City: Hakata Station (Fukuoka)
Our itinerary said that our first train was at 8.57, so we gave ourselves an hour from leaving our dorm to get to Hakata, buy a ticket, get breakfast and still make our train. However… we forgot that everyone else would be travelling during Golden Week, and so when we got to the station, the line was very long and the train that we wanted to catch was full in both the reserved AND unreserved seating.
Kudos to the ticket people, because that line moved super fast and we managed to catch the next train out to Kumamoto. The trains were also very frequent, so we only really lost maybe half an hour of travel time. Besides, because there was a two and a half hour gap between catching this train and the next, we weren’t screwing up our plans anyway. If you are on a tight schedule, make sure that you check all your train timetables and account for any sort of missed trains if you do miss out on a seat!
Hakata Station (Fukuoka) ~ Kumamoto Station
Train: Sakura No. 451
The Sakura No. 451 is the fastest shinkansen on the Kyushu JR rail system (I think), and one of two types of regular shinkansen services on the Kagoshima line. It was so comfortable. The seats were wide and there was so much leg room that you could probably squeeze your luggage in front of your legs and still have room left over. It only took us forty minutes to get to Kumamsoto, so we didn’t really get to enjoy the luxuries of the train much.
Once we got to Kumamoto, we spent a bit of time shopping for souvenirs (because Kumamon), and then we headed out of the station to walk around the city a bit. Except… we walked out of the back of the station, so we went exploring the mountainous outskirts of Kumamoto instead, which was set on the mountain and beautiful, and gave us serious house envy.
Kumamoto Station ~ Hitoyoshi Station
Train: SL Hitoyoshi
The SL Hitoyoshi was less modern and more old-school, with fabric plush seating and panelled wooden interiors. The views along this ride were amazing. Because it went through the mountains, we could see all these little towns and villages and villages so small they were more a collection of houses than anything. And one section followed a river, so you could see looping roads on the far bank that led to mini bridges and rocky river banks and lonely picturesque houses.
Once we got to Hitoyoshi, a small town that was surprisingly busy and with a clock tower outside the station that sang and danced as it hit the hour, we only had twenty minutes before moving on. However, the town seemed to be an onsen town, so maybe, someday I will be able to go back.
Hitoyoshi Station ~ Yoshimatsu Station
Station: Isaburo No. 3
This train is a quaint old-school wooden train with sliding windows and a dark red exterior that takes you on a looping mountain tour from Hitoyoshi station to Yoshimatsu station for an hour and a half. It stops at little stations that would not get much traffic at all if it weren’t for the tourists that arrived with this train, and the entire train ride was one guided tour so you could get a little bit of the history behind the area and have Kodak moments when they stopped. This was also one of the trains that gave out special collectors’ cards to stamp as a free memento for riding the train.
Truthfully, I don’t remember much of this ride except that it was quaint, there were cute little stations in the middle of no where, and that there was a little boy of maybe three or four who was sitting with his family across from us, and who fell asleep two three minutes into the train ride with his cheek smushed against the seat until he eventually curled up into a little ball, which then allowed his two older brothers to crawl over him as the train started and stopped, and allowed his parents to laugh and take pictures of his sleeping state until they decided to stretch him out over their laps.
Yoshimatsu Station ~ Kagoshima-chuo Station
Train: Hayato no Kaze No. 3
When we got to Yoshimatsu Station, we had a ten minute to grab a snack before we hopped onto the Hayato no Kaze No. 3, which is another old-school wooden train, but this was far smaller than the Isaburo. Because it was not a tour train, it ran along the tracks very fast for its rickety state, jolting all of us as it sped through the mountains. However, there was another collector’s stamp/card on the Hayato, and it led to one of Kagoshima’s famous onsen towns, Kirishima, so it emptied out halfway and allowed us to space out a bit more on its wooden benches. I remember nothing except hard wooden seats and falling asleep listening to a steady beat of chakchakchakchak as the train wound its way down to Kagoshima.
Stopover! Kagoshima-chuo Station
When we finally got to Kagoshima-chuo Station, all working out cricks in our necks and backs from naps on hard wooden benches, we had almost an hour before the next train. Because we had not really eaten anything for the whole day, we went to get food at one of the restaurants in the station. I don’t remember where we went, I don’t remember the name of the place, but that soba was. On. Point.
Kagoshima-chuo Station ~ Miyazaki Station
Finally, it hit 16.30, and we got on our last train of the day to Miyazaki on the Kirishima. And because it was a regular train, without any sort of wood in sight, running along its tracks so smoothly it was gliding, it felt so luxurious that I fell asleep almost immediately until we reached the outskirts of the city. Arriving late afternoon/early evening to Miyazaki was an amazing idea, because my first sight of the city was the end of the sunset reflected off the river, the sun staining the horizon with golden orange light, framed by a still-unlit bridge, fading gradually into deep dark night.
Once we stepped off the train and onto the streets of Miyazaki, despite having no clue whatsoever about the layout of the city, or where we were going, or what we wanted to do, by some stroke of genius city-planning, the main street that leads into the city centre is the one that leads straight from the station when you walk out of the exits that face department stores, which meant that we walked in the right direction without needing any sort of help from Mr. Google Maps.
Thank you, city planning engineer people.
When we finally got to the main strip, we had just eaten food at Kagoshima station… but we were still hungry. And then we found a pub which was still in Happy Hour for another five minutes. And of those five minutes, four were spent trying to order our beers and our foods and ‘oh is there no more wedges… then chips is fine’ in our kind-of-not-really-getting-there Japanese. But we got our snacks, and then just… kept ordering more food.
Finally, after feeling satisfied again, we wandered around the streets of Miyazaki CBD for a while before heading to a large onsen complex called Tanamura no Yu located between the station and the main Miyazaki city centre. This onsen is quite large and very easy to find if you keep an eye out for the ゆ sign placed in unobtrusive places on the streets. Entry costed us around ￥850 each to enter, which covered soap, shampoo and unlimited access to all the baths available until closing at 1:00 AM.
We stayed until closing before heading back towards the station to spend the night at a internet cafe called e-PLANET Internet and Comic Cafe (ph. 0985-60-7306), located directly across from the station, on the same side as the onsen and the city centre, and costed less than ￥1400 for a six-hour pack. This was our first foray into the whole staying-at-internet-cafes-while-travelling-to-save-money situation, but as seedy as it may seem overseas, staying at internet cafes in Japan is safe, cheap and definitely the way to go for budget travelling.
The other two girls settled down and fell asleep quickly, but since I hadn’t had decent internet connection since getting to Japan… I stayed up to catch up on all the manga updates I had missed, and before I knew it, sunlight was spilling through the high windows…