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The 7 Stars or Nanatsuboshi (ななつ星) cruise train started operating in October 2013 and has proved a huge hit, both with the domestic market and international travellers alike. The concept, design and course have been very carefully thought out to provide a wonderful and relaxing experience of travelling Japan’s third largest island, Kyushu. Some even say it’s better than the orient express?!
The significance of the name is three fold: Firstly, the train travels around Kyushu which has seven prefectures- though ironically, both the courses which are offered only visit five prefectures.You can either take a shorter course of 1 night and 2 days, or a longer version which is 3 nights and 4 days. I won’t go into detail but you can see a full description of the courses here.
However, if we look to the second point, the ommision of two prefectures doesn’t seem such a big deal afterall. The 7 Stars aims to take in the seven elements of Kyushu which can be done within the confines of five prefectures. These seven elements are nature, cuisine, hot springs, history and culture, power spots, local hospitality and sightseeing trains. And finally, to really enforce the name, the train has seven carriages.
There are two communal carriages: One dining room and one lounge (occupied by a live pianaist and violinist), followed by a variety of private suites for sleeping in, each as beautifully designed as the next!
Kyushu has quite a few sightseeing trains but the 7 Stars is by far the most magestic. The train is polished maroon on the outside, decorated with a classic golden logo which often reappears inside- look closely and you’ll find it on your coffee cup, even on the screws in the walls.
There are large windows, particularly at the back, giving passengers a great view out to the beautiful landscapes, but also an opportunity to wave to the crowds that ineveitably gather to see off the train from each station it pulls out of. Inside, the train is mostly wooden with tasteful fabrics used throughout.
The style is a real mix of Japanese and western fashions. The designer, Mr Eiji Mitooka paid a huge amount of attention to detail and has tied in elements of the course to the design- for example, each room has a beautiful, individually designed ceramic sink, made in Arita. As part of the course, guests get a very exclusive chance to visit the studio in Arita where these are made.
Before boarding the train, I was wondering how the time would pass on the journey. After checking in at the upmarket 7 Stars lounge and being escorted down to the platform through crowds of amateur photographers and train fanatics, the regular stop offs at stations and towns along the way provided a great chance for some sightseeing.
On the train, there was a never ending supply of drinks- alcoholic or soft drinks, even some latte art was being presented!
We ate fantastically well on the train, enjoying Japanese and French cuisine, this mixture of styles mirroring the fusion present in the design of the train itself.
The 7 Stars was really special and unique- though, it is in high demand! I can’t describe everything in this short post so please do look to the official website for some more information. Even if you are not able to ride the 7 Stars, make sure your visit to Japan involves some time in Kyushu, enjoying their seven elements!