoshi operates from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi on weekends and during the peak seasons from spring to autumn. You can also use this train to travel to Hitoyoshi instead of Kawasemi Yamasemi. In this case, there is no time to ride the Kumakawa Railway.

Itinerary

TimePlace and transporation
07:38Kumamoto station
The limited express Kawasemi Yamasemi 1
09:12 / 10:30Hitoyoshi station
Kumagawa Railway
11:14 / 11:29Yunomae station
Kumagawa Railway
12:15 / 13:14Hitoyoshi station
Lunch break
The local train Isaburo 3
14:33 / 15:01Yoshimatsu station
The limited express Hayato no Kazze 3
16:44Kagoshima-Chuo station

Highlights

Kawasemi Yamasemi

Kawasemi Yamasemi
The limited express train Kawasemi Yamasemi

Kawasemi Yamasemi is a train that runs from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi. This train runs on Hisatsu line in most part of this trains’ trip. This segment is commonly called the “River Line” because it runs mainly along the Kuma River and the scenery of the river is so beautiful. The train runs along the river, but the first half of this train’s journey is on the right side, and the second half is on the left side. It does not matter which side you take a train.

Optional plan: SL Hitoyoshi

SL Hitoyoshi
SL Hitoyoshi runs on exactly same route as Kawasemi Yamasemi.

This time, I plan to use only trains that run all year round, so that it will only be completed on weekends during regular periods, not during busy periods. However, if you travel from spring to autumn, you can give up on the Kumagawa Railroad and take the SL Hitoyoshi instead of the Kawasemi Yamasemi. In that case, you have two choices.

Plan A

TimePlace and transporation
07:38Kumamoto station
The limited express Kawasemi Yamasemi 1
08:10 / 10:34Yatsushiro station
SL Hitoyoshi
12:09Hitoyoshi station
If you want to ride on both Kawasemi Yamasemi and SL Hitoyoshi, this is your choice.

Plan B

TimePlace and transporation
09:45Kumamoto station
SL Hitoyoshi
12:09Hitoyoshi station
If you want to enjoy the ride of SL Hitoyoshi as much as possible, this plan is your choice.

Kumagawa Railroad

Kumagawa Railroad KT-500
藻南官舎前 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Kumagawa Railroad KT-500 series
藻南官舎前 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

This railroad was the JR Yumae Line. However, the number of passengers on this route has decreased year by year as the population along the line has decreased. When JR Kyushu tried to close this line, Hitoyoshi City and other local governments took over the management and it is operated as the current Kumagawa Railroad.

This railway owns 5 fleets and these are designed by Mr. Eiji Mitooka who is JR Kyushu chief train designer. Each of these five cars has a seasonal theme.

Isaburo

Isaburo
One of two trips of Isaburo runs as a limited express train between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi.

The section from Hitoyoshi to Yoshimatsu is the same Hisatsu Line from Yatsushiro to Hitoyoshi, but it is called the “Mountain Line” because it crosses the pass, and you can enjoy a different scenery from the “River Line” to Hitoyoshi. This segment is also said to be one of the three major views from the train in Japan because the scenery of the Kirishima mountain range is beautiful on sunny days.

This mountain line has two switchbacks and a loop line to cross the pass, which is also a pleasure to ride in this section.

With this plan, you will enjoy this section with sightseeing train Isaburo.

Hayato no Kaze

Hayato no Kaze
The exterior of Hayato no Kaze is dazzling with gold letters on the jet black body.

This train runs on the last section of the Hisatsu Line. This line was originally a trunk line running from Fukuoka to Kagoshima. Therefore, there are several old stations, and the original buildings remain. Among them, Kareigawa Station and Osumi Yokogawa Station have a history of over 100 years and are designated as heritage properties.

Kareigawa station
The station building of Kareigawa station

This train stops at these stations for about 5 minutes, so you can observe the station where you get off.

Day 4, Kagoshima Chuo – Ibusuki – Kagoshima Chuo – Sendai – Yatsushiro – Hakata

Kagoshima city tram
Kagoshima city has tram lines. You may try to ride when you are there.

On the fourth day, in the morning, ride on Ibusuki no Tamatebako which is sixth JR Kyushu’s D&S trains and make a return trip to Ibusuki.

In the afternoon, take the local trains on Hisatu Orange Railway and enjoy views of the East China Sea and the Shiranui Sea.

Finally, return to Hakata by the Kyushu Shinkansen 800 series.

Itinerary

TimePlace and transporation
09:56Kagoshima-Chuo station
The limited express Ibusuki no Tamatebako 1
10:47 / 12:57Ibusuki station
The limited express Ibusuki no Tamatebako 4
13:48 / 14:25Kagohshima-Chuo station
JR Kagoshima line local train
15:15/ 15:17Sendai station
Hisatsu Orange Railway local train
16:18 / 16:24Izumi station
Hisatsu Orange Railway local train
17:43 / 17:52Yatsushiro station
JR Kagoshima line local train
17:56 / 18:18Shin-Yatsushiro station
The Kyushu Shinkansen Tsubame 338
19:20Hakata station

Highlights

Ibusuki no Tamatebako

Ibusuki no Tamatebako
Ibusuki no Tamatebako runs along Kinko Bay.

Ibusuki no Tamatebako is a train that connects Kagoshima Chuo to Ibusuki, a popular hot spring resort, in about an hour. There are sections that run along the coastline, and you can see Sakurajima mountain in sunny days.

The name “Tamatebako” in the name of this train is used in the old story “Ryugu legend” that is transmitted to this region. The Ryugu legend begins when a young man rescues a turtle who has been bullied on the beach. The turtle guided him to Ryugu Castle at the bottom of the sea. He had a good time every day there, but he missed his hometown and decided to return to land. The souvenir he got at the end of the trip was the box which is “Tamatebako.” When he arrived on land, he opened the box and smoke came out from the inside, and he quickly became an old man. The fun time seemed to be short but it is acutally long.

Based on that story, mist come out from the top of the door of this train to express the smoke of the “Tamatebako.” Don’t worry. You will not get old.

Hisatsu Orange Railway

Hisatsu Orange Railway runs along the coastline on many part of this lines. (C) The original uploader was Ribbon at Japanese Wikipedia. / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

This railway was a part of JR Kagoshima line. But when the Kyushu Shinkansen opened, this segment was transferred to some local governments. This is called a parallel conventional line.

When a new Shinkansen line opens, there are no long-distance passengers on the same route as the Shinkansen, and because it specializes in regional transportation, JR can not expect plenty profit. Therefore, it will be separated from JR, which is a commercial enterprise, and will be operated by the local governments along the prefecture and municipalities.

Meanwhile, the Shinkansen takes the shortest route and there are many tunnels, so you can not enjoy the scenery so much. However, the route of the Hisatsu Orange Railway goes through the coastline and you can enjoy the view much much more.

In addition, the Hisatsu Orange Railway operates a train called “Orange Shokudo”, which serves meals on board. Advance reservations are required for a limited time, but if your schedule meets an operation day, you can enjoy your meal in the car while watching the sunset over the sea. For details, please check the official website below.

Hisatsu Orange Railway official site

Kyushu Shinkansen

Kyushu Shinkansen Tsubasa
Usually the Kyushu Shinkansen fleet 800 series operates for Tsubasa.

You will take the Kyushu Shinkansen Tsubasa. Tsubasa is the slowest train on the Kyushu Shinkansen but I picked this. Because 800 series fleet runs in Kyushu only. And this train is designed by Mt. Eiji Mitooka. The interior is completely differnt from other Shinkansen fleets.

Extra day option: Ride Umisachi Yamasachi

Limited Express train Umisachi-Yamasachi is operated by refurbished KIHA125 series.
The limited express Umisachi-Yamasachi runs on the Nichinan coast.

Umisachi Yamasachi is the D & S train that I could not included in this plan. I excluded this train because it only runs on weekends and you have to spend one whole day just for this train.

However, if you travel during a busy season and can spend one more day, you can put the plan below on the fourth day and the fourth day of the original plan to the fifth day. This train runs almost everyday in peak period, such as late July and August.

Itinerary

On day 4, after arrival in Kagoshima-Chuo by the limited express Hayato no Kaze, continue to travel for Miyazaki and stay overnight there.

TimePlace and transportation
17:17Kagoshima-Chuo station
The limited express Kirishima 16
19:35Miyazaki station
TimePlace and transporation
09:56Miyazaki station
The limited express Umisachi Yamasachi
11:49 / 15:32Nango station
The limited express Umisachi Yamasachi
17:15 / 17:32Miyazaki station
The limited express Kirishima 17
19:43Kagoshima-Chuo station

Travel cost

All JR train trips are covered by JR Pass or All Kyushu Rail Pass. Amakusa Takarajima line curise, Sanko bus, Kumagawa Railroad and Hisatsu Orange Railway are not covered. You can get your money worth of All Kyushu Rail Pass by this trip very easily.

Please see the table below to find the cost breakdown:

TripCost
All JR train tripsCovered
Amakusa Takarajima line cruise from Maeshima to Misumi1,000 yen
Sanko bus from Hondo to Matsuchima1,510 yen
Kumagawa Railway round trip to Yunomae (1-day pass)
*Cheaper than a regular fare
1,200 yen
Histatsu Orange Railway from Sendai to Yatsushiro2,670 yen
Total cost6,380 yen
Accommodations and meals are not included.

Summary

As I mentioned at the beginning, this plan focus on riding on a train. This plan is perfect for those who enjoy the most time traveling by train.

Please enjoy the fascinating various trains running in Kyushu.

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