JR’s “Seven Stars in Kyushu” Luxury Sightseeing Train

Concept drawing of the train

Conceptual drawing of the train (image provided by Wikipedia)

The Kyushu Railway Company (JR Kyushu) is planning to launch a new luxury train service in October 2013 known as “Seven Stars in Kyushu.” They are referring to it in English as a “cruise train,” and much like a cruise ship it will cater to rich customers with a lot of money to spare. The “seven” in the name refers to the seven prefectures of Kyushu, the seven cars in the train, and the seven attractions (according to JR) of Kyushu: “nature, cuisine, hot springs, history and culture, power spots, friendliness, and train travel” — these are listed on JR’s site.

The 7 train cars carry only 28 guests, who will stay in posh suites and be treated to fine cuisine in the dining car. An observatory car is also available. Although ticket prices have yet to be confirmed, they are estimated to range from 150,000 to 400,000 yen for the shorter one-night, two-day journey, and from 380,000 to 950,000 yen for the longer three-night, four-day journey (950,000 yen is more than US$10,000 at the moment). As the train’s name implies, it passes through all seven of Kyushu’s prefectures and makes stops at famous spots along the way, offering strolls through the famous hot spring town of Yufuin, bus tours of Mount Aso and more. The idea is to provide customers with a luxury “train cruise” to the sightseeing highlights of Kyushu, giving them an easily digestible version of Japan’s most ancient land. The tours target visitors from overseas in particular, as well as Japanese citizens visiting from outside of Kyushu.

Because a large number of rich foreign tourists do visit Japan every year, this high-risk plan may just work out for JR Kyushu. Their website cites about 1 million visitors to Kyushu every year, although it does not specify who those people are (this may include exchange students, may not include many wealthy tourists, and so forth).

However, I am not particularly interested in how profitable this enterprise will be. In terms of giving foreign visitors a genuine, worthwhile sightseeing experience and teaching them more about Japan, I am not a big supporter of the “Seven Stars in Kyushu.” Here are my two primary reasons:

  • This type of tour reinforces the common idea that Kyushu is just a small island that can be seen in a couple of days. It has been more than two years since I moved here from Osaka, and despite my constant traveling I have barely scratched the surface of Kyushu as a whole, let alone Fukuoka.
  • I once traveled a full loop around Kyushu using only local trains (and the occasional bus and ferry), and despite setting aside about two weeks for the journey I still felt incredibly rushed and wished I could have stopped at more places along the way. There is no way a traveler can experience even a small part of Kyushu over a couple of days on a luxury train journey following only JR lines (not the most scenic in Kyushu). In other words, traveling around Kyushu at such a fast past is basically a waste of time. These tours will not expose visitors to Kyushu’s unique culture, its people, or amazing local cuisines.

I am not saying that the concept is uninteresting, because JR Kyushu has shown definite creativity with this endeavor. It may actually  work out well since they are targeting rich clients who care more about luxury than a genuine experience. And, admittedly, the concept drawings for the train interiors make it look pretty nice. However, I am opposed to it based on personal principle: I believe that the best way to travel around Kyushu is slowly, immersing oneself along the way. There is already an abundance of companies promoting shallow tourism that only exposes customers to stereotypes and contrived situations.

Read more about the project and judge for yourself at the “Seven Stars in Kyushu” English-language website.

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