PHOTO: : The Seven Stars of Kyushu calls at Mount Aso for an excursion to the top. (courtesy Japan National Tourism Organization)
Most American travelers know Japan by Tokyo, Mount Fuji and Kyoto, but there’s a lot more to it than just these superb, but well-trod destinations. Now, the southwesterly island of Kyushu, known mostly for the city of Nagasaki and for the large port of Fukuoka with its ferries to Pusan, Korea, is offering a complete departure for Japan: a slow train.
The Seven Stars of Kyushu, which went into service in mid-October, is built for comfort not for speed. The $33 million train offers 14 suites in seven carriages with interiors in walnut, rosewood and maple. The train, which carries up to 30 passengers, has a crew of 25 members, who were all trained in high-end ryokan inns.
The success of this rail cruise seems to have caught Japan Rail by surprise. It’s been so successful that you need to book it well ahead. The train operates a two- and a four-day itinerary.
The four-day itinerary is Kyushu comprehensive. It departs Fukuoka’s Hakata Station and visits Oita for the Yufuin hot-spa resort; Miyazaki; Kagoshima; Nagasaki and volcanic Aso with an overnight ryokan stay outside of Kagoshima and plenty of excursions along the way.
The four-day package includes two nights on the train and one in the ryokan.
The next seats available on the train are for journeys between August and November. Tickets for these departures must be made between Jan. 4 and Feb. 28.
The four-day package is priced about $7,000 per couple and is all-inclusive, including alcoholic beverages.
JR Kyushu is one of seven railroads in the Japan Railways group.