A Country for Train Lovers
Japan has the coolest trains in the world. The endless range from super fast shinkansen to nostalgic wooden trains makes any trainspotter’s heart beat faster. Japan is definitely a country of train lovers, taking delight in anything related to their world-famous railways. Likewise, many international visitors enjoy the unique and of course sustainable journeys on their travels through the country by using the JR pass for unlimited train rides, while others take special holidays to discover the most spectacular rail journeys, charming stations or high-tech trains.
The Nostalgic Kareigawa Station
Jerome has always been a big train buff and we have taken plenty of detours or special excursions to spot and see a variety of impressive trains both in Tokyo and other, remoter parts of Japan. During our recent stay in Kyushu we made a small detour before our hike along the mysterious Kurumi and Amori River to visit the nostalgic Kareigawa Station. This railway station is one of the oldest in Japan, dating back to 1903 and also one of the few from that era that still in use today. Its authentic unspoilt architecture regularly features in adverts and films, and therefore draws a constant stream of tourists.
Hayato no Kaze, a Vintage Train
Kareigawa Station lies along the scenic route from Kagoshima Chuo to Yoshimatsu. A limited express train runs along the Hisatsu line and includes a special vintage train, a restored KIHA 147 series, called Hayato no Kaze. Arriving on board of this nostalgic train is undoubtedly the most stylish way to arrive at nostalgic Kareigawa Station and lucky for all JR Rail Pass users, the Hayato no Kaze can be used at no extra charge. Anyone wanting to ride the Hayato no Kaze should check the timetable in advance for train times, it only runs on weekends and special holidays. The limited express service also stops at Kirishima Onsen, one of the lesser known hot spring towns in Kyushu, albeit a bit dated, it appeared more inviting than some of the larger resort towns.
Time Stopped a Hundred Years Ago
On our arrival, time seemed to have stopped at Kareigawa Station, the modest, wooden building gave us the impression of being stranded in the middle of Kyushu a hundred years ago. There were no electronic ticket machines or LED screens announcing the next trains. Apparently bullet marks from the Pacific War have remained and can be found on the wooden pillars.
Award Winning Ekiben
A stand just inside the entrance sold the award winning ekiben (bento boxes for the train journey), with local ingredients like roasted vegetables and sweet potato tempura. We looked for the famous stray cat called Nyantaro that one day had wandered into the station and started sleeping there. Sadly, the cat must have been out exploring, its little hut stood empty next to the old ticket office adorned by photos.
Vibrant Bunting on the Platform
Bamboo leaved wreaths with colourful tags hung from the beams of the platform at Kareigawa Station. They must have been part of a festival or local tradition, so along with the other visitors we each chose tag and wrote down our wishes and they joined the vibrant bunting along the platform.
A second room had been turned into a small museum showcasing vintage train station equipment, signs and photographs of Kareigawa during the seasons.
Arrival of the Train
Although we had not timed our visit to Kareigawa Station in advance, just chancing on our drive by, we were happy to discover that a train would shortly arrive at the station. It even turned out to be the vintage Hayato no Kaze train. The shiny black train consisted of two carriages, one first and second class, each car has their own stylish, wooden interior with panoramic windows to enjoy the views from the single track line as it passes through the beautiful valley.
Five Minute Photo Opportunity
The train’s chic hostess posed for passengers and tourists on the station platform and the train conductor stood outside his door. The Hayato no Kaze train stops for five minutes at Kareigawa Station to give the train riders the opportunity to take some photos of the beautiful station. A small boy seated in one of the carriages waved upon the trains departure and brought back happy memories of Jerome’s many train rides when he was little.
One Day We Will Return
Maybe one day we will have enough time to enjoy the multitude of scenic train rides in Japan and return to Kareigawa Station for a brief stop on the Hisatsu Line across the Kyushu Island.
Where we stayed in Japan:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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