Part 1: Sightseeing in Kyushu by Train

Hello! Welcome to our 6-part series on special sightseeing “D&S” trains in Kyushu. Departing from Fukuoka, the island’s capital, we have sent a member of our team to circle Kyushu in 11 trains in three days (“D&S” trains in red, Shinkansen and express trains in blue):


Day   #  Name                             From           Destination           Reservation          
 1  1  Sakura
さくら
 Hakata
博多
 Kumamoto
熊本
 Possible
   2  SL Hitoyoshi
SL人吉
 Kumamoto
熊本
 Hitoyoshi
人吉
 Necessary
   3  Isaburo(u)/Shin(m)pei
いさぶろう・しんぺい
 Hitoyoshi
人吉
 Yoshimatsu
吉松
 Recommended
   4  Hayato no Kaze
はやとの風
 Yoshimatsu
吉松
 Kagoshima Chuo [Central]
鹿児島中央
 Recommended
 2  5  Local train  Kagoshima Chuo [Central]
鹿児島中央
 Ibusuki
指宿
 Unavailable
   6  Ibusuki no Tamatebako
指宿のたまて箱
  Ibusuki
指宿
 Kagoshima Chuo
鹿児島中央
 Necessary
   7  Kirishima
きりしま
  Kagoshima Chuo
鹿児島中央
 Miyazaki
宮崎
 Possible
   8  Nichirin
にちりん
 Miyazaki
宮崎
 Oita
大分
 Possible
   9  Local train /
Sonic ソニック
 Oita
大分
 Beppu
別府
Unavailable / Possible 
   10-11  Kyushu Odan Tokkyu
九州横断特急
 Beppu
別府
Aso
阿蘇
 Aso
阿蘇
Oita
大分
 Possible
   12  Local train /
Yufu ゆふ
 Oita
大分
 Yufuin
湯布院
 Unavailable / Possible
   13  Yufuin no Mori
ゆふいんの森
  Yufuin
湯布院
 Hakata
博多
  Necessary

As this is the first post, we’re going to spend some more time on the basics before getting to the first three of them, the three jewels from Kumamoto to Yoshimatsu, in the next article.

Around Kyushu, by Train

Train trips in Japan are extremely popular to the Japanese and foreigners alike, with special words for it like ressha no tabi (列車の旅) or tetsudo ryoko (鉄道旅行). The noiseless carriages with only the rhythmic sounds of the wheels, the mountains and oceans, trees and rivers, clear skies and sunsets passing by your window, the trainman or trainwoman giving a slight bow before entering the cabin, the fabulous eki-ben (lunch boxes sold in stations), or perhaps a cup of coffee the train’s stewardess just poured you.

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On board the Sakura from Fukuoka to Kumamoto

although just a normal Shinkansen, it is already as delightful as a business class flight, with its warm colours and comfortable chairs

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Sockets inside Express Kirishima/Nichirin

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The 885 Limited Express (here, used in the Sonic)

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The 787 Limited Express (here, used in the Expresses Kirishima and Nichirin)

The type of JR Kyushu trains

JR Kyushu has drawn a lot of attention with their extravagant (over one million yen for a 4-day trip) Seven Stars or the shorter (hence less expensive) but still deluxe Aru (from Oita to Hida only). But, for the ordinary tourist, they also have what they call “D&S” – not for “dining and sightseeing” but “design and story” – trains, which are carefully crafted to provide tourists with a unique experience. This would be particularly appealing to the foreign tourists and exchange students having the added economic benefit of JR passes, which can also reserve those D&S trains for free (up to a quota that is quite sufficient). There are presently 11 such sightseeing lines (not including Seven Stars):

  Name                   From-To Operating from 
 1  Fufuin no Mori
ゆふいんの森
 
(“The Forest of Yufuin”) Hakata–Yufuin/Beppu
  March 1989
 2  Isaburo/Shinpei
いさぶろう・しんぺ い
 Kumamoto–Yoshimatsu   March 2004 (Specialised train)
 3  Kyushu Odan Tokkyu
九州横断特急
 
(“Trans-Kyushu Express”) Beppu/Oita–Aso
(Currently running to Aso only due to earthquake)
  March 3004
 4 はやとの風
(“The Wind of Hayato”)
 Yoshimatsu–Kagoshima Chuo   March 2004
 5  SL Hitoyoshi
SL人吉
  Kumamoto–Hitoyoshi   April 2009
 6  Umisachi Yamasachi
海幸山幸
(“Treasures from Mountain and Sea”)
  Miyazaki–Nango
  October 2009
 7  Ibusuki no Tamatebako
指宿のたまて箱
(The Treasure Box of Ibusuki)
  Kagoshima Chuo–Ibusuki   March 2011
 8  Aso Boy!
あそぼーい!
  Hakata–Kokura/Mojiko
(Currently changed to run in Kita-Kyushu due to earthquake)
  June 2011
 9  A-Train
A列車で行こう
  Kumamoto–Misumi
  October 2011
 10  Aru Ressha
JRKYUSHU SWEET TRAIN「或る列車」
(“A Certain Train”)
  Hida–Oita   August 2015
 11  かわせみ やませみ                             Kumamoto–Hitoyoshi                                                          March 2017                            

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One of the many Seven Stars advertisements we saw in JR stations.

How to Use this Series

We can think of three ways to use this Series in your trip(s).
1. At one end is to use each article as a short, single trip. This will be best if the train ride itself is not the end but just part of the trip for you. An example would be a Fukuoka to Yufuin and back on the Yufuin no Mori.

2. At the other end of the spectrum, especially for the train aficionados, is to assemble a 3- or 5-day trip with the full JR Kyushu pass (or as a part of your trip with the nation-wide JR pass).
3. A middle point can be struck, like a short trip using the first three guides of this Series (our Day 1 above):
 Time   Place Train 
 08:38  Hakata  
 

Sakura   

 09:16

09:45
 Kumamoto  SL Hitoyoshi   
 12:09

13:22
  Hitoyoshi

Isaburo/Shinpei     
 14:48

15:01
 Yoshimatsu  Hayato no Kaze
 16:44  Kagoshima
 (Going back to Hakata by Shinkansen or staying over in Kagoshima)

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The Certificate

(with a beautiful description of the train, and the painting of the “Cosmos” flower at the back.

General Tips and Reminders

1. Polarisers
If you are planning to take pictures of the scenery, be sure to bring a polariser –– you don’t want to see reflections of the train’s interiors on the beautiful scenery!
2. Planning and reservations
look at the English “Kyushu Railway Company Timetable” (in PDF), which contains the information and schedule of basically all express trains in Kyushu (except a few, like the Seven Stars and the Aru, the Kyushu Odan Tokkyu, which has separate information perhaps because of the Kumamoto earthquake, and the local trains).
3. Waving back
Remember to wave back to the pedestrians and people who wave at you! Especially for the SL Hitoyoshi, which only runs once per day, several times per week, there are in fact many people who wave at you along the way. Also, at many stations where the trains stop over, the staff or the hawkers will bow to you to see your train off. It would be nice etiquette to bid goodbye to them by waving back!
4. Certificates and stamps
Most of the special trains comes with its own stamp, which is often located at the buffet car (you can ask the trainmen/trainwomen). There is also usually a stack of cards provided there, but feel free to stamp it on your favourite travel journal!