The Isaburo / Shinpei
This sightseeing train actually has two names, with the correct one depending on the direction you are headed. If you are heading from Mojiko to Hakata (Fukuoka), then you’re on the Isaburo; if you’re going the opposite way, you’re on the Shinpei (your seat reservation will only say one or the other). This train originally ran from Kumamoto City to Yoshimatsu in Kagoshima Prefecture via Hitoyoshi, but severe damage to the railways in the Hitoyoshi region during flooding in 2020 resulted in the Isaburo/Shinpei being temporarily relocated to northern Kyushu. The Isaburo / Shinpei currently runs linked up to the Kawasemi Yamasemi.
The trains are named after two men who were important in the development of railways in Kyushu in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The trains are designed by Eiji Mitooka and his team at Don Design. Compared to the flashy, bright design of the Kawasemi Yamasemi, the Isaburo / Shinpei is considerably more understated, with all wood surfaces stained a deep brown and ceilings painted white with brass-ringed light fixtures. This may have been intentional so as not to distract from the beautiful countryside the Isaburo/Shinpei originally traversed, which included a rare spiral bridge and switchbacks to climb to the heights necessary to navigate the Hitoyoshi mountains. Here’s hoping it returns to Hitoyoshi in the near future.
As it stands, however, the views between Mojiko and Hakata aren’t that great, and if you can get a seat, you’re better off riding on the Kawasemi Yamasemi.
Electrical outlets: No
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No