Isahaya Station is your gateway to the wondrous Shimabara Railway, a one-carriage train. It isn’t a old squealing one-carriage, though. Its red and beige exterior design was taken from the old national railway colors, and a decal of local hero Amakusa Shiro is painted on the side.
Boarding the train is easy enough. Away from the small international pocket of Nagasaki, take the seaside JR Line to Isahaya, you’ll settle into the quaint car without collecting fare money or tickets. Exit the JR train at Isahaya Station and walk to the Shimabara Testudou platform. The conductor explained in English to “pay after” after you arrive at your stop. Pluck out the numbered paper from the automated dispenser. You’ll pay your due upon arrival based on how many stops you traveled.
The ride is a quiet one. We made for Shimabara Station – not the end of the line, but two stops prior. Other passengers were locals, riding for a stop or two. Aside from the chatter of oba-san for the first two stops, the loudest passengers were a creaking with each back-and-forth bob of the train car.
The Shimabara railway has been a privately-owned operation since 1911. While Japan Railway and other lines have modernized their cars, especially in the cities, this Shimabara carriage seemed as rustic as the view of rice fields you’ll enjoy from inside. The train’s old-school feel was palpable, like a wooden rollercoaster lurching to a start from Isahaya Station.
Though the terminus of the Shimabara Tetsudo railway is the namesake’s port, the line first feels inland-bound. Shimabara is one bulbous half of Nagasaki Prefecture, and its northern portion sprouts with thousands of rice stalks that extend into the distant mountains. Riding the edge of these field there is eventually a reveal. Around Abozaki Station, the land protrudes, as the Ariake Sea widens to the north. Bemused by its blues, I wondered if a magic mirage was playing out before me. The fields had fallen to the south into land-mass legerdemain.
Training your eyes to capture the deep blue of the left side of the care or endless green of the right. The quickening dream is a slow journey from Isahaya to Shimabara, the line’s main station, at around 70 minutes. If you’re not one for slow pace travel, which characterizes both the train line and Shimabara, check the timetable available at Isahaya Station. The red indicates express trains (for the latest one, please check the timetable here.)
Shimabara Railway Isahaya Terminal Access:
From Nagasaki, take the JR Nagasaki Line to Isahaya. Take either the limited express at around 15 minutes and 1000 yen, or local train at around 30 minutes and 460 yen.