Sunday, December 6, 2015

A-Train and Sakura Shinkansen

For the last of my series of posts covering my Japan trip train journeys in Kyushu in July 2015, I wanted to show the A-Train and Sakura Shinkansen.

I read about the A-Train in a JR magazine I picked up in Japan the previous year. It seems like such an amazing train and trip, even though it is only two carriages!

The schedule we planned to ride the SL Hitoyoshi from Kumamoto to Hitoyoshi and come back to ride this train, then return to Tokyo all in one day was very challenging.

This schedule was not possible if I took the return SL Hitoyoshi train back to Kumamoto Station, as we would miss the last A-Train of the day. In addition the trip back to Tokyo was touch and go to make it back in time to catch the last train back...

My wife and I worked through the JR timetables book we ordered from Japan just before the trip to work out how we could make it work. Eventually we worked out that if we took the local train from Hitoyoshi back to Yatsushiro Station and transferred to another local train leaving 60 seconds later to Kumamoto, we could make the last A-Train trip (only 3 per day), and still return in time for the last Kyushu Shinkansen trip of the day from Kumamoto to Osaka, then transfer onwards on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Tokyo. Whew! Busy day ahead!

I already covered the SL Hitoyoshi section of the journey in my previous blog post here.

Luckily for us we managed to catch the local trains back to Kumamoto Station without incident. We had called Yatsushiro station ahead of the trip to confirm the transfer time was ok, and found out the other local train left from right next to the arriving train. This made the transfer time of 60 seconds no issue. Given the time restraints I didn't have time to take many photos of the return local train leg though. I did take these though:

This was the inside of the local train from Yatsushiro Station back to Kumamoto Station - with a transfer time of 60 seconds I hope you understand why I didn't have time to take a picture of the front of it:

Once we arrived at Kumamoto Station on the local train, we quickly transferred to the A-Train platform which arrived a few minutes later. Everything on this day was timed exactly - it needed to be to make it work!

Here is the A-Train signage on the platform:

Shortly after the A-Train Diesel train arrived and it looked great from outside, but I know the real star of the show is the interior of the train.

We boarded the A-Train and fortunately were allocated the front carriage for the outbound journey from Kumamoto to Misumi. This carriage contains the onboard bar - how stunning is the inside of the train!

The wood and details in the train carriage look amazing:

We went to take our seats and took another quick look before we set off:

The bar is of course the big attraction on this train, and you can order a famous Highball and of course some ice cream for what was a very hot day:

Here are the bar staff at work preparing alcoholic highball drinks for the passengers:

Here is the menu:

And of course the all important highball choices:

You can (of course) buy some souvenirs on the train also and here is the display of some of the items available (which you can buy from the bar as well):

Here is the highball drink and ice cream I purchased. It is very important to go directly to the bar as soon as the bar staff are ready to serve. The journey is not very long, but the lines to order a drink are. You may miss out if you are not quick!

Here is the view from my seat:

The seats are nice enough:

As we got underway the views were nice, but as we went next to the seaside on our way to Misumi, it got a lot more spectacular.

As our train got closer to the water we could see the beginnings of some stunning views to come.

You can also get your picture taken with the A-Train board (with today's date) in your seat as a momento of the trip, which of course my wife and I did!

Here is the view from the front of the A-Train carriage:

Apart from the amazing interior of the train and the onboard bar, the views outside the train on the trip to Misumi are spectacular too on a clear day, and being summer it was clear - and wow:

The trip was worthwhile just for these views!

I then walked around the carriage to take some more photos of some of the amazing details on this train - JR Kyushu have focused on making beautiful trains and I am very glad to be on this train today:

Here is the roof of the carriage:

Some of the wall panelling detail:

Soon after we arrived into Misumi, and by this time it was really very hot indeed. Here is a view of the A-Train at Misumi Station:

Here are some photos of Misumi station:

The waiting room is particularly nice, open and airy:

Ticket office and through to the Misumi tourist information centre, within the station building:

Outside Misumi Station:

This station building is certainly not your average run of the mill Japanese station building:

From Misumi you can connect to a sea cruise, but unfortunately due to our very tight schedule (and that this train was the last one for the day anyway) we couldn't do that.

The promotional posters for the A-Train are pretty cool - would love one for home:

We took a quick taxi trip around Misumi and then came back to the station for our return A-Train trip:

Misumi station building from the taxi:

View from outside the station building:

We then got back on the A-Train for the return trip. This train back was packed and the line formed VERY quickly indeed to the bar:

Eventually though we did get our highball drinks (choosing the other option on the way back):

The views from the train were still just as special on the way back too:

The bar girls were very busy on the return trip - no break at all until 3 minutes to go into Kumamoto Station.

Back at Kumamoto Station we then transferred to the Shinkansen section of the station to catch the Kyushu Shinkansen home. We had to run as we had very limited time to connect.

The Sakura Shinkansen then arrived on the platform:

Soon after we were onboard the Sakura Shinkansen, the last of the JR Kyushu trains we would travel on in this trip. Again, wood features abound in the train itself:

The seats are SO much better than the Tokaido Shinkansen:

And with that we returned to Osaka, and transferred to the Tokaido Shinkansen to return back to Tokyo Station, arriving around midnight. This was the end of our holiday to Kyushu sadly.

I did collect some train stamps at stations and trains along the way on my journey through Kyushu - one of the fun things to do as you travel on trains around Japan. A sample are below:

This trip to Kyushu was really amazing, and lots of fun. It is worth the visit, and for the train fan Kyushu is a real heaven of amazing trains to experience and ride as I hope I have shown well on this blog during 2015!

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