An Illustrated Guide to Train Journey’s Trains
Between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi
The 8620-type No. 58654 train known as the tractor car for the “Hitoyoshi” steam locomotive is Japan’s longest-active steam train engine built during the Taisho era that remains in service today. While the car is a C-type train engine with three driving wheels, it continues to retain its original type classification in number only, and was manufactured as the 435th 8620-type train (numbers were assigned to train types in the order of 8620 to 8699 and 18620 to 18699). The three passenger cars pulled by this tractor car were designed with an image of harmony in mind. The No. 1 and No. 3 cars on both ends of the train contain an observation lounge. Meanwhile, the No. 2 car has been equipped with a buffet.
Picture that you have ridden the train being pulled by the No. 58654 from Kumamoto Station on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line, and are enjoying a journey while staring out the window on the Hisatsu Line. The train that left Kumamoto Station will traverse the Kagoshima Main Line up to Yatsushiro Station halfway through, from where it will enter the Hisatsu Line that runs along the Kuma River. While crossing Kuma River a repeated number of times, the riverside landscapes that decorate the outside of the train window will cycle through various changes. The sound of the draft and steam whistle will reverb inside the railcar, adding to the excitement of your journey on a steam locomotive from the days of old. As you enjoy the panoramic scenery passing by from the observation lounge in the rear of the train, it will enter the Hitoyoshi Basin and reach its final destination at Hitoyoshi Station.
The inside of this car, which sports a classical look and a wood aroma, contains box seats made with fabric and genuine leather. Colors, design and other elements differ among each car and block.
Each car contains box seats for four as well as seats for two. Large tables are also available to spread out and enjoy the train box lunches and beverages sold while on your journey.
Plenty of elegant plain wood and maple wood went into the making of this observation lounge. On the train heading to Kumamoto, you can enjoy panoramic vistas from the train’s rear while sitting down on wooden benches.
This salon-like observation lounge is covered in rosewood that exudes a sense of extravagance. The presence of four types of comfortable chairs helps passengers enjoy a moment of luxury.
The highlight of this buffet is the chic surrounding space covered in wood. Enjoy quality tea time with the light meals and beverages available for purchase. Original merchandise is also on sale here.
In addition to bookshelves, the SL Library contains sofas placed along the deck. Passengers can peruse through publications, picture books and photo albums on railroads and steam locomotives while listening to the sound of the steam whistle.
The largest river in Kumamoto Prefecture, the Kuma River runs through the Hitoyoshi Basis to reach the Yatsushiro Plain and spill into the Shiranui Sea. As the Kuma River offers one of Japan’s three great rapids, descending the river by boat provides a guaranteed rush.
Kyushu’s largest limestone cave is estimated to have been created when a limestone unit that was at the bottom of the sea 300 million years ago rose. Feast your eyes on this work of art fashioned by nature over a span of as many as 300 million years.
This shrine was founded about 1,200 years ago in 806 (the first year of the Daido era). Out of the twelve enshrined deities resting at Aso Shrine on the foot of Mount Aso, the spirits of three are also shared with and enshrined at Aoi Aso Shrine.
A public bath that originally opened in 1934 (early Showa era) near the former site of Hitoyoshi Castle, this facility offers simple bathing rooms that give off a sense of history. Both hydrogen carbonate and chloride hot springs are available.
At this hands-on theme park, attendees can learn about the history of the Hitoyoshi-Kuma area and get a feel for its culture. Experience the likes of pottery and craftwork with the woodworking, pottery, metal workshop and other facilities on the premises.
Local cuisine prepared with common pheasants raised in the abundant nature of Hitoyoshi. Savor soft, light-tasting slices of uncooked pheasant meat and pot dishes made with pheasant and wild vegetables cooked together.
Born from the fresh streams of the Kuma River, Kuma Shochu is distilled rice liquor with a history of as many as 500 years. There are 28 breweries in existence, each of which produces its own richly-unique aroma and flavor.
Train box lunches sold on station platforms by vendors on foot have become rare in this day and age. At Hitoyoshi Station, however, you can purchase a series of popular train box lunches such as “Kurimeshi” (Japanese chestnut rice; shown in photo), “Ayuzushi” (sweetfish sushi), and “Hitoyoshi Kuma Monogatari” (“The Tale of the Hitoyoshi-Kuma Area”).
Text and photos by: Yoshiyuki Kekke, traveloguer
Certain photos courtesy of: Kumamoto Photo Library(Kumamoto prefecture)
*Data contained above is as of April 2015.