Diego boards a colourful Nishitetsu train on a route that links the modern urban sprawl of Fukuoka and the rich historical treasures of Dazaifu.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific journey documented here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future trips, even if offered by the same railway company on the same route and under the same service designation.
Country : Japan
Railway company : Nishi-Nippon Railroad (Nishitetsu)
Service name/designation : Tabito (旅人 / たびと)
Service type : Express
Rolling stock : Nishitetsu 8000 series EMU
Date of journey : Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Origin : Nishitetsu-Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station (dep. 09:46)
Destination : Dazaifu Station (arr. 10:13)
Journey time : 27 minutes
Ticket price : JPY 400, one way
Let’s have a look at the route. Bear in mind that Google Maps may give different results depending on the day/time entered, so the track shown below may not necessarily reflect the actual path I took. It should, however, give a good general idea of the direction and distance involved.
My primary destination for the day was the historic city of Dazaifu, in Fukuoka Prefecture. I’ll have plenty to write about the time I spent in that historic little corner of Kyūshū, but all of that’s to come in one or more future posts. For the time being, let’s talk about how I got there.
The easiest way to reach Dazaifu from downtown Fukuoka is by way of Nishitetsu’s Tenjin Ōmuta Line, with a short final stretch on the Dazaifu Line (run by the same operator); the journey takes about half an hour with a change of trains at Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station. I could have taken any one of the frequent services that ply that route, but when I learned of the special “Tabito” service my interest was instantly piqued. The fact that a trip involving the “Tabito” costs the same as a ride on any other Nishitetsu train serving this route (JPY 400), and – perhaps more importantly – the fact that the first “Tabito” run of each day takes you straight to Dazaifu without the usual transfer at Futsukaichi, pretty much sealed the deal.
For more details, consult the “Tabito” timetable here. Note how only the first daily service runs all the way from Fukuoka to Dazaifu; for the rest of the day “Tabito” merely shuttles passengers between Futsukaichi and Dazaifu (you’ll need to take another train from Fukuoka to Futsukaichi).
After a refreshing morning stroll around Fukuoka’s Ōhori-kōen, I took a Kūkō Line subway service to Tenjin Station, from where I walked to Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station.
Whilst waiting for the 09:46 “Tabito”, I paced about the station for a bit of trainspotting. Not a lot of variety at this time of day, though the sight of two 5000 series EMUs parked side by side made for a nice, symmetrical snapshot.
Just minutes before the stated departure time, an 8000 series EMU in full “Tabito” livery pulled into the station. I rushed to grab a few snapshots before taking my place inside.
Observe the service signs above the driver’s cabin. This one’s an express service (急行, kyūkō) bound for Dazaifu (太宰府).
Another exterior shot, this one taken after disembarkation at Dazaifu Station. Note how the service signs have changed: “Tabito” is now a local service (普通, futsū – sign mostly obscured by reflected light) heading only as far as Futsukaichi (二日市) rather than back to Fukuoka. For the rest of the day, the train will only shuttle back and forth between Dazaifu and Futsukaichi, so passengers hoping to ride it will need to board another service to/from Fukuoka.
Unlike some tourist specials in Japan or elsewhere (like this one I rode in Korea, for example), “Tabito” is more of a themed train than a full-on cruise train. There aren’t any special services on board, like buffet cars or tea rooms, but given the short distance involved – less than 30 minutes from Fukuoka to Dazaifu, and just 5-7 minutes or so between Futsukaichi and Dazaifu – there really isn’t much point in installing anything more that what I saw on this brief ride.
As described on the official site, the train’s exterior is decked out in special livery featuring various Dazaifu landmarks, whilst the interior of each car sports a different decorative pattern. Each scheme corresponds to a specific wish for good fortune, such as paired clamshells in Car 1 (for love) or plum blossoms in Car 6 (for good grades). This shot was taken in Car 3, the walls of which were splashed with representations of waves and rabbits … something to do with childbirth, apparently.
Car 3 is also where the only special appointments on this train are installed. There’s a small display case where typical Dazaifu souvenirs are displayed (note that they’re not actually sold on board), as well as a counter where passengers can get the usual commemorative ink stamp.
Speaking of the stamp, here’s a scan of the impression I placed in my notebook. Miniature representations of the 6 decorative themes used on the train are arranged around the centre, which bears the name of the train in kanji. Incidentally, that name (旅人) simply means “traveller” or “tourist”, though the standard reading is tabibito (たびびと) rather than the stylised tabito (たびと) employed here. It’s no mistake, but a not-uncommon (and rather creative) technique for deriving special-sounding names simply by using a different, valid (if non-standard) reading of the same kanji characters.
Or it could simply be how 旅人 is read locally, in the dialect of the region. I wouldn’t know as I’ve only ever studied standard Japanese. (^_^)
You can get a couple of other souvenir stamps after arriving at Dazaifu Station. They’re not specifically related to the “Tabito” brand, although the first one below features an 8000 series EMU – the type of train used on “Tabito” services.
In short: nothing spectacular, but a rather special way of getting from Fukuoka to Dazaifu (and in nicer surroundings than the boring interiors of your typical commuter service). The direct through-service of the first daily “Tabito” train is also a major plus, as is the fact that it won’t cost you more than a standard train would.