Japan's oldest operating steam locomotive made its last run in the Kyushu southwestern region on March 23, drawing crowds of train fans and local residents to bid farewell at stations and along the tracks.

The SL Hitoyoshi train with the 101-year-old steam locomotive made a final round trip between Kumamoto Station in Kumamoto Prefecture and Hakata Station in Fukuoka Prefecture. The three-car train was driven by a diesel locomotive from Kumamoto to Hakata in the morning, and the steam locomotive pulled the train on the 120-kilometer return trip for nearly four hours in the afternoon.

A special event was held at Hakata Station before 2 p.m. to commemorate the trip.

"We hope you will imprint the majestic SL Hitoyoshi on your memories," Hiroyuki Fukunaga, head of the railway business division of Kyushu Railway Co., or JR Kyushu, said in a speech.

The train arrived back at Kumamoto Station shortly past 5:30 p.m. amid the applause of about 500 spectators.

The railway operator decided to retire the SL Hitoyoshi due to its aging and difficulties in securing train parts and mechanics.

The 8620-class steam locomotive was manufactured in 1922 during Japan's Taisho Era (1912-1926). It was retired in 1975 but has made two comebacks — first as the Aso BOY sightseeing train, which was in service between 1988 and 2005, and later as the SL Hitoyoshi, which has carried a total of about 410,000 passengers since 2009.

After the Hisatsu Line was damaged in a heavy rain disaster in 2020, the SL Hitoyoshi was used on the Kagoshima Line.

Some municipalities along the train route have requested that the SL Hitoyoshi be displayed after its retirement. JR Kyushu said it is considering the request.