Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Seven Stars in Kyushu Train - Day 1

So in July 2015 during my Japan trip to Kyushu I finally rode on the Seven Stars in Kyushu Cruise train! It is an amazing train and an amazing trip!

I applied for tickets from outside Japan back in November 2014 for a July 2015 journey date preference, and was placed in a lottery with over 6700 other people applying for tickets in that round!

Because the train only runs a series of "courses" during the year (usually two), seats are very limited, and the train itself, while 6 carriages long, only has rooms for 26 couples on it.

In January 2015 the lottery was drawn and my wife and I were allocated a seat on the 4 day journey starting in July 2015 (Tuesday July 21-Friday July 24)! We were very surprised to get the tickets and glad too!

It is not a cheap train to travel on (seriously, it isn't cheap) - indeed it is the most expensive train in Japan to ride on (as I write this). But it was a present for my 40th Birthday, and we decided to spoil ourselves, even though my wife and I spent 6 months saving to pay for it. We got there with our savings, paid for it and duly received our booking confirmations and instructions to go to the Kinsei lounge once we arrive in Hakata Station on the morning of 21st July.

Note that there are formal/semi formal/casual dress code standards applied throughout the journey, which require you to bring plenty of changes of clothes, and to leave the t-shirts and thongs at home...they are very specific about what is acceptable clothing on the train to create a specific upper-class style atmosphere.

Before taking this train, we travelled to Kyushu from Tokyo by a number of different trains and visited a train museum in Mojiko, covered in my previous blog entry here.

The trip starts at Hakata Station, and specifically in the Kinsei Lounge, build especially for travellers on the Seven Stars in Kyushu. Essentially imagine a first class lounge at an airport and you get the general idea.

Welcome sweets and green tea, locally sourced in the Kyushu region:

More photos of the Kinsei Lounge:

While waiting to board, we filled in some paperwork, including a form to allow photos of us to be taken by a professional photographer! They were taking photos of everyone during the trip (you can opt out) to sell photos to you later on.

I was one of only two foreigners on the train, and the only one who spoke English:

Some of the many souvenirs available to buy - certainly I did buy some of them!

Welcome book in English, with my ticket and Guide book to the journey:

Some speeches are made to welcome guests on board the train (in Japanese and then in English for my benefit!), and the champagne is already flowing!

We were then escorted down to the platform where the Seven Stars In Kyushu Train is arriving to take us on our trip around Kyushu. I noticed some other trains of JR Kyushu being advertised here too:

Platform 6 is where the train arrived at Hakata Station, bound for the town of Yufuin initially on the first day:

The Seven Stars in Kyushu train arrives at the platform and it is so clean and polished to a high sheen. You can see everything reflected in it!

Staff on the train are dressed in smart white suits, setting the tone (and dress code expectations) for the journey:

The front of the train, the diesel loco with plenty of real gold on display:

Close up of the Seven Stars logo on the diesel loco. You can see how reflective and polished the train is here...

A photo showing the large lounge carriage window allowing great view of the countryside from inside:

Seven stars logo of carriage 1:

Inside Carriage 4, our home for the next few days! Wood is everywhere and the detail and designs are fantastic:

The door to our room for this trip, Room 401:

 Here is the interior of our room - and how stunning is this - the seats convert into beds later at night:

In the shot below the middle wooden door leads to the bathroom, the right hand wooden door is the closet for our suitcases and clothes:

The room windows have shades, Japanese style paper privacy doors and a curtain!

The bathroom is amazing, with a full Japanese electronic bidet toilet, ornate sink and very spacious shower!

The staff explains the flush button on the left and the Red emergency sos button that stops the train if pushed on the right...hmm, perhaps they should be positioned a bit further apart...

Close up of the shower cubicle:

Privacy window in the bathroom, which can be opened if desired:

Lots of complimentary drinks (and a complimentary fully stocked bar fridge) in the room to keep us hydrated!

Welcome card and gifts on the desk in our room:

Welcome message was in English too:

Our Room Key:

The view from our room as the train gets underway:

Soon we were called to the Blue Moon dining car for our lunch, a very fancy Sushi meal prepared on the train by a local Kyushu Sushi chef:

Our table and view outside:

The menu was in Japanese and English too, which was nice:

The Sushi comes in multiple courses and tastes delicious:

Blue Moon carriage during the lunch service and views outside - the seats are very comfortable:

In the carriage is a Piano - later in the evening a pianist and violin player play music requested by each guest before the journey began - including myself and my wife. Hearing that was wonderful:

An interesting thing was a gift we received, made by the local children at a school in Kyushu. The kids who made the gift were present on a platform as the train stopped for a moment. The kids going crazy with flags and cheering:

The gift had the name of the person who made it on it, so we all put them on the windows of the train and the kids ran along the train looking for theirs! The girl being held up in the shot below made ours - we plan to send a souvenir to her from Australia when we have time as a thank you:

The Kyushu people definitely are getting behind this train in a big way, and since it uses exclusively Kyushu materials in the train constructions, Kyushu food on the train, and visiting local towns throughout Kyushu it certainly must be helping their economies:

After lunch was finished we were given introductions to all the crew on the train journey:

Some more photos around the Blue Moon carriage:

It is the little touches and attention to detail that make this train really spectacular:

The windows on the carriage exit doors are beautiful stained glass:

Some more photos of the dining carriages:

Heading back from lunch I grabbed a shot of the interior of Carriage 3, which has a lighter wood in use and other touches too:

We arrived at Yufuin - so it was time for our Off train tour for the day. We opted for the walking tour and were brought to the dining car and given a run down on what to expect:

We got off the train for the first time on the trip at Yufuin station and quickly grabbed some photos of the train there, before being ferried onto a waiting Seven Stars bus for the off train tour:

On the bus, I noticed the bus was also covered in beautiful wood and all the seats had been covered in different styles:

We arrived at the start point for our walking tour in Yufuin:

And off we go!

Despite the threat of rain, there were some beautiful views of Yufuin and the surrounding mountains to be had:

We stopped at a craft shop that makes the wooden Bento boxes used on JR Kyushu trains including the Seven Stars in Kyushu train:

The nice views during the walk around Yufuin continued:

We stopped for a nice drink and some interesting discussions with a couple on the train (and crew too) about the Australian trains like the Indian Pacific:

Next to this cafe was another shop selling crafts too:

Being summer there were sunflowers around during the walk, though by this time the rain had started to settle in:

We were taken by bus to a location that allows train geeks like me the opportunity to take photos of local trains and also a rare opportunity to take a photos of the Seven Stars in Kyushu train:

Here comes the Seven Stars train towards our vantage point - of course I took a lot of photos:

We then returned by bus to Yufuin Station, and I took a quick look around the station and platforms before boarding the Seven stars train again:

After arriving back on the Seven Stars it was time for dinner, so it was back to the dining car:

I loved having English menus on the train:

Sparkling wine was the order of the day of course:

Here is some photos from the dinner - delicious as you would expect:

With dinner over, we retired to our room, which the crew had converted the seats to beds while we were at dinner:

Bar time, as they called it, started at 10pm and of course we all headed down to the bar for Seven stars cocktails on offer, and to listen to the music we requested played live for us by the pianist and violinist:

Close up of the cocktails:

We were tired after this and went back to the room, taking some more photos on the way back:

Door to entry to the carriage 7, which contains the two deluxe suites on the train:

Interconnecting glass doors between carriages:

Glass door for Carriage 4:

That was the end of Day 1 of our journey on the Seven Stars in Kyushu cruise train. The next blog post will cover Day 2!

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