October 17, 2013
Daylight Robbery On An Orient Express
Kyushu, the third largest of Japan’s four main islands, has just seen the maiden run of an ultra-luxury train designed to capture old-world charm. The Seven Stars (or Nanatsuboshi) sleeper train will cruise privileged passengers around the tourist hotspots of the island during an exquisite railway experience.
The name Seven Stars comes from the fact that there are seven prefectures on Kyushu, and also that the train has seven carriages. That ‘seven stars’ happens to be an informal description of the most exclusive and lavish hotels in the world is apparently just a coincidence; I haven’t heard that mentioned in any publicity related to the train.
It would be ambitious to describe the Seven Stars in the same terms as, say, the Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai, which is probably the world’s most famous ‘seven star’ hotel (although there is no such official grading and the hotel claims not to officially refer to themselves as such). The Burj al Arab has an underwater aquarium, rooftop tennis courts, a swim-in pool bar and a private beach. And, naturally, it has spacious rooms.
The rooms on the Kyushu train can, of course, only be the width of a train and, unsurprisingly, there is no swimming pool. Yet I was amazed to find that the cost of enjoying the experience of a ride around Kyushu was potentially more than staying in the Burj al Arab. Double rooms at the Burj can be acquired for around $1,600 per night. A three-night trip on the train costs up to $5,000 for two. I realize that there are far more rooms in the Burj al Arab (but then, it will have cost a lot more to construct and to maintain, too), and I know Japan is expensive, but I was still astonished by those prices. I suppose the aim is exclusivity; to keep out the riff-raff. Like me. Not really in the spirit of things to sit around the bar complaining.
So, okay, enough complaining. Old-world charm is something that very much appeals to me, and the Seven Stars seems to capture a bit of that Orient Express magic pretty well. The exterior has a deep, reddish-brown “ancient lacquer” appearance, meant to blend in with the landscape it will travel through and also to evoke the golden age of train travel. Inside, similar warmth is complemented by touches of class, such as furniture made by master craftsmen. The floors of the shower rooms are made of Hinoki cypress wood in order to give an ‘aromatic experience’ to the guests. Once showered for dinner, passengers can enjoy the best of the greatly varied food that Kyushu has to offer and drink in the lounge car to the sound of live piano music.
Oh, I do have one more negative thing to say. Apparently, the train screeched to an unexpected halt during one of its test runs due to a technical issue. Now, even if someone had persuaded me to cough up the money, I might doubt, when my champagne went flying down the bar and all over the piano player, whether it was worth it. But let’s face it, even though I think the price sounds a bit excessive, if I had the money I would definitely try it out.
Image Credit: Gala8357