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FOXTROT TO FUNDOSHI: SLOW TRAVEL IN JAPAN

ON JAPAN’S SOUTHERNMOST ISLANDS, THE CULTURE IS MORE LAID-BACK THAN ELSEWHERE IN THE COUNTRY. HERE, EVEN THE LATEST LUXURY TRAIN IS DESIGNED TO MOVE AT AN EXTRA SLOW PACE…
‘SEVEN STARS IN KYUSHU’ LUXURY TRAIN

Japan is a land of odd questions. As we walk onto the platform of the central train station of Fukuoka city, the PR of the local railway company is the first to ask one.

“Are you planning on doing any ballroom dancing?”

“You mean… aboard the train?”

“Of course. The staff have been training for weeks.”

This is presented as rather obvious. Japanese hospitality means being prepared for everything. Since I am part of a group of European journalists, and this is a glamorous occasion, we are expected to break out into a festive waltz or foxtrot any minute now.

At the platform, people are getting very excited as a dark and gleaming train rolls in. This is the reason we’re here: the Seven Stars in Kyushu, a massive beast of seven maroon-coloured carriages, emblazoned with swirly golden logos. By most accounts, it is the most luxurious train in the world. We have just been informed that its construction cost £21 million, and it looks the part. The interior, a mix of classic European and Japanese styles, is crafted from exclusive woods. The hinoki-cypress panelling in the private bathrooms, we’re told, has to be polished twice a day. The best of Kyushu’s craftsmen have been commissioned to add local flair. Dividers and sliding doors are made of delicate kumiko latticework; sinks and toilet bowls are all hand-painted Narita porcelain. The real eye-catcher, however, is the back of the train, which is completely made of glass. After boarding, everyone is naturally drawn here, to drink champagne and watch the city glide into the distance. A hungry horizon gobbles up the train station, followed by Fukuoka’s skyscrapers and suburbs. Finally, we’re slowly moving through a lush landscape of cypress- and bamboo-covered hills. The tracks cross narrow bridges over deep gorges and occasionally follow the coastline, allowing gorgeous views of the shimmering waters of the Sea of Japan. Now and then, lone trainspotters and excited families show up along the tracks, cameras ready and waving at us, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I wonder how long they’ve been waiting. “Not that long, probably,” the PR says. “They know at exactly what minute we will pass.”

WATSURENOSATO GAJOEN, A RYOKAN IN RURAL KAGOSHIMA
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