A new luxury sightseeing train began its maiden journey Friday around Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu, in the hope of reviving tourism in the flood-hit region.
The six-car train with a shiny black body and some cars with floors covered in tatami straw mats, left Kyushu Railway Co.'s Kagoshima-Chuo Station in the city of Kagoshima for the 4-day trip around the island.
Dubbed "36+3," the train derives its name from Kyushu being the 36th largest island in the world, with "+3" representing passengers, local residents and the railway company, reflecting the company's desire for the three parties to unite as one, according to the operator, also known as JR Kyushu.
At the launch ceremony held at the station, three invited pairs of a 36-year-old parent and a 3-year-old child joined the crowd to celebrate the start of the operation of the sightseeing train with a capacity of 105 people.
"By transmitting the charms of Kyushu, I hope it serves to spur (tourism) after the lifting of requests to refrain (from travel)," said Toshihiko Aoyagi, president of JR Kyushu, who attended the ceremony.
It was the first launch of a sightseeing train by JR Kyushu in about three and a half years, according to the company.
Madoka Kaieda, a 38-year-old resident of Kagoshima, was aboard with her husband and two sons, heading for Miyazaki.
"We were not able to go out due to the coronavirus. It is the first time for my kids to be on a train," she said.
The company refurbished a 787 series train used for the Kamome limited express connecting Hakata and Nagasaki, turning it into the luxury tourist train.
The floors of cars Nos. 1 and 6 are covered with traditional tatami mats made of rush grass grown in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan's leading producer of tatami surface, while cars Nos. 1 to 3 consist of compartments furnished with sofas and tables.
Passengers can also enjoy local cuisine including Japanese sake, wagyu beef and seafood, during the train journey.
Prices for tickets with meal plans for adults range from 12,000 yen ($114) to 30,000 yen depending on routes and plans, the operator said.
After leaving Kagoshima, the train is scheduled to stop in Miyazaki, Oita, Fukuoka, Saga, and Nagasaki.
JR Kyushu has set five routes to be covered by 36+3 in five days but due to the damage in Kumamoto Prefecture caused by torrential rain that hit the region in July, it has suspended the Hakata-Kagoshima Chuo route for the time being.