Japan has one of the world’s most efficient and extensive rail networks. There is an extensive system including local, express, and bullet (shinkansen 新幹線) trains, which connects virtually every part of Japan, from the top of Hokkaido all the way down to our beautiful Kagoshima.

The once-government-operated, Japan Railways (JR) is now owned by seven operating companies broken up into regions (Central, East, West, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu). In addition, other private companies run separate lines, such as the Hisatsu Orange Railroad from Sendai to Yatsushiro, Kumamoto.

JR Kyushu offers various discounts: “Discount Round” tickets offer a 20% discount for distances over 600 km on any JR line, shuuyuuken (周遊券) are tickets for direct travel within a certain area and for unlimited use, valid on all JR trains and buses. There are various types of these tickets so check which one best suits your travel plans.

Local Trains
JR Railway’s southermost train station in Ibuski with a view of Mt. Kaimon-dake.

Trains connect most of the western half of mainland Kagoshima (Satsuma Peninsula) running from Makurazaki in the south, along the southern coast through Ibuski, up Kinko Bay, and into Kagoshima City where it branches northwest towards Izumi and northeast towards Kokubu and Kirishima. Unfortunately, the train does not take you directly to the airport or any of the ferry terminals in the prefecture. Trains run frequently, starting before 6 am with the last trains arriving at their final destination around midnight. The only train on the eastern Osumi Peninsula to Shibushi runs out of Miyazaki making it a long journey from Kagoshima City. You might be better off taking a ferry across and then a bus, or driving.

Routes and Schedules

Reading a train schedule is pretty straightforward once you know what to look for. The key is to know the kanji for your destination. Some maps and schedules do have English. Every station has the name written in roman letters, hiragana, and kanji on the platform so you’ll know where you are.

Check out the following websites for route and schedule information:

  • Hyperdia: English language train schedule search engine. A Hyperdia (Lite) smartphone app is available, the Japan Trains app may be easier to use.
  • Jorudan: English language train schedule search engine. You can also check out information on JR Kyushu and JR East.
Bullet Train (Shinkansen)

Outside of flying, the fastest way to travel around Japan is the famous bullet train. The Shinkansen was completed in early 2011 and provides an easy link between Kagoshima and the rest of Kyushu. With this, you can easily travel from Kagoshima City to Fukuoka in less than 2 hours. And from Fukuoka, you can change to other bullet trains to other major destinations in Japan.

Although more expensive than a bus, the shinkansen is extremely comfortable and fast. You can either purchase tickets for reserved or non-reserved seats (with non-reserved being cheaper) and these can usually be purchased just before you have to get on your train except during peak travel times. If you reserve through JR Kyushu online reservation, you can often find discount rates.