Earlier this year, I fell into a deep rabbit hole: the Japanese train subculture on youtube. Japan has an extensive and efficient train schedule, extremely helpful when planning a three-week itinerary. As I learned more about trains in Japan, I found many videos showing specific theme trains, like Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and Miyazaki. Additionally, there are luxury sightseeing trains that pass through some of the most beautiful parts in Japan at a reasonable speed unlike the uber-fast Shinkansen. The beautiful emerald green Yufuin No Mori sightseeing train traverses Kyushu, one of Japan’s southern islands.
A Quaint and Classic Train
This beetle-green train with vintage details traverses the woods of Kyushu at a slower pace than the bullet train. The interior is so quaint with green fabric, gold accents, and wooden details. The wooden and green design elements reflect the train’s namesake Yufuin forest (mori). I recommend taking a sightseeing train at least once during your travel in Japan. They are in all regions and you can find one that fits your itinerary online, and many are covered by the JR Pass. I wished I could have taken at least one more sightseeing train, although it’s hard to beat the efficiency of the Shinkansen.
There are only 9 stops on the journey which takes about 3.5 hours end-to-end. We boarded at Beppu, the eastern terminus and ended at Hakata, the end of the line in Fukuoka. Three trains called Yufuin No Mori run daily: two of them go from Hakata to Yufuin, and only one continues all the way to Beppu. View the timetable if you are planning your trip to or from any of these stops.
The seats, arranged 2 to a set, are very comfortable. You can turn around the set and create a group of four if you are traveling with friends. The above-seat storage is an average size and can hold a carry-on size roller bag. Store large bags in the compartment by the door.
Regardless of which seat you choose, you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the forests of mountainous Kyushu. For the best views, be sure to sit on the left side if headed to Hakata, or the right side if headed to Yufuin/Beppu.
In addition to the normal train cars with reserved seats, there is also an observation car and a snack car. The observation car has panoramic windows so you can get a nice view out both sides of the train. The snack car has a menu with Yufuin No Mori themed snacks, drinks and souvenirs. If you don’t want to go to the snack car, attendants come through the aisle and offer seat-side service, but the snack car has more options.
How to Book Yufuin No Mori
The train is very popular due to its luxurious interior and beautiful exterior. It is considered an express train since there are only 9 stops. Due to the demand, it’s recommended to reserve your seats a few days in advance lest it sell out. In fact, there is no “non-reserved” section so specific tickets must be obtained before boarding.
If you do not have a JR Pass, you can book at ticket windows or self-serve kiosks in the train stations.
How to reserve seats with JR Pass:
- Take your JR Pass to travel offices that have the JR logo prominitely displayed in various stations. Some major ones will be noted on the booklet mailed to you with your JR Pass voucher.
- Specify which train you would like to take. For Yufuin No Mori, you need to check if you need to get to Oita/Beppu or just to Yufuin because this will determine which train it will be.
- You will receive your reserved ticket with seat number on it.
- You can do the above steps at self-serve kiosk machines if you are confident on which train and route you will be reserving.
- To board you need both the specific reserved ticket and your JR Pass.
- This process also works for reserving tickets on the Shinkansen.
- We were only able to book 2 or 3 parts of our journey at a time so we visited the JR Pass station in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hakata.
In conclusion, I am very happy I included this train as part of my trip. I hope you consider adding a sightseeing train to your plans, whatever region you’re visiting. Once you see a train that catches your eye, google “JR Pass + [train name].” If you have taken a sightseeing train in Japan or in any country, please tell me your recommendation in the comments below!
Photos by Doug and Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.