22 October 2013 by Alex Stewart
Luxury train travel has arrived in Japan with the launch of Seven Stars in Kyushu. Japan's first hi-tech luxury sleeper train started operations on 15 October 2013, offering journeys exclusively on the southern island of Kyushu.
The train is named after the Big Dipper constellation, whose seven stars have traditionally helped people navigate the oceans; there are also seven prefectures on Kyushu, which are reputed to have seven main attractions: nature, cuisine, hot springs, history and culture, spiritual sites, friendliness and train travel.
The train, which cost 3 billion yen (around £19.2 million) to manufacture, is intended to rival luxury rail journeys such as the Orient Express and the Ghan. The work of celebrated designer Eiji Mitooka, it features a dining car, a lounge car and five trains comprising 12 en suite rooms and two luxury suites; it is designed to carry just 30 passengers. On board, the train features Japanese imagery, delicate calligraphy art and kumiko ramma dividing screens. Food served on board is sourced from around on Kyushu.
Trips depart from Hakata Station in the island's main city of Fukuoka and travel to various points of interest around the island, including Nagasaki, the hot spring spa town of Yufuin and the volcanic cauldron of Mt Aso, which featured in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Passengers can choose between a four-day/three-night trip and a two-day/one-night trip, which are both described as a land cruise, as there are opportunities to disembark from the train for excursions along the route. The longer trip also includes a night in a traditional ryokan or inn, when the real magic of the region comes alive.
Kyushu isn't as well known as a destination as Japanese icons such as Tokyo or Kyoto but the hope is that the new luxury train service will act as an example of what's possible here and promote the appeal of the island. Services will run all year round, with the peak season expected to coincide with momiji, the spectacular autumn maple leaf displays in November.