The limited express Isaburo / Shinpei train guide. The train takes you to one of three best views from the train.

Izaburo / Shinpei are mostly operated by restored KIHA 147 series. (C) Sonic Rail GardenCruising train
Izaburo / Shinpei are mostly operated by restored KIHA 147 series. (C) Sonic Rail Garden
Isaburo Shipei
Kiha 140 series for Isaburo / Shinpei (C) Rsa [CC BY-SA 3.0 from Creatvie Commons]

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.

Timetable

You may find the timetable in JR Kyushu official site. Please refer the link below:

JR Kyushu official site – The route map and the timetable of JR Kyushu trains

Accommodation and train formations

The entrance of Izaburo / Shinpei (C) Sonic Rail Garden
The entrance of Izaburo / Shinpei (C) Sonic Rail Garden

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.

Images

Reserved ordinary seat

Non reserved ordinary seat

Public space

Sanitary space

Service counter

Train formation

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.

12
RR/NR
12
R/NRR
123
RR/NRR

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

The train is passing over Kumagawa river. The train is the photo is not Isaburo / Shinpei. (C) MK Products at ja.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 from creative commons]

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.

One of three best views from the train (C) そらみみ [CC BY-SA 4.0 from creative commons]

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.

Summary

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.

Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    Dear Takashi-san

    My wife and I are planning to travel on 25 April 2020 from Kagoshima-chuo to Kumamoto on the Hayato no Kaze train and the Isaburo/Shinpei trains or from Kumamoto to Kagoshima-chuo on the SL Hitoyoshi train, Isaburo 3, and Hayato no Kaze.
    I have the following questions to ask you:
    1. Which route is the better one (with more scenic sights) – From Kagoshima-chuo to Yoshimatsu to Hitoyoshi to Kumamoto OR from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi to Yoshimatsu to Kagoshima-chuo?
    2. We plan to buy a 21 day JR Pass and use it to travel from Shin-Kobe on 23 April 2020 to Kumamoto (or Kagoshima-chuo) then to Hakata, and from Hakata to Tokyo on 3 May 2020. Would we be able to reserve our tickets for the Kyushu Scenic trains in Tokyo on 1 or 2 April 2020?

    I would be very grateful for your advice.

    Thank you very much.

    Yours sincerely,
    Patrick

  2. Jane says:

    Dear Cris San,

    I am planning (family of 3) the following. Please could you help with some of my questions?

    24th Nov: Drive from Minamiaso Kugino Onsen Shikinomori(accommodation) to Hitoyoshi and take the 10:08am Hitoyoshi-Yoshimatsu train. Arrive at Yoshimatsu at 1122am then change to Hayato no Kaze at 1125am – and arrive Kagoshima-chuo at 12.53am. Then from Kagoshima-chuo I want to return to Hitoyoshi on the same day by train as I have an accommodation and dinner at 6pm there at night.

    1) Can I buy food at Hitoyoshi station before I board the train or shall I buy it on the trains?
    2) What is the best (shortest and fastest) way to get back from Kagoshima-chuo to Hitoyoshi before 6pm.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Jane san,

      1. You can buy some food at Hitoyoshi station.
      2. You can take the following route:
      Kagoshima-Chuo (Kyushu Shinkansen) Shin-Yatsushiro (Limited express Kawasemi Yamasemi) Hitoyoshi

      You can find the timetable in the link below:
      http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/pdf/timetable_20190316_20200229.pdf

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      • Jane says:

        Dear Cris san,

        Thank you for your reply and link. Please could I ask your advise again?
        1) I will use the sightseeing train (as mentioned before in last message, on 24th November).
        Then I will use a car on 25th (visit Kirishima) and 26th November (visit Kumamoto).
        I plan to return the rental car on 26th November in Kumamoto. Stay overnight at Kumamoto and travel by train to Fukuoka on 27th November. Our flight is on 30th November morning from Fukuoka airport. Our itinerary (27/28/29th November) is flexible.
        We are thinking of visiting Arita on one of the days.
        I plan to buy the Kyushu JR pass but am not sure which is best option. Should I go for the 5day pass (24/25/26/27/28) and just walk around Fukuoka on the last day 29th?
        Or buy 3day pass (27/28/29) and for 24th, can I buy a one day pass?

        2) Would you know where I could find out about the JR Chikuhi and Matsuura lines’ timetable? (I am not able to see it in the link you sent..sorry).

        3) Can I use JR Kyushu pass for all local trains and buses?

        Thank you for your help again and if you are unable to answer my questions, please do not worry too.

        Best regards,
        Jane.

  3. Gavin says:

    I tried to look these trains up for July 1st or 2nd and Hyperdia does not show them. Between Kirishima Onsen and Matsumoto it routes me via Kagoshima even if I specify passing Hitoyoshi.

    How can I see these trains?

    Thank you.

  4. Lars says:

    Takeshi-san,

    The transfer from the Isaburo to the Hayato no Kaze is a mere 3 minutes (11:22 – 11:25) in Yoshimatsu. Would there be an issue if the Isaburo train is at all late? Is this a popular connection that is accounted for by train staff?

    Thank you very much!!!

    • Hi Lars san,

      3 minutes transfer time is on purpose. You can easily transfer those trains because it’s same platform and Yoshimitsu station is so small. If Isaburo is late, Hayato no Kaze wait for it in most cases.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Tish Fairly says:

    We, family of four will be travel back to Fukuoka after visiting Kagoshima and would like to take the special scenic route of Kagoshima-Chuo to Yoshimatsu to Hitoyoshi to Kumamoto, then Sakura to Hakata Station within a day. We will be leaving Fukuoka the next day. Should I buy an All Kyushu Pass, or just purchase the ticket since I can use it for one way.

    • Hi Tish,

      If you use the pass just for this route, single fare is cheaper.
      You can purchase and book a ticket at any major JR stations in advance. Online reservation is not available. You have to go to do it at reservation window in the station that is called “Midori no Madoguchi”.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Richard says:

    I loved my time on this train and I travelled with the japan rail pass and reserved a seat.

    Beware about reserving a seat, since even if the train is not at all busy (about 30% full the day I travelled) those without reserved seat tickets are directed to sit ONLY in the non-reserved bench type seats. This seemed a little strange since so many other seats were empty but rules are rules I suppose.

  7. Andy says:

    Does this scenic route from Kumamoto to Kagoshima still operate because when I look at the JR Kyushu site there does not seem to be a line from Hitoyoshi to Yoshimatsu ?

  8. Samantha says:

    Is the timings for the Shinpei 4 listed here supposed to be flipped?

    From what I can find on hyperdia.com, Shinpei 4 leaves Yoshimatsu (not Hitoyoshi) at 1516hr and arrives at Hitoyoshi (not Yoshimatsu) at 1635hrs, and not the other way around.

  9. Joyce says:

    We are a party of 5 who will be travelling to Kyushu later this month. Part of our itinerary is to go from Kagoshima to Kumamoto via the scenic route that will take us through Yoshimatsu and Hitoyoshi. We heard of the nice traditional trains that we can take on this route. Can you tell us how we can plan the train connection to our destination Kumamoto?
    Thanks for your help

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