Seven Stars Train's New Rail Odyssey Revealed By Jr Kyushu

Seven Stars train's new rail odyssey revealed by JR Kyushu

FUKUOKA--Despite an eye-popping 1.55 million yen ($13,840) for the best berths, every seat on the revamped super-luxury sleeper train Nanatsuboshi (Seven Stars) service through the Ao region is expected to be filled.

Kyushu Railway Co. (JR Kyushu) excluded the region from service after the series of earthquakes that ravaged Kumamoto Prefecture in April last year.

The revised service will start in March 2018.

Ticket prices start at 725,000 yen for the three-night, four-day scenic tour of Kyushu island in March and April.

Despite the hefty price tag, JR Kyushu expects the revised service will pull in the punters.

Passengers will have to be selected by lottery because JR Kyushu is likely to receive many requests for each seat.

The highlight of the new route will see the Nanatsuboshi making an overnight stop at Aso Station as part of efforts to support the reconstruction of the area.

Passengers can savor the early morning view of the area before they are served breakfast prepared with locally grown vegetables at an exclusive restaurant attached to the station building.

JR Kyushu has partially changed the route as a provisional measure after main sightseeing routes were closed due to the April 2016 earthquakes and torrential rain that devastated northern Kyushu in July.

But this is the first time for the railway company to completely revise the trip itinerary, including its route and meals, after the sleeper train first started operating in autumn 2013.

After the overnight stop at Aso Station on the first day, passengers will stay at an elegant ryokan inn at the Yufuin hot spring resort in Oita Prefecture on the second day. They will also stop by at Mojiko Station in Kita-Kyushu and Hitoyoshi Station in Kumamoto Prefecture for sightseeing.

The food menu has also been drastically altered and now includes "tai chazuke." This special dish is green tea poured on a bowl of rice that is topped with slices of sea bream. The recipe hails from Wakaeya, a famous restaurant in Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.

Because part of the Hohi Line leading to the Aso region from the west side of Kyushu is still out of service, the new route was designed to give priority to routes coming from Oita Prefecture on the east side of the island, the company said.

"There is no other gift like this as we are making progress with our reconstruction efforts," Aso Mayor Yoshioki Sato said during a news conference revealing the details Sept. 11.

The luxury sleeper train market has become increasingly competitive in recent years. East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) and West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) have also started operating their own services, with the former running the Train Suite Shiki-shima and the latter the Twilight Express Mizukaze.

JR Kyushu President Toshihiko Aoyagi admitted he is "conscious of the other companies," adding that he hopes to encourage a "friendly rivalry."

The Nanatsuboshi has an established reputation for attentive service.

Although there are also many repeat customers, "we want new customers to visit Kyushu, too," an executive member said.

To make that happen, the railway operator is expected to make greater efforts to attract new customers from outside Kyushu.