Japan is famous for its excellent railroad systems. In addition to its speedy shinkansen and hardworking local trains, Japan also has a separate category of trains called “sightseeing trains” (観光列車 kanko ressha in Japanese). Instead of connecting population hubs, the aim of sightseeing trains is for passengers to enjoy the ride itself. Sightseeing trains feature luxurious train cars that run along some of Japan’s most scenic rail lines. Each train is specially designed to showcase the region it runs through. This allows passengers to learn about and enjoy the local culture, all from the comfort of their train.

Sightseeing Trains in Kyushu

Compared to the rest of Japan, Kyushu has a very high number of sightseeing trains, and the attention to detail on each train is stunning. JR Kyushu calls its sightseeing trains “D&S” trains (which stands for Design and Story), and takes great pride in each train’s unique design and story.

Map of Kyushu D&S trains
Map of Kyushu D&S trains (courtesy JR Kyushu)

Having ridden almost every sightseeing train in Kyushu, below you’ll find my ranking of the top 10 sightseeing trains in Kyushu.

10The A-Train

Route: Kumamoto Station <-> Misumi Station
Food: Very light fare (various kinds of highballs, delicious salt chocolate, ice cream, etc.)
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes (try to get a D window seat)
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The A-Train is a swanky two-car train themed around the Duke Ellington song “Take the A-Train.” The interior design harkens back to the early 20th century, with stained glass accents inspired nearby Amakusa’s Christian history. The ride offers amazing views of the Ariake Sea and Mt. Unzen in Nagasaki, but is relatively short (about 50 minutes from Kumamoto to Misumi) and there isn’t much to do around Misumi Station.

Click here for our review of the A-Train

9Ibusuki no Tamatebako

Route: Kagoshima Chuo <-> Ibusuki
Food: Very light fare (pudding, soda, sweet bread)
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes (try to get an A window seat)
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The Ibusuki no Tamatebako connects downtown Kagoshima with the town of Ibusuki, famed for its hot sand baths. The train runs along the coast of Kagoshima Bay and offers great views of towering Sakurajima, but the short run-time of this train detracts from the overall experience. If you’re heading to Ibusuki, though, there’s no better way to get there.

Click here for our review of Ibusuki no Tamatebako

8Umisachi Yamasachi

Route: Miyazaki City <-> Nichinan
Food: Very light fare (crackers, cheese bun, beer, juice)
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: No, but you might as well reserve an A seat to sit by the window
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The Umisachi Yamasachi skirts the southeastern coast of Kyushu and boasts great views of the Miyazaki shoreline, the Pacific Ocean, and the Devil’s Washboard rock formation. The views are great, and the ride is long enough that there are a couple other highlights to enjoy, like a stop at Obi and a 3km-long tunnel.

Click here for our review of Umisachi Yamasachi

7Aso Boy!

Route: Kumamoto City <-> Oita City
Food: Yes
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes (ask for panorama seats or, if you want parent-child seats, ask for the “Shiroi Kuro-chan” seats)
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The Aso Boy! is a must for families traveling with kids in Kyushu. The parent-child seats (special reservations required) are a great idea, the on-board play areas help a lot when kids start to get antsy, and the route is one of the best ways to witness the majesty of the Aso volcano and the surrounding region.

Click here for our review of Aso Boy!

*7. SL Hitoyoshi

SL Hitoyoshi engine
Route: Kumamoto City <-> Tosu (originally Kumamoto City <-> Hitoyoshi)
Electrical outlets: No
Food: Yes
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The SL Hitoyoshi gets 7th place with an asterisk because, if it resumes its original course between Kumamoto City and Hitoyoshi, it makes a fantastic combination of a historic train bursting with character plus a wonderfully scenic route into the deep countryside. Unfortunately, immense flooding in 2020 washed away much of the rail lines between Kumamoto and Hitoyoshi, so the train now runs between Tosu (Saga Prefecture) and Kumamoto—a decidedly less scenic route.

Click here for our review of the SL Hitoyoshi.

6Yufuin no Mori

Route: Hakata (Fukuoka) <-> Yufuin
Food: Yes
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The Yufuin no Mori is Kyushu’s most popular sightseeing train—and for good reason. The train connects the large city of Fukuoka with the popular resort town of Yufuin by taking a long, leisurely route through the Central Kyushu Mountains. The train itself is one of the oldest sightseeing trains in Kyushu and could use a refurbishing, but this still doesn’t detract from the overall great experience.

5Two Stars 4047

Two Stars 4047
Courtesy JR Kyushu

Route: Nagasaki City <-> Takeo Onsen
Food: Yes
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No

The newest D&S train on Kyushu (the Two Stars began running on Sept 24th, 2022) is also one of its fanciest. The train itself used to run as the Hayato no Kaze in southern Kyushu before the route was ended. The train was then completely redesigned and began running between Takeo Onsen in Saga and Nagasaki City. The train takes an eastern route when going to Nagasaki and a western route when bound for Takeo Onsen. Having taken the eastern route before, I can vouch for its great views of the Ariake Sea and the volcanic peak of Mt. Unzen.

Click here for the official Two Stars 4047 website

4Orange Shokudo/Orange Restaurant

Orange Shokudo
Courtesy Hisatsu Orange Railway

Route: Shin-Yatsushiro <-> Sendai
Food: Yes
Included in JR Rail Pass: No
Reservations required: Yes

The Orange Shokudo is the only sightseeing train on this list that isn’t operated by JR Kyushu, so your JR Rail Pass is not valid on this train. I also have not had the pleasure of dining on this train yet, but I have ridden the route it follows. The railway hugs the western coast of Kyushu with amazing views of the islands of Amakusa afloat on the Shiranui Sea. The interior of the train was designed by Eiji Mitooka, the designer behind many of the JR D&S trains, so the feel of the train is very similar to the other trains on this list.

Click here for the official Orange Shokudo website

3Aru Ressha

Aru Ressha
Courtest JR Kyushu

Route: Hakata (Fukuoka) <-> Yufuin (as of Sept 2022)
Food: Yes (included in price)
Included in JR Rail Pass: No
Reservations required: Yes

Now we’re getting to the top-tier D&S trains. The Aru Ressha used to run in Nagasaki, but now runs between Hakata and Yufuin. A full-course meal with drinks is included with your ticket, making a ride on the Aru Ressha one of the pricier D&S options. However, the ultra-luxurious interior, gourmet meal, and fantastic scenery make the trip well worth its price.

236+3 (Sanju-Roku Plus San)

Route: All around Kyushu (changes each day of week)
Food: Yes (full meals available with reservation)
Included in JR Rail Pass: Available at a discount
Reservations required: Yes

The 36+3 is another new addition to JR Kyushu’s D&S lineup and, in contrast to most other D&S’s based on vintage train models, the 36+3 is a renovated version of the more recent 787 model train. The interior is painstakingly decorated with beautiful wood detailing and fusion of traditional Japanese and vintage Western design. The train runs a weekly circuit around Kyushu, with the each day of the week having its own route (e.g., the Thursday route runs from Hakata to Kagoshima). Riders can either pay just for the ticket, or you can opt for gourmet meal that also changes depending on the day of the week.

Click here for our review of the 36+3

1Seven Stars of Kyushu

Route: All over Kyushu
Food: Included
Included in JR Rail Pass: Of course not
Reservations required: Well in advance

At #1, of course, we have the Seven Stars of Kyushu. Costing as much as ten times more than the next cheapest train, this overnight luxury train is famous around the world for its exclusivity and impeccable service. I haven’t yet had the money nor the good fortune of being invited onboard, but all the reviews I’ve read gush over the attention paid to the smallest details. The train itself is a work of art on wheels, with fixtures and wood furniture crafted by some of the finest craftsmen in Japan. Your trip includes off-train excursions and fine dining provided by some of Kyushu’s greatest chefs. Even with its steep prices, reservations sell out far in advance.

Check out our full list of JR Kyushu trains here.

Check out the journal of my D&S journey through northern Kyushu here.

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