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Japan: Kyushu by train

In this year's Reader Awards, you voted the Land of the Rising Sun your favourite long-haul destination (again). Richard Barnes and family explore Kyushu island by rail


"It's coming daddy, it's coming!" I was ready with my camera when the Sonic pulled into platform two at Yukuhashi station, right on time. Roka, my four-year-old son, was brimming with excitement. He liked to play with his toy trains back at home in London and had a model of the distinctive metallic-blue 883 series express, which had been sent to him by "obachan", his Japanese grandma.

My wife Yuko, Roka and I were about to embark on a five-day rail journey around Kyushu, the third largest of the country's main islands, using the "limited express" trains – of which the Sonic was one – and the hi-tech, high-speed shinkansen (bullet train) system. The first thing that attracted us to the idea of travelling around Kyushu by rail was the ridiculously cheap passes only available to overseas visitors – a five-day pass for the island costs just over £100, nine times cheaper than a single day on the new, much-heralded Kyushu Seven Stars luxury train, which costs from £980 per person for a two-day/one-night train "cruise".

The second thing was its colourful array of limited express trains, which often display a faded European-style grandeur, with wooden panelling and stylish buffet cars. But despite this ageing fleet, Japan's rail network is one of the fastest, most efficient and widely used in the world.







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