A Regal Sightseeing Train: Isaburo Shinpei-go
Isaburo Shinpei-go, operated by JR Kyushu, runs between Hitoyoshi Station in Kumamoto and Yoshimatsu Station in Kagoshima. The train is named after two men who poured their heart and soul into the establishment of this line in 1909.
You can purchase exclusive bento (boxed lunches) and commemorative items only available on the train. There's time to look around the station buildings during stops, but be sure to return to the train before it departs!
The train's greatest charm is its warm, wooden interior—a nice design characterized by a classical feel.
You can enjoy beautiful scenery through the special large windows in the observation space. There are no words to express the liberating feeling when you come out of the tunnels through the mountains.
The train makes a stop at one of Japan’s “Three Greatest Scenery Views from a Train Window,” located between Masaki and Yatake Stations. Once the train stops, there's a great photo opportunity. On a clear day, you can see Mount Kirishima across Ebino Basin, and even Sakurajima and Mount Kaimon volcanoes in the distance.
The great thing about this train is that it makes stops for stellar views outside of stations, or slows down and gives descriptions of things to see.
The first station, Masaki Station, is the only station on the Hisatsu Line located in Miyazaki Prefecture. It's also known as the first station ever to be built in Miyazaki Prefecture. It's famous as a switchback station, and the historical wooden station building is the original structure from 1911, when the station first opened.
The kanji for the name of the station, Masaki (真幸), means true happiness, and there's a “Bell of Happiness” inside of the station. Try ringing the bell to bring in the happiness!
The second station is Yatake Station, located at the highest altitude on the Hisatsu Line. The station building, with its extremely high ceiling, maintains many of the original features from 1909. Additionally, in the Hitoyoshi SL (Steam Locomotive) Museum, located inside of the station building, you can sit in the driver’s seat of the D51170, a steam locomotive that used to be active in this region.
Spiral & Switchback
Okoba Station is the only station in Japan to have a switchback inside of a spiral. So you can experience both spirals, built to ease the steep gradient, and switchbacks, which help the train climb up hills by repeating forward and backward progression.
When the train changes directions at a switchback, be sure to cheer for the driver as he runs through the train to get to the driver’s seat on the opposite end!
At the third station, Okoba Station, you will find a huge collection of business cards left by the visitors to the station. It's said that if you leave your business card here, you'll be promoted, so be sure to bring your business cards!
Near the station building, there are remains of a stone water tower used by steam locomotives, which, along with the station building, are designated as a piece of Heritage of Industrial Modernization.
Kurimeshi is just one of the famous train station boxed lunches of Kyushu. It comes in a distinctive chestnut-shaped container and has been around since 1965. Yamae, a village next to Hitoyoshi, is one of the greatest chestnut producers in Japan, and is known for particularly large and sweet chestnuts. The sweet aroma of chestnuts will stimulate your appetite when you open the lid.
This boxed lunch (bento) is available at Hitoyoshi Station, the last stop. We recommend that you purchase one from Mr. Shoubu, who sells his ekiben (station bento) from a classic concessions box he carries around the platform. He even won the “Old-time Train Station Boxed Lunch" division in the 11th Kyushu Ekiben Grand Prix.
Finally, you've arrived at Hitoyoshi Station, the last stop. Don’t forget to get the rider’s commemorative stamp! If you're so inclined, you can take a picture on the train wearing a conductor’s hat.