Seven Stars train off to rolling start in Kyushu

Kyodo

Kyushu Railway Co.’s Seven Stars “cruise train” has won rave reviews from those willing to pay a premium for rail trips and is getting strong support from residents and businesses along its route.

The sleeper train service debuted on Oct. 15, offering overnight or three-night, four-day rail trips to key tourism spots around Kyushu. The most expensive package was a suite for two that cost ¥1.1 million.

A total of 471 passengers have taken part in 17 “voyages” so far, including the one that left Dec. 14. The crew keeps track of the individual data for each passenger, including their anniversaries and favorite music, according to the railway.

The lists are checked by staff multiple times in advance to provide personalized service, which includes cakes and bouquets.

The pianist on board has a repertoire of several hundred songs and can play requests ranging from “enka” (ballads) to current pop songs.

One day, a couple who had just registered their marriage but not held the wedding ceremony yet came on board. So the staff held a homemade wedding ceremony for them, complete with certificate and cocktails.

“It’s a special day for our customers. We want to respond to their requests as much as we can,” said Yoshio Naka, deputy chief of JR Kyushu’s cruise train department.

The crew also once received flowers from the passengers as a token of gratitude.

Communities along the route also play a part. In late October, the Miyazaki Prefectural Government welcomed passengers with a banner and a personal reception from Gov. Shunji Kono.

When an approaching typhoon made it difficult for the passengers to visit Aoshima Shrine, on an island just off the coast, the itinerary was changed to take them to a local product pavilion near the prefectural government offices after it promptly accommodated their request.

At some stations, the rare luxury train appears to garner the same level of attention as it did on its debut journey, with kindergartners coming to wave at the passengers as it passes.

At these stations, hundreds of admission tickets are being sold.

“I was thrilled to see local people waving at us,” said a passenger in her 70s from Tokyo.

The locals’ enthusiasm may be explained in part by JR Kyushu’s past efforts to rev up the regional economy, when it ran a series of unique tourist trains.

Seven Stars is the culmination of those efforts, based on a concept developed by JR Kyushu President Koji Karaike over more than 20 years.

“I’ve never been this tense or nervous in my life,” Karaike said as he expressed relief over the trains’ successful start.

Despite its overall success, some customers have complained about the poor timing of the meal services and the train’s tight itinerary.

“What we are aiming at through the service of hospitality is not wrong,” cruise train unit deputy chief Naka said. “We will upgrade the quality and refine our skills.”