This was a trip with quite a few train rides, and the one from 熊本 Kumamoto to 人吉 Hitoyoshi was with a very special coal-powered SL 人吉 SL (Steam Locomotive) Hitoyoshi.
We hopped onto the 8:02am Shinkansen MIZUHO 602 from 鹿児島中央 Kagoshima-Chuo for a 45-min train ride to 熊本 Kumamoto.
Upon reaching 熊本 Kumamoto Station, we dropped our luggage at the locker (¥600) and went hunting for some snacks to eat within the station. We got ourselves some yummy れんこんボール Lotus Root Balls (¥380), before we went searching for the train.
While SL 人吉 Hitoyoshi was scheduled to depart at 9:45am, it was already at the tracks waiting, at least 20 minutes earlier. This gave everyone plenty of time to get some pictures, even if you did not manage to get tickets for the ride.
Just by looking at the exterior of the train with the smoke coming out of the chimney, we were feeling very excited already 🙂 The classic interiors were equally impressive 😮 While we had our assigned seats, there were also observation cars where we could go to whenever we felt like it, if we wanted a better view of the scenery.
The 2.5 hours train ride took us through some lovely greenery, as well as the gorgeous views of the 球磨川 Kumagawa River. There were also a few stops in between, where we could stretch our legs and also check out the stations, as well as take more pictures with the train. At selected stations, you could also queue to get the train stamps, or buy Japanese amulets, as souvenirs.
It was a very enjoyable ride, and when we arrived at JR Hitoyoshi Station, we were welcomed by the sight of a man peddling 栗飯弁当 (Kurimeshi Bento) Chestnut Meal Boxes. This was something unique to Hitoyoshi Station, but we decided to give it a miss, as we wanted something more substantial.
We took a leisurely stroll towards 人吉温泉物産館木綿葉 Hitoyoshi Onsen Bussankan, where we had our lunch break. The おひとよし御膳 Hitoyoshi Set (¥1620) and 肥後の馬か丼 (そば) (Higo Umakadon) Higo Horse Meat Rice Bowl with Soba (¥1080) were both not bad. It was our first time eating cooked horse meat, and we thought it tasted like beef.
With our bellies filled, we continued to make our way to to the nearby 青井阿蘇神社 Aoi Aso Shrine, which is one of the National Treasures of Japan. Also, interestingly, there was a kindergarten of sorts in the premise. The kids were so adorable and they were practising for some performance. We had fun interacting with the kids waiting for their turn.
Our next stop was 永国寺 (Eikokuji) a.k.a Ghost Temple, famous for its 幽霊の掛け軸 Ghost Scroll. It was quite a lovely stroll, as we walked past the beautiful Kumagawa River.
At the temple, there were some signages explaining the scroll and it’s origin, but unfortunately, most were in Japanese only.
We did not venture futher after this, as we wanted to be back earlier at the train station. So it was another walk back, this time, in a light drizzle.
There was still time, so we went to visit the 人吉鉄道ミュージアムもぞかステーション868 Hitoyoshi Railway Museum MOZOCA Station 868. This was a museum which showcased the story of the Hisatsu Line. We got to see the various types of trains, and there was even a mini-train that brought visitors for a short ride!
We were making our way back to JR Hitoyoshi Station, when we spotted some action at the mini 3-storey castle in front of the station! It was an automated clock with puppets and dolls popping out to the tune of a folk song, and was quite interesting to watch 🙂
We took the faster 特急 いさぶろう・しんぺい Isaburo-Shinpei train that left JR Hitoyoshi Station at 4:42pm, and we got to enjoy the beautiful views once again. The interiors of the train was also quite lovely, and it was an enjoyable ride. We eventually returned back to 熊本 Kumamoto at 6:19pm.
- We had made all our train reservations on Day 2 of our trip, when we exchanged our voucher for the JR Kyushu Pass. There were still seats for the weekday SL Hitoyoshi train rides, but we overheard that a couple were unsuccessful in trying to secure weekend seats. If you are not using JR Pass, you can try to book the tickets much earlier. We thought that it was worthwhile to try out the train ride one-way, for it was a very interesting experience 🙂 We opted for one-way, as the return ride by SL Hitoyoshi was at 2:38pm, leaving us with very little time to explore Hitoyoshi. Do check out the timetable for SL Hitoyoshi at the JR Kyushu Railway website.
|和風レストラン木綿葉 Restaurant Yuuba:|
|青井阿蘇神社 Aoi Aso Shrine:|
|永国寺 Eikokuji Temple:
|人吉鉄道ミュージアムもぞかステーション868 Hitoyoshi Railway Museum MOZOCA Station 868: