The SL Hitoyoshi is Kyushu’s only regularly running steam locomotive. The engine itself is an 8620 Class built approximately 100 years ago, and it pulls three cars custom designed by Eiji Mitooka and his Don Design company. The engine is powered by real coal (sometimes with assistance from a diesel engine). If you have a couple minutes before boarding, you can go up to the engine and get an up-close look at all the levers and gauges involved in keeping this train hot and running.
The SL Hitoyoshi, as its name implies, originally ran between Hitoyoshi and Kumamoto City. Due to extensive flooding in 2020 in the Hitoyoshi region, railways in the region sustained considerable damage and are out of service for the time being (as of July 2021). As such, the SL Hitoyoshi has been relocated and currently chugs between Kumamoto City and Tosu for a ride that lasts around 2.5 hours. Some of the seats face backwards, so if you get motion sickness when facing backwards, tell the person at the reservation desk and they will make arrangements accordingly.
Scenery in the Fukuoka portion of the trip consists mostly of drab apartment buildings. More greenery and mountains are visible as you make your way towards Kumamoto around Tamana, but the original route that meanders along the mighty Kuma river into the mountains of Hitoyoshi was probably much more impressive. I hope riders will be able to enjoy the sights along the Hitoyoshi route in the near future.
- Feels like traveling in a museum
- Getting to see a working steam engine up close
- Passing by elementary schools and seeing all the kids yelling and waving to the train
- The caboose with floor to ceiling windows
- Train fans young and old taking pictures as the SL pulls into the station
Electrical outlets: No
Included in JR Rail Pass: Yes
Reservations required: Yes
Extra fee for reservation with Rail Pass: No
Check out all the other special Kyushu trains here.