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Steam trains in Japan: The SL Hitoyoshi
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Steam trains in Japan: The SL Hitoyoshi

The SL Hitoyoshi (SL 人吉) is a special excursion steam train operated by JR Kyushu, that takes you back to a time when mighty steam engines powered the world. Experience the feel, sounds and smoke of historic times when Japan took its first steps in building the national railways and the word Shinkansen had yet to be invented.

The riding experience is a blast to the past, the interior is made out of classic wood with historic displays, elegant seating and special observation decks. There’s even a small onboard library and coffee bar.

And if that was not enough, the SL Hitoyoshi travels from Kumamoto city to Tosu, following the scenic Kuma river with the scenic Kyushu mountain range in the distance. Finally, to put the cherry on top, the The SL Hitoyoshi is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

On board

The onboard experience is something special, careful detail has been given to the interior to make it resemble what it felt like riding the train back in the 19th century. Think of a full wooden interior, seating and small paintings on the wall. Don’t worry about having to sit on a wooden bench though, as extra comfortable padding has been installed

The availability of onboard food service and the forementioned library and museum. 

The train crew will go out of their way to make the occasion memorable, giving out commemorative Cards and free photo service to capture the moment forever. 

The route

The SL Hitoyoshi used to run a service to Yatsushiro on the Hisatsu line, unfortunately due to heavy rainfall the tracks were heavily damaged, which may take a few years to repair. As a result, the train now runs between Kumamoto and Tosu. This convenient as both stations have good trans connections for easy access.

The train also stops at Kurume, Omuta and Tamana stations and may slow down along the way for passengers to enjoy the spectacular views. 

Tickets and seat reservations

The SL Hitoyoshi is free with the Japan Rail Pass, as well as the JR Kyushu Pass. To make a seat reservation, simply go to any JR Ticket office or window. Ask the staff for the dates you want to travel, show your pass and that's all. You can either reserve the train one way, or even as a return!

Without a pass, a one way ticket will cost JPY 3,360 +  JPY 1,680 for a seat reservation.

Find out where to buy the japan rail pass online.

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