FUKUOKA – A new luxury sightseeing train departed for its maiden journey Friday around Kyushu with the hope that the service will help revive a tourism industry heavily impacted by recent flooding and the pandemic.
The six-car train with a shiny black body and some carriages with tatami-covered floors, left Kyushu Railway Co.’s Kagoshima-Chuo Station in the city of Kagoshima for the four-day trip around the island.
Dubbed “36+3,” the train derives its name from Kyushu being the 36th largest island in the world, with “+3” representing passengers, local residents and the railway company, reflecting the company’s desire for the three parties to unite as one, according to JR Kyushu.
At the launch ceremony held at the station, three invited pairs — each a 36-year-old parent with a 3-year-old child — joined the crowd to celebrate the start of the service. The train can accommodate up to 105 people.
“By introducing the charms of Kyushu, I hope it serves to spur (tourism) after the lifting of requests to refrain (from travel),” said Toshihiko Aoyagi, president of JR Kyushu, at the ceremony.
It was the first launch of a sightseeing train by JR Kyushu in over three years, according to the company.
Madoka Kaieda, a 38-year-old resident of Kagoshima, was aboard with her husband and two sons. They were headed for Miyazaki.
“We were not able to go out due to the coronavirus. It is the first time for my kids to be on a train,” she said.
The company refurbished the 787 train series previously used for the Kamome limited express connecting Hakata and Nagasaki for the luxury tourist train.
The floors of cars Nos. 1 and 6 are covered with traditional tatami mats made of rush grass grown in Kumamoto Prefecture, the nation’s leading tatami producer. Cars Nos. 1 to 3 consist of compartments furnished with sofas and tables.
Passengers can also enjoy local cuisine including sake, wagyu and seafood, during the train journey.
Prices for tickets with meal plans for adults range from ¥12,000 to ¥30,000 depending on routes and plans, the operator said.
After leaving Kagoshima, the train is scheduled to stop in Miyazaki, Oita, Fukuoka, Saga, and Nagasaki.
JR Kyushu has set five routes to be covered by 36+3 in five days but due to the damage in Kumamoto Prefecture caused by torrential rain that hit the region in July, it has suspended the Hakata-Kagoshima Chuo route for the time being.
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