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The scenic journey – On the train

Mon 15 Jul – day 65  I was awake even before the alarm sounded, so I switched it off, then loo, showered, packed and dressed.

It was time to move on again, so I went down to the reception and checked out; the ladies indicated that the taxi was waiting for me.  So off from the hotel and to the station, but the Shinkansen side rather than the city side where I had been before.

As I had plenty of time before my train was due to depart I decided to have a good look around; Japanese tour groups arriving were met by their guides with deep bows on both sides.  People were still doing the occasional double take, but most smiled and / or gave a short bow.  It was only when there was a group of late teenage boys did I get a scowl; if this happened I smiled, bowed and said “Konnichiwa” which tended put them on the back foot as they did not know how to respond.

I headed for the entrance to the Shinkansen platforms which was separate from the local JR lines and went to the manned gate where the lady official was standing as the JR Pass could not be used to get through the automatic gates.  Going through the manned gate made things so much easier when you had lots of luggage.  As this was the first time that I was using the Pass, it was stamped in order to validate it.  I then made my way up to the platform and took photos of the various trains as all Shinkansen services stop here as it was a major station on the network.

The indicator boards gave the details about the trains departing from that platform in Japanese and then after about 30 seconds flipped over to English so it was very easy to know where you had to be.

As my train pulled in I was stood in the queue waiting to board carriage 5 and when the train came to a stop, first the barriers opened and then doors; it was all very orderly with no pushing or shoving.  Having got to my seat I put my suitcase and ruck sack in the overhead racks and then sat down; I had a window seat on the off-side of the Shinkansen Sakua 545 for the journey to Kokura; this was the original target for the second ‘A’ bomb but cloud cover on the day forced the plane to divert to Nagasaki.

I had to look almost sideways to see out, but this was not too much of a hassle and the 213km trip took just 51 minutes and that included the single stop.

At Kokura I had to make a quick change from the Shinkansen lines to the local JR tracks and at every barrier I was waved straight through when I showed my JR Pass.

I was now on the Limited Express Sonic 9 and these Limited Expresses were known as the Mickey Mouse trains for obvious reasons.

My reserved seat was on the off-side once again and so I was looking inland, but as the seats on the opposite side were not occupied I could easily see out of both sides of the carriage.  The journey down the east coast of Kyushu was through a combination of rice fields, small towns, and rivers that made their way to the Pacific Ocean which today was flat calm and a great shade of blue.  When we crossed Kinisaki Peninsular we travelled through narrow gorges where there was just the train and track with no other sign of human existence.





I treated myself to an ice-cream when the lady brought the trolley service round; it was a bit expensive but very good.

It was a cross platform change at Oita and yet again I had an off-side seat and this was the longest leg of the day, nearly 3 hours.  The route was again a combination of narrow valleys and wide open plains as we paralleled the coast.  There were very few people in the reserved carriage and with a JP Pass reservations cost nothing, so you would be daft not to book a seat.

At one station a lady who had probably lost track of time rushed to get off and in doing so dropped her jacket, one of the gents in the carriage went after her but the doors closed before he could hand it over.  It was given to the conductor and at the next stop he passed it to the station staff who put it on the next train back north – proper service.

I had a couple of snoozes as we headed south and this was a very pleasant way to travel as you let other people do all the work,

For the last leg of the day there was another one more cross platform change, this time at Miyazaki where I boarded the Limited Express Kirishhima 13 to Kagoshima-Chuo.  This train was very clean and comfortable but not equipped to the high standard as the previous two trains that I had been on.

This line headed west as it cut across Kyushu, so the scenery was predominately hills and valleys, very picturesque.

Sat across the aisle from me was a western lady who was the nanny or escort (not sure which) to a young Japanese lass who was holding a large Winnie the Poo toy; the lady and I smiled at each other, but the young lass looked at me with a degree of distrust and then turned away.

For the most part this was a single track railway and I was not surprised given the terrain, but at every station the line became at least double tracked.  As well as Limited Expresses, local trains travel along this line stopping at every station.  I think that this line must have cost a fortune to build and probably the same to maintain, but it was fully electrified (as have been all the lines on which I have travelled today) and provided a vital service to the community that politicians in the UK would be hard pressed to understand.  If there had been a Japanese Dr Beeching this line would have well up on his list of closures.

With the Shinkansen line from Kagoshima-Chuo to Hakata fully open, the old line to the north was now a private railway, therefore all the freight to and from Kagoshima and its port travelled at night along the JR Nippo Line to Miyazaki; whoever decided to keep this line open in the distant past was obviously a very forward thinking person.

As with all Limited Expresses there was a trolley buffet service and the ice cream they sold was particularly nice and the one that I had this time was lemon rather than vanilla, but still delicious.

The signs on each station have the name in Japanese and English and the names of the next stations in either direction along the line.

The young lass dropped off to sleep clutching her Winnie the Poo and I had another snooze.

When the train emerged from the mountains the tracks are running alongside Kagoshima Bay with the Sakurajima volcano on the far side; the last major eruption was in 1946, but in the eruption of 1914 the estimated 3 million tonnes of lava meant that the volcano ceased to be on an island.  Since 1955 a constant plume of stream has been emitted.  This was a fantastic sight as the steam formed its own clouds.

We were in and out of tunnels as we made our way around the bay and sometimes the road was on one side of the tracks and then the other.  The water was deep blue in colour and looked very clear.

The train stopped at Kagoshima station, but having read the Japan by Rail guidebook I knew not to get off as this station was at the eastern end of city, but wait until the next stop, Kagoshima-Chuo, which was the end of the line and a major station with 3 JR lines and the Shinkansen line all starting or ending here.

I was glad that I had made this journey rather than taking the Shinkansen, as the scenery on the long way round had been very varied and on the whole pretty tremendous.